Curriculum Chat

Exploring Online Professional Development

Two experts in online professional development to discussed recent issues and developments in the field and took questions on getting the most out of Web-based learning.

Chat: Exploring Online Professional Development

Tuesday, June 30, 3 p.m. Eastern time

Two experts in online professional development to discussed recent issues and developments in the field and took questions on getting the most out of Web-based learning.

Related Stories:

  • “Creating Value With Online Teacher Training,” (March 16, 2009)
  • “Teacher Training Goes in Virtual Directions,” (March 26, 2009)
  • Guests:
    Tom Blanford, associate director, National Education Association Academy
    Barbara Treacy, director, EdTech Leaders Online at the Education Development Center

    Anthony Rebora, managing editor, and the Teacher Professional Development Sourcebook, moderated this chat.

    Live Chat: Exploring Online Professional Development(06/30/2009)


    10:53 Web Person: Casey: Today’s chat, Exploring Online Professional Development is open for questions, so please start submitting them now. The chat will begin at 3 p.m. Thank you for joining us.


    Anthony Rebora:

    Welcome to our chat online teacher professional development. Thank you for joining us. We have a couple of great guests with us to help us delve into this issue. Tom Blanford is the associate director the National Education Association Academy, which evaluates online professional development course. And Barbara Treacy is director of EdTech Leaders Online at the Education Development Center. Ed Tech Leaders Online helps districts develop and design online PD programs for their teachers. Appropriately, I believe Barbara is joining us live from the National Educational Computing Conference in D.C.

    3:02 Anthony Rebora: Welcome, Tom and Barbara

    3:03 Barbara Treacy: Thanks! So glad to be here with you!

    3:03 Anthony Rebora: I want to start with a little overview of what your organizations do in this field of online teacher PD. Tom, let’s start with you can you give us a quick description of what NEA Academy function is?

    3:03 Tom Blanford: Glad to be here as well

    3:04 Tom Blanford: Sure, The NEA Academy is a collection of online professional development programs from several sources--internally produced, external courses, and courses from our state affiliates

    3:05 Tom Blanford: All the courses we offer are screened by a quality review panel of teachers, ESP and state staff, based on standards developed with the assistance of the National Staff Development council

    3:06 Anthony Rebora: Great. Barbara, can tell us a little about EdTech Leaders Online?

    3:08 Barbara Treacy: EdTech Leaders Online, based at Education Development Center,provides capacity building online training and courses for educator professional development and virtual school programs. We provide online instructor and course developer training, a catalog of over 60 online PD workshops for teacher professional development and virtual schools, and ongoing support for implementating programs. Over the past 10 years, we’ve trained over 3000 online specialists for educational organizations in more than 35 states.

    3:09 [Comment From David]
    Can online professional development be as effective as in person professional development in facilitating teacher change?

    3:10 Anthony Rebora: Tom, David’s question is a good starting point. Can you address that.

    3:10 Tom Blanford: My favorite question! We like to talk about ways to make online professional development (can I use OPD?) better than face to face.

    3:11 Tom Blanford: There are a number of advantages--self paced, it can be viewed and reviewed, and it can be customized, e.g. “for high school example, click here”

    3:13 Anthony Rebora: Barbara, is there any reliable research--or other evidence-- coming out on this question of how effective online PD is?

    3:15 Barbara Treacy: Yes -- a new study was just published last week by the US Dept of Ed that reviewed 46 studies of online learning and the results showed that online learning was more effective, and hybrid models were the most

    3:15 Anthony Rebora: Here is a related question from Gail. Barbara, can you respond.

    3:15 [Comment From Gail Moon]
    How do you address via online the rich discussion that often develops as one person’s thoughts engender another’s thoughts when there is face-to-face conversation happening as part of professional development?

    3:16 Barbara Treacy: In addition, we’re involved in a 10 study research study funded by the US Dept Education with the e-Learning for Educators project, which is examining the impact of online PD on teachers and student learning. Results will be available later this year. iNACOL and SREB publish lots of additional good research that shows the effectiveness of online PD


    Tom Blanford:

    I want to weigh in on Gail’s question as well--I believe the rich discussion can come from cohorts in a school or district who are taking the same online course, and gather together weekly to discuss “what does this mean for us” and “how could we use this?”

