Wednesday, May 6, 2009

21st Century Learners and Professional Development

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 ( 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?


argy said...

I participated in Ed's and Olga's session yesterday. I found it filled with valuable resources that I can go back to in the future and I had a chance to think about artists like Chuck Close and how his work can enhance other content area. Thanks Ed and Olga for a job well done!

Jim Burke said...

Great post, Ed. I unfortunately was unable to attend syncronously any of the first two day's workshops, but had a chance to view several of the recordings last night. Despite the expected starting up confusion/bugs, I was incredibly impressed with both the vehicles, Adobe Acrobat, and the variety of approaches from the presenters. Awesome! I think this tool is going to be a winner.

I agree with you that that working on approaches for online community and interaction would be important.

My big question: Would it be possible to effectively use IP audio rather than the phone? If it were, it might improve ease of use. I'm thinking in terms of the one speaker at a time similar to Elluminate.

Again. . . I was blown away by the possibilities after experiencing the recordings. Thank you, all. I'm looking forward to attending some of the original synchronous presentations this afternoon and evening.


Ed Latham said...

Jim, the decision to go with phone was made for a number of reasons. Since people could be using some older technology with limited processing speed, there was concerns about the user's hardware not being set up for VOIP. Additionally there were concerns about bandwidth issues. Another issue was getting everyone all set up and understanding how VOIP works. For those veterans of Skype, MSN, and other tools like this the transition is .. well .. there is none. For those that never have done this before I ask you to think back to the first time you tried to configure your mic or to set your volume settings. Haven't we all experienced frustration that we could not hear the other person only to figure out eventually that our sound was turned to far down. VIOP would be great with this tool and I fully expect it will be used at some point. This hits home my point that we need to train people to be able to do what online experienced people refer to as "basic" skills like having our system set up for VIOP and knowing how to tweak the settings for effective communication.


I must agree with Ed's statement that though technology is getting friendlier to an unsophisticated user, it is not as simple as we like it to be. True, for veterans of online communications there was no transition whatsoever, it's the less experienced people that we would like to have on board and convert - as Jim was saying - to the believers that this technology is useful.
I also agree that we need to beef up efforts to educate people about using the tools - in a few minute tutorial even - prior to the sessions, and some grass-roots movement would be all that's needed to make the next online institute an absolute blast!