Blended Learning Professional Development for Teachers TLLP 2013

I just returned from the planning sessions for the Ministry of Education's Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP) with my colleague +Rolland Chidiac. In addition to seeing wonderful presentations by Dr. Anne Lieberman (Stanford) and Dr. Carol Campbell (OISE/ UT) on research related to leadership and professional development for teachers, we had a chance to continue working on the project proposal that was accepted by our Board (Waterloo Catholic District School Board ) and the Ministry for 2013-2014, Success for all Students: 21st Century Teaching/Learning using Tablets & A Blended Learning Model.

We are finding that this proposal continues to evolve as we experience new technologies and approaches to teaching and learning that we would like to include in our project. One of the major advantages we have is that our decisions are informed by the insights and experiences Rolland has gained as a result of his work on his current TLLP project. Instead of learning about the project planning process, we are able to focus on the project implementation and the resources we will need to employ to achieve our SMART goals.

There will be 2 significant changes to our project. Previously, my focus group for the blended learning model was to be junior students, but this will now change to include educators in our school board. Teachers that are interested in using blended learning in their classrooms will be invited to attend professional development sessions that will model the same method of delivery (i.e. they will experience blended learning from the perspective of a student - some face to face sessions and some online sessions). The main focus will be to use the same tools and approaches that they could incorporate into their own teaching. Their experiences as a student will help to inform their instructional practice. This is important because educators often lack the personal experience with the new methods and tools of delivery and therefore have a difficult time determining their value and how it would work in their classroom. The instruction in the blended learning course will follow a Collaborative Inquiry model as teachers reflect on their own teaching & learning to design blended learning activities for their own students.

Facilitating professional development for teachers is a passion of mine as I really enjoy the exchange of best practices that are shared between educators that have a variety of experiences. This type of interaction and model for professional development delivery is critical for the adoption of innovative teaching approaches as my rationale below explains.

The key question to address is how can we promote innovation in teaching? The important distinction for the context of our project is that ‘perceived as new’ is relative to the traditional educational practices of a school which consists largely of face to face classes. If blended learning delivery is adopted and used with the existing instructional paradigms, the effect on learning will be negligible and will therefore not represent an innovation in teaching. Ultimately, it is not the technology that matters, but how we design the learning through the technology (Miller). Advances in teaching may result when technology is used as an opportunity discover new ways for achieving learning outcomes. Blended learning can represent both a pedagogical innovation and a channel of communication capable of engaging the learner. Technology enables the instructor to create a different kind of curriculum and to establish a different relationship with the student. The virtual classroom provides a new environment for human interaction and allows the teacher to design learning which can be more student-centered and collaborative and focus on 21st century skills and literacies. Examining Blended Learning Models: Student To Teacher Interactions provides some great examples on how the role of the teacher in a blended learning environment could change.

According to Rogers, innovation is adopted by members within society at different times and at different rates. A steep learning curve is overcome quickly by early adopters who absorb the new skills and instructional paradigms quickly while late adopters acquire this knowledge over a longer time span. Information seems to flow easily from innovators to early adopters. The barrier for diffusion is identified by the gap that occurs between early adopters and early main-stream educators. The size of this gap can be attributed to the level of the inter-connectedness between schools in a school board. Often teachers have connections that do not extend beyond their department, division or school. This limits the reciprocal exchange of teaching methods and content. The number of nodes and connections between educators determines the complexity and richness of the network (Rueter).

Professional development is often seen as a key enabler of innovation in teaching as it may serve to link successful teaching initiatives and the broad expertise available throughout a school board. Such a network would facilitate the sharing of innovative teaching strategies and encourage the exchange of best practices in the development and delivery of blended learning and full eLearning courses. As Dr. Lieberman stated, 'teachers learn most from other teachers as they are real and have practical experiences you trust and can relate to.' This is why it would be important to include +Rolland Chidiac as a co-instructor in these sessions as he would continue to share his day-to-day experiences with blended learning and his primary students. These types of initiatives also help to raise the profile of innovative teaching practices, and foster communication and collaboration between teachers and programs.

The second significant change to our project is that we will be employing Acer chromebooks instead of the tablets we had initially selected. After rigorous testing we chose this system because it will enable our teachers to view the Flash-based learning activities in the Ministry's Learning Management System without additional configuration. The simplified yet powerful interface of the Chrome operating system will enable us to fully leverage the tools of the Google Apps for Education suite to empower the professional and personal learning networks of our teachers and students. My recent experiences with these tools has clearly demonstrated to me how effective they can be at extending our learning to include educators and students from around the world. In order to adopt these innovative approaches our teachers need to be exposed to these tools and strategies. An excellent study by +Ryan Bretag and his team provides clear and compelling evidence that we are making the correct decision. '100% of the Pilot teachers preferred the Chromebooks over Nexus tablets or reviewing other devices' and '65% of the Pilot students preferred the Chromebooks over the Nexus tablets (24%) or Reviewing Other Devices (11%)'. Another excellent case study by +Terry Korte revealed that, 'since moving to Google Apps, collaboration has flourished across the district. According to Korte, Google Apps is improving the way students learn and teachers teach. Today, students and teachers are blogging about novels, working out math problems using Google spreadsheets, sharing documents such as lab reports, research projects and surveys using Google Docs, creating sites with Google Sites that include links, pictures, videos and more - all using Google's tools. One teacher says that Google Apps has significantly decreased workloads and planning, because staff no longer need to create several different versions of material for different access methods.' Google's recent announcement of the Google Play for Education initiative will also make these devices easier for teachers and IT departments to administer (send out applications updates to their entire fleet of devices with one click and app purchases can be charged against an account that a school has on file).

