Friday, July 3, 2009

Better Tool Training for Educators

Before we mentioned how schools mistakenly put training on tools ahead of the purpose of using technology in the curriculum. Switching that order is still the most critical item for successful technology professional development. The ideal order:

But, we have room to improve within the tool subset as well. That is, once we get to the part where we train educators how to use Microsoft Word (or blogging or Voicethread, etc.) we still don't do it well.

Below is a graphic that demonstrates typical PD steps used to learn a tool:

Some thoughts with this. 1) Schools are getting much better at getting past the first step, "awareness". But there are still many times when I've fielded the request, "Can you come out to our district and show us all the different web 2.0 tools out there?" And then, nothing else. If the school district doesn't provide professional development time and opportunities to do the next steps, expecting staff to do it on their own, it won't happen.

2) The next three stages work together, and often not sequentially. For example, you might start with an idea of how you'd like to use a wiki to develop collaboration in the classroom first before starting to learn how to make a wiki. Once you get started, you might see that you can upload files like MS Word documents and pdfs to a wiki, and you might reconceptualize how you would use it in your classroom. And, that might require you to learn more specifics on how to create a wiki. Regardless of the number of times you bounce back and forth between those stages, the purpose is to gain enough experience to use the tool independently.

3) We need to diversify the ways we do steps 2 and 3 as well. Gaining competence by having everyone in the lab at the same time as I go step-by-step how to make a power point is not effective (ask the poor teachers at Howard-Winneshiek who suffered through those years ago). People learn at different paces. They get curious and want to explore different features than everyone else. And they learn best from each other. Having flexible groups (with teacher quality money assistance), professional learning communities, individual tutoring sessions, and using resources like Atomic Learning allow people to learn at their own pace. The key... learning at your own pace does not mean learning on your own.

4) But the three thoughts above don't even scratch the surface of this last thought. We spend too much time, even on professional development directed by AEA staff, on steps 1, 2, and 3. That isn't professional development. That's training. And there is a big difference.

A quick example. We at Heartland give thousands of power points a year, to all types of different audiences of educators on all types of different topics. Our staff have stage 4 "experience" down pat.

But, until recently, we never talked about what made an effective power point. Sure we can use a template and put in bullets and such, but does that mean you should? The answer is a resounding no. Bullet points in a power point lead to rote reading off the slides, shifting the audience's attention away from the presenter, and ultimately making the presentation less effective. Or another easy example to see, just because you can add sound effects and transitions doesn't mean you should.

There is a level with technology professional development that gets at the best practices of using a tool. It gets beyond the "how do I use a tool" to the "how should I use a tool". And this is where professional development truly is. And accompanying this is actual evaluation of how you are using tools so that you can improve your practice. The evaluation of technology use by teachers themselves I have yet to seen done in an impressive way. And indeed, this is a topic of many posts in the future.

At Heartland, we're wrestling with that question as well. We have started training of our staff on Moodle, Adobe Connect Pro, Ning, and other online content creation programs in an effort to ramp up our capacity to deliver online content to schools. But, our aim is true professional development for our agency consultants, and that's a tall order, when best practices for how to facilitate a Ning forum or how to create a Moodle unit are in their infancy.

How well does your school get up to the steps of true professional development and evaluation?

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