Collaborative Professional Development as a Key to Sustainable Technology Integration

Image by Stephanie Farrier, http://pixelsandpraxis.com/

In a recent post, I explored the way faculty behavior—specifically in the form of modeling and collaboration in the classroom that enables students to co-construct knowledge—is a primary factor in connectivist learning. Here, I would like to address the subject of how an institution can help faculty cultivate those types of behavior and the pedagogical and technological skills to support such behavior (specifically in terms of using the LMS required of all and videoconferencing system required of some faculty at my institution). Part of the answer is formal training, such as through online modules that address different elements of an LMS or workshops that jumpstart faculty engagement with these elements. But faculty technology training also needs to become ongoing, discipline-specific, and innovation-oriented, and this can happen through collaboration more sustainably and effectively than through formal training (Future ready).

However, ISTE Standard for Educators 4, which addresses faculty collaboration as a key to improving instructional practices, particularly those involving technology, also raises the implicit administrative question of how faculty can have the time to do so, and, in a larger sense, the question of the degree to which a college’s administrative culture is a collaborative culture.

In a collaborative culture, faculty professional development in technology can be more than a chore for administrators and faculty but in fact can make the difference between a responsive, innovative institution-wide educational product and an overall student educational experience that lacks those qualities. Thus faculty collaboration itself is a key to institution-wide professional capacity in pedagogical technology, but this rests upon whether an institution approaches long-term strategic planning for technological pedagogy such that faculty agency and collaboration are valued at the levels of planning, implementation, and ongoing institutional assessment.

At my college I have advocated for establishing a standing committee that would work toward developing a comprehensive framework for educational technology decision-making, including decision-making about professional development for faculty in pedagogical technology. Such professional development could include not only (1) formal training such as workshops or modules in the form of tutorials either purchased or created by the institution that faculty can complete and return to as they set up and manage course shells and synchronous class sessions.; but also (2) ongoing support to help teachers from diverse subject areas troubleshoot and adapt the LMS and synchronous platform to the particular learning conditions of those disciplines; and (3) trainings in which faculty would first develop technology-related solutions to instructional needs, then, after implementing their solutions, reconvene to refine and share their solutions which could then be permanently shared in a collection of curricular tools and resources that faculty could continue to develop and draw upon.

I began thinking about this third area of professional development, faculty collaboration in curricular development across the disciplines that meets an institution-wide curricular need, when reviewing literature in my discipline about addressing the needs of students (for example, resettled refugees) who enter open access institutions like mine and have literacy backgrounds that diverge considerably from the college-ready standard English speaking, reading, and writing skills that college instructors may assume students possess. In one such model, Hernandez, Thomas, and Schuemann (2012) described a campus-wide initiative at Miami Dade Community College to use corpus linguistics to analyze  the discrete language skills (e.g. the use of key grammatical features and interpersonal skills such as asking for clarification on assignments) students needed to be successful in general education classes. Faculty then collaborated through a series of workshops over a several-year period to transform the general education curriculum of the college into content-based instruction in the various disciplines that also supported learning English. The collaborative structure of this initiative could be applied in the development of institution-wide instruction that supports faculty (and thereby students) in learning and using the affordances of the technology platforms chosen by an institution’s administration.

The collaboration inherent in such a model would potentially empower faculty to not only work with required technologies, but to gain agency in developing curricula and, in so doing, to both employ the affordances of and overcome the limitations of required technologies. Potential drawbacks with this approach are the amount of time required for faculty and professional development planners alike, and the administrator and faculty “buy-in” needed to replace traditional approaches to institutional technology decisions and traditional course preparation with a willingness to re-design curricula.

Another collaborative approach that I have actually been able to help implement was an informal gathering of interested faculty who met once monthly over the course of a year to share pedagogical technological needs and solutions. This “Reflective Practice Group” met during the 2016-2017 school year in a classroom at my college and provided collaboration, idea sharing, and a deeper sense of support and community to the faculty who participated. Though it was appreciated by these faculty and the college’s administration, as an entirely ad hoc movement outside the normal faculty responsibilities and professional development structures of the college, it was difficult for faculty to devote time to the group following its initial year. This year, I’ve taken opportunity to collaborate at an even less structured level by volunteering troubleshooting time and solution suggestions to faculty that I rub shoulders with or mentor. It’s been rewarding to see how suggesting an app, sharing a “workaround,” or connecting a faculty member to an institutional resource results in peers who feel appreciated and empowered, and increases my own pedagogical technological knowledge.

