Professional Development Opinion

Collaborative Technology: Using Web 2.0 to Advance Staff Development

By Cecilia Cunningham & Susan Restler — November 07, 2008 3 min read

Emerging generations of teachers will bring their Facebook communities and digital ways of securing information and contacts to their practice as seamlessly as they now use e-mail. Through technology, they will be able to solve problems for themselves, find and give help to others, and develop and pass along new ideas. The process could be thought of as just-in-time knowledge generation combined with community support, and it has become possible only with the advent of Web 2.0, today’s broadened and enhanced online capabilities.

Engaging in digital learning in this way can build competence and confidence. And while it may be challenging to keep an online community active and available to respond to inquiries, we believe this problem will resolve itself as education’s social networks grow in size and become dominated by Web denizens.

Even large and engaged social networks, however, cannot lead consistently to deep, enriching, and effective staff development. The issue is not which software is used, but rather how it is used. And in our experience, leadership is key. Perhaps the greatest opportunity Web 2.0 tools offer education, in fact, is the possibility of helping school leaders use the power of technology to amplify and accelerate staff development.

While it may be challenging to keep an online community active and available to respond to inquiries, this problem will resolve itself as education’s social networks grow in size and become dominated by Web denizens.

Our respective groups, the Middle College National Consortium and Knowledge in the Public Interest, have been working together for several years to facilitate and enrich staff development using Web 2.0 tools. Helping principals, staff members, and students in more than 20 schools across the country, as they establish and build their online collaboration, has been challenging, surprising, and always instructive. From our experience, we suggest to other educators a modified paradigm—one we believe will make successful work in this area easier to achieve. Here are the steps we have found to be critical in creating staff development the community can embrace and apply:

• Be clear about what you believe will be most beneficial to the team or community—what is your goal?

• Develop a clear message that succinctly communicates the goal (or goals).

• Engage with the group to help each member understand the goal, and have the entire group participate in shaping the vision more precisely.

• Enable team members to shape their approach to the goal and pursue it. Here is where technology provides some magic: access to resources without limits, either in geography or cost. As online discourse occurs, a digital “paper trail” of the work content and process is automatically recorded. In this way, the work is captured to benefit the entire group, and potentially others interested in the subject.

• Provide the human resources needed to actively guide the work. This is the key requirement for staff development that achieves specific goals. Staff members need to be encouraged and supported, questioned and guided, if this kind of work is to be done in the face of multiple competing demands.

In following this approach to staff development, we are active users of collaborative technology. Our platform is an adaptation of the open-source software Moodle. We create secure work environments for staff-development teams, post relevant resources, and invite experts to join conversations, which we call Jams. These are asynchronous discussions that take place over one or two days, so staff members can participate as their schedules allow. We facilitate each discussion, organize and analyze at the close, and help the team use the analysis to continue to move its work forward.

We have found that using this approach enables us to achieve several important objectives:

First, involving staff members in shaping development initiatives increases their engagement and commitment to outcomes.

Second, the rapid testing cycle made possible by technology allows staff members to develop ideas collaboratively online, put the ideas into play in their work, report back on the experience to the team, modify the approach, and reapply the learning.

And third, the use of technology in staff development opens staff members in turn to incorporating technology into their pedagogy, which holds the potential for a significant impact on teaching and learning for students.

When it comes to using technology to deepen and accelerate staff development, we are enthusiastic learners. The lesson we have learned so far is that leadership is as important as software, if not more so. Social networks will provide access and support, but achieving meaningful group advancement will require guided online collaboration.

A version of this article appeared in the November 12, 2008 edition of Education Week


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Addressing Learning Loss: What Schools Need to Accelerate Reading Instruction in K-3
When K-3 students return to classrooms this fall, there will be huge gaps in foundational reading skills. Does your school or district need a plan to address learning loss and accelerate student growth? In this
Content provided by PDX Reading
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Professional Development Some Kids Had a 'Choppy' K-12 Experience This Year. ISTE Will Explore Solutions
Big themes at this year's online-only ed-tech conference will include acceleration and finding K-12's way in a new, more virtual world.
2 min read
Image of a student working on a computer from home.
Professional Development How to Fix 7 Fatal Flaws in Tech Professional Development
One silver lining of the pandemic is that it forced some districts to rethink their PD priorities and find new ways of training teachers.
8 min read
A team analyses data and tracks progress
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty Images Plus
Professional Development Opinion How Can Coaches Use a Cycle of Inquiry to Establish Themselves and Help Others?
A cycle of inquiry can both help coaches establish themselves and help those they coach develop areas of improvement.
10 min read
shutterstock 546692113
Professional Development Opinion 'A Professional Learning Community Is Not a Faculty, Grade Level, or Department Meeting'
Three educators wrap-up a four-part series on professional learning communities.
11 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."