Technology

Technology & Education: It's Elementary

Technology & Education: It's Elementary

"21st century skills" is arguably one of the biggest buzzwords in education today. Digital literacy, tech competency, collaboration and problem-solving skills are getting the attention they deserve, however they're generally addressed at the middle- and high-school level. Many elementary-school students have to transition from a traditional cut-and-paste, alphabet curriculum into the new digital world of education with little practical knowledge. While they may be whizkids when it comes to playing on an iPad, they aren't necessarily prepared to apply that knowledge to their education.

Digital Citizenship: Growing Up Online

We've covered a lot of different aspects of digital citizenship over the past few weeks: what it means, how students can become productive "digital citizens," and the consequences and etiquette surrounding virtual communication and participation. We've encouraged teachers and parents to talk with students about how their actions online can impact their future and the well-being of others. But there's another aspect of digital citizenship that's just as critical--how media and online interactions influence and shape a child's self-image.

A different world

Modern society has always been exposed to advertising. Even "back in the day" when we got our news from a newspaper, the local grocery store circular would be tucked inside, a 4x4 inch advert for the local lawyers next to the sports column. What we're experiencing now, however, is more influential, more pervasive. Want to read the latest from CNN? Hang on, you've got to watch this shoe commercial for 20 seconds, selected for you based on your browsing history. Models and actors are photoshopped, products presented with just the right amount of sportiness, sexiness, or "cool factor." And adults aren't the only ones bombarded by these advertisements--companies work just as hard to sell to the next generation of consumers.

This media- and advertising-rich culture is pervasive, and has helped to create a climate of constant self-promotion. Teens spend hours devoted to taking and choosing the best photo to post to Instagram, counting up their likes, comparing themselves to others. It seems that teens are increasingly focused on putting their face forward--a study from AP-NORC found that 76% of teens 13-17 use Instagram, and 75% use Snapchat--while Facebook and Twitter use has remained steady. Growing up is hard enough--add in this constant online competition for who's having the most fun with the most glamorous friends, and you've got another layer of added pressure.

What can adults do to minimize the effects of these platforms on a teen's self-esteem? According to the Child Mind Institute, it's all about focusing on life offline. "The gold standard advice for helping kids build healthy self-esteem is to get them involved in something that they’re interested in. It could be sports or music or taking apart computers or volunteering—anything that sparks an interest and gives them confidence. When kids learn to feel good about what they can do instead of how they look and what they own, they’re happier and better prepared for success in real life. That most of these activities also involve spending time interacting with peers face-to-face is just the icing on the cake."

A tale of two faces

Who are you IRL (in real life)? Who are you behind your device? We all have flaws, bad days, lulls in our social life. Online, however, it's easy to paint a much different picture, with perfectly arranged Instagram meals, Facebook check-ins with friends at an event. For most adults, it's easy to separate and acknowledge that this carefully curated fantasy is just that--fantasy. For teens, this dual experience during their formative years can be detrimental to shaping their identity. On one hand, it's great that a shy child can express themselves freely online, but it's problematic if it comes at the cost of abandoning real, face-to-face social skills and interactions.

This phenomenon is also significant on a much larger scale. "Sometimes it seems that the Internet has amplified the importance of “self” identification and identity to the point that the term has become a kind of acronym. SELF = “Showcase Every Little Fact” about me. Nothing seems too trivial to post, even a "selfie" photograph. With this increased "self" preoccupation, we may have entered a more narcissistic age, people increasingly entranced with admiring the Internet reflection they have created, treating it as a chance to star in their own and other people's eyes," writes Dr. Carl Pickhardt in Psychology Today.

Helping children navigate their online personas starts with a conversation about respect, representation, and reputation:

Image attribution Site: flickr.com [Image 1][Image 2]

Digital Citizenship: Districts Support Parents & Families

It used to be that parents were generally more fearful about who or what their child was seeing online, rather than what they were sharing. This stranger danger fear was fueled by news stories and programs like "To Catch a Predator," which misrepresented the prevalence of inappropriate online behavior between children and strangers. While it's certainly a serious situation, and one that should be discussed between parents and their children, it happens much less frequently than other types of negative online interactions. More than one in three adolescents has been threatened online, and sexting scandals seem to have replaced news stories of dangerous online predators. Fortunately, most parents are aware of the consequences of digital communication. "94% of parents say they ever talk with their teen about what they should share online, while 92% say they talk with their teen about what constitutes appropriate online behavior towards others," according to a 2016 Pew Research Study.

