Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Professional Development

Blogs and wikis and Youtube oh my! Every week, every new technology, convinced me to feature it for the PD assignment/blog. Each seemed to have so much potential. I could honestly see each different web 2.0 tool making a positive difference in my school, for my students. So which to choose?


Voicethread was the one technology we looked at that I had never heard of and the one I was most excited to try out once I discovered what it was. Voicethread's simplicity, flexibility, and compatibility makes it in some ways the ideal web 2.0 tool. It is accessible to even the youngest students because they can record their thoughts without writing, and yet can be used to create sophisticated products for older students. It is interactive, yet has built in controls for teachers to closely monitor that interactivity and keep students safe.

While I suspect many other teachers will be in the same position I was a few weeks ago, having no idea what a voicethread is, I think once they are introduced to the technology and its features, they too will see how many educational possibilities exist for voicethreads! That leaves it to me to get them started... here's what I'd do.

To start, I'd take Wesley Fryer's advice and "focus on the few teachers in your building who are very enthused about using technology." In his article "Working with reluctant teachers" in June 2005's Technology and Learning, he describes strategies to improve staff development in schools where teachers "believe computer activities are just a waste of time, and students should focus on reading and math." This describes the majority of teachers I work with, but I can think of a few that would be more receptive to trying something new. Once I've provided PD to that core group, enthusiasm should spread.

I would get in touch with those teachers and start an informal discussion of voicethreads, along the lines of "have you seen this new technology? What do you think?" I certainly respond better to professional development when it is tailored to my needs and interests, so I would like to make sure that voicethreads are of interest to my colleagues before I forge ahead. If they aren't? Well then I start publicizing all the great things I'm doing with voicethreads, until I get some interest! This is a take on another piece of Fryer's advice in that same article.

Once I have a small group of interested teachers and an idea of their needs and wants, I would set up an abridged version of Glazer and Page's collaborative apprenticeship. I keep coming back to this model of staff development because it doesn't just dump new knowledge into teachers' brains and run... we know that isn't good enough for our students, why should it be good enough for our teachers? Instead, it works to "advance and sustain" teacher knowledge. In the May 2006 Learning and Leading with Technology they outline the collaborative apprenticeship model in 4 parts: introduction, development, proficiency, and mastery. While Gazer and Page suggest spending at least several weeks in each phase, I would cut this down considerably, since I am focusing on a very narrow slice of web 2.0 technology. Still, I think the framework of collaborative apprenticeship will be useful for teaching teachers about voicethreads.

The first phase, introduction, I would do in a short workshop where I could show a variety of voicethreads all notable for their educative value. I would pull most of my examples from the Voicethreads4Education wiki, encouraging teachers to look through the site during some free time as well. I would do this in a computer lab, using a projector so everyone could easily see what was going on, but also had access to their own computer. Trevor Shaw ("Tech Training and Modeling Effective Teaching, Part 2", MultiMedia & Internet@Schools; Nov/Dec 2004) advises that staff developers take plenty of time to model technology based tools, so I would demonstrate how to search for voicethreads to use in their classes, how to comment on them, and finally, how to get started creating one. Then the fun really begins! I would have us work together to create our very own voicethread to publish. We know that students learn best when they are active participants in their learning, and us grown-ups are no different. Mary Alice Anderson suggests keeping things informal, and encouraging discussion and participation during PD sessions in "Jump-starting staff development", an article in the August 2003 edition of School Library Journal. She also backs up my decision to keep things short, sweet, and frequent, suggesting that "quick classes in small doses may have a higher success rate than formal sessions that last longer."

I would give participants about a week to mull over what they learned about voicethreads, while encouraging them to show voicethreads in their classrooms, maybe even having students make comments. I would also provide teachers with the link to the great web site Digitally Speaking, a wiki created and maintained by Bill Ferriter. It contains a wealth of information for teachers regarding voicethreads (and other web 2.0 technologies, too!) including some fantastic handouts. I would ask teachers to explore the wiki as part of their thinking about voicethreads

The next step is the developmental phase. In this phase, I would work with participants to design a lesson for their classes that has students create a voicethread. I would like to start out with another group session where we discuss possible lessons and begin planning, followed up with one-on-one sessions with each teacher during their prep time. Time is tight for all teachers, and I think teachers would react better if I was able to work with their schedules rather than ask them to add to their own. This would mean, however, finding ways to opening up my own schedule at appropriate times. This is where administrator buy-in would be crucial. I would need not only permission to leave my classroom for these sessions, but depending on the timing, possibly a substitute teacher. I am in the enviable position of having a full time TA next year, but it could still be an issue.

During this phase, I would also like to arrange to be in the classroom when the teacher is teaching their voicethread lesson, if that is what the teacher wants. I would offer to co-teach to provide that teacher with the confidence to implement that first lesson.

In the next phase, proficiency, "teachers become more autonomous in their use of technology" (Glazer & Page, 2006). I would encourage teachers in the group to discuss how they are using the technology with each other informally, but also continue to schedule at least 2 short afternoon sessions for trouble shooting and more formal discussion. I would also stress to teachers that I am available to consult on their lessons, all the while encouraging them to be creative with their voicethread plans.

The final phase gets me really excited about the process: mastery. Here is where that small group of teachers get to showcase what they have learned to others! Fryer recommends publicizing success, and I agree. With a core group of educators successfully integrating voicethreads into their lessons, we should have plenty of good news stories to showcase to parents and other teachers. Once the community sees the positive benefits of using voicethreads for learning, they will begin to ask other teachers to participate as well... and that first group of teachers can begin the collaborative apprenticeship process anew.

Finally, I would evaluate my attempt at staff development. David Jakes (Staff Development 2.0, Technology & Learning; May 2006)summarizes a five-step evaluation program from Thomas Guskey's book Evaluating Professional Development. I would evaluate my program on those five components: participants' reactions, participants' learning, organizational support and change, participants' use of new knowledge, and student learning. I would carefully examine what went well and what I need to improve for next time. And there will be a next time. There are plenty more great web 2.0 tools I want to introduce my colleagues to!

I work in a community that is very resistant to change. Sure, everyone fears change to a degree, but I find the Northern communities I work in particularly resistant to new ideas. In light of this, I need to add that I will persevere. Too often I've seen great ideas booed once and disappear. I pledge to myself and my students that even if voicethreads don't catch on with my first group of teachers, I will keep on trying with another group, and then another, until their value is appreciated. Hopefully that dogged determination to bring better educational technology to Northern students will make an impact.

Part of the reason I chose voicethreads for this topic has to do with that resistance. Voicethreads presents so many obvious educational uses that I hope that the teachers I connect with will be more likely to adopt the technology compared to some of the more controversial web 2.0 tools. Once I have a core group of dedicated voicethread users in the community, I hope to branch out into other tools, particularly blogs and video sharing. I would approach those two subjects in much the same way as I've described for voicethreads. While doing staff development on voicethreads though, I will be using blogs and video sharing (and very likely several other tools!) in my classroom and happily telling anyone who will listen about all the great learning we are doing with these tools. With concrete examples of the technology in use and someone on staff (me!) willing to mentor them, I hope other teachers will be more willing to step out of their comfort zone and try something new.

1 comment:

Cindy said...

I agree with you Jess that Voicethread is such a versatile tool! Students and staff alike will be able to effectively create a variety of Voicethreads that support the curriculum.I admire your perseverance, don't give up!