    3:17 Barbara Treacy: There are increased opportunities for rich discussions online, because the extended time and opportunity for teachers to participate when they have time to be reflective, enables rich, deep interaction and learning online

    3:17 Barbara Treacy: (sorry - a few connection problems :-) )

    3:18 Anthony Rebora: That’s OK. (Happens even at NECC I guess.) Let’s move on. Tom, this one from Elizabeth is in your area.

    3:18 [Comment From Elizabeth]
    What should one look for in assessing quality online pd? What would you suggest steering clear of?


    Tom Blanford:

    Elizabeth, we have a set of standards that you can look Tell us what you think!

    I also believe that quality is partly a function of purpose. If you just want to learn algebra, that asks for a certain kind of course. If you want to implement different strategies for ELL students, those quality expectations would be different

    3:21 Anthony Rebora: Barbara, can you take this next one from Jane:

    3:21 [Comment From Jane Adamson]
    What is the biggest hurdle to implementing online PD

    3:23 Barbara Treacy: Teachers need access to technology and the internet, but almost more importantly, teachers need TIME and support to participate in their online courses. While teachers can access their learning anytime, anyplace when it’s online, it’s important that it does not serve to just extend the very long day of busy teachers!

    3:24 Anthony Rebora: Tom, here’s one from Elizabeth about the tools tha programs are utilizing.

    3:24 [Comment From Elizabeth]
    To what extent do you see social networking/social media tools playing a role in pd--both in structured programs and non-structured situations?


    Tom Blanford:

    I think they can play an essential role if used well. What we are thinking is to use social networking to extend a course--everyone who has completed a specific course on reading in the content area could be linked to a social media site to continue the conversation.

    3:26 Tom Blanford: That way, there would be a common base of knowledge and some structure for the interaction

    3:27 Tom Blanford: I will be paying close attention to how other online initiatives use social networking effectively

    3:27 Anthony Rebora: Barbara, what are you seeing in terms of incorporating social networking in PD?

    3:31 Barbara Treacy: We’re excited about the many new and emerging social networking tools that enable increased interaction and community buidling in online courses, and also enable teachers to bring these tools easily into their classrooms (when they are not blocked). We use collaborative tools for group projects in our courses, which enable teachers to think about how they could be useful with their students. Some popular tools we like and our teachers like are Voicethread, Voki, virtual meeting tools, Google Applications, etc.

    3:32 Anthony Rebora: Several viewers have asked about that dept. of ed. study Barbara mentioned earlier. One of them has come through with the link:

    3:32 [Comment From Ellen Paxton]
    Here’s a link to the U.S. Department of Education study if you’d like it:

    3:32 Anthony Rebora: hope that helps

    3:33 Anthony Rebora: Tom, can you take this question from Sue, which touches on an important distinction.

    3:33 [Comment From Sue]
    Are the programs offered strickly online or do you offer a hybrid between online and onsite?


    Barbara Treacy: Re: new USED metastudy on online learning -- here’s the link to the recent EdWeek article on it:

    Also, here’s the link to the e-Learning for Educators study being conducted by Boston College on impact of OPD on teachers and students in 10 states:


    Tom Blanford:

    In the NEA Academy) (sorry can’t get rid of my underline of italics) (there we go) we are only offering facilitated or stand alone courses, not blended. We are trying to provide access across the country, so blended courses demand some level of travel. We are exploring an opportunity with a national organization where they would offer face to face opening and closing workshops on location, and the rest of the content would be delivered online

    3:37 [Comment From Bethany]
    Barbara - you were one of the contributors for the Dede (ed.) book on Online Professional Development for Teachers, right? Which of the models mentioned in that book continue to influence the online pd arena today? any that stand out?


    Tom Blanford:

    Great book!

    3:38 Anthony Rebora: Yes, seems to be pretty much the standard text. Barbara, are there any models that stand out to you a couple of years later?

    3:39 Barbara Treacy: We’re still around and growing as the field changes! I think many/most others are as well. Each had unique features and contributions that are all contributing to the field. The book is also useful because it provided an overview to a research agenda, which is still useful!

    3:40 Anthony Rebora: Here’s a question from Bethany that we hear a lot. I’m going to let you both respond.

    3:40 [Comment From Bethany]
    We have been attempting opd for several years but always run into the issue of sites being blocked. How do you deal with this?


    Tom Blanford:

    Hmmm. I could put on my union hat and suggest that the local association be contacted and this be a discussion at the labor-management meetings. This does not make much sense to me--protecting whom from whom?

