Just like the students they teach, each educator comes to the classroom with a different set of experiences and preconceived notions about what good teaching looks like. Because of this, every teacher and every classroom has their own style, methods, and classroom environment. With these differences in mind, it is hard to imagine how creating a standard professional development course, module, workshop, or presentation for a group of K-12 teachers would provide adequate training that can meet each individual teacher’s needs.
According to Knowles (as cited in Merriam & Bierema, 2013) one assumption that is made through the adult learning theory of andragogy, is that adult learners prefer to learn material that is problem centered as opposed to learning material that is not useful until a future date. According to Matherson and Windle (2017), “Teachers want professional development that they can use immediately to help them prepare and deliver what their students need the most, i.e., skills, techniques, and strategies that allow them to address individual needs and help them tailor differentiated learning for their students.”
To create problem centered learning that provides teachers with skills that can be implemented immediately in the classroom, professional learning has to be personalized to the needs of the teachers who are taking the online or blended learning course. One way to accomplish this is to move the professional development instructor’s mindset from that of the teacher to that of a coach or a facilitator. Creating lessons and activities that are focused on specific pedagogies, skills, or strategies while leaving the subject matter details up to the participants can help to make an online or blended professional development work for groups of teachers who may teach various subject areas or even grade levels.
For example, creating an online or blended learning K-12 teacher professional development course can focus on a broad topic like methods for creating data driven instruction. If the teachers taking the professional development course all teach different subjects and maybe even different grade levels, then creating a lesson that explains how spreadsheets can be used as data collection and analysis in a math class is not going to help the English, Art, or Physical Education teacher. Data looks different in every classroom and in every unit of instruction. To meet the needs of all the professional development participants, the instructor needs to first get teachers to identify the different types of data that they may encounter. Once they have identified the data types they deal with, they need to self-evaluate their ability to use that data, which they already have, to inform their instruction.
Once a self-evaluation, and maybe even a self-reflection has taken place, the participants can begin to work through resources that pertain to the type of data they have and provide information on strategies and models that they can use to help them meet their goal of using that data to inform their classroom instruction. These resources can be found through independent research, instructor curation, or a mixture of the two. Participants can take that information and evaluate how they could use it in their own practice and use instructor and peer feedback to help find and implement the best solutions. Because the participants are working on something similar, they are better able to collaborate and provide ideas and feedback.
Another way instructors of online or blended K-12 professional development courses can provide personalized instruction to their participants is by getting to know the participants themselves through learning inventories, interest surveys, and synchronous and asynchronous discussions about their experiences and current teaching situations. Personalizing learning allows the participant to focus on what interests him or her the most or is of most crucial need for his or her classroom. Getting to know student backgrounds, needs, and teaching environments allows the instructor to provide individualized resources and supports that students need to be able to get what they need out of the course.
For example, a teacher is enrolled in a professional learning course about using digital content and instructional methods in the classroom. This teacher is a high school math instructor that is currently struggling with finding a way to effectively collect and analyze data so he or she can differentiate his or her classroom instruction for his or her students. Because the instructor is aware of this, he or she can integrate data collection and disaggregation tools into the course. If adding it to the course material would not work, the instructor could provide it directly to the participant as a supplemental activity that would allow the participant to explore the use of such tools for use in his or her classroom.
Personalization is another way the instructor can offer support to his or her students, but it goes a step further because it requires the instructor to be flexible in his or her teaching and to be willing to spend additional time researching and providing resources to students who need additional materials that may or may not pertain directly to the course itself. By doing this, the instructor can create a course that is driven by students interests and needs.
Closing for this Series
Teachers enter their professional development courses both willingly and unwillingly. Most teachers are anxious to learn new pedagogies, tools, and skills that they can use to implement in their courses to create better learning environments for their students. Of course, because teachers are also compelled to participate in professional development for licensure renewal there are professional development courses that teachers will have to take that they may not be as anxious to take part in.
The difference between a motivated K-12 professional development participant and one who is only participating to complete a school, district, or state mandated requirement can be attributed to the organization of the course, the feedback received throughout the course, the support that is provided as the course progresses, and the personalization that the course offers. While there is no controlling the reason why a student has enrolled in a K-12 online or blended teacher professional development course the instructor of the course can implement motivational strategies to maintain or even create motivation for students to fully participate and grow from the learning experiences offered.