As I continue to dialogue with my institution about how to both sustainably support faculty in developing pedagogical agency in technology use and to build community among faculty (rather than perpetuating a “digital divide” among faculty who are more or less knowledgeable of technology use), I’ll be consulting literature from the interdisciplinary fields of digital education. One such source is Jaipal-Jamani, Figg, Gallagher, Scott, and Ciampa (2015), available at https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1077239.pdf.

This source describes a professional development initiative in which faculty developed pedagogical technology (TPACK) knowledge (Koehler & Mishra, 2009) in a way analogous to the Miami Dade content-based English instruction initiative in that faculty members worked collaboratively to identify and address their own instructional needs, then develop an approach to professional development in which faculty themselves became professional development facilitators. Although this approach contains the drawback of requiring more time investment than faculty or administrators at my institution may be willing or able to give, the source is a useful conversation builder for ongoing discussion about technology-related professional development because it integrates formal workshop training with faculty collaboration; contains a practical framework for designing workshops; specifically addresses the TPACK knowledge that is becoming a felt need at my institution; and uses a qualitative research approach to evaluate how research and practice in the professional development of educators can be bridged.

As a faculty member and writing center coordinator who has used Writing Across the Curriculum pedagogy to facilitate other faculty members’ use of writing pedagogies to support content instruction in their disciplines and as a technology leader who has worked to support other faculty in finding technology solutions for instructional issues, I believe that meeting faculty at the point of their need to develop better content instruction and solve a technological or pedagogical problem is also an opportunity to engage with institution-wide technological or pedagogical professional development needs. For this reason, I find helpful the content-centric “TPACK-in-Practice Professional Learning Design” workshop model (TPLDM) referenced by Jaipal-Jamani, Figg, Gallagher, Scott, and Ciampa (2015) and developed by  Jaipal-Jamani and Figg (2015).

The TPLDM-based workshop model and development of TPACK knowledge. Jaipal-Jamani, K., Figg, C, Gallagher, T., Scott, R.M., & Ciampa, K. (2015).
The TPLDM-based workshop model and development of TPACK knowledge. Jaipal-Jamani, Figg, Gallagher, Scott, & Ciampa, 2015.
The TPACK framework and its knowledge components. Koehler, M.J., & Mishra, P. (2009).
The TPACK framework and its knowledge components. Koehler & Mishra, 2009.

In this model, two early phases of authentic modeling of technology-enhanced instruction and then discussion of the pedagogical constraints and affordances of the technology are followed by two later phases of faculty learning and then teaching of pedagogical applications of technology skills. The overlapping skill sets needed by instructors–content, pedagogical, and technological (Koehler & Mishra, 2009)–are all targeted over the course of these four workshop phases. Although the empirical study provided of the use of this model by Jaipal-Jamani, Figg, Gallagher, Scott, & Ciampa (2015) is a slim qualitative evaluation of an implementation of the model and more study might encourage institutions like mine to employ such a model, aspects of the model as implemented by the study authors that suggest it might provide sustainability for collaboration-focused pedagogical-technological professional development include: the use of workshop coaches from nearby institutions; the emphasis on faculty’s need to develop sound pedagogy rather than technology skills per se, and the recursive implementation of the workshops to move local faculty from participation to facilitation of future discipline-specific and institution-specific workshops. These factors also addressed barriers to “faculty adoption of technology-enhanced teaching” (Jaipal-Jamani, Figg, Gallagher, Scott, & Ciampa, 2015) and ameliorating perpetuation of a digital divide between technology-averse and technology-savvy faculty by allowing faculty themselves to demonstrate the use of technology specifically for content instruction. The constraints of faculty and professional development administrators’ lack of time were addressed respectively by offering workshops on multiple occasions over the course of a year and by employing initial workshop facilitators from a peer institution.

While the TPLDM model for recursive, content-centric, and time-constraint-sensitive professional development offers an immediate practical approach for sustainable and collaborative development of faculty technology skills, the fact remains that broader institutional approaches at the cultural, strategic, and funding levels are also important. A case in point is the experience of Bellevue Community College, which, located in the same Seattle metro community as Microsoft, in the 1990s decided to become a leader in using electronic technology in instruction (Hutchison, 2001).

