Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Importance of Professional Development

Mobile learning is a huge topic in education today. Some people want to run to it and others want to run away. I don't usually get on band wagons, but I did get on this one. I had been waiting for something like the iPad for years before it was released. I had seen the potential and benefit of cell phones in the classroom, but they didn't have quite enough features and those screens were just too small....then came the iPad.

The iPad changed how we view education and truly revolutionized the possibility of the learning environment. The cost of the iPads made schools rethink computers in education and suddenly everyone is purchasing iPads for their schools, but many of them are missing the point. One day I was driving down the road and I noticed a sign in front of a school that read "This fall each child will receive an iPad." And I thought, so what? Tell me something important, like what are you going to do with those iPads? Although the right equipment is important, the pedagogy behind how we use the technology in our classrooms is much more so.

Studies have shown that purchasing equipment for classrooms, but not providing the proper professional development is a great way to ensure the program fails. No amount of computers, smart boards, iPads or classroom performance systems in the world will change the classroom if the educators don't have certain things in place. The first is educator buy-in. Successful technology integration cannot be forced on people, but people can be persuaded to try certain things and hopefully that will make the difference. Consider this scenario:

I was working with a group of educators in using the iPad in the classroom. As a part of this training, I had them creating comics in Comic LIfe, a video using iMovie and a video using Explain Everything. One of the educators in this group fought me every inch of the way through this process. She didn't want to make a video (in either iMovie or Explain Everything) and luke warm to the idea of Comic Life. After a lot of gentle nudging I finally got her to create a video on classroom expectations. I doubt this educator will ever make another video, but now that she has had this experience, her students are allowed to create videos using iMovie or Explain Everything or comic using the Comic Life iPad app for class projects. They have never had this option before.

Let's compare this to another group of educators. Another group of educators were implementing a 1:1 iPad program and only accepted two hours of training. They wanted their technology trainer to show them how to use a couple of apps and then they wanted a small amount of training to show the students a couple of apps and that was all. To my knowledge, this group of educators and students are struggling with the iPads and how they can change the classroom. They don't have the base knowledge necessary to smoothly use this technology in their classrooms and have have no vision for what a truly modern classroom should look like. They struggle with simple tasks such as digitally sharing files and cloud storage, not to mention web 2.0 tools.

Compare this scenario to the group mentioned previously. The students of the first set of educators (younger than the second set) can create pdf documents, manipulate files and create comics and videos as well as move files around online and use email with ease. Although they can print, they have done so on rare occasions since they have felt it was unnecessary to print papers to turn in when you can simply use Google Drive to turn in papers digitally.

There is no fundamental difference between the two group of educators or their teaching situations. There were people in both groups who were not thrilled to start a new adventure and who needed to see the benefit of infusing technology into the classroom before being willing to look at things with new eyes. The largest difference is the time allotted to each group. Four days vs. two hours. A group of ten year olds who can manipulate, create and communicate easily using the iPad versus a group of fourteen year old students who get frustrated and cannot seem to figure out what to do.

So what is the cost of a four day staff training compared to two hours? The cost is student learning. The cost is the ability to provide a high quality modern educational environment for students. The cost is the ability of educators to understand the possibilities of effectively using technology in the classroom. The cost of not providing an adequate amount of professional development is simply too high.

I would love to hear stories about your experience with teacher professional development. What has worked, what has not? Please feel free to post to this blog or send me an email to

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