The organization of the online or blended K-12 professional development course, instructional strategies, and feedback methods will be less successful in motivating students as they work through the course if they do not have support. Support can come in a few different ways, but essentially support is provided by people. It can come from the participant’s family, friends, coworkers, classmates, or instructor. This support is important as the lack of it can demotivate students.
Meeting Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, learners require that their physiological, safety, and belonging needs are met before they can be open to learning. Instructors of professional learning courses cannot provide for the physiological needs as they are usually not in the same location as their participants. The only instance that a physiological need could be met by an instructor would be during a physical meeting of a blended learning course the instructor could provide snacks, drinks, and regular bathroom breaks. Safety is also a need that instructors can only control in a face to face meeting of a blended learning class.
The need for belonging can be provided for by both the instructor and the participant’s classmates. This can be done by implementing strategies of online and blended learning that promote interaction between the student and the instructor and among the students themselves. Setting synchronous and asynchronous chats through web and phone applications can help create a learning community that is able to provide some of the necessary support needed to be motivated to learn the pedagogies, tools, and skills that are addressed in the online and blended K-12 professional development course.
Providing Support Through Coaching and Mentoring
Since the focus of online and blended K-12 professional development courses is to create positive change in the K-12 classroom learning environment, coaching and mentoring can help provide support to individuals who are participating in the professional development course. Coaching and mentoring practices provide one-on-one guidance and support to teachers (Onchwari & Keengwe, 2008). If the course is being presented through a blended learning model that is taking place at the same site the participant currently teaches, a coaching or mentoring model can be someone from their own school.
For instance, a school could implement a blended learning model that is instructed by one of the instructional coaches in the building. This instructional coach could provide both instructor support and coaching support to the participants of the program. The benefit to a framework such as this is that the coach knows the course materials, teachings, and strategies that the participant is being exposed to. This allows the coach to create a one-on-one coaching experience that can help guide participants through struggle points they may face when they implement their learning into their classroom.
The coach can be there to support through planning, co teaching, and reflections that can help the participant to grow into independence in using their learning in the classroom. This model allows the coach to provide support to participants who may be nervous about implementing new pedagogies, tools or strategies in the classroom environment on their own. An additional positive to this model for blended learning is that when it comes to the online course materials and assignments, the coach, as the instructor, can better tailor the resources and activities to what the participants need to learn allowing for personalization of the course to become a natural part of the program.
Since online courses and many blended courses do not offer an option for a school based coach to serve as the instructor of the online or blended K-12 professional development course, other options should be explored to try to provide coaching or mentoring. One option is to use the online instructor as a virtual coach. This option requires more of a time commitment from the online or blended course instructor and an ability to record and participate in virtual synchronous meetings.
If virtual coaching is not an option, participants can seek out coaches that are either fellow participants in the course or are an administrator, master teacher, or other expert that can guide and support the participant through the implementation of the pedagogies, tools, or skills learned through the online or blended professional development course. The coaching or mentoring should be individualized through one-on-one sessions. This provides the participant with the opportunity to work through problem points, skill development needs, and support needs the teacher may have. The coaching or mentoring should be intensive and sustained where participants interact with their coach on a regular basis and teachers can receive coaching over an extended period of time. The coaching or mentoring should be context-specific and focused so coaching can relate to the context of the classroom environment in which the participant works and allows for engagement in the practice of a specific skill.
While coaching and mentoring are not necessarily elements that are usually found in an online or blended learning course it is an important element that can and should be readily available for teachers who participate in an online or blended K-12 professional development course. Whether the coach or mentor is the instructor himself or herself or the participant can recruit someone from his or her own school, the element of support that can be provided by this individual allows the participant of the course to feel like they the support they need to take risks in the classroom. For teachers who are too nervous to implement some of the pedagogies, tools, or skills to a classroom full of students the first time, the coach or mentor can provide co teaching support to allow for confidence that the participant is not alone if the implementation goes awry.
