Ed Tech Professional Learning Considerations

For the past few weeks I have explored ISTE Coaching Standard 4b to try to understand how professional learning specifically impacts the use of education technology. School districts continue to take major steps, both in effort and resources, to provide professional development opportunities in the hopes of improving student learning. Unfortunately, the results continue to indicate that most professional development is unsuccessful (Jacob & McGovern, 2015). What are some potential options?

1. Teaching Tech Integration, Rather Than Tech Tools Alone

In my own experience as a teacher, PD in edtech is often focused on the technology itself, without consideration for how the tool or device can be integrated to meet curriculum needs (Daccord, 2015). The result is that many view technology as one more thing to learn, rather than a resource to meet pre-existing instructional needs (Plair, 2008).

Why does this happen?

Often “little emphasis is placed on content or grade level because the professional development event is open to all teachers” (Plair, 2008, p. 71). While large scale approaches reach many teachers at one time, most teachers go back to their daily instructional routines, too busy to figure out how to implement the technology on their own (Plair, 2008).

What are some solutions?

The misconception is that teachers need to only learn the technology itself; the actual need is to establish ongoing “pedagogical vision[s] of what’s possible” with technology (Daccord, 2015, para. 3). According to Daccord (2015), successful professional development in education technology is…

  1. immediately achievable
  2. focused on teaching and learning

Ultimately, teachers are in need of technology fluency, or “the ease with which teachers and students decide what form of technology is best suited for the current educational objectives” (Plair, 2008, p. 71).

Broker by GotCredit is license under CC BY 2.0
Broker by GotCredit is license under CC BY 2.0

The Knowledge Broker

Plair (2008) suggested implementing what she called the knowledge broker, or a channel of knowledge, capable of investigating and sorting through the vast, overwhelming amounts of resources to determine relevancy to one’s classroom and demonstrating application. These brokers serve as a bridge between the tech knowledge and the comprehension of curriculum, pedagogy, and student need (Plair, 2008).

Additionally, knowledge brokers have what teachers often don’t…time to learn about technologies, vet their use and prepare resources (Plair, 2008). They also are accessible on campus, rather than in a district office, where knowledge of specific needs by content and grade-level might diminish (Plair, 2008).

2. Planning PD: Backwards Design to Ensure Focus on Student Learning and Achievement


Professional development is sometimes a result of top down initiatives, recently published professional literature or even current trends. These catalysts aren’t negative, but they don’t account for the whole picture. Arbitrary or unsystematic activities have rarely resulted in improvements in student learning (Sanborn, 2002). Guskey (2014) asserted that in classroom lesson planning, the focus is sometimes misdirected on the activities and the resources. Educators are regularly taught to begin with the standards by asking, “what do we want our students to know?” This idea, referred to as backwards design, did not begin with McTighe and Wiggins (1998), but they are credited with implementing it into curriculum theory with their book, Understanding by Design. Their work highlights three stages of backwards design:

  • Stage 1-Determine what students should know.
  • Stage 2-Create the assessment or performance tasks that will properly show if student learning has occurred.
  • Stage 3-Determine the activities that will reach this end (McTighe & Wiggins, 1998).

Why shouldn’t this practice be applied to adult learning opportunities as well? Guskey (2014) outlined a five piece plan for using backwards design to develop professional development.

#1 What do we want students to learn?

Assessment data should not be the only method relied upon for understanding student learning. While administrators more often rely on high-stakes assessment data, teachers are more inclined to reference classroom observations, such as student work completion and quality, as well as student behavior and engagement (Guskey, 2014). Giving credence to teacher observations results in teachers who are more involved in the process and likely to buy-in (Sanborn, 2002).

Generation Ready’s “Raising Student Achievement Through Professional Development,” reiterates the significant impact of teachers on student achievement (“Generation Ready,” n.d.).

#2 What new practices need to be implemented? Are they based in research or opinion?

#3 What support is needed? Time? Funding? Tech considerations?

#4 What do educators need to know in order to implement the new practices and achieve student learning outcomes?

Is it feasible? Is it relevant? Guskey (2014) asserted that planners need to identify the needs beyond the session. Are the ideas shared only good in theory? Do time, resources, additional knowledge, or technical expertise need to be supplied?

#5 How can the professional learning experience be optimized?

What methods of delivery yield best results? Research by Kubitsky, Fishman and Marx (2003) highlighted that PD should:

  • Create opportunities for teachers to do activities as students would in real lessons
  • Prioritize hands-on opportunities for teachers
  • Create opportunities for peer exchange
  • Limit direct instruction

Additionally, ongoing and continuous support is also needed after a professional development session has concluded (“Generation Ready,” n.d.). Unfortunately, in the age of “one and done” professional development models, this is type of support is largely absent.

3. Tapping into Informal Learning Practices

Formal professional development infrastructures (i.e., administrative approval, compensation, and recertification needs) do not prevent teachers from continuing to spend countless hours of personal time engaging in informal means of continuous learning. Whether collaborating with colleagues after school, reading of educational blogs, researching of innovative teaching practices online, or participating in Twitter conversations, informal methods speak to the nature of educators, who view professional learning as a career-long practice, and not a required checklist. As Czyz stated, “Providing professional development for the sake of meeting PD requirements is simply counterintuitive to the professional learning process. The needs and wants of teachers have changed. It is imperative to adjust our PD programs to accommodate these wants and needs” (2015, para. 2).  Additionally, if the goal is for teachers to be “engaged, curious, and dynamic,” our professional learning opportunities should support this (Czyz, 2015, para. 2).

Can schools can create formal structures to support, pay for and acknowledge the vast amount of time and learning spent by teachers on informal learning every day? Knowles andragogical (adult learning) approaches identify the power of informal learning methods (Knowles, 1973).

