Blending models of technology professional development

This is the third part of a series of blog posts inspired by the book, Meaningful Learning Using Technology: What Educators Need to Know And Do by Elizabeth Alexander Ashburn (Editor), Robert E. Floden (Editor) (Amazon link) and specifically a chapter Fostering Meaningful Teaching and Learning with Technology: Characteristics of Effective Professional Development written by Yong Zhao, Kenneth Frank, and Nicole Ellefson of Michigan State University Michigan State University (MSU).

  • Part 1 was about the book in general and the 4 key factors found in effective technology professional development.
  • Part 2 was a more detailed exploration of the 4 factors and specifics about the findings related to the GenYES model.

This third post explores why these models are excellent examples of technology professional development and the lessons that can be learned from them.

The researchers for this book chapter identified “four large-scale efforts that were shown to be effective in affecting teachers’ use of technology.” These are:

1. The Project-Based Learning Multimedia Model (PBL+MM)
2. The Galileo Education Network Association (GENA)
3. Project Information Technology (PIT)
4. The Generation Y Model (previous name of the GenYES model)

These four models represent some of the best professional development models for technology use in K-12 classrooms. They also have some elements that can be studied, adapted, and used by anyone. These are all complex models with many elements, so I apologize in advance if I’ve shortchanged any of the descriptions. I invite corrections and additions.

The Project-Based Learning Multimedia Model (PBL+MM). Also known as Challenge 2000, this model focused on specific professional development that helped teachers use technology tools with students to create multimedia projects in core content classes. It also had a strong peer-based community for the teachers and taught teachers skills needed to successfully teach project-based classes. Book available through ASCD.

More information: Unfortunately most of these sites are no longer in operation.  PBL+MM website. SRI evaluation. Exemplary rating by USDOE Expert Panel of Educational Technology.

The Galileo Education Network Association (GENA). This is a project out of Alberta, Canada. From their site: “Galileo is about teaching for deep understanding. Galileo supports teachers to design inquiry-based projects in which students use the digital technologies of their time in creative and thoughtful ways.”

More information: GENA website.

Project Information Technology (PIT). This project was conducted in the Netherlands in the early 1990’s. Teachers were grouped into areas of expertise and met six times a year to work on common projects. Findings showed that teachers were most influenced in their use of technology by their peers. I couldn’t find much online about this project besides the homepage of the lead researcher, Dr. Betty Collis.

The Generation Y Model. This model uses students as trainers and support systems for teachers. Students and teachers plan and create technology projects for the teacher to use in their classroom. The model uses specific curriculum for the students that is also project-based and models collaboration techniques for students.

This model was recently renamed the GenYES model (since Gen Y children have grown up past K-12 age) and is the model that I’m most familiar with!

More information: GenYES website. NWREL and other independent evaluations. Exemplary rating by USDOE Expert Panel of Educational Technology.

Similarities and differences
You can immediately see similarities in these models:

  • Emphasis on project-based learning and constructivist pedagogy
  • Teaching teachers pedagogy AND technology at the same time
  • Establishing a community that was valuable for the teachers as they practiced new skills
  • Focus on student learning and student created projects
  • Emphasis on open-ended technology tools that foster creativity and student choice. These models do not train teachers to use “drill & practice” or test-prep software with students.
  • Little “tool” training
  • Technology strongly connected to curriculum and teaching needs.
  • Intensive time commitment – none of these are “hit and run” trainings. All involved long term support for teachers in the classroom or very close to the classroom. Teachers didn’t have to wait around to ask questions or consult with colleagues or experts.


  • Where the training/support takes place – Gen Y and GENA works with individual teachers, PIT and PBL+MM had larger meetings and trainings.
  • Community building – Gen Y establishes students as participants in the support community, while others relied on meetings. These days I would think that building online community would be a key component.
  • Who did the training/support – in general, GENA provided visiting mentors for extended periods, while PBL+MM relies on peer teachers and peer collaborations. Gen Y relies on student/teachers partnerships mediated with virtual coaches.

Recognition by US DOE
It’s also interesting that two of these models (the US based ones) were both named as the only exemplary models of educational technology by the US Department of Education’s Expert Panel in Educational Technology in 2001. This panel was convened to determine “what works” in educational technology, and they selected 134 models to explore in depth. Only two of these models were named exemplary, the highest rating: Generation Y and Challenge 2000. Both these models were also part of the Technology Innovation Challenge Grant program in the late 1990’s.

Using these models
Schools, districts and service centers looking at these models may wonder if they can be implemented and what it costs. Do you have to hire Generation YES to have an effective student-led support system for teachers? Do you have to hire GENA if you want teachers to design inquiry-based projects for students? Of course not. No one owns the idea of kids helping out, or project-based learning. All the research from these projects is available on the web and in books like this one. You can design your own program tomorrow, and maybe someday somebody will be writing about your model!

What schools may decide to pay for is materials, training, and support that organizations like Generation YES and GENA can provide. It’s hard enough to implement innovative programs that tackle big issues like technology integration combined with project-based learning AND invent it yourself.

By combining these exemplary models, you can provide teachers with expertise, peer coaching, and student support. Create multiple ways to support teachers, rather than multiple technologies that confuse teachers. Teachers could get support in their classroom from students, in informal, local events with peers, and in more formal trainings with experts.

It’s easy to see how a technology professional development program could strive to implement the similar aspects of these programs. It’s not as typical that a district or regional center will implement a blend of professional development designed to balance out the strengths and weaknesses of any one professional development model.

I work in many schools where teachers come to trainings exhausted after a week of serial trainings in one technology after another with no bridge between them. This can only serve to convince teachers that technology is simply piling on, instead of providing a coordinated effort to build 24/7 support for teachers.

By providing teachers with a blend of support, community, and opportunities that tie together philosophically, they can learn and use technology tools that work for them and their curriculum with confidence.

2 Replies to “Blending models of technology professional development”

  1. Sylvia, what a terrific series of postings. I was wondering if you could share, perhaps in another post, some mini case-studies of districts that realized change was needed, then worked to create the environment necessary for successful implementation of one of these models … and then EXECUTED! What did their preparation look like? How were any reluctant stakeholders brought into the fold? How long did it take? Were there any post-implementation performance metrics? What internal organizations, or groups, played key roles? PD Committee? Union? Teacher leaders? Community? Hate to ramble on like this! Just trying to wrap my head around it from 36,000 feet. 🙂 THANKS! -kj-

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