Providers of Feedback
The first possible provider of feedback for participants of K-12 online or blended professional development is automated responses. This is usually available through online programs that can immediately let the learner know whether or not they answered a question correctly. This type of feedback is usually only helpful for ensuring that the lowest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Adams, 2015) have been met. While this method may not allow for a great deal of depth or demonstration of the student’s ability to apply, synthesize, or create knowledge, it does provide a way for students to receive feedback that is instant which can help them to learn the basic and background knowledge they need in order to move up to those higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and it provides instant feedback which has been proven to promote positive learning gains in students (El Saadawi, Azevedo, Castine, Payne, Medvedeva, Tseytlin, & Crowley, 2010).
In K-12 online and blended learning environments, this method can allow participants the ability to move through material at their own pace while getting feedback that can help keep them on the right track and motivated. For instance, a teacher who is learning about a new process or procedure that their school or district may be using might need to understand the new terminology that goes along with that process so they are better able to communicate with their colleagues about where they are or what they may need help on within that process or procedure. Using an automatically graded quiz or activity provides the participant the ability to review materials they got wrong or to move on to the next activity or level.
Students are capable of providing themselves with feedback. While this is a skill that must be learned, it is one that can have a positive effect on their learning and can promote metacognition (Siegesmund, 2017). There are three types of self-assessment that students can use to grow (Boud & Brew, 1995). The first is self-testing. This method allows students to check their knowledge against test items that have right or wrong answers. While this may sound like this is really automated feedback, the difference is that students seek these opportunities out for themselves.
Traditionally when instructors consider using this method, they imagine the student testing himself or herself through a multiple choice, short answer, matching assessment, but this can also be done through a trial and error approach. In a K-12 professional development model, this might be used by a teacher who is learning a new tool. He or she might test his or her knowledge of the tool usage through trial and error. The participant should know what the outcome they are looking to meet when they begin to self-test. For example, if a teacher is learning to use a program that will allow them to screencast a lesson for a blended lesson they are preparing to teach, they may test their ability to use their chosen screencasting tool to ensure they are able to meet the desired outcome before they are asked by their professional development provider to turn in an assessment that depicts their ability to do this.
Reflective questions are another way students can assess themselves (Boud & Brew, 1995). This method allows learners to reflect on and be critical of their learning. In a K-12 teacher professional development setting, participants may be resistant to this type of self-assessment because they do not see the value of it in comparison to the amount of time they have to engage in the activity. Self-reflection of learning provides teachers with the chance to evaluate what they are learning and to think through how their learning can be used to promote better student learning strategies. Because the goal of K-12 professional development is to create meaningful changes in the classroom environments of the teachers participating in the course, creating time and or circumstances for participants to engage in reflection is an important component for designers of these online and blended learning experiences to consider.
The final self-assessment strategy that can be implemented in these learning environments is self-rating (Boud & Brew, 1995). Through this strategy, students rate their own work in comparison to an exemplar piece or a rubric which explains the goals the learner should be striving to meet. To promote better student ownership and a better understanding of what is expected, instructors of online and blended learning courses can have students participate in the creation of the rubric or goals they must meet to be considered masters of the skill or objective.
K-12 professional development can use this strategy as a way for participants to prepare for self-reflection. For example, a professional development participant learns about a new strategy he or she can implement in his or her lesson plans. The participant implements this strategy into his or her lesson, then uses a self-rating tool to rate the success of the implementation. From there the participant can begin to reflect on his or her perceptions of how the implementation went and what he or she could do differently the next time they try to use the strategy in his or her classroom.
The use of self-assessment should be a regular part of K-12 online and blended teacher professional development courses (Siegesmund, 2017). Because these courses are built to promote better instruction in the classroom, teachers need the time, tools, and structures in place to participate in self-assessment that will allow them to learn and reflect on that learning in a meaningful way. Educators who can use this skill in a professional development course can continue to use this skill to improve their instructional methods as they seek professional development opportunities that are not laid out in a course format.
Instructor feedback is often perceived to be more valuable than any other type of feedback (Ertmer, Richardson, Belland, Camin, Connolly, Coulthard, & Mong, 2007). Because of this, instructor presence and response is vitally important to student motivation. Sadler (2010) explains that students need appraisal expertise to help understand feedback from an instructor. There are three areas that appraisal expertise relies on. The first is task compliance. This describes whether or not the student fulfilled the task requirements (Sadler, 2010).
