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Critical Success Factors for Continuing Professional Development

October 27th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Together with Jenny Hughes, I have been looking at models and practices in Continuing Professional Development for Teachers in using technologies for teaching and learning. Although our work was mainly focused on the UK, we also examined practices in other countries including Germany and Canada, We were also looking mainly at vocational and adult education, rather than general schools or universities, although I suspect most of the findings would also apply in these contexts. This is our summary of the key factors critical to effective Continuing Professional Development in this area

Peer learning / skill sharing

Teachers who have more experience are given structured opportunities to share with those who have less and there are no hierarchical divisions between ‘experts’ and ‘non-experts’. Most importantly, this sharing process is valued and legitimated. This depends on the institution having a strong sense of community and a shared ethos of peer learning. This has to be built rather than imposed.

Small group learning

As noted above, there has been a trend away from mass ‘Inset’ sessions towards group work as a valid form of CPD activity. Groups may be based around skill levels, different software interests, subject specialities or different target groups (e.g Women returners, Special Educational Needs etc).  There were many positive reports on the effectiveness of this approach as a vehicle for discussing practice and planning new approaches.

Informal learning

Informal leaning may be more important than formal courses.

“Informal conversations are vital, as is dedicated time to allow teachers to talk together and plan for new approaches in terms of their use of ICT in learning and teaching.” (Daly, Pachler and Pelletier, 2009)

Informal learning, by definition, cannot be planned but can be facilitated by creating time and space for networking, inclusive leadership styles, democratic staff relationships and the development of staff as a learning community.

Clear links between CPD and practice

The additional benefits of using ICT must be very clear. CPD activities have to be immediately relevant to the individual teacher and applicable in the classroom.

As teachers become more familiar with the technology, there is an increasing demand for subject specialist CPD, an area which is not well developed and frequently not a priority. It is also likely to be one in which there is least in-house expertise available.

A sound pedagogic base and reflexivity

There should be a shared of understanding of how learning occurs, how it can be planned and facilitated and what constitutes effective teaching and learning.  This may be stating the obvious but there criticisms of some commercial providers who were perceived as having a different baseline.

The design of the ICT CPD should incorporate effective use of ICT for learning. That is, it should practice what it preaches. Teachers need to experience and participate in e-learning activities as part of their professional development.

“The incorporation of group work, collaborative problem-solving, independent thinking, articulation of thought and creative presentation of ideas are examples of the ways in which teachers’ CPD might focus on pedagogy, with a view to how technologies can support these processes.”  (Daly, Pachler and Pelletier, 2009).

Leadership

A clear vision for ICT CPD focused on pedagogy and teacher development was seen as a prime factor by staff and providers.

If the overall objectives and a coherent strategy are in place this can help avoid or overcome operational problems of time and funding.  Effective leaders can build capacity by maximising the range of expertise that staff already have and drawing them together as part of a co-ordinated approach to CPD. This could include, for example,  identifying excellent practitioners who use creative approaches in the classroom (using traditional pedagogies), staff with ICT skills, staff with experience of facilitating peer learning groups, staff with staff training and communication skills.

Working with newly qualified and trainee teachers

New teachers, particularly younger ones, may be able to make a valuable contribution to the ICT CPD of established staff and this should not be over-looked.

Ownership of equipment

Teachers and lecturers need to feel that they can ‘play’ with their own kit in order to develop familiarity and confidence , that they can use it for learning outside working hours and that they can customise it in a way which reflects their particular needs. This was a big issue for teachers but often at odds with institutional policy despite the fact that the preparedness of teachers to use their own time for learning actually saves money!

Time useage

Teachers resented time wasted on a lot of formal CPD, especially if it was not directly related to classroom practice, but valued time they could spend with colleagues to generate ideas and plan activities that could be implemented in the classroom.

“It has been shown that teachers need regular time during the standard working week in order to discuss Teaching and Learning. They need both knowledge of the research base and continuing ‘structured opportunities for new learning, practice, reflection and adjustment’  (Coffield, 2008)

Involvement of non-teaching staff

Senior management felt that this was important but perceived as less so by teachers.

Use of mentors or learning coaches

Apprenticeship and support are very important for in-service teachers in acquiring knowledge and adopting innovatory approaches in their classrooms.

Observation of practice

According to Daly, Pachler and Pelletier (2009), watching colleagues use ICT in the classroom was seen by the majority of teachers as one of the most valuable forms of CPD. However, very few had had the opportunity to do so.  Another strategy which was popular was chance to observe and work with external experts who visit classrooms to teach CPD by working with students.

Networks and communities of practice

Kirsti Ala-Mutka et al (2008) recognise the usefulness of social software in ICT CPD. They argue that establishing and participating in teacher networks and following innovative practice development in the field is a crucial part of effective CPD

“Initial and in-service teacher training should disseminate insights and best practices with new innovative approaches, encouraging teachers to experiment with digital and media technologies and to reflect on the learning impacts of their own teaching practices.”

The use of E-portfolios as a tool in ICT CPD

Enochsson, and Rizza (2009) recommend that all teachers develop an e-portfolio to support, record and reflect  their CPD. This serves three purposes. Firstly, it encourages teachers to use ICT regularly and systematically to support learning. Secondly, they will understand the potential of using e-portfolios with their students and will have first hand experiences of the issues, problems and benefits they offer. Thirdly, it will serve as a model to encourage student teachers to use ICT during their ITT.

References

Ala-Mutka, K., Punie, Y., & Redecker, C. (2008). ICT for Learning, Innovation and Creativity. Seville: IPTS.

Coffield, F. (2008). Just suppose teaching and learning became the first priority.London: Learning and Skills Network.

Daly, C., Pachler, N., & Pelletier, C. (2009). Continuing Professional Development in ICT for teachers. London: WLE Centre, Institute of Education, University of London.

Enochsson, A., & Rizza, C. (2009). ICT in Initial Teacher Training: Research Review (38). OECD Publishing.

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