Decisions made by Bellevue Community College included not only supplying all faculty with state-of-the-art technology tools relevant to the college’s instructional mission, but also providing ongoing support for troubleshooting those tools; creating a Faculty Resource Center to provide immediate support for both curriculum design and technology; creating summer grants and a distance education program that paid faculty to develop new online and synchronous courses;  and providing “intangible incentives” such as the cultivation of an institutional culture in which faculty exploration with technology to improve student learning was valued and nurtured. For example, a team of five faculty members was supported in piloting a “Critical Thinking and Information Literacy Across the Curriculum” project (Hutchison, 2001).

The effectiveness of these approaches was supported by a joint faculty-administrative strategic technology plan, which included restructuring of the college’s administrative positions and the establishment of a fund and process for technology expenditures, as well as an emphasis on assessing the impact of the strategic technology plan on student learning (Hutchison, 2001).

Valuable advice offered by Hutchison (2001) for promoting faculty and administrator buy-in, decreasing an institutional digital divide, and leveraging faculty collaboration in technology-oriented professional development includes the following institutional practices:

  • recognizing that “false starts” and “dead ends” are “part of the learning process”
  • recognizing that “one size doesn’t fit all” and that different faculty members have different professional development needs
  • valuing both standardization and innovators and pioneers
  • providing a variety of training opportunities
  • showcasing faculty work
  • providing a central location for faculty to get help with both pedagogy and technology
  • allocating sufficient funding
  • listening to all voices
  • providing faculty with time to learn, incrementally incorporate, and innovate with technology. (111-112)

One motif throughout this exploration of the microcosm of the TPLDM model and the macrocosm of the Bellevue Community College experience is that of time. If the affordances of technology for an institution’s achievement of its educational mission can be tapped most fruitfully through the long-term, flexible, and faculty-centered strategic thinking of an initiative like Bellevue’s and through sustainable, faculty-driven events such as the TPLDM workshop, then creating time for faculty to become not merely technically educated but to become pedagogical-technological innovators is one of the hallmarks of an authentically collaborative institutional and educational culture.

References:

Future ready: Establishing a professional learning ecosystem. (2016, April 05). Vancouver Public Schools Office of Educational Technology. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/TMbeqn7NlyI

Hernandez, K., Thomas, M., & Schuemann, C. (2012). Navigating uncharted waters: An accelerated content-based English for academic purposes program. Teaching English in the two year college, 40(1), 44-56.

Hutchison, K.R. (2001). Developing faculty use of technology: The Bellevue Community College experience. In Epper, R.M., & Bates, A.W. (Eds.), Teaching faculty how to use technology: Best practices from leading institutions. Westport, CT: American Council on Education and Oryx Press.

Jaipal-Jamani, K., & Figg, C. (2015) A Framework for TPACK-in-Practice: Designing Technology Professional Learning Contexts to Develop Teacher Technology Knowledge (TPACK). In Valanides, N. & C. Angeli (Eds.), Exploring, developing, and assessing TPCK (pps. 137-164). New York: Springer Publications.

Jaipal-Jamani, K., Figg, C, Gallagher, T., Scott, R.M., & Ciampa, K. (2015). Collaborative professional development in higher education: Developing knowledge of technology enhanced teaching. The journal of effective teaching, 15(2), 30-44. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1077239.pdf

Koehler, M.J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge?Contemporary issues in technology and teacher education, 9(1), pp. 60-70. Retrieved from: http://www.citejournal.org/volume-9/issue-1-09/general/what-is-technological-pedagogicalcontent-knowledge/

2 Replies to “Collaborative Professional Development as a Key to Sustainable Technology Integration”

  1. Great post, Stephanie. I especially enjoyed reading the paragraph when you talked about faculty professional development in technology being “more than a chore”. The last thing educators need is a “chore”. I agree with you that a long-term strategic plan is key to success for this type of learning experiences for all involved (faculty and students).

  2. I appreciate your focus on sustainability and empowerment through design in your thoughts on teacher collaboration! You say that if teachers design their collaborative practice to meet their needs, they will be more invested in the process. If giving students choice and design capabilities helps to keep them engaged in their learning process, why wouldn’t it work for teachers, too?! I also appreciate the encouraging examples from your own practice and from Bellevue Community College. I hope I can integrate some of the valuable advice you present, like “one size doesn’t fit all” from your post into my practice. Thanks!

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