Monday, February 22, 2010

GREAT PD FOR FREE? Sign me up!

Being on sabbatical and working from home this year has been amazing for the Professional Development opportunities I have had access to.  My PD budget has been dramatically impacted (read: eliminated) by not working in a school this year, but it has also been the fullest year of PD experiences to date for me!

The Ed.D. courses I am enrolled in have been excellent learning opportunities, of course.  I am very pleased on the whole with the program offered by the University of Phoenix and find it very relevant to my current position.  Additionally, the classes I've taught/facilitated in the UOP master's program have provided me with significant learning opportunities too!  It is nice to be able to put Knowles' theory of adult learning, andragogy, to practice and get real-time feedback from the students as I do.

Those formal opportunities however make up only the tip of the iceberg that is my professional learning and personal growth this year.  Just like an iceberg however, the BULK of my opportunities have been under the surface.  The amount of FREE QUALITY learning available on the internet is amazing, if you know where to look.  It is a completely unexpected bonus to have the time to learn my way around the online learning opportunities and to access as many of them as I want this year.

I'll start with GOOGLE READER.  If you don't use Google Reader to keep track of blogs and websites you visit regularly, YOU MUST START!  Simply put, there is no better way that I know of to keep on top of a number of sites.  I am currently following over two hundred blogs and other websites and it is completely manageable, for lots of reasons.  If you want to know more, please ask. 

Next on my list would be the communities I've joined such Classroom2.0 and The Educator's PLN.  Great conversations take place in these networks, and I'm sure there is a topic of interest for anyone in education.  I'm currently in a discussion on the Educator's PLN regarding the issue of who is to blame for school failure, following the announcement last week an entire HS staff in Rhode Island is being let go due to recurring poor results.

In the past several months I have also attended several webinars using Elluminate where I've had the opportunity to interact and speak directly with authors such as Yong Zhao, Daniel Pink, Seth Godin, Alfie Kohn, and Ian Jukes and to engage in discussions on all sorts of topics related to education.  I've got March 30th circled, as Sir Ken Robinson (Do Schools Kill Creativity - if you haven't seen this yet, commit 20 minutes to watch it.  It is inspiring!) will be doing an Elluminate session that day!  See you there, I hope.  That one I do not want to miss!

In fact, if you want to look at the list of presenters lined up by Steve Hargadon over the next little while, check out The Future of Education ning network where he has the list of speakers posted to the end of March.  The best thing about these opportunities? They are archived, for review later or in case you miss the original presentation.  And, they are free!
I am also currently attending a free online conference right now, the CRSTE Cyber Conference 2010.  Sessions run from February 21st to March 5th and they are all in the afternoon/evening and on weekends, as well as 6 sessions running asynchronously throughout the entire conference.  The list of presenters is astounding, and you can check it out HERE.  Thanks to my ass't sup't LT for hooking me up with this opportunity.

Twitter, as I've written about earlier, has been an amazing discovery for me this year as well too.  I won't go into it in detail again, other than to say the learning potential of this networking tool is staggering.  if you want to learn more about this opportunity, just ask.  I'd love to help anyone get started using it!

Finally, this morning I stumbled across another opportunity, the more substantial free online course.  This is a very interesting PD model.  It looks like the courses are relatively substantial, spanning 2-3 weeks in time.  As an example, here is a link to a free course on copyright for teachers (which I consider a relatively large topic):     Here is the list of all of the current course offerings at this site:

Now, I don't know about the quality of the learning in these courses, but I would bet they are interesting and engaging.  So much of what is available online is valuable simply because it is so relevant and interactive!  I find online courses are typically far more interactive than most one-day workshops where we sit  back and absorb without meaningfully interacting and engaging in coversations with other participants. 

I keep thinking that we might be able to offer our own virtual PD in our district using techniques like this when we get our moodle up and running.  There would be some huge challenges, of course, but it has me thinking, what kind of custom district training might we want to offer our staff?  New staff orientations could be done asynchronously, with district-specific content conveniently delivered when the staff have the time, minimizing the need for as many scheduled face to face sessions.  This would not replace the face to face meetings, but it would certainly give them a different focus if the learning was done outside the sessions and the f2f time was more active participation and/or working sessions. 

I can think of lots of great uses of this sort of learning, but I'm wondering how we can effectively harness this opportunity for our district staff?  How do we change the culture of PD and/or move away from the workshop mentality?  Any ideas?  I'd love to hear what other districts have done to embrace new learning opportunityes on a larger scale.

One strategy I have thought of is using sub time to allow teachers to attend online workshops.  Perhaps staff can be given a half-day sub (or I can cover their classes for them) to attend the workshop.  Then they could write up a summary of the opportunity and share it on our staff PD Ning (an interesting concept, no?) with a link to the archived session.  I'd love to actually see a year-long archive of the professional learning out teachers engage in, and this would be an easy way to do it.  Take a workshop or attend a conference?  Write up a summary and share it with the rest of the staff on the ning!  What a powerful testament to the power of the school's vision this would be at the end of a year!  We rarely see the totality of our collective efforts as a staff to learn...

Any other ideas?



Russ said...

Well. as usual, you have distilled the problem and, in this cade, provided a sound and engaging solution. From a management perspective I assume peoples worries will be whether people actually attend and how to prove they are meeting their hours. Personally I have never worried about such things as PD is each persons responsibility.

We had a joint training day this month, across several secondary schools. It was a magnificent opportunity and lots of staff gained lots from it. I love the idea of being able to do that online though. I have also started a NING site for creative teachers but, as yet it has not taken off. I am hoping that once it does it will spawn subject based sites for our area. Just getting people talking would be fantastic.

Thanks again


Jen Clevette said...

It's coming and the early adopters have grabbed ahold of it so it is a matter of time. Build a safe collaborative space and then add a virtual PD component to it, that is what we are attempting to do. We shall see what the results are like.

One caution, that I am running into. While there is a ton of free PD (iMoot, SMARTsesions, CRSTE) just adding them to an already full plate is not the most effective. I like the idea of job embedded but the CRSTE bills their conference as after work hours. While I am willing to give up some (a lot) of my time, I am finding more and more of these opportunities are "only" after hours.

Beth said...

I think professional development IS moving away from the face-to-face workshop mentality to include the many other opportunities you have mentioned and more.

LearnCentral, our free social learning network for education, was created to facilitate a new kind of PD facilitated by what we can educational networking. It's free to join and you get 3-person virtual office to meet with colleagues or students. (

Also, if you have not already, check out Steve Hargadon's
paper: "Educational Networking: The Important Role Web 2.0 Will Play in Education."

- Beth, Elluminate Goddess of Communication (aka Sr. Mgr. Corp. Communications)