In online and blended K-12 professional development courses, assignments often require participants to complete tasks with specific goals or objectives in mind. For instance, a participant may be asked to write a lesson plan that uses a strategy the professional development has just covered. When the plan is reviewed by the instructor, he or she may not see the implementation of the strategy within the plan that was turned in. The instructor’s feedback needs to be specific as to how the assignment does not meet the criteria set forth by the assignment. In many cases, this happens because students think they did fulfill the requirements, but they need more guidance to complete the task. Instructors can provide feedback that refers back to the expectations they set in the assignment's guidelines and the materials used to teach the skills needed to help point the participant in the right direction to complete the assigned task.
Instructors of K-12 online and blended teacher professional development also requires that the instructor be able to judge the quality of the work presented (Sadler, 2010). Providers of the professional development need to be able to articulate what makes the participant’s work low or high quality. Since grades are not usually used to measure work put out in professional development, instructors need to be able to work with participants to improve the quality of their work by providing suggestions for further review of the material, strategy, or skill that is supposed to be demonstrated by the assignment. Instructors can also provide concrete reasons and examples as to how the changes they will need to make to create a higher quality product will help create better student learning opportunities in his or her classroom.
Finally, criteria for the assignment need to be understood by the participant in order to understand the feedback that is provided by the instructor (Sadler, 2010). Instructors of the professional development can remind students or show students the criteria for the assignment in their feedback. By highlighting the criteria either by referring back to the rubric or assignment description or by providing an example of an exemplar piece, the provider of the professional development can ensure the participant understands the rationale behind the feedback. These strategies can also help the participant to make appropriate modifications to their work.
When peer feedback is used in an online or blended learning environment, it encourages motivation by helping learners feel less isolated, builds trust, fosters and develops critical thinking, and helps reduce the workload of the instructor (van Ginkel, Gulikers, Biemans & Mulder, 2017; Espitia & Cruz Corzo, 2013). In K-12 online and blended teacher professional development courses, this form of feedback can be extremely beneficial and it allows participants to collaborate and help each other solve real classroom or lesson planning problems. According to Matherson and Windle (2017) teachers want to have their professional learning to be teacher-driven. One way to accommodate this is through the use of peer feedback activities during the professional development course.
Peer feedback is going to look different when using it in an online course as opposed to a blended course. In a K-12 online professional development course, this peer feedback is going to take place entirely online. This requires the instructor to have participants use written or recorded feedback activities. While participants may not feel confident in their ability to provide feedback to their classmates, following a specific procedure and making it a regular part of the course can alleviate this over time (Ertmer, Richardson, Belland, Camin, Connolly, Coulthard, & Mong, 2007). The use of digital tools can also help participants to create a greater sense of community. For instance, participants can use voice recording, video recording, and online meetings with each other, to help promote that sense of community. Other digital tools allow students to provide feedback anonymously as it randomly assigns peer feedback tasks to the students and sends that feedback back to the owner of the assignment. While anonymity may alleviate feelings of peer pressure in most online learning environments (Ertmer, et al, 2007), the fact that K-12 teacher professional development is not dependent on grades and is intended to promote community, anonymity should not be necessary (Matherson and Windle, 2017).
In a blended K-12 teacher professional development course, participants can provide peer feedback in the same ways discussed for online courses. But in blended courses participants may have the opportunity to provide peer feedback in a face to face setting. This strategy can especially be beneficial to help promote community in a school as many teachers, especially those teaching in large schools, do not often get to elicit feedback from many of their coworkers. Since teachers who are able to participate in a school based blended professional development teach the same students and have the same goals, their feedback can help to create better student learning opportunities school wide.
Helping students to understand where they did well and where they need to do some more work is all part of teaching. When working in an online or blended environment the body language and facial cues that can often help provide quick feedback to students in a face to face classroom are not available. Instead, feedback must be strategically planned and continually implemented. The semantic dimension, or quality, of the feedback is as important as the timing of the feedback.
Providing Information About Errors
The feedback quality can be categorized into four domains. The first of these four provides the student with a description of the errors he or she has made (Espasa & Meneses, 2009). Giving students this information helps them to see specific problems in their work allowing them to correct mistakes and review material which can help prevent them from continuing to repeat these types of errors. Since teacher professional development usually hinges less on correct answers and more on problems solving and implementation of skills, this strategy may not be used as much in an online or blended professional development course.
