Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Technology Professional Development: Do This, Not This

Perhaps the quickest way to improve your professional development is a simple change in sequence.

Consider 3 attributes: 1) learning how to use the technology, or the tool, 2) finding your overall purpose in your unit, and 3) looking for the specific place in the curriculum where to integrate technology.

"Specific Place" would be the outcome, say learning about double-digit multiplication or the effects of the Civil War. The "Purpose" would be the broader aspects of the Iowa Core, such as enhancing written literacy or developing collaboration. Not all "purposes" would lend themselves to technology integration, but there are quite a few universal ones, applicable for every classroom, that do. We'll analyze those purposes tomorrow.

With those 3 attributes, most technology professional development follows this sequence:We start with "This is what a blog is", or "Here's how to operate the new Elmo we got". We probably make a mention of "a blog will help create collaboration" or "a blog is a 21st century way to develop writing skills", and then it is up to the teacher to look at their curricular objectives and "fit" the technology in.

Another typical sequence is:
where the deeper purpose drops out altogether. "Here's podcasting, now go use it in your classroom", without nay discussion as to why you'd use it.

No matter the sequence, whatever you start with (whatever is furthest left) will receive the most attention, and then it will diminish as you progress to the right. In other words, if it starts with the tool in the professional development sequence, it will be all about the tool in the classroom. And, that's not what you want.

Shifting the sequence puts the focus where it needs to be:Start by having the discussions about what we need to do more of, what we need to emphasize, in our classrooms. And, this will be different for different teachers, where in physical education there might be a need to analyze your personal fitness data, in social studies, it might be to utilize visual literacy for meaning.

Then, go to the curriculum. "I teach a unit on cultural awareness, and given that students are visual learners in today's world more and more, I need to incorporate better visual literacy elements during my unit." Find the specific places to target.

Then find the tool. Here's where the tech integrationist can come in and work 1:1 or 1:small group and help them find the tool that is specific to their curricular need.

There are tell-tale signs if you are doing this effectively or not. If you are saying comments like "How can you use blogging in your classroom?", you are starting with the tool. Your focus is on the tool.

Moreover, there should always be the option of "no technology" if the sequence is set up well. In the last sequence, after analyzing the overall purpose and the specific place in the curriculum, you might conclude that the best tool in this case is plain old paper and pencil, or maybe dramatic theater, or a kinesthetic activity. "No technology" is never an option with the poor sequences.

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