But "stranger danger," cyberbullying, and inappropriate conduct are only part of the digital citizenship puzzle. Children should not only be made aware of the dangers of the Internet, but also be empowered to utilize the vast number of tools available to them for education and exploring their interests. By involving parents in digital citizenship, school districts can ensure that their students are using online tools appropriately both in and outside of school.

Partnering with parents

Communication is key when it comes to partnering with parents to promote digital citizenship and safety. In one district, educators worked together to organize a Parent Tech Institute, which focused on cyber safety and Internet basics. Organizer Heather Wolport-Gawron shared her experience on Edutopia. "Schools must help empower parents to be the digital caretakers at home, because we can only do so much during the school day. We must teach families simple tools to insist on, and have them extend the culture of cyber safety to the homes. Parents must work hand in hand with schools if our students are to function in this digital world."

Encourage parents to ask questions about the tools their children are using for school. Many children are increasingly more reliant on the internet and devices to complete assignments, so exploring apps together is a bit like the modern version of sitting down at the table to go over that night's fractions worksheet. Teachers can facilitate these conversations by sharing information with parents about the apps students are using for learning and providing resources on how they can help their child at home.

Safety first

Parents are the first line of defense when it comes to internet safety. They have the authority to access their children's devices, and the tools they need to set parental controls. Not to mention, students are more likely to use their devices for social purposes outside of school, when they're in their parents' care. Help parents take control of cyber safety at home with the following tips:

  • Befriend your child. Surprisingly, only "56% of parents indicate that they are friends with their teen on Facebook, Twitter and/or some other social media platform." Being friends with your child can give you insight into what they're sharing, and with whom.
  • Familiarize yourself with parental controls. From your operating system to your web browser, there are many different ways you can monitor or limit your child's online activity.
  • Research. Find out what apps your child is using, and learn more about features that could pose a risk to your child.
  • Ask questions. You don't have to become a spy to find out what your child is doing online. By fostering a positive, nonjudgmental relationship, your child will feel safe to share online experiences, and be more open to your advice.

Safe, Smart & Social is one of many resources available to parents and schools, offering a network of speakers, programs, resources and webinars focused around internet safety, geared towards specific age groups. They also offer Footprint Friday, which "helps parents monitor their student’s social media presence every Friday in less than 5 minutes" by creating a report of their digital footprint. It's a way for parents to see their child's visible, public internet activity without invading their privacy.

Raising awareness

According to the Pew research study above, "the vast majority of parents talk with their teen about appropriate conduct in their digital lives, but discussions about appropriate offline behavior tend to be more frequent." Encourage parents in your district to talk with their children about who they communicate with online, and how. Consider sharing information about trends you've noticed at school. What applications are students talking about? What types of behaviors have become problematic? Letting parents know what's going on in school can help them address these issues at home.

What has your district done to educate parents about digital citizenship? How can you continue to encourage them to talk to their children about online communication? Let us know in the comments below!

Image attribution
Site: flickr.com [Image 1]

Read It, Watch It, Try It: Silicon Valley Ed

Technology is rapidly changing the world around us--and it's shaping the way we think about and approach education. Nowhere is this more evident than in the new relationships between Silicon Valley startups and schools. Read on to find out more!  

Read It: "The Silicon Valley Billionaires Remaking America’s Schools"

Many schools have adapted an open-mind when it comes to introducing technology in the classroom. This mindset opens up a world of possibilities for students, with new ways to access and process information. For some schools, this has happened on a much larger scale, thanks to Silicon Valley investors and benefactors. While some consider these districts fortunate recipients, not everyone is enthusiastic about the rapid pace of technology growth in schools, or the influence of these "innovators."