The place for this type of feedback could be in the initial learning of a strategy or skill as teachers learn new vocabulary, processes, or factual materials they may need to teach to their students. For example, a teacher who is receiving professional development about a new online learning management system may be required to complete an assessment that shows their ability to navigate the new environment. If the professional development participant were to incorrectly complete a task within this system, the instructor of the course can provide the participant a description of the errors he or she has made to help him or her to review and redo the activity to improve his or her ability to use the tool.
The second semantic feedback domain gives students the solution or part of the answer (Espasa & Meneses, 2009). This strategy can provide students the information they need to solve the problem on their own. This approach can often be more valuable as it requires the student to think through the process again with the solution as a guide for understanding where he or she may have made the initial mistake.
In teacher professional development this strategy can be used to direct a participant to reformulate plans to meet a specific learning goal. For example, a participant may be learning about creating a differentiated unit or lesson using data. While there is no right answer to how to do this, providing a suggestion of a strategy to implement can have the same effect. By providing a strategy suggestion, the participant is able to go back and look at how that strategy can be utilized for this instance. The participant has to work through not only what the strategy is, but also what they need to do to implement the strategy effectively in the unique environment that is their classroom. This can provide a great opportunity for participants to collaborate with the instructor or other participants to gather ideas and feedback which will help them reach that implementation goal.
The third way to provide quality feedback is to provide the student with guidelines and strategies to improve their work (Espasa & Meneses, 2009). This can help to refocus students on the material or guide them back to the right answer without either pointing it out or giving them the solution. This method gives student the opportunity to identify and reevaluate their work on their own.
This method is effective in online and blended teacher professional development programs as it allows the participant to search for the resources or tools that would best fit their classroom’s needs. If an online or blended K-12 professional development participant is struggling with how to integrate a new strategy into their classroom, the instructor can provide guidelines for how they could rethink the problems they are facing. This can be done by providing additional resources such as videos that model the strategy in action, blog posts that describe the effective use of the strategy in a similar classroom, or observational feedback that can provide clarity of the problem for the participant.
The final dimension to give students quality feedback is by providing the learner with additional resources for future learning (Espasa & Meneses, 2009). This provides students the opportunity to dig deeper into a topic when they need or want to learn more about the method, subject, or ideas being learned in the course. Students may find this information useful to revisit for future courses, problem solving, or just to satisfy their own interest driven learning.
For teachers who are participating in online or blended professional development, this type of feedback can be beneficial as they rethink or restructure learning opportunities for their students later on in the year or even in subsequent years. Because each year of teaching is different and has different students with different needs, it is important for educators to keep a toolbox of strategies, skills, and resources ready. Professional development providers can give teachers who are not ready to implement or use a skill, strategy, or tool right now resources for future reading, watching, or listening that will allow the participant to continue to fill their teaching toolbox. Providers can share books, research, blogs, podcasts, videos, and other medias that can be utilized by participants at a later time.
While the quality of the feedback provided to students is important for maintaining motivation, the timeliness of that feedback is equally important. Timely and informative feedback can help learners recognize and correct misconceptions, increase confidence and motivation, and motivate them to acquire knowledge (Epstein, 2010). There are various individuals who can provide feedback to participants of online and blended professional development and each of these providers of feedback can play a significant role in maintaining motivation for these participants.
While it is important to us class norms and procedures to keep all the participants of an online or blended learning course knowing what is required and how well they are doing in the course, using various instructional strategies can promote maintained student motivation through the end of the course (Lehman & Conceicao, 2014). It has been found that interactive instructional strategies are more favored by students of online and blended learning environments than those that are less interactive (Abrami, Bernard, Bures, Borokhovski, & Tamim, 2011). With this in mind, instructors should strive to promote interaction in the online and blended learning environments.
Student-student interaction is one of the three learning interactions that were discussed by Moore (1989). This describes the interaction that happens among students who are enrolled in a course together (as cited in Abrami et.al, 2011). Strategies that can promote interaction among students is the use of synchronous and asynchronous chats. Synchronous and asynchronous chats can happen through text, voice, or video interaction. With the availability of high speed internet and a plethora of digital tools that allow people to have conversations using one or all of these mediums, participants of a K-12 online or blended professional development course can interact, share ideas, and provide feedback to one another.
