What the research says – effective technology professional development

Yesterday I posted about the book, Meaningful Learning Using Technology: What Educators Need to Know And Do and a specific chapter about the factors of effective technology professional development. Today I’d like to go into more detail on the research results.

The chapter, Fostering Meaningful Teaching and Learning with Technology: Characteristics of Effective Professional Development paints a compelling model of how to create more comprehensive professional development offerings by looking at more than one type of professional development solution. No “one stop shop” professional development is going to be as effective as a blended model.

Let’s take a look at the four factors they found to be effective:

  • Time to experiment and play
  • Focus on student learning
  • Building social connections and learning communities
  • Localizing professional development in the school and classroom

Time to experiment and play
The research not only supports giving teachers time and support as they use new technology, but also supports learning outside of designated workshops. “Professional development experiences should not be limited only to instructional sessions or organized events. They should also include activities in which teachers engage all the time. Thus schools should develop a culture instead of a program of professional development.” (emphasis mine)

They discuss how each of these models offers a different, but equally beneficial form of supportive experimentation for teachers. “In the Generation Y model, teachers had multiple opportunities to explore the use of technology with their student technology guides, who in turn could support teachers in solving any problems they encountered.”

So optimal conditions for teacher technology use include more than just one kind of time for teachers to experiment, and not just in special training facilities. Teachers who feel that their use of technology is just an opportunity for them to fail in their classroom will not be happy users. But teachers who feel that they have all kinds of support for their efforts will be more willing to take a step into the unknown. Creating a culture where the expectation is that everyone can be both a learner and a teacher lessens the risk of failure for all.

Focus on student learning
“Technology professional development that is directly tied to student learning allows teachers to learn not just how to use computers but to develop new beliefs about their value for teaching.”

Although this seems obvious, there are many technology professional development sessions that focus on administrative software, or on the other end of the spectrum, teaching teachers how to use technology for personal purposes. The belief is that if teachers start using technology somehow, in ANY way, they will gradually start to transition to using it appropriately to enhance student learning. However, this study points to this as not being true, or at least, not a long-term strategy for success.

Building social connections and learning communities
Creating multiple social and learning communities for teachers increases the chance that their needs will be met anytime, anywhere. Other teachers, online communities, staff, and students can all form mutually supportive learning community. “The perception that there is help available helps offset teachers’ concern about “costs” — that they may have to spend lots of time troubleshooting technology problems or get stuck.” The advantage with including students as part of a teacher’s learning community is immediacy. There are very few other models that give the teacher such a just-in-time support system.

Localizing professional development in the school and classroom
“Teachers need to be able to see immediate benefits of using technology without having to wait for a a long period of time. Additionally, teachers need to develop a good sense of what they have access to in their immediate environment and familiarity with policies and procedures for obtaining technology and technical assistance in their schools.”

The problem is that local professional development is expensive. It’s much more cost effective to bring teachers to a training facility, hold the training, and then send them back to the classroom, with as much follow up as you can afford. However, these issues are lessened by looking to students as part of the solution.

This chapter is a strong, research-based call for widening the definition of technology professional development. Workshops alone are not enough. Learning communities alone are not enough. Learning to teach with technology has to happen in the classroom with more support for teachers, and different kinds of support. No one program is going to have the success that several complementary programs will have.

These results may be useful to teachers and technology coordinators who wish to show that the GenYES model of student support for teacher professional development can be part of a valuable and effective professional development plan. I’ve collected all the GenYES related material from this chapter along with citations and the recommended action into a two-page PDF. In the PDF, you will find quotes that can be used in grant applications or other proposals needing research validation of the GenYES model.

In the next post, I’d like to discuss the models that these researchers chose, and why I believe that these four models represent an excellent balance that all technology professional development programs should strive for.


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