Journalist Natasha Singer explores this unique dynamic, and shares how execs from Facebook, Salesforce, and Netflix have become involved in education in today's New York Times article, "The Silicon Valley Billionaires Remaking America’s Schools."

"In the space of just a few years, technology giants have begun remaking the very nature of schooling on a vast scale, using some of the same techniques that have made their companies linchpins of the American economy. Through their philanthropy, they are influencing the subjects that schools teach, the classroom tools that teachers choose and fundamental approaches to learning."

Watch It: AltSchool in Action

Ex-Google employee Max Ventilla has taken the Silicon Valley edtech one step further--founding his own private school, AltSchool, in 2013. Established in three cities, the schools "range in size from 35 to 120 students, and offer mixed-aged learning environments where technology helps educators create personalized, foundational knowledge and project-based learning experiences focused on developing the whole child." Watch this PBS special to learn more:

Still curious about AltSchool? Check out this video featuring an interview with the school's founder, Max Ventilla.

Try It: SVEF Ed-tech Startup Products

Silicon Valley Education Foundation "was founded on the belief that a new kind of organization is needed – one with a different philosophy and approach to the challenges in legacy systems. A nonprofit resource and advocate for students and educators, SVEF is dedicated to putting all students on track for college and careers, focusing on the critical areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)."

We've collected a number of contenders from SVEF's 2016 iHub Pitch Games, where edtech startups share their products and look for schools to partner up with. For more information on last years Pitch Games, or to see more innovative products, click here.

Cashtivity
"Cashtivity is a new way for students to develop the enthusiasm, mindset and skills to succeed in and outside the classroom. Cashtivity offers a collaborative and student-centered approach to learning, where students are in the driver's seat. Math is the best starting point to bring project-based learning to life. It’s the foundation for success as an active, well-rounded participant of the 21st century: it’s essential in business, in work and in life. Working through real world, entrepreneurial scenarios, students create their own personalized learning data that is social, authentic and relevant.  Teachers finally have a convenient and effective tool for bringing real world context to their lessons, helping students reach their learning goals in math."

Green Ninja
"Green Ninja is an educational initiative to inspire interest in the science and solutions associated with our changing climate. Adventures of the Green Ninja – a superhero – are told in a youth-oriented and humorous way, but grounded in science and data. Green Ninja curriculum is used to support teachers in the classroom and promote hands-on learning experiences that are designed to meet the Next Generation Science Standards. Green Ninja media are popular on YouTube, with a current viewership of over 2,000,000."

Sutori
Sutori is a collaborative platform that allows it's users to create visual stories in an interactive timeline format. Combining text, images, and videos, as well as surveys and discussion modules, Sutori is a unique way to demonstrate and share learning on a specific topic. In addition to using the tool to create assignments, teachers can search existing stories as a jumping off point for learning.

Image attribution
Site: flickr.com [Image 1]

Digital Citizenship: Media Literacy

"To improve education, that is our goal. What we truly need to advance is a tool for teachers, with which they can engage in new strategies, communicate with one another, and demonstrate their learning. Something to turn our teachers from mere humans, to chrome warriors." - Benjamin Franklin, 1754

So...that's not a real quote--and you likely picked up on that. But had it been transposed over a picture of a classroom of engaged students, written in some "bespoke font," posted on multiple sites, you may have thought twice. With a couple clicks of the mouse, false information can be repackaged, given credence, and even vouched for by an audience (albeit a false one). The reality is, anything is possible on the internet, and for all of the positive information and knowledge shared across the web, there's an equal amount of garbage.

In some cases, it's easy to spot. Unfortunately, with social media and content gone viral, false information can spread like wildfire. While rules of conduct exist on the web, they're nowhere near as stringent as ethics codes that dictate what's printed in our newspapers, or said on our television networks--the internet is basically the Wild West of the media world. As our capacity to create and share content grows each day, so should our emphasis on media literacy.

According to the Media Literacy Project, media literacy is "the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media." In order to think critically about media, be it online or in print, we must be able to understand where it came from, who created it, what their message/purpose is and how it influences its audience, intended or otherwise.

