Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Takeaways from ACTEM, Part 2

Every year, the Association for Computer Technology Educators of Maine (ACTEM) puts on a conference where teachers, integrators, IT directors, administrators, students and more gather to discuss and learn about how better to use technology in education.  I attended the two-day conference at the Augusta Civic Center, and wanted to share some of the takeaways that I got from the event.  Here is part 2.

Here are links for part 1 and part 3

Let's face it:  there are never enough tech people to go around!  Working in four schools, I am constantly on the go.  My mornings and afternoons fill up quickly with meetings with teachers to plan projects and help answer tech questions.  I hate having to tell teachers that I can't meet with them until next week or sometimes even the week after, but it does happen from time to time.  But what if there were a better way?  What if there were a way to better meet the needs of individual teachers, to differentiate my work with them much like they do with their students?  And what if there were a way to flip the traditional model of "sit and get" professional development that causes teachers to shudder at the very mention of "PD"?

Potential answers to those questions were at the heart of two afternoon sessions that I attended at ACTEM on Thursday.  The first was led by Mike Muir from the Auburn School Department on a project he is a part of called "Distributed PD."  The purpose of this project is to better facilitate district professional development through a combination of face-to-face trainings and online learning modules, as well as a system of keeping track of what staff are working on, a system to collect information on the needs of teachers, and a system of recognizing them for the work they have done.

There are oodles of resources about the Distributed PD Project, still ongoing, on their website.  There are a couple of things that I found interesting and very pertinent to my own evolving thinking about how to better support teachers using technology.  First, I like the fact that they have classified tech-related professional development into a series of curriculum "buckets," ranging from personal use and classroom and tech management on one end to supporting personalized and independent learning and forging greater school/home/community connections on the other.  I especially like that this continuum hits on a point that I make often, which is that our focus on progressing with the use of technology should be on the pedagogy and learning goals the technology will support, not so much on the technology itself.  This continuum also stresses that the professional development that goes into learning the tech tools should not happen independently of the time spent looking at the greater goal the technology tool is going to be used to meet.

I also found it interesting that they were looking at the use of badging as a means of recognizing staff for the professional learning they were engaging in.  We all know about how badging works; we need look no further than the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts for examples of badges that recognize what the scouts have learned or are able to do.  In the case of professional development, badges would be awarded to teachers that completed certain modules or trainings offered by the district, either in person or online, and demonstrated what they learned or how they put what they learned into practice.  In turn, teachers would have a badge that they could insert and display on their class webpage or elsewhere, and be recognized by administrators and other teachers for their expertise in certain areas.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Werner, the Library and Instructional Technology Specialist at Cape Elizabeth High School (and Twitter superstar), presented a session on alternatives to the college lecture-style nature of many of the PD sessions that we attend.  Jonathan suggests a model of teachers teaching teachers tech, and believes that professional development should resemble more of a support group, where teachers have the opportunities to work as the professionals that they are with each other and to teach and learn from each other.  There are tons of other great suggestions that he offers, and I realize that my post is getting quite long-winded, so please check out the link I provided to his presentation and check those out.

To conclude, my one sentence summary of the afternoon in professional development-based professional development is this:

A more comprehensive, diverse, individualized, and supportive system of district-wide professional development, can help replace a shutter-worthy system of obligation and compliance with a more meaningful system for teachers that meets them where their needs and dreams are, much like we try to do with our students every day.

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