I had an interesting conversation earlier today with Jeff Lebow and Doug Symington as part of the traditional Wordbridges end-of-year webcastathon. Among lots of other things, we discussed professional development for teachers. In our case, we have half a day, twice a year, for professional development. In those two half-days, we have to teach our teachers everything they need to know. That includes instruction on new approaches to teaching various subject areas, legal updates on new legislation affecting schools, techniques for differentiating instruction and better meeting the needs of all students, crisis procedures including security lockdowns, CPR training, and AED use, and occasionally, technology. The half-day we had in March devoted entirely to technology was a major coup, and would have been quite a success if it hadn’t been for the power failure. And the fire alarm.
It looks like next year, we’re going to get two additional days for staff development. Those days are sorely needed, but they’re really not going to make a substantive difference, especially in technology. As Jeff pointed out, we have to have some sustained professional development. A single two-hour class without any followup leaves teachers frustrated because there’s no place to go for help. What if we used the webcasting technology for professional development? Teachers could interact with one another, and build kind of a support group. They could ask questions and follow along with what the “instructor” is doing. I suggested that this is technologically complex for most of our teachers. I’m really impressed when people are in a webcast, and at the same time participating in the chat room. I have a really hard time doing it. I’m pretty sure most of our teachers would be lost if they tried it.
I do see value in podcasts. I really like audio. It’s easy to produce. It can be listened to in the car on the way to work. If there were a way to deliver instruction that way, in small, easily-digestible pieces, teachers might be interested. Because it would be episodic, there’d be certain tasks to be completed between the episodes, so teachers can try out what they’ve learned, and come back with questions. It wouldn’t necessarily need to be a webcast, though that would be a possibility. It might make sense to have the instruction piece as a podcast, with a webcast going along with it. People could skype in to the webcast, which would be an ongoing support group for the podcast. Of course, this would require the teachers to have the necessarily skills to participate in a webcast.
If we were going to do this, what would we teach? I suggested starting with the NETS Standards for Teachers. Developed by the International Society for Technology in Education, they outline what every teacher should know and be able to do with technology. They start with technology skills, and then proceed to designing instruction with technology, delivering that instruction, and assessing and evaluating that instruction. The Productivity and Professional Practice strand could largely be met simply by participating in this program. Social, Ethical, Legal, and Human issues are far too rarely addressed, and should be incorporated as well.
We also talked about building a knowledgebase, where teachers could share the projects and activities they’ve done with their students. This would allow teachers to quickly implement new projects by drawing on the experience of others.
So, how do we get started?