Access

If you ask a student how to accomplish an unfamiliar task, or to summarize a complex event, their first instinct is likely to Google it, and to click on whatever pops up first (or on a Wikipedia article!). Of course, this is usually the fastest way to access information, but it isn't necessarily the most accurate or comprehensive. This doesn't matter when you want to figure out how long to hard boil an egg; but for school assignments, or an unbiased account of current events, students need to be taught where and how to get credible information. General guidelines for finding credible online sources include:

  • Know the difference between web suffixes, like .com, .gov, .org, and .net.
  • Familiarize yourself with popular news sources, and their political or ideological biases.
  • Utilize academic databases like EBSCOhost for finding research papers.
  • Complete the picture. Don't just search for online articles--look for credible video content, (real-life!) books, or audio files to complement your existing findings.

Analyze & Evaluation

Analysis and evaluation involves breaking media down into separate components: recognizing the opinions, biases, and facts that make up content. Is a news article simply stating a fact, or is it designed to cast a certain light on its subject? Is a product review video a straightforward survey, or does the creator have an affiliation with one of the product manufacturers?

The simplest way to start analyzing media is by putting it through a who, what, when, where, why and how filter. Of course, there are many other ways to look at content: what does it mean or say in terms of race, gender, socioeconomics, religion, or politics? How does the content creator relate to their subject? Equally important is evaluating your own response, recognizing your own biases and how this impacts your decision to endorse or reject content. For more information, read the "5 Questions Students Should Be Asking About Media," from Common Sense Media.

Create

Teaching students how to create media is about much more than giving them access to video editing software or encouraging them to start up a blog. Bringing in digital citizenship principles is important here: What types of information are students creating or sharing? Is their intention to persuade or educate? Encouraging students to identify their purpose will not only promote ethical creativity, but help them to better communicate their ideas. For a simple way to introduce some of these concepts, check out this "Create Your Own Ad" activity from PBS.

Media literacy is finally on lawmakers' radars--in fact, California Senator Bill Dodd's Media Literacy bill (SB-135) was just passed in the state Senate on May 30. In a press release from April, Dodd said, "Developing a comprehensive media literacy curriculum is critical to combating fake news. While information has become more accessible than ever, many lack the tools to identify fake or misleading news and information. By giving students the proper tools to analyze the media they consume, we can empower them to make informed decisions." Media literacy may be mandated in the future--but there's no reason to wait to introduce it in our classrooms.

Image attribution
Site: flickr.com [Image 1]

Digital Citizenship 101

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Last week, our "Watch It, Try It, Share It" was all about digital citizenship. We shared tools and training resources that educators and administrators can use in creating a #digcit program in their classrooms. More of our education and general life experiences are moving online, so it's important that we give students the tools and understanding they need to interact on the web--and how their online actions can have a real-life, offline impact.

Safety & security

Safety is among one of the top concerns among parents when it comes to teaching their children about using the internet. It's a valid point; while making new (albeit unknown) friends or sharing about themselves from behind a screen might seem safe to children, there's always potential for unknown consequences for this type of behavior. While drawing the line between privacy and safety can be difficult, establishing open communication about online actions is key to protecting students in our virtual world. In fact, Google executive Jared Cohen believes this conversation is equally--if not more--important as substance abuse or sex education:

"We’ve talked to parents in New York, Saudi Arabia, Africa, and it becomes very clear that their children are using technology at a pace that’s faster than their physical maturity process, so kids are using technology earlier and faster. Our conclusion in the book is that parents need to talk to their kids and start early about the importance of online privacy and security, years before they even talk about the birds and the bees.

I remember in health class in elementary school where, you know, they scare you away from using drugs, they scare you away from having unsafe sexual activity, they scare you away from using alcohol and tobacco. This is part of that conversation."

Respectful communication

Participating in online society comes with many of the same circumstances you'd find in a real-world society. There are laws, communities, etiquette expectations--even different languages. Understanding the nuances of this online universe comes with experience and a solid foundation in digital citizenship. From composing polite, professional e-mails to spotting and reporting cyberbullying, there are many things new members of our virtual society need to learn.

