Long ago, in a galaxy far away, each state received a few thousand dollars to train teachers on how to locate and use teaching resources developed as part of the Representative Democracy in America (RDA) Program. These resources are free and amazing. Each teacher received a totebag full of print materials, CDs and DVDs, lesson plans, etc. We had some great trainings – very interactive, with teachers exploring the resources and sharing their ideas with other teachers around the table. Then the recession hit and the money went away. Thankfully, the resources didn’t. They left the world of totebags and bookshelves, however, to live in a parallel universe in cyberspace where they are cared for by a very small but talented and committed staff who continue to make sure they are well fed and up to date. But the dilema for the State Coordinator (me!) was how to help teachers in Iowa find and use these wonderful, free resources? Another state had already gone the online class route where teachers were pointed in the right direction, told to explore and given a little assessment all in return for a single credit that couldn’t be used in any program of study, only as an elective. And people loved it!
Our face to face workshops, though, had been so alive, so stimulating, so dynamic that the thought of a “point and shoot” class just wasn’t enough. I started trying to figure out how we could capture the synergy and inspiration of a whole group of energized teachers sharing with each other, but do it in an online environment. A blog entry led to a class that led to a certificate program that brought me here.
Enter Big Shift Number 2 – Many, Many Teachers, and 24/7 Learning .
As homework for some of my earlier classes, I started developing components of the course I want to use for RDA. I think I have begun some very good pieces, but still struggled with how to structure it to be as interactive as possible. This particular subject matter is perfect for it! We already have many, many teachers. I can help them find some of the resources and show how they correlate with different standards and learning objectives. One section of our face to face class developed a wide variety of lessons incorporating different resources into a diverse sampling of subjects and youth leadership opportunities. Some of the online resources feature very targeted professional development videos on nationally known experts such as Thomas Mann and blogs by Lee Hamilton and Karl Kurtz. It’s another great example of how “none of us is as smart as all of us.” With all the RDA resources now online, both the resources and the training have the ability to be available 24/7.
I still have a great deal to do to get the online training completed. I had a couple of good ways for the teachers to interact and share and have a decent “Swiss cheese” start – lots of independent pieces that aren’t quite all connected together yet. It started before this course, but I have been rethinking much of my original plan. As I’ve learned more about how to use some of the resources and explored the whole Connectivism theme, I’m re-envisioning this effort not so much as a great professional development opportunity, but as a way of building a learning community of Iowa teachers who can continue to exchange ideas, share resource, challenge and support each other. Building a wiki together, sharing bookmarks, blogging – all are ways to help facilitate this shift.
There is already quite a bit of professional development training available on the web. A great deal of it, though, is still “sit and git” with what basically amounts to video archives of lectures and automated quizzes. As budgets get tighter, I see more demand for online education. Quality online education, however, will require not just people who understand the technology of translating into an online format but people who understand the unique structures and possibilities of online pedagogy.
I am certainly not there yet. I need more practice in utilizing the tools and putting them together in the most effective ways. My thinking has changed, though. Right now, one of the projects I’m working on is an onsite conference in November involving people from several different disciplines (education, medicine, engineering). I find myself wondering and exploring different ways to use Web 2.0 tools to expand the content of the conference and extend the time frame so that attendees can benefit more deeply and over a longer period of time. I always get so excited about all the new ideas at a conference, then get back to my old routine with a pile of new messages and emails to answer and no time to fight the learning curve that comes with incorporating new ideas “back at the ranch”. How can we use online pedagogy to help these folks structure a learning and support network? It’s an exciting challenge to undertake.