Rethinking Learning
conversations about the future of teaching and learning
Barbara Bray
be creative, innovate, take risks, unlearn to learn
Oakland, CA

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Discovering Out of the Box Solutions for Professional Development
By Barbara Bray    November 5, 2009 -- 03:28 PM

How can you provide professional development on a tight budget? U.S. schools are looking for ways to trim their budgets and professional development is on the top of many lists to cut. If we want to find and retain high quality teachers and administrators in our schools, we have to start thinking creatively. There are innovative ways to use technology as an inexpensive professional development solution.

At the Edublogger Con at the National Education Computer Conference 2009 (NECC) in Washington D.C. this past June, there was a discussion group on professional development with about thirty teachers and technology specialists. They shared interesting ideas about professional development that could be implemented immediately.
  • Unconferences
  • Speed-PD
  • IETPs
  • Backchannels
  • Smackdowns
The Edublogger Con was set up as an unconference using a wiki where participants could add their presentations to time slots. Other participants could sign up to different sessions posted. The participants determined the most popular topics and the direction of the conversations. Any school can set up a wiki where teachers post examples of successful use of technology with their colleagues.

Henry Thiele, ( Director of Technology for Maine Township HS District 207, shared how his district does technology coaching similar to an unconference setting like Edublogger Con. Each teacher was not supposed to prepare at all for this unconference and just show a lesson how they integrated technology into their classroom. Teachers enjoyed learning from each other and realizing that what they know is valuable and can be shared with their colleagues. Any school can set up an unconference where teachers self-identify themselves as experts on different technology or strategies for integration.

You may have heard of speed-dating. Well, what about Speed-PD? Jeff Utecht teaches at an international school in Bangkok, Thailand where they set up Speed-PD. Ten high-end technology users are at different stations where they give a three-minute pitch about how they use technology in their classroom to their colleagues. Teachers rotate to the next station after the three-minute bell. In just a half an hour, teachers learn so much from their peers.

It wasnít long before more teachers wanted to participate and share. The more often teachers started sharing and learning from each other, they realized that they have the support they need built in among their staff. Everyone becomes an expert on something and sharing what they are doing in their classroom.

Jeff worked with his school to set up individual educational technology plans (IETPs) based on the NETS standards. Each teacher chooses three standards and schedules time with a colleague identified as someone who has effectively demonstrated creating and implementing activities that meet one or more of those standards. The greatest aspect of IETPs is that they  focus on the standards instead of the tools.

 Often the issue is that ďwe donít know what we donít know.Ē  If we start with three-minute demonstrations on what others are doing in their classroom, then teachers can design their IETP with a better understanding of where they want to be with the use of technology.

Backchannel is the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside live spoken remarks. [Wikipedia -] While I was at the Edublogger Con, everyone had their laptops open and was using Twitter (Twitter.comon their Tweetdeck, Cover It Live, or a blog to comment on the conversations. I, along with many others, was commenting on my blog at the same time so I could write this column for you. In allowing this, the presenter has to trust his audience that they are on task or following along with their presentation. This means trusting that your teachers are getting what they need from the presenter and the ongoing conversations in the background. Many of the presentations were hosted in Elluminate where ongoing chats and the web conference could be archived.

Do you think you could allow these types of activities in your classroom with your students? Many of our new teachers and students multi-task and already backchannel during presentations and lectures. They text, use cell phones, and social networks to communicate and learn. If you can trust that your teachers and students can learn like this, perhaps these solutions can be just as effective as the EduBlogger Con.

Vicki Davis, Teacher, IT Director at Westwood Schools, GA, set up a Web 2.0 Smackdown where members of the audience were given three minutes to share a new Web 2.0 tool. This idea intrigued me for teachers, administrators and students. Everyday I find a new tool that I want to share. How about if everyone had a chance to showcase something they found? To view what people shared, go to  to view an archive of UStream of the Smackdown. A backchannel was going on with Cover It Live where links were being posted and people even posted other websites that are similar.

The best things about these ideas are that they are very low cost. The cost for each of these is a room, access to the Internet, and maybe food for the participants. Actually, in some cases, there is no cost, because everything is virtual. Because of the tight economy, educators will continue to look for cost-effective ways to provide professional development. These are great ways for teachers to build community.

Resources mentioned in post
Twitter: bbray
Twitter Hash-tag: #EBC09
EduBlogger Con 09
Cover It Live
The Thinking Stick
(Jeff Utechtís Blog)
Cool Cat Teacher
(Vicki Davisí Blog)

This is a
reprint of my column from Fall 09 OnCUE. I will continue to share creative ways professional development is implemented and look forward to hearing from you about what you are doing for professional development.

Categories: "Smackdown" "Sharing" "Collaboration" "Backchannel" "Unconference" "Professional Development"

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