While it may seem common-sense to say "treat others as you'd like to be treated--even in your chat group," the anonymity and false sense of security that a screen provides mean that it's easier for children to respond rashly to a negative situation. Teaching students about the permanence of their online footprint is crucial--just because they've deleted the rude message they sent doesn't mean it's gone--and more importantly, doesn't mean that it didn't have an impact on it's recipient. It's like the popular toothpaste analogy that circulated the internet last year--once the message has been sent, it's impossible to take back.

Technology toolbox

Digital citizenship isn't all about teaching "the dangers of the Web." Giving students the tools they need to navigate technology can empower them to expand their learning. Online research strategies and creative and academic-focused apps and games can open up a world of educational opportunities. Think of the first grader building a digital prototype in TinkerCAD, or a high-schooler collaborating with a student from halfway across the world on a video project.

Teaching children about positive internet and device use can be as simple as modeling it in the classroom. A tech-positive environment can be established using the SAMR model, which guides educators in enhancing and transforming their teaching through technology. Giving students access to these tools during school time, rather than having them navigate them on their own, allows adults to instill healthy online habits during the learning process. It can mean the difference between a student using Minecraft to learn about coding, or simply using the program's chat or battle feature purely for entertainment and socializing.

Healthy habits

Learning when to use the internet is just as important as learning how. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children from 2-5 years old should only engage in screen time for a maximum of one hour per day. For children six and above, that number is more flexible. The AAP encourages families to take responsibility for setting these limits. "Parents are in charge of setting limits on digital media for kids and teens six and older. [...] The amount of daily screen time depends on the child and family, but children should prioritize productive time over entertainment time."

In this context, screen-time is defined as using devices purely for entertainment purposes; it does not include using a computer for homework or school projects. As computers and smartphones become more ubiquitous, this line between what qualifies as screen-time and what's considered "productive" device use has blurred. Setting boundaries and establishing ways children can positively incorporate technology into their daily lives is the first step in creating these healthy habits.

What have you done at home or in your classroom to promote digital citizenship? What are the greatest advantages and challenges facing this tech-savvy generation? Let us know in the comments below!

Stay tuned for more from our Digital Citizenship series!

Image attribution
Site: flickr.com [Image 1]

Social Media Series: Twitter for Educators

"Twitter PD: Connecting teachers from diverse backgrounds; fostering to-the-point, meaningful discussions; creating #s to unify communities." -This article in 140, Twitter-ready characters

Many educators and administrators have embraced Twitter as a useful professional development tool. Modern day teacher workshops offer tips on building your PLN with Twitter, or hosting and participating in #edchats. It's attracted a wider user base than traditional blogging, and has surpassed Facebook or LinkedIn when it comes to teachers meeting virtual colleagues. We've accepted Twitter as a new tool in our educator toolbox--but what is it about the simple platform that makes it so conducive to teacher professional development?

Making connections

Being a follower isn't necessarily what first comes to mind when thinking about professional development. However, following on Twitter gives educators access to leaders--and their ideas. Following allows you to select the kind of content you want to see, from the people you want to hear from. And it's a great way to make a connection without a formal introduction. Love what that fourth grade teacher in Texas has to say about incorporating iPads in the classroom? Follow her to stay-up-to-date on her new content, and tag her to share your own ideas.

Teachers can also connect through weekly group chats. These conversations can branch off into one-on-one conversations by tagging an individual participant. It's like attending a workshop and being able to chat directly and immediately with educators you found inspiring, or made a connection with.

Teaching is a collective activity: it doesn't take place in a vacuum. Arguably more so than any other field, education thrives on networking and collaboration. Twitter is just one more way for teachers to make connections, independent of their location or district resources.

Cutting the fluff

"A Tweeter? What's that!?" When Twitter was first introduced, critics found the platform to be useless--full of needless personal updates, a Facebook without it's bells and whistles, a platform primarily for self-absorbed teens and tweens. And really, how much meaningful conversation can take place in just a few words? As Twitter's popularity grew, so did the diversity of it's fanbase. Former skeptics saw the value in paring down responses, getting to the "core" of a message. One former Twitter skeptic decided to try out the platform, asking for feedback on how teachers could use Twitter in education. He received "suggestions including using Twitter as an emergency-response system, to publish school announcements, and to post ideas for enrichment activities after school. Getting fast feedback from people with diverse perspectives [was appealing]."

