Wednesday, May 6, 2009
by Ed Latham
If you missed it, people from all over Maine have been participating in the first MLTI Spring Technology Institute that is completely online. If you click on the workshop link you will not only see the resources each presenter had, but a recording of the session is there for your learning pleasure.
Online professional development typically consists of a presenter with a presentation that allows for some chatting in a chat box and a few Q&A sessions sprinkled in. This type of presentation has many merits and is firmly established as a norm for synchronous distance learning at many educational levels.
I had the wonderful pleasure of working with Olga LaPlante on the creation and presentation of an experiment in online distance learning. We worked many hours to create a hands-on activity that has participants taking active rolls and sharing their results and experiences. The materials and activity we prepared for this one hour session were very well done and required participant participation. Looking over the recording of the session, there is much room for us to process improvements in the delivery of sessions that require participants to DO, POST, REFLECT.
While participants had work time, it was impossible for presenters to see what people were doing, where they were at, and to hear from each individual to check in with each person as a teacher might do in a face to face classroom. The presentation tool has the capability to allow for some of this, but I suggest everyone would benefit from training on how to teach and learn online. I know there were participants that were stuck or had problems. A few were confident enough to be able to ask questions either in the chat or by voice. There were some that just felt like watching which may have bored them to tears because half the time was designed to have people working individually.
Distance learning is going to take a much bigger role in professional development if this MLTI Spring Institute is any measure. Many are very satisfied with the sessions they have seen and I am sure those that have attended many sessions can attest, for a first run, this has been a very big success so far. Potentially, we will have thousands of teachers looking for PD help next year. If PD is to be simply logging in, sitting down and listening and looking for an hour or so and asking questions then I do not feel participants would need much for training. However, if we want to create interactive or collaborative experiences online, participants need skills to be able to get the full effect of those presentations. Those skills could easily be offered in small chunks all year long at all sorts of hours throughout the year then by the end of the year we will have created a community ready for real digital interaction and collaboration.
So, what skills are necessary? Denise Ouellette (Media specialist in Fort Kent) shared with me a wonderful document that I believe all people need more than most of the content on standardized tests. She shared the American Association of School Librarians document entitled Standards For The 21st-Century Learner. I know that if the participants and presenters that attended our session were fully proficient in all of the skills offered in that document, the learning experience would have benefited so much more for all. We can't get people to that level unless we start with simple things like how do you chat, how do you do video, how do you do sound, how do you post an image or document, how do you private chat with others and so many other "basic" skills that are required for online engagement.
Suggestion: A group of people work together (Google docs is so great for this) to create short (1 hour) sessions that teach the curriculum of basic online communication and interaction skills. I have worked extensively on program development online with peers and something like this would be easy for readers of this blog to get done in short time. With the sessions outlined with resources and set to go, would it be far fetched to be able to offer these sessions once a month to all educators in a digital format? With all the prep done already, volunteer presenters would not have much work to do to facilitate. If sessions were offered at all kinds of hours teachers and administrators would more easily attend these sessions. If the collection of 1 hour sessions only drew 100 educators each month, that is 1200 people more able to participate in online learning experiences and joining the growing community of great teachers innovating and adapting educational practice to take advantage of technology available.
If there is interest, I would love to work with others on this. If others start up a google doc please add me (firstname.lastname@example.org). If others want someone to start things up, fire away with email addresses and I can get a doc going for us.
Thoughts? Is it worth we, as a community creating an Intro to online learning sequence? Does it exist already so we can adapt it?
Posted by Jim Burke at 5:38 AM