Using technology to deliver professional development

How to get teachers to use technology in  their classrooms is a major concern of some educational administrators and of almost every instructional technician. The most common approach to the problem appears to be offering professional development training. The training often takes the form of workshops and short courses during designated times.

Many of the PD training program descriptions I’ve seen are for generic presentations designed more to show what the technology can do than to show what a teacher can do with the technology. Teachers complain they have to go back to their classrooms and figure out on their own how to use the technology in their situation.

I wonder if a more useful and cost-effective program could be developed using technology to deliver the professional development to teachers in their classrooms at times when they need it.

One technology that might be used for professional development on a small scale is a wiki.  Suppose a school working at implementing Common Core standards in its classes were to allow teachers to create an discipline or area-specific wiki to which all teachers in the school have access.  Having representation from teachers of, for example, math K-12 would allow teachers to see how one years’ program can be made to build on the previous years’ instruction.

Another way to offer PD on a small scale is to using a free services to embed a live chat feature into the webpage of the school’s IT program. Instead of teachers having to figure out on their own how to use a technology for their needs, they could simply join an online chat with the IT person.  Those same teachers might see the value of putting the same feature on their webpages so they could provide outside-class help to students or meet with parents whose schedules don’t permit them to attend conferences. [The chat service I initially suggested, Wibya, is no longer available. has a chat service for collaboration and another designed especially for support desks. A free, one chat channel is also available from Embedded Chat.]

How about instead of saving those slide shows for big presentations, the IT people make less sophisticated resources for teachers, such as a set of slides about 5 free ways to make copies of an assignment available 24/7 to students? That PD could be made available to teachers 24/7 via one or two of the technologies described in the slides.

Other more ambitious uses of technology might be workable in some situations.

Suppose a school district or a group of schools or districts were to offer a professional development program on the order of the Homework Hotline where kids call in with questions and a teacher talks them through the solution.  Instead of live video on cable TV, teachers could join the PD Hotline by going to an online meeting site.

Different discipline areas could be available different days with facilitators sharing responsibility for responding to teacher requests for help with particular classroom problems.  Having directed a distance learning program, I know it would be challenging to find and train people to facilitate a PD Hotline, but the results might be worth the effort. Among other things, the program might use a great teacher to teach the most difficult-to-teach students but also give that great teacher opportunity to teach the brightest and best: your faculty.

Some PD Hotline sessions might be designated for cross-pollination across disciplines:  English language arts teachers might be joined by the fine arts faculty, for example, or the social studies faculty joined by the foreign language faculty.

Use of meeting technology would permit all PD Hotline attendees at a session to suggest options.  Additional resources should be provided via services the instructional technologists want teachers to use: a public folder in Dropbox for documents, Slide Share presentations, etc.

I know none of theses ideas would achieve 100 percent participation from faculty.

I know none of theses ideas would result in seat-time records so important to state education departments.

The ideas might not work at all. I probably have 6 or 8 ideas that don’t work for every one that does. I’ve never found that failure rate any reason to stop thinking.

What do you think?

Photo credit: Help Me 🙂 uploaded by djayo

[Links updated 2014-04-01; Lin repaired 2016-01-22]