This second interaction, as described by Moore (1989), discusses the interactivity that happens between the student and the course instructor (as cited in Abrami et.al, 2011). While synchronous and asynchronous chats can be utilized between the instructor and student in the same way it can be utilized among students the instructor can also create lecture materials that can be used to teach or to enhance the further understanding of a topic by students.
One strategy that can be used to promote learning in online and blended K-12 professional development courses is the use of recorded media in the form of podcasts. Podcasts are recordings that can be accessed on demand and are focused on a specific topic. There are two methods for implementing these types of recordings. The first uses this medium as a way to deliver content that is required for the course itself and the second is to provide these recordings as supplemental materials for further study into topics students are interested in knowing more about (Key, 2012). Since teacher professional development is focused on making learning environments that will help teachers create better learning opportunities for their students, the use of podcasts is a great way to get additional content out to professional development participants. The mobility of this medium allows the participant to engage in course content or additional content that is of interest to them when they are on the go.
Moore (1989) discusses student-content interaction describes the interaction students have with the course content (as cited in Abrami et.al, 2011). This interaction used to be limited to reading of the textbook, but with the internet, mobile devices, and web based tools, students can interact with media in numerous ways. One way is the use of hypermedia. Hartshorne (2008) showed that students who interacted with hypermedia had a more positive attitude toward the subject they were learning.
The use of hypermedia, provides students the freedom to choose what paths to take when learning about a topic. The media that is linked from the hypermedia platform, which can be in the form of a document, website, or other digital platform, can be various formats allowing students to not only choose their learning path, but also their learning medium. Instructors of online or blended K-12 professional development courses can use this instructional strategy to curate and promote exploration of the topics being learned through the course, which allows participants to learn the topic in a way that will help them in their classrooms the best.
Social media can be used as an different way for students to interact with content for a K-12 professional development course. Connected educators are teachers who connect with other educators and education related content through the use of social media applications. Twitter is the most popular of these tools. Teachers currently use this application to find and categorize their professional development and classroom experiences. Social media is a way for instructors of online and blended professional development courses to model how participants can both interact with the current course content and how they can continue to utilize these social media tools for self-directed professional development opportunities (Visser, Evering, & Barrett, 2014).
The different kinds of interactions participants have when they are in an online or blended K-12 professional development course can greatly impact not only the learning outcomes for the participant, but also the participant’s students. These interactions are enhanced by quality, effective feedback processes that help the participants create better understandings of the learning they are getting through these various types of interactions.
Organizing Blended and Online Professional Development Courses
According to Knowles (1984) and his adult learning theory of andragogy, it is important that adult learners have a clear understanding of why they need to know something (as cited in Merriam & Bierema, 2013). When creating an online or blended learning course for K-12 teacher professional development, this rule applies. Because teachers are not always volunteers whey they take professional development courses, this rule is even more important. As the professional development provider creates and begins the course with its participants, he or she must know and be able to demonstrate why the pedagogies, tools, or skills the teacher are learning about in this course are important and how is it applicable to their daily teaching?
Once the question as to why participants should engage in this professional development course is answered, the clear understanding of learning goals (Siegesmund, 2017) needs to be identified and shared with participants. In K-12 professional development, the goals should be to find more practical ways to deliver content (Matherson and Windle, 2017) and, according to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future report (1996) should be able to be embedded in the participant’s daily work (as cited by Onchwari & Keengwe, 2008). To accomplish this, the course should be built with practical classroom applications of pedagogies, tools, and skills that will help the teacher to create a better learning experience for his or her students.
Learning Management Systems
As the reasons for why the course is important and the goals of the course are established, the course instructor needs to determine which method of communication he or she will be using to consistently stay in contact with the participants (Lehman & Conceicao, 2014). The best method for this is to utilize the appropriate learning management system that will meet the needs of the course.
A learning management system is a web based platform that allows the instructor of the course to send out course materials, assignments, reminders, and feedback. The use of a single learning management system can help to establish course norms that participants and the instructor will follow to ensure there is no confusion on how to access the materials needed, the assignment descriptions and due dates, obtain reminders about upcoming activities, and access the feedback for assignments and activities.
