Archives For Professional Development

What Role Do Our Beliefs Play in Using the Internet for Teaching and Learning?
Sara Greenhow, University of Minnesota

I love the title of this session. I’ve observed over and over again that teachers’ beliefs do affect how they use technology. I’ve talked to teachers who hold fundamental beliefs about the place of technology in society, classrooms, and students’ lives. When those beliefs run counter to the beliefs of students in the classroom, you get ineffective use of technology.

Teacher beliefs vs. teacher knowledge. We can know something, but not believe in it. Beliefs involve strong emotion and judgement and are, therefore, quite resistant to change. This is relevant to the adoption and use of technology. Beliefs often don’t find their way into practice. (See research of P. Ertmer, Technological Pedagogical Beliefs: The Final Frontier in Our Quest for Technology Integration, ETRD)

So if so many teachers know that technology should be used, why hasn’t it made an impact? (Sara also mentioned Larry Cuban’s famous work on this topic.) One researcher found that high-order use of the Internet with students requires access + preparedness + constructivist beliefs. 81% of teachers have moderate-high computer access; 93% have Internet in the classroom (NCES, 2005). 85% feel they are somewhat well-prepared to use technology for classroom instruction (NCES, 2005). These survey results suggest that we’ve made significant progress on access and preparedness. So what about the beliefs? That’s the missing piece. We must understand, provoke, make explicit and help transition teachers’ beliefs about students’ learning, teaching, teacher learning, and technology’s potential.

Sara is talking now about “cyberinfrastructure for education,” the idea that we should have ubiquitous access to mentors, experts, virtual, augmented reality, content creation/distribution tools, and customizable personal platform for lifelong learning. (See more info at

What about the neomillenial learning styles? When given choices of multiple media, the majority of students do not prefer face-to-face communication as their first choice, but some other media. (Dede, et al., Designing and Studying Multiple Interactive Media to Bridge Distance and Time, 2003)

What does this mean for professional development?

  • The handshake-approach: Change practice first, back it up with data to show effect, gauge confidence. This approach is not for the most resistant folks, but rather for people who are open to change. Collect data from students about how they liked the different approach.
  • “Intuitive screens” approach: Simple tech uses + current goals (vs. new goals) = happy outcomes. Give them easy successes. This might work for the most resistant teachers.
  • Dialogue early and often: Target making preexisting beliefs explicit (public conversation) (about learning, teaching, technology, capacity for learning/change) For example… Do you think students can learn this way? How do you think students learned differently in that activity?
  • Challenge the adequacy of the existing beliefs. (Data and questioning)
  • Give extended opportunities to examine, elaborate, integrate new information.
    1. Vicarious experiences with supervising/mentor teacher (modeling)
    2. Provide multiple models to develop more nuanced ideas.
    3. Opportunity to try to emulate and get constructive critique (low-stakes simulations)
  • Make sure it is social, extended, and recognized over years!

This is one of the best sessions I’ve attended in a long time. The professional development approaches that Sara mentioned were really thought-provoking. I don’t want to sound too harsh, but how much longer do you think we need to keep trying to convince teachers to utilize the Internet (and technology more broadly)? When you take a serious look at how students use technology and the ways that technology has permeated the work world (and will only increase), doesn’t the debate really have to end at some point? Shouldn’t we be focusing on best practices instead of trying to convince to give technology a try?

Increasingly, I think the “prove to me that technology helps kids learn more” argument has outlived its usefulness. We live in a technological world, and I don’t think we should have to convince anyone anymore that we should learn in technological schools.

ties, ties2006, professional development

A professor of mine, Dr. Scott McLeod, was apparently bitten by the blogging bug recently and has started a great new blog called Dangerously Irrelevant about educational technology leadership. This blog was long overdue because Scott is never short on opinions and he has an approachable, thought-provoking way of presenting them.

I was talking to Scott on the phone recently asking him about which professional organizations were doing good work on behalf of people like me—tech directors in medium-sized schools. It doesn’t sound like there’s much out there. ISTE is heavy on the instructional side and CoSN seems to cater to really big districts. I’d be curious to know what professional organizations that other ed tech leaders find useful.

