Blended Learning For Professional Development: An Evaluation Of A Program For Middle School Mathematics And Science Teachers
by Ronald D. Owston , Margaret Sinclair & Herbert Wideman — 2008
Background: Improving the subject matter knowledge and pedagogical skills of teachers of mathematics and science is a key priority for many jurisdictions. Blended learning is a promising, yet so far seldom used model for supporting teacher professional development. This model combines the advantages of traditional face-to-face interaction with the flexibility of online learning.
Purpose: In this study, we examine two one-year professional development programs for middle-school mathematics and science/technology teachers that employed blended learning. The goal of our research was to understand how the program affected teacher attitudes toward and pedagogical practices in these subjects and on student perceptions and learning of the subjects.
Participants: Participants in the study were 68 mathematics and 65 science/technology teachers in grades 6, 7, and 8 in several school districts in a large urban center, along with their students: 477 students from the mathematics teachers’ classes and 551 from the science/technology teachers’ classes.
Program: The blended learning program, known as the Teacher eLearning Project (TeL), began at the start of the school year with a module that consisted of a daylong face-to-face session followed by an eight-week online session. The first year of TeL focused on the mathematics teachers who had a total of three modules to complete; in the second year, science/technology teachers had two modules.
Research design: We used Guskey’s (2000) five-level evaluation framework to assess the impact of the programs on teachers’ attitudes and knowledge, institutional support for the programs, changes in classroom practices, and student perceptions and learning of the subjects. Data were obtained using a pre-post design that included surveys, classroom observations, and key informant interviews.
Findings: Overall our results indicate that the program appeared to influence positively teacher attitudes and content knowledge in certain curricular areas and motivated many to transform their classroom practice to varying degrees. Despite this, student responses were mixed: students viewed mathematics less favorably by the end of the program, but became more positively inclined towards science/technology.
Conclusions: The blended learning model shows potential for teacher professional development, although further research preferably through controlled studies is needed. Aspects that need to be examined further include the nature of the online tasks given to teachers, the role of the online facilitators, the impact on student achievement, and the implications of providing teachers with less release time than was available in this study.
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