Planning Professional Development

by Jean Tower


E.W. Dijkstra, the Dutch computer scientist, once said that, “Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.” If one takes this line of thinking and applies it to computers in education, one can assert that the use of computers in education is not about the computers; it is about education. More and more, people of widely varied backgrounds – educators, technology experts, education policy makers and futurists – are in agreement that technology should be used to help students achieve learning goals. I hear less often that students should be learning about technology for the sake of “knowing technology” and having marketable skills. That means that there is a great challenge for educators to be “able to integrate technology into the curriculum to improve student achievement” (www.nclb.org).
Meeting this challenge well, will take practice and professional development.

“Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.”

The NCLB Act refers many times throughout the 670 pages of the act to professional development for teachers and administrators, and encourages states and school districts to support and offer technology professional development. Professional development is a necessary component in working toward the goals of NCLB. “It’s not enough simply to have a computer and an Internet connection in the classroom if they are not made part of the learning process. Technology is a tool like any other, and the value does not come from having access to it, but rather how it is used” (www.nclb.org). This reminds me of an analogy that I heard Chris Dede make at a conference about ten years ago. He said that a computer in the classroom is not like a fire. You can stand near a fire and get warm and reap the benefits of the fire simply by proximity to it. You can’t simply huddle around a computer and reap educational benefits from being near to it. It has to be used and used well.

When I think about bringing the power of technology to bear in our teaching in all subject areas, planning, and assessment, I automatically think about professional development – constant learning. The kind of professional development is a deeper level of professional development (PD) than the simple “how-to” of a software tool. I don’t think schools should offer any how to workshops or courses and envision that it will substantially change teaching and learning. I think instead, that we should be weaving technology into every single professional development activity we offer. By this I mean that whether the workshop is about teaching math at the elementary level or developing units around essential questions and problem-based inquiry or creating rubrics, the workshop should have technology as an essential component.

One successful way to offer such PD is something I will call a “hybrid model” of teaching technology integration. The “hybrid model” calls for a focus on a content area or pedagogical skill that is not in the technology arena, but also calls for the course or workshop to use technology seamlessly to achieve the goals of the course. A “team” of teachers, one with a stronger content knowledge and another with stronger technology expertise might work together to facilitate such courses. If you have had success in your district with a “team-teaching” approach, a content expert paired with a technology expert who will help to include an essential technology dimension to the class, I’d love to hear from you – would you be willing to share your successes? If so, you could share by a comment on this post, or you could write a guest blog post that you could send to me and I could post for you.

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