Old lesson relearned

21 Feb 2006

We had a whole-district staff development day today and I had the chance to introduce about 35 teachers to Web 2.0 and some applications like, Flickr (with an accompanying lesson on Creative Commons), Technorati, Bloglines, and Wikipedia. I was pleased with the results, and the experience reminded me of a lesson that I learned when I started working in technology. Simply put, here are the stages of tech integration for teachers:

  1. Teachers learn to use technology for non-work purposes. (Grandchildren are a great motivation to learn about digital photography and video.)
  2. Teachers adapt technology for their professional practice.
  3. Teachers identify ways to use technology with their students and integrate it into their curriculum.

It’s pretty easy to skip stage #1 for many teachers, but it’s a rare person indeed who can cut to the chase and go right for #3. It’s useful to remember when making professional development plans.

I used a traditional CGI approach and MySQL to build my recent idea sharing Web application. After listening to the last episode of Inside the Net which discussed, in part, the Ruby on Rails Web development framework, I decided to check out some alternatives for future development work. Ruby on Rails is getting all kinds of well-deserved buzz these days, but being a Python programmer I looked around and found Django and TurboGears, two Rails-like frameworks for Python.

That leads to the real message of this post which is to point out how prevalent the “screencast” has become as a tool for promoting and teaching about these tools. Both the Ruby on Rails screencasts and the TurboGears Devcasts are great ways to get a feel for how these tools work in real life. I should be using tools like Snapz Pro more often to help spread the word in my district about creative uses of technology. (I certainly have the gear for recording.) My district has been an Atomic Learning customer for years, but I’m thinking of a longer form screencast. Possible screencasts:

Maybe we should just buy all of our teachers new iPods and subscribe them to screencast podcasts. (I’m only half joking. What great professional development potential!)

Picking your battles

24 Sep 2005

Miguel Guhlin responds to Tami’s comment on my post about online testing in Minnesota and concludes that teachers must be the ones to transform teaching and learning. He says:

I’m tired of technology fads—and blogs, podcasts, wikis as tools to revolutionize teaching and learning are included in that—that claim they will change everything. In truth, I see that systematic change will be accomplished by sharing, not pushing, disruptive technology at the classroom level with one teacher and doing so over an extended period of time.

I’m starting my third year as a “technology integrator” and I, too, am more convinced than ever that I will be more effective as a one-on-one “coach” rather than a “trainer” who conducts large-group sessions. I’ve done too many training sessions and workshops with almost no discernible impact over the past two years. Casting a wide net just doesn’t work.

So I’m going to stop wondering how I can get every teacher in the district blogging. I’m not going to worry if everyone doesn’t understand the implications of the read/write Web for our students’ futures. I’m going to work one teacher at a time; one project, one classroom, one blog, one wiki, one disruptive technology at a time. Miguel’s right; it takes courage for a teacher to “swim against the stream.” I’m going to focus on the ones who are willing to jump in and fight the current.

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I’ve consistently said since I started my current job nearly two years ago that the era of one-size-fits-all professional development needs to end. It may have been appropriate to put 25 teachers in a computer lab for a training program in the early days when none of them had much educational technology experience, but that certainly isn’t the case anymore. Let’s take a theoretical example of a training session with those 25 teachers with the goal to teach them how to manage digital pictures with iPhoto. Of those 25, one-third will never has used iPhoto or a maybe even a digital camera, one-third will have enough experience with the tools to recognize that they would like to learn more, and one-third will be experience digital photographers who have 2,000 photos in their iPhoto library and could probably teach the class. No matter what group you target in the training, two-thirds of the group will go home frustrated because it went over their heads or bored because it was too basic.

This principle was reinforced to me throughout the professional development program for our one-to-one computing project. We did some training early on and it was obvious that the sessions were operating at too high a level for a substantial number of the teachers in the group. (Yes, we had actual tears from at least two participants.) Nothing like making a teacher cry to bring home the importance of this issue. We improved our training program substantially and by the end of the year we were offering much smaller training “electives” that teachers could choose from to help ensure that they were getting the material at an appropriate level. A mentoring model is an obvious next step, and I plan to work on that this year.

The final principle that I discovered was that teachers (and everyone else by extension) can only learn when they’re ready to hear what is being taught. It’s of little use to teach iPhoto to someone who’s never taken a digital picture. Ever tried teaching people about blogs who aren’t regular blog readers? They may enjoy the training, but the chance that they will begin blogging seriously themselves is practically zero. When I get questions from teachers about some bit of technology that they were trained on a few weeks or months earlier, it’s obvious that they didn’t learn it the first time because they weren’t ready to hear it.