When districts or schools are designing their own online and blended K-12 professional development courses, the learning management system should be something teachers are able to utilize in their own classrooms. If teachers already use the tool as an instructor, they can gain valuable knowledge about how the student interface for the tool works. If the teacher does not currently use the tool, then he or she may find value in it when he or she sees how it can be used to help create an organized and connected classroom environment for his or her own students.
While the choice of learning management system is not the most important component when creating an online or blended K-12 professional development course, it is important that the instructor choose something that is easily accessible on multiple devices, easy to use, and provides all the functionality that will be required to effectively manage the class. The use of the learning management system should be a daily ritual for the instructor. He or she should keep a close watch on the activities of the students so immediate feedback and necessary interactions with students are happening. Students are more motivated when they have a consistent flow of information (Lehman & Conceicao, 2014). Keeping a schedule for announcements and reminders can help students keep focused on their goals, provide them with reminders, and assure them of what they are supposed to be working on.
Motivating K-12 teachers to learn new pedagogies, tech tools, or teaching skills is not always an easy task. While there are a number of ways teachers can seek out their own professional learning through social media sites, blogs, books, and research, some skills and materials are still best learned through an ongoing course format. Professional development courses are also easier for K-12 schools, districts, and state departments to track to ensure professional learning, and hopefully professional growth, continue to take place. Usually, this is done through the use of seat time in such courses, but the introduction of badges and micro credentialing has created a method of tracking learned skills as opposed to time spent learning.
The way recording institutions track the learning of teachers is not the only thing that has evolved. The way teachers access their professional development courses has also evolved. This change comes about because technology is readily available to allow for on the go learning. The shift to digital learning environments has created an opportunity to provide students of all ages with alternative ways to learn the material and the skills they need. These environments require that designers and teachers of these courses think differently about how they will get students to remain motivated from the beginning of the course through to the end.
The success of a K-12 teacher professional development course is best measured by how it helps the teacher to create better learning opportunities for his or her students. While most teachers are motivated to engage in these types of learning environments strictly for the potential of creating better student learning outcomes, the design and implementation of these courses should follow the best practices available to keep teachers motivated. The act of using online and blended learning environments for professional learning can, in itself, provide teachers with a model of a different form of teaching that they may not have seen before. This exposure could lead these teachers to begin to utilize the practices they were able to learn from in the course in their own classrooms.
Blended Vs. Online Learning Environments
Teachers in most K-12 educational institutions are provided a computer, internet access, and software to use as they instruct their students. These tools are also being used as a way to deliver professional development in blended and online learning environments. These environments have a number of benefits and have the potential to allow for teachers to learn pedagogies, tools, and skills that can be used to solve classroom problems or create better learning environments.
In a fully online professional development, the participants and the instructor would have no face to face interactions. This method provides a way for learning to take place without individuals having to physically meet in the same location. K-12 professional development that uses this mode provides teachers an opportunity to learn from others around the world. It also provides an opportunity for schools and districts to create professional development that teachers can complete when it is most convenient for them.
A blended learning model is being used when a “... student learns at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace” (Harn & Staker, 2014). There are a number of ways to implement a blended learning environment, but the main benefit this form has over strictly online learning is that the participants are able to meet face to face. For K-12 educators who work at brick and mortar schools, the face to face component can allow teachers who do not normally get the chance to plan or work together to interact and work through common issues together providing new perspectives across multiple disciplines and grade levels within the school or district.
According to Lim, Morris, and Kupritz (2006), the blended and online learning courses are not significantly different in how much learners perceive they have learned from the course. What has been found is that individuals who participate in a blended learning course perceive that the learning community is stronger than that of an online learning course. In addition, online courses are seen by participants as being harder than those delivered in a blended learning format. The difference may be the addition of the face to face interaction that the blended learning environment allows learners to participate in. The only downside to the blended learning environment is the need to physically attend the face to face meetings, although it could be argued that courses who have found a way to introduce regular synchronous conversations via a video call may allow for a blended type environment that is no longer limited by location of its participants.
Regardless of which of these two professional development formats is being implemented, the considerations needing to be made and the problems the instructor and/or designer of these programs may face are similar. The organization and set up, feedback practices, support strategies, and personalization methods used in these professional developments will play a major role in how motivated K-12 teachers are to participate in and complete the course.
Parent, Educator, Technology Lover