“Boring PD”…My #ITEC14 Takeaway

boredI recently attended ITEC, which is Iowa’s big ed tech conference held every year in October. I’ve enjoyed going to ITEC over the years and always walk away with something new. This year my focus was on all sessions related to professional development, although I admit I went to a great session on how a middle school teacher in Bettendorf, IA is doing real project-based learning. In general though, I went to sessions that looked at professional development and how to make it better. At one point someone tweeted, advocating for the use of social media as a professional development experience, that if you aren’t engaging in social media then you aren’t pushing yourself as an educator. After some back and forth the issue that “Boring PD” was insufficient to meet the demands of learners and society arose.

While engaging in social media is a great professional growth experience I believe more teachers should engage in, since it helps us get outside our comfort zone, I don’t consider it all that much different than attending conferences. Instead of engaging with people in a room we engage with people across Twitter on topics we care about. While this will, to a degree, lead to change in the educator and in a more convenient and cost friendly way, our growth as a teacher is much more multi-faceted than spending a few hours a week on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Great ideas are great…as long as they are implemented. Otherwise, it’s just an idea.

This brings me back to “Boring PD.” We often waste, ignore the opportunities that are available to us for professional growth. Weekly, bi-monthly, and monthly PD shouldn’t be an experience those being served by it feel is boring. I can’t think of a better time for growth than when a group of educators are together to start talking about how we’ve implemented our curriculum, how we can make it better, and then start designing the instruction to make it better. How many times have you experienced this at your school? Your college? Your university? Only on rare occasions have I been engaged in such an experience that led to the development of new instruction for my class or practice. Why don’t we do this more?I get that there are practical issues that we have to discuss, especially in K12 education. Yet, how many of these issues that effect student learning everyday could be resolved if we created more engaging instruction where students are doing more than passively getting by in class, hoping that they won’t be called upon to contribute?

Will there likely be meetings we have to attend that we’d rather not? Yes. Can we change the structured learning opportunities for teachers so that they are more dynamic, more engaging, more productive so that student learning can improve? Yes. We just have to want it enough that we advocate for it, which means that we take the leadership to make it happen. Social media is one cog in our professional growth wheel. There are other factors that make us better teacher, some we know and some we don’t, some we control and some we don’t. Growing as a teacher is complicated, which is probably why we often are unsure of how to go about doing it better. Social media isn’t the answer in and of itself. It’s a small part of a larger system, which means that if we want to grow and see growth in our students, then we need to make professional development not boring. We need to make better use of the time that we have with other educators so that we talk about what’s working and what’s not, how we might improve it, and then create the instruction that leads to better student learning.

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/22646823@N08/3070394453/

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Striving for Good PD

I’ve been providing regular professional development for teachers at one of my partner schools this school year. I’ve been trying to provide PD that is more valuable than what has typically been the norm in my experiences. The norm from my vantage point has been you come, sit for a few hours, and then leave with little real accountability. Pretty much a waste of time. I think we can all relate to this type of PD.

So what I’m attempting to do is the following. Every month when we meet for PD, there is some form of accountability built into what we are doing. There is an outcome. I can’t stand doing things for doing thing’s sake. I just won’t do it. I can’t.

I’m also changing what I do to make the PD more like an instructional design session. What I find amazing from my experiences has been that we learn about all these new topics, whether it’s technology, pedagogy, or content, but then we never have time to look at how we can use them in the teaching and learning process. We’re left to do that after the fact, alone, with little support. Sounds like a recipe for success…right? What I’ve attempted to institute has been a Learning by Design PD where the teachers come, work in groups and design a lesson with whatever we’re learning about.

Once we are done at PD, the teachers have had a pretty good idea of what they want to do, and at that point, it is up to them to do it. However, I think it’s easy to fall back from a PD session and not use what was learned. That’s why as a follow up, we are going to look at what they did in their lessons. What happened when they actually taught the lesson? Did it go well? What happened that you didn’t expect? How are you going to change it for next time? Are there external issues we need to consider before moving forward? And so on.

I’m still learning and developing my own iteration of Learning by Design. This is my first attempt and next week I’ll have another go at it. I’m doing a little research to see what I need to change to be more effective. I’m also looking into how I can change the focus of the PD from being more techno-driven to being more pedagogic/content-driven. I find it very discouraging if we lead with the technology because it all too often follows that we only focus on the technology skills. As Mishra and Koehler have said many times, there is not single technology solution for all teacher, courses, or teaching philosophies. So I think it’s time we stop looking at our PD that way.

If you have any thoughts, suggestions, comments, etc., I’d love to hear them. Leave a comment.

Access and Support

So I haven’t blogged since mid-September, which is much less than I want, but as it is, I’ve been busy. Which is good! I’ve been working with faculty here at UNI and teachers in our partner schools to use technology in their courses. I thought I’d share a major theme that has emerged over the last month: it’s all about access and support.

