Leveraging new technology for professional learning requires some creative thinking — and it also takes money.
A few years ago, a group at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte received a grant from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction that paid for notebooks and software for creating a professional development program for elementary school teachers. The program’s goal was to improve student achievement and higher-order thinking skills through more effective use of educational technology.
The group started by creating a curriculum map that outlined the courses they wanted to teach. Then they created a repository for instructional resources that were aligned to state standards. Finally, they began engaging in digital conversations with the teachers to help them become more familiar with the goals of the program.
Topics included project-based learning; integrating digital images into the classroom through screencasting with ShowMe and Educreations; telecollaboration with the Google Suite; and telecommunication with Skype and Google Hangouts — all aimed at addressing higher-order learning skills.
1. Set Clear and Consistent Goals
Teachers struggle at times to stay focused on planning and creating technology-rich instruction and resources for themselves and their students. Make sure one person remains ready to redirect the group if they get off-track. Remember that there must be accountability; teachers must be given the opportunity to revisit and reflect on their goals and check their progress toward the desired outcome.
2. Ensure that the Technology Enhances Learning
Educators often criticize technology because it doesn’t always enhance traditional approaches. For example, if it’s just a cute little game for elementary school students, it’s not meeting the goal of enhancing learning. Whatever technology is used during professional development or by teachers in classrooms, it should address needs related to teaching and learning. In Polly’s project, for instance, IT professionals spent time with teachers exploring virtual mathematics manipulatives online that students could work with to deepen their understanding of math concepts.
3. Be Supportive of Teachers’ Learning Preferences
While some teachers may be enthusiastic about using an app for, say, digital conversations about book studies, others may not. Some teachers can learn by viewing a video, while others prefer attending a class session, and still others won’t fully embrace a new digital method until they try it out in the classroom with their students.
4. Connect Teacher Learning to Classroom Activities
Educators are more likely to embrace learning opportunities if they see an explicit connection to their daily work in their classroom. Although most of the professional development sessions Polly and colleagues conducted were over the summer, they kept the sessions focused on how teachers would use the technology in the classroom, so most were motivated to participate.
5. Focus on Higher-Order Thinking Skills
Tools such as the Google Suite and other online discussion forums offer opportunities to support teachers’ professional growth. But whatever the topic, teachers should be encouraged to focus on higher-order thinking skills. For example, educators who are taught to use video creation in the classroom will, by definition, focus their instruction on higher-level thinking skills because students will be asked to create, analyze and evaluate content as opposed to simply memorizing information.
This article is part of the "Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology" series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.