I read with some dismay and more than a little surprise this article from EdWeek, Providing Credit for Teacher Online PD Efforts, because I didn’t know this was an issue. There are many more types of professional development available to teachers these days, especially online, and yes, it can be difficult to quantify a tweet. But are we really suggesting that online learning isn’t worth the credit for teachers? According to the article, “experts caution that this type of professional development is not designed to replace conventional workshops and courses that teachers might need to enhance or learn some skills.” Uhm, yes it is! And it should! Especially if you attended any of the workshops I was forced to sit through when I was teaching. This attitude harkens back to some of the worst reasons for implementing something, “it’s always been done that way.” Well, just because it has, it doesn’t mean it works, so why keep doing something that doesn’t work?
I can add a little teeth to this, and I can rely on the research of some very credible authors, not just my own experience. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Education published a study from one of its federally funded Regional Education Laboratories (Yoon, Duncan, Lee, Scarloss, & Shapley). These researchers evaluated more than 1300 students about professional development. Of these, they found only nine—yes 9(!)—studies that met their criteria for being a rigorous research study. They were able to make some generally limited inferences from these nine studies, but that means that those folks in those other 1300 studies don’t really know if their PD worked! I’m glad they could make some suggestions about high-quality PD, but what trust do you have in a sample size of nine?
So, if we really don’t know if what we’re doing now works, why the bias against online PD? I didn’t know it was such an issue. Heck, I’ve been offering teachers PD credit for online PD since 2004. And my specific goal was to replace conventional workshops and courses. More to the point, I think what I helped to develop then (and am continuing now with a range of organizations in multiple states) probably exceeds what could happen in conventional workshops and courses. Most of those are so far removed from actual practice, that even the most well-intentioned practitioners find it hard to incorporate what they’ve learned. I just did one of those workshops last week. Three days with some great teachers who won’t be able to put in place half the things we learned about until they get their students. However, I backed it all up by putting all of the content and activities online in their learning management system, so this fall I can contact them via e-mail and remind them of what we practiced. All from a distance.
I know this idea that “if it’s online it can’t be good” was a prevalent one at one time, but is it really still out there? This many years later? The Open University in the UK started in 1969. I’ve been delivering online PD in one form or another for almost a decade. I’ve been teaching graduate classes solely online for about three years now, and there isn’t one of those students who would say that experience wasn’t as rigorous as a face-to-face class. It’s probably more so, based on the feedback I get from those students—some dismayed it isn’t the walk in the park they expected.
But the thing that really gets me is the double standard. The fastest growing area for online learning is in the K-12 sector at the district level. School divisions across the nation are purchasing or developing online high schools and others to support their students. My home state of Virginia is just one state that has recently mandated that all high school students enroll in at least one online course before they graduate (let’s not talk about availability or quality at this point, that’s for another post). With such tremendous growth in online learning at the K-12 level (and yes, K-5, too, not just high school), what does that mean if we don’t think that online PD is worth credit for our teachers? They’re going to have to teach online but can’t get credit for learning online?
Ah me, I know I shouldn’t be in such high dudgeon, but it was a remarkable find. It was more like an article one would read 10 or 15 years ago, not now. I guess because I spend so much time participating and delivering in online learning I’ve become a little blind to the idea it can’t work. All learning can work, regardless of the platform. And look, I learned something too, and it got me back to my blog. Oh, but I did it online. Guess I won’t get credit for it.