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Online Professional Development for Teachers: Emerging Models and Methods

reviewed by Chareen Snelson - August 08, 2006

coverTitle: Online Professional Development for Teachers: Emerging Models and Methods
Author(s): Chris Dede (Ed.)
Publisher: Harvard University Press, Cambridge
ISBN: 1891792733, Pages: 296, Year: 2006
Search for book at Amazon.com

In recent years, virtual forms of teacher professional development have emerged as respectable alternatives to the quick workshop approaches often used for teacher training.  There are benefits associated with offering teacher professional development opportunities online that are similar to those found in other distance education programs. For example, online course schedules can be crafted to support busy teachers who need to participate in the evenings or on weekends when they are free from classroom responsibilities.  In addition to this convenience, teachers can gain access to programs, resources, and expertise that might otherwise be out of reach due to constraints imposed by distance.  When these benefits are combined with an exceptional model for online professional development, the potential for creating a high quality learning experience that accommodates hectic teacher work schedules is dramatically increased.


The possibilities for online teacher professional development are simultaneously intriguing and daunting.  When considering an online approach for professional development, it is wise to gain insight from research findings and practical advice from relevant case studies.  Doing so will lead to valuable knowledge about successful strategies to adopt, not to mention the pitfalls to avoid.  Online Professional Development for Teachers: Emerging Models and Methods provides a compilation of this type of information.  This book is based on a series of presentations and discussions conducted at a Usable Knowledge Conference held at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  Scholars, educators, and policy makers attended the conference to identify the characteristics and theories underlying a set of exemplary models for online teacher professional development.  The 10 models selected for the conference represent the full spectrum of high quality approaches to online professional development relevant to math, science, engineering, or technology education.

The book begins with an overview of recent research about online teacher professional development.  The studies included in this overview were chosen if they had been published in a scholarly journal within the previous five years, and if they contained substantial empirical evidence related to online teacher professional development.  Results were synthesized to produce a snapshot of the current state of research on this topic.  Patterns in the research findings are reported both textually and visually through multiple representations, including a graphic organizer of the major categories found in the 40 reviewed studies.  The density of studies related to each category is illustrated in a separate copy of the flow chart to show where the heaviest research has been done and also where further study is needed.  Engagement, participant evaluation, and scaling up are among the categories where further study is recommended.  The information in this chapter provides a good starting point for understanding what has been done and what still needs to be done with respect to research in online professional development for teachers.  


Chapters 2 through 11 contain case studies of the 10 models of online professional development that were discussed at the aforementioned Usable Knowledge Conference.  These case studies provide a straightforward account of the intended outcomes, successes, limitations, and shortcomings that emerged during real-world implementation of each online professional development model.  Evaluation methodologies and findings are presented for each of the models presented in the book.  


A comparison of the 10 models described in the book reveals interesting variations in structure and emphasis.  In many cases, the programs associated with each model focus on preparing individual teachers; however, this is not true of all of the models.  EdTech Leaders Online uses a capacity building approach to assist organizations in the process of creating their own online professional development programs.  Participants can learn how to facilitate online workshops or develop online courses for their own organizational needs.  This model is reminiscent of an enhanced train-the-trainer approach to online professional development.  


Some of the models are set up for small work groups or cohorts who study under the guidance of an expert coach or facilitator.  In the WIDE World program, expert coaches work with small study groups of teachers who are transforming pedagogical practice through the accommodation of principles underlying the Teaching for Understanding framework and Gardners theory of multiple intelligences.  Another example of facilitated instruction with cohorts of learners is the partnership between PBS TeacherLine and Concord Consortiums Seeing Math Secondary program.  In this program, facilitated online discussions are supported with multimedia including videos and interactive graphing tools.  Rich media is also a feature of the Teachers Domain Professional Development courses, which is included as one of the 10 models discussed in the book.  In this model, participants have access to a library of video segments that help illuminate content and pedagogy for science instruction.  One of the goals of this program is to help teachers develop a deeper understanding of science so that they may teach the subject better.  The program has been particularly helpful with K-6 teachers who are generalists and may have inadequate training in science.   


Science teaching and learning are central to several of the models for online professional development featured in this book.  A few of these models involve combinations of scientists and expert teachers who assist learners as they develop both content and pedagogical knowledge.  An example is the EMentoring for Student Success program, which was developed to support new science teachers.  In this program, mentors are paired with new science teachers who provide wisdom from their own teaching experience in similar science classrooms. Scientists also work with the teachers to provide content expertise.  Facilitators who are experienced at leading online discussions provide additional support. A related approach was adopted by TERC and Lesley University during the development of an online masters in science education program that combined the expertise of scientists and science educators.  Science content and science teaching knowledge is learned together.  A third example of a combined expertise approach is found in the Seminars on Science at the American Museum of Natural History. Teachers work with scientists and expert science teachers to explore essential questions in the life, earth, and physical sciences.  They deepen their content knowledge, interact with experts, and gain valuable resources for their classrooms.


One of the more unique models of online teacher professional development is the one used by the Quest Atlantis Project.  Quest Atlantis is a 3-D multi-user game environment that comes with a standards-based curriculum that teachers can integrate into their course instruction.  Professional development is embedded within the active implementation of Quest Atlantis in the classroom.  An online community is available for sharing and discussion among teachers in a format akin to the lesson study approach.  


The Learning to Teach with Technology Studio is another online professional development model with a problem-centered focus and a customized learning-management system.  Self-paced learning is combined with mentoring in a cognitive apprenticeship approach.  One interesting finding from the evaluation data revealed that the self-paced format was highly valued by many of the participants.  This finding is contrary to cherished beliefs about the value of peer groups and socially constructed knowledge; furthermore, this discovery may prove to be a productive avenue for additional research.   


The final model presented in the book is the Milwaukee Professional Support Portal.  This portal was developed to support teachers in the Milwaukee Public School System.  The portal provides central access to information in addition to collaboration tools.  Problems with implementation and wide-scale acceptance of the portal were described in the case study of this model.  The potential for teacher support and improvement that can ultimately lead to higher levels of student achievement is thought provoking.


The book ends with a discussion of core tensions and future research needs that are identified through the examination of the 10 models.  This analysis provides a framework of related ideas to thoughtfully consider when moving forward with serious study and improvement of online teacher professional development.  Design-based research is introduced as one promising method that can be used to study designed interventions as they are implemented in the real world.  The cycles of design, intervention, analysis, redesign and theory development used in design-based research can be used to simultaneously improve the design of online professional development while gathering a body of data to inform scholarly investigations.   


Online Professional Development for Teachers: Emerging Models and Methods is an excellent book for policy makers, educators, and scholars.  It provides a summary of current research along with the details of an array of designs, and in turn, the results of implementing those designs.  This book is a valuable read for anyone who is working in the field of online teacher professional development.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 08, 2006
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12651, Date Accessed: 10/26/2021 1:06:22 AM

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About the Author
  • Chareen Snelson
    Boise State University
    E-mail Author
    CHAREEN SNELSON, Ed.D. is an Assistant Professor of Educational Technology at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho. She designs and teaches online graduate-level courses geared toward teachers and others who are interested in educational technology. Dr. Snelson has previously worked as a science teacher in a rural, public middle school. Her current areas of interest include multimedia for e-learning, design-based research, instructional message design, project-based learning, and PHP programming to develop custom tools for online research. Recent publications include: Sampling the Web: The Development of a Custom Search Tool for Research published in LIBRES and Designing Dynamic Online Lessons with Multimedia Representations published in the Journal of Educators Online and reprinted in The ICFAI Journal of Higher Education.
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