Making professional development successful

In the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University (SPU), I am working on professional development and program evaluation defined in the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards for educational coaches.  In particular, part 4 of the ISTE coaching standard asks for professional learning programs that promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment.  I am particularly interested in focusing this question on professional development and program evaluation for computer science educators at the community college level.

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Before diving into research on professional development and program evaluation, I want to reflect on my first experiences with professional development and try to discover what worked best for me and why.  I spent 30+ years in the computer industry before teaching my first quarter of computer science as adjunct faculty.  I had a lot to learn about computer science education.  I eagerly engaged in as much professional development as time allowed.  A lot of my initial professional development was rather generic and applied to any discipline.  This included things like how to build a correct syllabus, how to submit student grades, and how to access library resources.  Most of this ‘training’ is delivered in the traditional lecture/classroom style and, while important, is more about instructor requirements than the student learning experience.

Professional learning focused on content knowledge and classroom application should be emphasized in order to maximize impact on student learning, classroom climate, and cognitive levels. (Bishop et. al., 2016)

It became obvious to me in these early sessions that I had to master  the school’s learning management system (LMS) to become a successful educator.  Interestingly, the instructor training for LMS is delivered as an online, self-paced course within the LMS itself.  That is, a new instructor is enrolled in an LMS course to learn how to define lesson plans within the same LMS.  This makes a lot of sense – have educators use the same tools and technologies in their professional development as the tools used to teach college-level students.  I actually expected future professional development to be delivered in a similar manner.  Unfortunately, the only professional development that uses our LMS is the course on learning how to use the LMS.

The LMS course provided many benefits to me beyond my other professional development.  I was able to take this course online at a pace that was appropriate for me.  I received one-on-one help with how I intended to use LMS features in my computer programming courses.  I was also able to leverage the experience of other educators – both at my school and beyond – to get practices that are useful for computer science education.

Historically, a learner’s educational opportunities have been limited by the resources found within the walls of a school. Technology-enabled learning allows learners to tap resources and expertise anywhere in the world, starting with their own communities.  (NETP, 2017)

The LMS course also provides a way to track and measure results.  All of the same tools we use to measure student progress and success can be used to evaluate and improve the LMS course.  This is a key aspect of using a continuous improvement model to improve educator professional development.

While the LMS course does represent the best professional development I’ve received to date, it falls a bit short when it comes to being content specific.  I still yearn for professional development that is specific to computer science education.  This set me on a journey to discover what others found useful in computer science professional development.  One consistent theme I found in my research is the need for professional development to provide computer science teachers the opportunity to build a community and collaborate.

Professional development sessions offer a great opportunity to spend time talking with like-minded teachers about why and how they hope to teach computer science. (Vaidyanathan, 2018)

Finally, this reflection made me think about what I would like the future of professional development to look like for computer science educators.  It is clear that the programming languages and development tools used by students of the future will be very different from the the languages and tools used today.  This requires computer science educators to be life-long learners, picking up new languages and development environments as required.  Fortunately, the fundamental concepts of computer science remain the same.  However, the technology available for both educator’s professional development as well as the computer science student’s learning experiences will also evolve over time.  Today’s professional development is very reactive and focused more on how to improve the traditional learning experience without much technology.  In order to make professional development as useful as possible, we need to start the discussion on what the learning experience looks like in the future and how it will help educators build a path to the learning experience of the future.

Such a conversation about possible futures and multiple present trends could help those of us involved in education and technology to think more clearly about how what comes next emerges from what is now. The result? Perhaps a glimpse of the future. (Alexander, 2014)


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