Hybrid PD supported by online ‘communities of practice’

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

With the many professional educational technology resources available to the K12 community today, it’s imperative that we transition from episodic and ineffective models to an interactive environment that is digitally-based and connected 24/7.

This “learning powered by technology” is the approach outlined in the DOE’s National Education Technology Plan (NETP), which calls for applying the advanced technologies used in our daily personal and professional lives to our entire education system to improve student learning; accelerate and scale the adoption of effective practices; and use data and information for continuous improvement.

Online professional development environments are the key to helping teachers everywhere achieve this goal. Online programs provide a forward-looking model for professional learning that blends effective in-person events, courses, and workshops with expanded opportunities, immediacy, and convenience. They offer a holistic approach to professional development, with innovative resources and opportunities for continuous collaboration that are essential to advancing the tech skills of K12 educators and leaders.

Online communities of practice.
The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) is involved in the DOE’s Connected Educators project. Together, partner organizations are discovering how professional learning builds through a well-constructed and supported online community of practice (OCOP). Designed as a blended model, the OCOP for ed tech leaders allows participants to interact both face-to-face and virtually, encouraging a combination of lead questions, resource sharing, participant postings, and conversations. The model aligns with the NETP’s standards.

CoSN’s activities, and those of other educational technology partners, have already shown school technology leaders the benefits of the growing role and impact of online communities. Seamlessly connecting them across distance and time has helped them capture best practices to take back to their districts.

According to the DOE Office of Educational Technology report, “Connect and Inspire—Online Communities of Practice in Education,” OCOPs in a blended design model empower educators by:

  • Accessing knowledge. They can provide educators with opportunities to “gain equitable access to human and information resources not available locally,” with a quality of dialogue “equivalent or in some cases greater than face-to-face” interactions.
  • Sharing knowledge. They expand and enrich opportunities for educators to learn from one another “by employing alternative processes not available in face-to-face instruction.”
  • Creating knowledge. They can provide a fertile, sustainable environment for new knowledge by supplying collaborative tools that allow educators with common interests to convene virtually.
  • Building professional identity, connectedness, and collaboration. And finally, they strengthen professional identity, which helps people feel more invested in their profession.

In combination with online efforts, traditional professional development and networking activities—such as self-directed learning and professional development classes—will continue to have a place in educators’ personal and professional growth.

CoSN also has been working with its partners on the Connected Educator Month project, an online “event.” Throughout October, CEM brings K12 professionals together using online resources, tools, colleagues, experts, and learning activities. A common theme in Connected Educator Month content and discussions is the need to make online social learning and collaboration such as this one count as legitimate professional development.

An effective moderator is critical to successfully leveraging everything this comprehensive professional learning model has to offer. In the online community, the moderator’s key responsibilities are outlined, and include planning and promotion, implementation, and evaluation. A full report on Connected Educators Month is available at http://www.ed.gov/edblogs/technology/connected-educators/. A more complete look at research on the role of online communities of practice can be found at the Connected Educators website, http://connectededucators.org.

As digital tools and systems become an essential fabric of K12 curricula nationwide, we encourage administrators to follow the model of hybrid professional development supported by an online community-of-practice environment—one built on continuous collaboration to ensure a district’s vision is aligned with the finest and most robust learning powered by technology.

Gordon K. Dahlby is chief innovator/CEO, Educational Technology Leadership Consulting, and project manager, CoSN Online Communities of Practice.