My future posts will focus on the explanation for measuring the SMART goals for our TLLP project. We will be adapting the rating instruments and research methodology from a previous study I conducted on the A Study of the Design and Evaluation of a Learning Object and Implications for Content Development.

Using Social Media to Empower PLN

Using social media to empower #PLN and #GAFE.

In my last post I described what I experienced at the recent GAFE summit I attended and how the application of the concepts and tools I was exposed to has clearly demonstrated to me how social media can empower PLN (personal or professional learning networks). When +Molly Schroeder posed her 'design challenge' and asked us why we were at the summit giving up 16 hours of our personal time on the weekend, my response was because, 'I am in beta'. I continue to look for innovative ways to engage my students by sharing strategies and resources with other educators. During his session +Mark Wagner discussed how one's PLN can expand exponentially from colleagues in your local staff room or department to educators from around the world who have a variety of insights and experiences and resources to share. Sometimes it can be a challenge to participate in these networks to the degree I would like given all of the extra-curricular activities at school and at home, but I find that what ever time I have been able to invest has easily generated an incredible rate of return.

At the summit I finally met +Sylvia Duckworth in person. She is someone I have admired and been following and exchanging ideas with on Twitter as we both use the AIM methodology and resources to teach our students French as a Second Language. At the time, I never realized that a tweet requesting to make a personal introduction at the conference would have turned into such a powerful and enlightening collaboration. Throughout the day we had been attending sessions by +Wendy Gorton+Marc Dubeau+Mark Wagner on using Google + Hangouts to facilitate dynamic and enriching collaboration between educators and students. While I enjoy using Twitter to connect and exchange ideas with my colleagues I think that Google + Hangouts really has the ability to take PLN to the next level as you will see below.

Unbeknownst to me +Sylvia Duckworth began formulating some very clear ideas about how our two classes could collaborate using the tools we had a chance to experiment with during our sessions. When you look at the plan she put together you will see an aspect of every session we attended that weekend; +Jim Sill YouTube in the classroom, +Joseph Romano Google Docs and PBL, +Pierre Sarazin+Lise Galuga+Tanya Avrith Google Drive and innovative pedagogical strategies for Google Docs and Forms, +Joe Sisco Google Apps, just to mention a few.

The same evening the summit ended Sylvia and I had a Google + Hangout to start experimenting with the tools (real-time Google doc collaboration, desktop sharing, video and text chat, Google effects, YouTube streaming) so we could get a clearer idea of how we could use these tools with our students. There was also the very practical element of being able to effectively plan the implementation of this project using the very same tools. Our students had a great time using the Google forms to provide input to the character development and interaction for the story re-tell activity. We were also able to look at the results in graphic form and discuss some numeracy objectives by examining how we would use the information to make specific decisions. The students were very engaged when we had a Google + Hangout to do a shared reading of the story and then to co-construct a new ending for the play in real-time based on their responses to the survey. We did not encounter any significant technical issues during our session, but that was probably due to the amount of testing we did prior to our Hangout.

Currently, we are at the stage where the students are creating their own version of the play using Google presentation and using Chrome Extension Twisted Wave, to record their voices reading the sentences they have constructed. This activity is a critical part of extending second language development as the students use the words they have learned to express their own ideas in a creative fashion. I have learned so much from my collaboration on this project with Sylvia and we are only at the midway point. It has not been without its challenges - trying to schedule real-time collaboration and planning for 2 busy professionals with different teaching schedules gave us a very narrow time frame to work with. Previous restrictions on my school network did not permit Google + Hangouts to take place due to blocked communication ports - thankfully this issue has been resolved. My board has not yet implemented GAFE so my students do not have Google accounts and access to their personal Google drives and documents. For the time being they will need to download the documents as MS Office files in order to create their presentations. I consider it all as part of being in 'beta' - the insights and experiences I have gained will inform my future practice and help me to support educators that have similar goals and ideas for enhancing teaching and learning.

Thanks again to +Mark Carbone+Harry Niezen+Bill MacKenzie, and +Google in Education Summits by EdTechTeam for all of their hard work in organizing such an inspirational and transformative conference.

My next great PLN adventure starts today as +Rolland Chidiac and I begin our planning sessions as part of the Ministry of Education's Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP) which is an annual project-based professional learning opportunity for experienced classroom teachers. The TLLP "...funds proposals from classroom teachers who seek a peer leadership role in curriculum, instructional practice or supporting other teachers. The three goals of the program are to create and support opportunities for teacher professional learning, foster teacher leadership and facilitate the sharing of exemplary practices with others for the broader benefit of Ontario's students". Our project which will be funded for 2013-2014 is Success for all Students: 21st Century Teaching/Learning using Tablets & A Blended Learning Model. We are planning on using Google + Hangouts and the methodologies and tools I mentioned above to facilitate this project. Once again I am looking forward to all of the insights I will gain from my collaboration from Rolland and others like +Michelle Cordy, who have so much valuable experience using these tools with their students.

I would be interested to hear from other people and how they use social media to facilitate PLNs.

What are some of the tools that you like to use?

 In what ways do you use them and what is the frequency and depth of your collaborations?

How would you adapt the model I illustrated above for your own PLN or classroom implementation?

What are some of the challenges and affordances of using social media to empower PLN? Please provide some specific examples.

Looking forward to hearing your responses.