Collaborative Professional Development as a Key to Sustainable Technology Integration

In a recent post, I explored the way faculty behavior—specifically in the form of modeling and collaboration in the classroom that enables students to co-construct knowledge—is a primary factor in connectivist learning. Here, I would like to address the subject of how an institution can help faculty cultivate that type of behavior and the pedagogical and technological skills to support such faculty behavior (specifically in terms of using the LMS required of all and videoconferencing system required of some faculty at my institution). Part of the answer is formal training, such as through online modules that address different aspects of using an LMS. Faculty can complete and return to such modules as they set up and manage course shells and synchronous class sessions. But faculty technology training also needs to become ongoing, discipline-specific, and innovation-oriented, and this can happen through collaboration more sustainably and effectively than through formal training (Future ready).

However, ISTE Standard for Educators 4, which addresses faculty collaboration as a key to improving instructional practices, particularly those involving technology, also raises the implicit administrative question of how faculty can have the time to do so.

At my college I have advocated for establishing a standing committee that would work toward developing a comprehensive framework for educational technology decision-making, including decision-making about professional development for faculty in pedagogical technology. Such professional development could include not only (1) formal training such as modules in the form of tutorials either purchased or created by the institution; but also (2) ongoing support to help teachers from diverse subject areas troubleshoot and adapt the LMS and synchronous platform to the particular learning conditions of those disciplines; and (3) trainings in which faculty would first develop technology-related solutions to instructional needs, then, after implementing their solutions, reconvene to refine and share their solutions which could then be permanently shared in a collection of curricular tools and resources that faculty could continue to develop and draw upon.

I began thinking about this third area of professional development, faculty collaboration in curricular development across the disciplines that meets an institution-wide curricular need, when reviewing literature in my discipline about addressing the needs of students (for example, resettled refugees) who enter open access institutions like mine and have literacy backgrounds that diverge considerably from the college-ready standard English speaking, reading, and writing skills that college instructors may assume students possess. In one such model, Hernandez, Thomas, and Schuemann (2012) described a campus-wide initiative at Miami Dade Community College to use corpus linguistics to analyze  the discrete language skills (e.g. the use of key grammatical features and interpersonal skills such as asking for clarification on assignments) students needed to be successful in general education classes. Faculty then collaborated through a series of workshops over a several-year period to transform the general education curriculum of the college into content-based instruction in the various disciplines that also supported learning English. The collaborative structure of this initiative could be applied in the development of institution-wide instruction that supports faculty (and thereby students) in learning and using the affordances of the technology platforms chosen by an institution’s administration.

The collaboration inherent in such a model would potentially empower faculty to not only work with required technologies, but to gain agency in developing curricula and, in so doing, to both employ the affordances of and overcome the limitations of required technologies. Potential drawbacks with this approach are the amount of time required for faculty and professional development planners alike, and the administrator and faculty “buy-in” needed to replace traditional approaches to institutional technology decisions and traditional course preparation with a willingness to re-design curricula.

Another collaborative approach that I have actually been able to help implement was an informal gathering of interested faculty who met once monthly over the course of a year to share pedagogical technological needs and solutions. This “Reflective Practice Group” met during the 2016-2017 school year in a classroom at my college and provided collaboration, idea sharing, and a deeper sense of support and community to the faculty who participated. Though it was appreciated by these faculty and the college’s administration, as an entirely ad hoc movement outside the normal faculty responsibilities and professional development structures of the college, it was difficult for faculty to devote time to the group following its initial year.

As I continue to dialogue with my administration about how to both sustainably support faculty in developing pedagogical agency in technology use and to build community among faculty (rather than perpetuating a “digital divide” among faculty who are more or less knowledgeable of technology use), I’ll be consulting literature from the interdisciplinary fields of digital education. One such source is Jaipal-Jamani, Figg, Gallagher, Scott, and Ciampa (2015), available at https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1077239.pdf.

This source describes a professional development initiative in which faculty developed pedagogical technology (TPACK) knowledge in a way analogous to the Miami Dade content-based English instruction initiative in that faculty members worked collaboratively to identify and address their own instructional needs, then develop an approach to professional development in which faculty themselves became professional development facilitators. Although this approach contains the drawback of requiring more time investment than faculty or administrators at my institution may be willing or able to give, the source looks like a useful conversation builder for ongoing discussion about technology-related professional development because it contains a practical framework for designing workshops, specifically addresses the TPACK knowledge that is becoming a felt need at my institution, and uses a qualitative research approach to evaluate how research and practice in the professional development of educators can be bridged.

 

References:

Future ready: Establishing a professional learning ecosystem. (2016, April 05). Vancouver Public Schools Office of Educational Technology. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/TMbeqn7NlyI

Hernandez, K., Thomas, M., & Schuemann, C. (2012). Navigating uncharted waters: An accelerated content-based English for academic purposes program. Teaching English in the two year college, 40(1), 44-56.

Jaipal-Jamani, K., Figg, C, Gallagher, T., Scott, R.M., & Ciampa, K. (2015). Collaborative professional development in higher education: Developing knowledge of technology enhanced teaching. The journal of effective teaching, 15(2), 30-44. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1077239.pdf

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