Finding a purpose

Teachers use Twitter for a number of different reasons. Some districts use Twitter as a way to connect with staff and the larger community: sharing stories of learning and praise for their educators, or communicating important information like unexpected school closings. Other teachers use the platform independently of their districts, participating in edchats, seeking advice, or looking for the latest cutting-edge technology for their classrooms. Getting the most out of Twitter starts with identifying your personal PD goals. If you're interested in learning more about educational technology, there's a chat for that. Want to start a "classroom without borders" and connect with a school halfway across the world? Tweet it! Because there's so much content on Twitter (including funny  memes you might accidentally find yourself scrolling through for hours), it's helpful to narrow in on your goals, and become familiar with how to use the platform to find information and connect with others.

Want more? Check out our resource on how to stay connected with Twitter and other online platforms or get connected with the 10 Twitter Chats for Educators.Let us know how you use Twitter for professional development in the comments below!

Image attribution
Site: flickr.com [Image 1]

Social Media Series: Voxer

Teachers across the country are using a walkie-talkie app to communicate with their PLNs.

Walkie-talkies?! You might be recalling nostalgic childhood memories of hiding in the neighborhood, communicating with your friends over a crackling two-way radio. Voxer brings you the same closeness of a walkie-talkie, with the added ability to communicate via text and pictures. It's live-messaging capabilities make it an ideal app for communicating in real-time with your community. Buzz in to ask for advice on behavior management, or share a success story from your classroom. Like Twitter, Voxer is a great place to pose a question and get answers from your PLN, wherever they may be. With the addition of photos and text, Voxer is a complete multimedia platform for communicating. Check it out at http://voxer.com/.

Expand your PLN on Voxer

Opportunities for growing your PLN are endless. Whether you're attending conferences, getting involved in #edchats or taking part in an educational blogging community, the number of options can sometimes be overwhelming. So, what sets Voxer apart from the myriad of other ways you connect with fellow educators? For Voxer user Stacia, the difference is clear. "We loved Voxer so much because we could hear each other. We heard passion, excitement, disappointment, frustration, a variety of feelings that are hard to translate through written word. Immediately, the dynamics of how we communicated and what we communicated evolved," said the educator.

Streamline teacher communications

In addition to free, individual user accounts, Voxer offers a paid PRO Plan for business and groups. A school or district could introduce the app to make communcations with and among teachers easier and faster. At Northern Parkway Elementary School, teachers and administrators are using Voxer for day-to-day communications and relationship building. The app has even taken the place of some face-to-face meetings, as Voxer has allowed the school to share urgent information more quickly and efficiently than they might be able to in person. "Previously, if we needed to share information or seek an answer, our recourse was limited to an email (one of dozens and dozens that we all receive daily) or phone call (that would almost always go to voicemail). Now we send a vox, and our director has an archived message that is readily available at the push of a button," said assistant principals Sheilah Jefferson-Isaac and Bilal Polson. Jefferson-Isaac and Polson say that the turnaround time for getting a response to a "vox" is typically less than fifteen minutes--take that, e-mail!

Use Voxer for professional development

Aside from connecting educators with a wider audience and diverse ideas, Voxer's interface can inherently help users expand their capacity for reflection and effective communication. Because of it's voice messaging capabilities and five-minute message maximum, educators have to find a way to be concise and direct in sharing their ideas. Conversely, the feature allows teachers time to reflect on a question. Unlike on a conference call, you don't have to respond immediately. In his article, "Leading inside the Vox," teacher Fred Ende describes how the platform has altered not only his teaching practice, but his life. "This extended wait time is exactly what we all need if we are going to best process the information we’re buffeted with daily. I can clearly state that I’ve become a more consistent reflector of my own thinking, and the thinking of others, because of Voxer’s design," said Ende.

...Or for your other interests

The great thing about Voxer is that you can use it for much more than your professional development or education interests. Are you an avid reader? Join a Voxer book club. Want to connect with your running bodies and start a training program? Add them on Voxer to share your idea, and see if anyone is interested. If you're part of a niche group online, expand your communications by suggesting a Voxer chat group.