    3:44 Barbara Treacy: Important question! There are important policy issues that do need to be addressed in order for teachers to access OPD from their schools, and this is one we hear over and over again. It’s not always clear that the educational issues are the key factor in decisions about what to block, and that has to change!
    The solution for many teachers is they have to do their OPD work from home or elsewhere

    3:45 Anthony Rebora: I can add that this is an issue we (on see all the time. For example, we’ve found that this chat sofware is blocked in many districts.

    3:46 Tom Blanford: That’s why you made me promise not to curse?

    3:46 Anthony Rebora: exactly :)

    3:47 Anthony Rebora: Let’s take another research question, this time from Kristen.

    3:47 [Comment From Kristen]
    Is there any research regarding what features/components of an online class are most effective?

    3:48 Barbara Treacy: There needs to be more research on this topic. There are some studies about the importance and role of the online discussion in supporting learning. Interesting, the recent metastudy did not show a strong correlation between learning and some multimedia elements, though it was just beginning research and most of it was NOT on K-12 / teachers


    Tom Blanford:

    Barbara is more conversant on this than me--I learn from her. I want to go back to an earlier comment, though. I think effectiveness is a function of purpose. Some educational objectives require a high level of interaction, others do not. Most people would not need a highly interactive session on how to use Excel. For higher level skills, more interaction is effective. I think there needs to be a major research agenda on this.

    3:49 Anthony Rebora: Either of you have any recommendations for Nick on this next request.

    3:49 [Comment From Nick]
    Where can educators access demos of different online PD platforms to see how they really work. Everyone talks about online PD but finding out what they look like and how they work is very difficult.

    3:51 Tom Blanford: Nick, we struggle with this. we are considering producing an OPD primer, that discusses the types of PD, and gives examples and discusses pros and cons of each type. We would then make it available online. Barbara, want to work with us on this?

    3:51 Barbara Treacy: That’s a great question, Nick. I think it’s important for providers to open up their courses for prospective learners/consumers to look inside and see they courses look like, content, etc. For any of the OPD providers you are looking at, just ask to see a course or courses. If you can’t, then maybe that says something...

    3:52 Barbara Treacy: Hey Tom - of course!

    3:52 [Comment From Diane]
    In some recent research that I did, one of the factors that I found that was most important was the networking-particularly in areas such as music and art, where the teachers are often isolated from others in their field. How can OPD solve this?

    3:53 Barbara Treacy: Also -- i think it’s important to note here that opd or online learning comes in many forms - as Tom said. One size does not fit all, and one type is not “better” than another. It depends on our your goals, the content, purpose, etc,


    Tom Blanford:

    Diane, I’d be interested in seeing the research you have conducted on this. One of the advantages of OPD is that we can connect people with very specific similar situations--e.g. urban middle school art teachers with many ESL students.

    3:56 Barbara Treacy: Diane - OPD is great for overcoming teacher isoloation and connecting teachers with other colleagues who share their interests, but may not be from the same local area. They can get involved in formal courses, but there are also many social networking oppotunities and informal online learning to address speciffic needs such as connecting music and art teachers.

    3:56 Anthony Rebora: Let me get in the last question--for both of you. Where do you see teacher professional development going in the next five years. What’s it going to look like for most teachers?


    Tom Blanford:

    Honestly, I think the primary delivery mode in the next five years for professional development will be face 2 face workshops. They are very deeply embedded in the culture. However, I also believe there will be an exponential growth in OPD--both good and bad! I hope all of the participants in this hour will continue to look for the answers to these great questions and be activists in shaping the professional development scene. The needs are great.

    Thanks all, for a great conversation

    3:59 Barbara Treacy: I think teacher OPD is going to just keep growing because it provides access to learning and it enables teachers to learn to use the new tools that are emerging to support learning, as “learners” before using them in their classrooms. with the price of technology going down, and new, easy to use tools proliferating, and the move to using more online resources in the classroom, the line between “online” and “face-to-face” will fade, and teachers who participate in OPD will be prepared and able to help other colleagues

    4:00 Anthony Rebora: That seems like a good note to close on. I’m sorry to say that’s all the time we have. (That was a very quick hours.) I really appreciate all the great questions, and I’m sorry that we couldn’t get to all of them. I also want to say thanks again to Tom and Barbara for taking time out to chat with us. I hope you enjoyed it.

    4:01 Barbara Treacy: Thanks for the great questions! Teachers are excited about learning online and it’s a great time to be involved in it


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