  • Self-Concept  -Adult learners need to be active participants in the creation of their own learning.
  • Role of Experience -Adult learners need to take an individualized and hands-on approach to their own learning, to include.
  • Readiness to Learn – Adult learners are more willing and ready to learn when actual applications for relevant learning is present.
  • Orientation to Learning  – Adult learners need to see how a strategy or idea will work to solve a known problem or scenario.

A teacher who scours professional educational blogs for an innovative method to teach the Civil War, after her students struggled with the concept previously, is involved in her own learning (Self-Concept), will be experiencing the learning (mistakes and all) upon trying new ideas in the classroom (Role of Experience), is learning about a topic of high relevance to both her field and student needs (Readiness to Learn), and is learning about a potential solution to a past problem-centered (Orientation to Learning). Yet, this practice is not typically viewed as “real” professional development.

Czyz (2015) suggested models such as Edcamps, the utilization of lost time such as lunch and after school, as well as the integration of online methods such as Twitter and Voxer to connect with colleagues in expanded ways. A common theme of Czyz’s (2015) included the capitalization of time already present in the day. Additionally, the emergence of technology means that professional development does not have to be “limited by time and space“ any longer (Cyzy, 2015, para 13). We should be encouraging teachers to “take advantage of every opportunity to continue their professional learning, using nontraditional timeframes to develop their craft and practice” (Czyz, 2015, para 14).

“25 April” Bridge by Pedro Ribeiro Simões is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Bridge

Davis (2015) suggested that finding a common ground between the widely accepted PLCs or professional learning communities and PLNs or professional learning networks might be one solution to bridge formal and informal professional learning. PLCs are a widely accepted practice, based in backwards design, for collaboration among colleagues. Typically, this is achieved via face-to-face meetings with team members and can yield very positive results. A PLN is the creation of a diverse network of resources to support informal learning. The accountability and follow-through with PLNs can less successful, but the benefit is a personalized, open, and growing network, as opposed to the limited, contained network in the school-based PLC. Davis (2015) suggested bridging the divide by engaging in both face-to-face and online spheres. She stated that it does not have to be one or the other (Davis, 2015).

Institutional Shift

It is true that accountability and tracking is much more difficult with personalized, informal methods. Perhaps the need to track and hold professionals accountable needs to be loosened in order to allow for expanded trust and, ultimately, learning alone to take center stage. What does “real” professional learning looks like? If educational objectives or evaluation criterion are being met and are impacting students positively, aren’t the means to this end valuable?


Czyz, R. (2015). Creating Innovative PD Models in Your District. ISTE. Retreived from http://connect.iste.org/blogs/rich-czyz/2015/10/27/creating-innovative-professional-development-models-in-your-district

Daccord, T. (2015). Why your tech PD might be all wrong. eSchool news: Daily Tech News and Integration. Retrieved from http://www.eschoolnews.com/2015/09/21/tech-pd-540/.

Davis, V. (2015). Modern Professional Learning: Connecting PLCs With PLNs. Edutopia. Retreived from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/modern-professional-learning-plc-pln-vicki-davis

Generation Ready. (n.d.). Raising student achievement through professional development. Retrieved January 27, 2016, from http://www.generationready.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/PD-White-Paper.pdf

Guskey, T. R. (2014). Planning professional learning. Learning, 71(8). Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may14/vol71/num08/Planning-Professional-Learning.aspx

Jacob, A., McGovern, K., & TNTP. (2015). The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth about Our Quest for Teacher Development. Tntp,

Knowles, M. (1973). The adult learner: a neglected species.

Kubitskey, B., Fishman, B., & Marx, R. (2003). The relationship between professional development and student learning: Exploring the link through design research. In annual meeting of AERA (Vol. 3).

Plair, Sandra Kay. (2008). Revamping professional development. The Clearing House, 82(2), 70-74.

Sanborn, J. (2002). Targeted training. School Administrator, 59(11), 16-19.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (2014). Teachers know best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development. Retrieved from http://collegeready.gatesfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Gates-PDMarketResearch-Dec5.pdf

Wiggins, G. P., McTighe, J., Kiernan, L. J., & Frost, F. (1998). Understanding by design (pp. 0-87120). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

3 thoughts on “Ed Tech Professional Learning Considerations

  1. Oh my, your post is beautiful! I thought your “Ed Tech Professional Learning Considerations” graphic was the cover of a magazine you were referencing, incredible! I was so glad to see you emphasized some of the brokenness we are finding in the current trends of professional development. I was also happy to see that you drew (much needed) attention to the idea that teachers are also students and we need to treat them as such… Students have individualized needs, teachers have individualized needs. Students have interests that drive curiosity and hard work, teachers have interests that drive curiosity and hard work. Students often thrive in a real-world context, teachers often thrive in a real-world context. Great job, Annie. You’ve done a great job on spreading the idea of how to best serve teachers, who can then, in turn, best serve students. Nice work.

  2. Annie, thanks for sharing your findings on effective PD. The three areas that you discussed: modeling tech integration, using backwards design, and tapping into informal learning opportunities are important options for schools to consider. I found the last option you mentioned is vital for educators. Teachers have a plethora of information outside their institutions and they are able to access 24/7. The research by Knowles is a great example of how teachers can take ownership of their learning. Great job exploring professional learning!

  3. Teacher buy-in and accepting the informal learning teachers are already involved in are two crucial components and areas that administrators should pay much attention to. Thanks for you dedication and thoughtful engagement in these areas. I really like the bridge vision that you incorporated and I can see how that makes a positive and relevant impact.

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