Six or seven years ago, I was assigned to write a piece for Education Week’s Web site summarizing the latest research on teacher professional development. Somewhat to my surprise, I found that there was a great deal of consensus among researchers and other experts on the qualities of effective teacher-learning activities. The studies and articles I reviewed stressed the need for collaboration, teacher inquiry, practical instructional tasks, relevant subject matter, and consistent follow-up.
Unfortunately, the experts also agreed that professional development defined by these traits wasn’t exactly flourishing in schools. For financial and structural reasons, schools were still tied to the one-shot workshop model, which pretty much no one seemed to like.
The piece I wrote didn’t mention the use of interactive technology for teacher-learning activities, because at the time such programs were in their infancy. But since then, of course, online professional development initiatives have mushroomed. Online courses, webinars, discussion groups, social networks, blogs, wikis, and Web-based workspaces have all assumed prominent spots in the teacher-PD lexicon.
And in light of that research consensus I wrote about, it’s not hard to see their attraction for teachers: Digital platforms harbor the potential to support learning experiences that are inherently personalized, interactive, and sustained. Because of their flexibility and convenience, meanwhile, they can often be readily integrated into educators’ professional lives.
You have to wonder: Can digital technology help break the decades-long hold of generic “sit-‘n-git” professional development? That is the question underlying this issue of the Teacher Professional Development Sourcebook.
The core of the answer, I think, is provided by Harvard ed-tech professor Chris Dede in our interview with him: “Only if people use the tools well.”
A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 2009 edition of Teacher PD Sourcebook