This quarter, our blogging efforts are focused on ISTE Coaching Standard (CS) 4: Professional development and program evaluation. Our investigation prompt for Module 1 was “how should we design professional development that utilizes educational technology?” which led me to two main questions:
1. What counts as PD?
2. What platforms are the best for hosting a PLC?
1. What counts as PD?
In education, we talk about PD a lot. My own understanding of PD comes primarily from reading and talking about it with classmates (who are often people working in K-12), and from doing research with a grant-funded project, Focus on Energy, which has a large PD component.
I was talking with my program director, Dr. David Wicks, about the idea that people in my program could offer PD, and trying to imagine myself offering a PD made me ask “…what actually counts as PD?” So before thinking about how to design PD that utilizes technology, I needed to know more about what we all mean by “professional development.”
The answer is simple, in that it’s not simple…or something. My research indicates that PD is a very broad term (Darling-Hammond, Hyler, and Gardner, 2017; The Glossary of Education Reform, 2013; Schwartz, and Bryan, 1998), and can take just about any form. In a paper titled What is Staff Development, Schwarts and Bryan (1998) write,
Staff development means something different to each person. In its most basic form it can be as simple as a plan to provide opportunities for staff to grow professionally or personally. (p. 5)
In a report on effective professional development, Darling-Hammond, Hyler, and Gardner (2017) write,
…we define effective professional development as structured professional learning that results in changes to teacher knowledge and practices, and improvements in student learning outcomes. We conceptualize professional learning as a product of both externally provided and job-embedded activities that increase teachers’ knowledge and help them change their instructional practice in ways that support student learning. Thus, formal PD represents a subset of the range of experiences that may result in professional learning. (p. 2)
See The Glossary of Education Reform for “a representative selection of common professional-development topics and objectives for educators.”
I also found a document from the Stafford Township School District in New Jersey which outlines what they count as x-hours of PD (here). This leads me to conclude that what counts as hours earned of PD, in a technical sense, depends on the decisions made by the employer. My follow-up question to this would be:
Say you want to develop an organization which offers PD to educators. What needs to be, or needs to happen, for the workshops (etc.) offered by your organization to count as PD in a given district or school?
2. What platforms are the best for hosting a PLC?
Feeling like I had a better sense of what counts as PD, as broad in scope as it is, I felt ready to think a little more about the link between technology and PD. I did a simple search for “professional development online” and started poking around. I found one particular blog post by Spirrison (2016) that inspired a lot of questions for me (here). Spirrison, claims that:
- continuous learning platforms are the future of PD
- learning management systems (LMSs) aren’t designed for professional development
- knowledge is best transferred through professional learning communities (PLCs)
Spirrison doesn’t define what continuous learning platforms are, and I would like to know. It seems like Twitter might count, based on what he says throughout the article. I would also like to better understand his claim that LMSs aren’t designed for PD – he seems to be claiming that as a platform, they are not good enough, but I don’t fully understand why. I’d like to know what features LMSs do and don’t have that support or hinder PD and PLCs. In a similar vein, what features do continuous learning platforms have that are especially well suited to support PD and PLCs?
All this seems to be circling around the idea that we need technology that supports engagement in PLCs. But in order to investigate that I have to go backwards:
How do you create a thriving PLC? What are the features of a thriving PLC? What sustains a thriving PLC? What do we know about PLCs that can help us determine how technology can support a PLC – to determine what features are necessary in a platform that hosts an online PLC?
Then we can ask:
What platform features most support PLCs? What are the necessary features? What are the helpful features? What platforms exist which fit these needs? Do standard educational platforms not fit these needs? Why? Is there a platform that is best suited to support an online PLC? If not, what are the workarounds?
I don’t currently have answers to these questions – they are big questions. But they help me understand the steps towards picking a platform:
- Research what activities people in PLCs engage in that make the PLCs successful. This closely aligns to ISTE CS 4a: Conduct needs assessments to inform the content and delivery of technology-related professional learning programs that result in a positive impact on student learning. While it is important to read what literature has to say about what people do in PLCs that sustains the PLC, it is also necessary to conduct a needs assessment to understand the exact needs of a specific PLC group – what activities will they be engaging in?
- Analyze and pick platforms based on their ability to facilitate these activities. This closely aligns with ISTE CS 4b: Design, develop, and implement technology rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment. In order to design, develop, and implement, you must assess pieces of technology against the needs of the PLC.
Look how easy it would be to figure out. Just two tasks! (Kidding. This is surely oversimplified.) I may return to these questions in future blog posts throughout the quarter.
Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., & Gardner, M. (2017). Effective teacher professional development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/teacher-prof-dev
ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. (2017). ISTE standards for coaches (2011). Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches
Schwartz, R. A., & Bryan, W. A. (1998). What Is Professional Development? New Directions For Student Services, 1998(84), 3-13.
Spirrison, B. (2016). Five reasons continuous learning platforms are the future of PD [blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.gettingsmart.com/2016/12/continuous-learning-platforms-professional-development/
Stafford Township School District. (n/d). What counts for professional development. Retrieved from https://www.staffordschools.org/site/handlers/filedownload.ashx?moduleinstanceid=3004&dataid=2427&FileName=What%20counts%20for%20PD.pdf
The Glossary of Education Reform. (2013). Professional development. Retrieved from http://edglossary.org/professional-development/