Try it out

Signing up for Voxer is easy--and free. Simply download the app and set up your profile to get started. If you're looking for some tips on how to use it, check out Voxer Ettiquette 101.

Image attribution
Site: voxer.com [Image 1]

Blended-Learning PD: Time, Accessibility & Evaluation

Professional development is a cornerstone of effective teaching. As an exercise in continuing education, it gives teachers access to the most up-to-date pedagogies and methods, educational technologies, and ongoing support to apply this learning in the classroom. It is not without its challenges, however. From classroom disruptions to funding and tracking costs, there are many factors that can impact the quality of a professional development program. Fluid and responsive, blended learning PD is able to redefine these roadblocks as inspiration for platform design.

Time & duration

Professional development requires time to plan, deliver, implement, and evaluate. Some districts allocate time during the regular school year for PD, holding in-service days, or providing substitutes for teachers attending conferences or workshops. Professional development represents a significant time commitment--especially considering that duration is one of the most critical components of a successful PD program.

Enter blended learning professional development. Online and computer-based programs are flexible, so teachers can devote as much time as is required by their administrators, or go above the minimum outside of school. These platforms allow teachers to take their PD into their own hands, choosing when and how long they spend on a learning objective.

Blended learning can also account for ability. A teacher who may only need to spend thirty minutes completing a task only has to spend thirty minutes, rather then sitting through a four-hour seminar after they've absorbed the information. Conversely, it allows teachers to revisit material, or spend more time on topics that interest them, and can act as a supplement to information learned in real-time.

Check out "Professional Learning Takes Time" from Education Week.

Accessibility

Accessibility to high-quality PD resources can be impacted by a district's location and funding. A rural school may have a harder time finding a local engaging speaker or workshop leader. A low-income school district may not be able to fund tech training for their staff, or be able to afford the necessary classroom equipment for implementation.

These real-life, tangible learning opportunities are invaluable, but sometimes they're simply inaccessible. Many teachers in these situations take advantage of virtual coaching, PLNs or other online resources to improve their teaching practice. Blended learning has innovated this online collaboration and accessibility, retooling these relationships to build comprehensive platforms that allow teachers and administrators to learn, share, and evaluate progress.

Teachers are thinking deeply about their practice and their profession. They're rewriting curricula, drafting new lesson plans, and sharing lessons online. Technology is expanding access to knowledge, innovation, instruction, and professional development in unprecedented ways. Technology is driving both greater equity and an increased focus on excellence. [...] I believe that geographic location should not dictate results. In America, poverty is not destiny—and neither is geography." -Arne Duncan, 2013

Evaluation

Imagine: Two hundred teachers attend an offsite, two-day workshop on effective classroom models. The following year, they take a course on social media and education. In the interim, administrators occasionally reinforce the learning by providing a link to a relevant article, or include the learning objective on teacher evaluations at the end of the year. Outside of that, the teachers may or may not engage in the material in their own time. In the end, how many of those educators were able to consistently implement what they learned in the classroom? How many of them were given the opportunity to demonstrate learning, or to ask the kinds of questions that inevitably arise when you delve further into uncharted territory?

Giving our imaginary district the benefit of the doubt, they did the best they could to expose their teachers to up-to-date research and tools. Or, maybe they simply book workshops to 'check the PD box' for the school year. Without evaluation, their intention is moot, because they'll never know if the time and resources invested in these workshops was worthwhile for teachers or student achievement.

The ability to evaluate progress is of the most significant inherent improvements of blended-learning PD. Platforms like Chrome Warrior give teachers and administrators the tools to evaluate learning: a gamified, evidence based system; the ability to assign peer reviewers who can provide feedback; and a forum for discussion and collaboration on missions and sorties. Learning is tracked, validated and visual with badging, and accessible by colleagues and administrators. So rather than saying, "I attended a conference on social media and education," teachers can point to concrete evidence of their engagement with the learning materials. So not only is blended learning ideal for administrators evaluating PD outcomes, but it builds a sort of "professional portfolio" for teachers as they learn.

Image attribution
Site: flickr.com [Image 1]