Not surprisingly if you give educators the tools and time to learn how to use them, they’re going to create some amazing things for their students to be engaged with during their courses. However, this often isn’t the case in many schools. For any number of reasons the access just isn’t there. However, with the grant, I’ve been able to help provide access to a number of educators. This access has taken many different forms, from equipment to software to my time and to the time of those around them. This certainly shouldn’t be anything new, but I sometimes think we forget that if we simply provide the time for teachers to work together toward a common goal, they can accomplish amazing things. Like we should ever doubt them. They teach our kids. They should be some of the most trusted people we know.

But providing access to technology and the right people has only been part of the theme. The other part is support. This support has expressed itself in many ways, such as: administrative support before, during, and after professional development, technical support, curricular support, and sometimes, moral support. There have been ups and downs over the last month, but we’ve always held strong and kept moving forward. We haven’t let problems derail us in our pursuit of our goals. Often the best solution is asking teachers what support to be successful and then following through. It doesn’t always mean being immediate, but it does mean following through.

This has been a little big picture, but as I look at my experiences over the last month, there are too many to describe here. The pace is likely to keep up until November and then I’ll take some time to debrief more specifically. Until then, here are some helpful tips to help guide your work.

When things don’t go as planned…

Model of technological, pedagogical, and content knowledgeUsing technology in the classroom can be high stakes. There are a number of things that can go wrong, from technical issues like the WiFi going down to the lesson not going as you expected due to an unforeseen issue. There certainly are things that can go wrong, and sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. I think teachers who want to use technology in the classroom, but have a tough time doing so because of the potential for failure, need to remember that teaching is a complex activity regardless if technology is used or not. Things go wrong. The power goes out, the wrong instructions for a project are handed out, there’s an interruption in the hallway, or worse in the classroom that stops everything. Technology is no different. Things go wrong here too, but the difference is, with non-technology things, we pick up the pieces and move on. With technology, however, it seems like we give up. We can’t go on, or even think about how we could go on if something went awry. Why?

I was leading an in-service for secondary teachers at a school last week and we ran into issues with the Internet. We were exploring iPads and how they could be used in a very low stakes way. Not looking at going one-to-one but as a way to enhance the current learning taking place in their courses.  As luck would have it, the Internet went down and wasn’t available for the rest of the day. I adapted. We relied on the tools available at the time to finish the in-service, and from what I heard from a few of the teachers afterwards, it was a pretty decent afternoon. Certainly not life changing, but valuable.

I’m not telling my story here for my ego. I’m talking about it because it underscores a key area I feel we need to develop as educators. I’m talking about teacher technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge, or TPACK. I was able to adapt to my situation when the Internet went down, because I knew what I wanted to do, how it could be done, and what I could use to get there. I acted much like teachers do in classrooms every day.  However, I think we grossly underestimate the role technology knowledge and its interactions with just content and just pedagogy have in the teaching process. While many effective teachers can handle curve balls in the non-technology classroom, many of those same teachers would be overwhelmed if they were in a similar situation like I was last week.

I feel we are still in technology as an isolated knowledge mode, rather than as an equal player mode. There is a dynamic relationship in TPACK. Any change in one is going to result in a corresponding change in the other two (Mishra & Koehler, 2006). For me, teacher TPACK is on a continuum. It isn’t something a teacher achieves, even though there may be varying degrees of TPACK. A teacher’s TPACK just keeps enhancing and adapting do new or different contexts. Teachers aren’t able to come to PD sessions, learn about or even experience technology and expect to attain TPACK. There’s more to it than that. Teachers have to learn about the technology, pedagogy, and content, and their interactions with each other as a whole and as individual entities, in a variety of contexts.

I think the main focus of developing teacher TPACK is on the confluence of each knowledge domain and rightly so. But that overlooks all the other areas (TK, PK, CK, TPK, TCK, PCK). These are all just as crucial to develop as TPACK, even though TPACK is the variable we’re trying to enhance. TPACK may be what teachers use as they demonstrate their effectiveness with technology in the classroom, but in order to demonstrate that effectiveness through TPACK, teachers must first have a firm grasp on each knowledge domain. If not, I’m not sure that teachers, regardless of how effective they may be, can handle problems with the technology when they arrise in the classroom.

There has to be a better way to helping teachers use technology. We know it’s not focusing on the technology, and I’m not sure focusing just on TPACK is the next logical step. To me, it seems like we need to think about TPK, TCK, and PCK and how they fit in the overall picture. Without them, I’m not sure we can develop teacher TPACK.

Your thoughts?

Image credit: http://mkoehler.educ.msu.edu/tpack/files/2011/05/tpack-1014×1024.jpg