This “just in time” element is evident in my thinking about our curriculum sharing tool. I’m convinced that the system won’t be used to its utmost unless the district’s teachers get timely suggestions of resources that they can use right away. Talking to someone about a technology tool that they might use in a few months isn’t effective. You need to get the information to them when the curriculum is already on their minds.

21st Century Skills come up a lot in the literature about one-to-one computing. This session is called “School Leader Development: Building 21st Century School” and is presented by a number of folks who work through Microsoft’s Partners in Learning program.

The presentation begins with some information about globalization. They mention Friedman’s recent work, but the point is that individuals in “Globalization 3.0” are connected in dramatic ways. Friedman says that 24% of new jobs in America are math and science related while we are graduated a mere 5% in those areas. How is Microsoft responding to this potential crisis? They’ve committed with a strategy in multiple countries to work on new programs like one-to-one computing, schools of the future, and other forward-thinking projects. The presentation appears to be a report of Microsoft’s Partners in Learning project in the six states where they’re working. Boy am I hoping that things get around to some more practical steps that individual districts can work on.

Now we’re getting a look at the Building 21st Century Schools program. It’s a multimeida, modular program that has the feel of a simulation. The intent appears to be to get teachers and school leaders talking about the relevant issues. There are links to background articles and opportunities to compose relfections before and after reading the materials. The system allows groups to work together and take some group notes of their thinking.

There’s plenty of glitz and slick multimedia authoring in evidence here, but my sense is that this system suffers from the same limitations as practically every other similar program I’ve seen. It requires the participants to enter a world entirely separate from their world of work and play. Why can’t this be Web-based? Is there an RSS feed or, at the very least, an email gateway for the discussion component? If not, why not? If I were implementing this program, I can imagine how it would go. A small fraction of the teachers would actually use it because it’s a relatively large pain in the backside to take time to explore this system. From what I can tell, the same program could be built as a Moodle course and delivered in a much more friendly way.

Most of the background learning theory work for this program comes from three books: How People Learn, How Students Learn, and (soon to be published) Preparing Teachers For a Changing World. These would be worth looking at.

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Implementing UDL

29 Jun 2005

This session at NECC is called “From Mole Hills to Majestic Mountains: Implementing UDL.” I’m beginning work on a universal design project at Hopkins, so this session is particularly timely. The presenters are Lauri Susi from Spotlight on Learning and John Laskarzewski.

The presenters’ definition of UDL: Universal Design for Learning is an educational approach to curriculum and instruction using technology to enable students with divers learning needs to be successful. The origin of universal design is in designing physical access to buildings and other devices, but UDL as it is currently envisioned has implications for materials, instruction and assessment.

Principles of universal design: provide multiple and flexible methods of presentation, expression, and engagement. How does UDL differ from differentiated instruction? Good question. The presenters skipped that slide. Doh! How to get started with UDL? The presenters are showing some examples of how the same information can be displayed in multiple modes. The key is that the instructor doesn’t have to create the different presentation modes for each student separately, but creates the content in a way that can be used in multiple modes automatically by taking advantage of the capabilities of operating systems or specific software. (There are some obvious connections with standards-based Web design here.)

Getting started: Enter the K-Trek. That’s the presenters’ terminology for a curriculum design process that starts with “big ideas” and builds essential questions from there. They use a National Park Service metaphor with each K-Trek beginning at the “Visitor’s Center” and proceeding to various “Outlooks” where students gain perspective and begin interacting with the content. Each outlook has multiple ways of interacting with the content at various levels of difficulty.

Now the presenters are talking about some specific techniques. Here’s one I hadn’t considered: use the auto-summary feature of Microsoft Word to create simplified versions of original documents. (Look in the Tools menu.) Then the teacher can add instructions, color-coded cues or whatever else makes sense for the student. They’re emphasizing the usefulness of building eBooks that have the text in audio format via text-to-speech capabilities of various software tools. It would be interesting to see how well it works to use Apple’s VoiceOver technology with Audio Hijack to read the text out loud and simultaneously capture the audio.

I think the take-home message is, “Design once; view and interact in many ways.” There’s a significant staff development component to this, but the work that goes into teaching about UDL will pay dividends in other areas. There’s no Web site that describes the K-Trek method yet, but Googling for “Spotlight on Learning” should turn it up when it becomes available.

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