Online Options for Professional Learning

Flashes of Light









It is the flash which appears, the thunderbolt will follow. Voltaire

Ask an educator to describe a professional development or training day.
Do the words engaging, collaborative, enlightening, empowering come up? They should.
If your school or district is relying solely on sit down, one size fits all training, there is a good chance you are not getting the
participant satisfaction, or more importantly,  the results your school and your students need.

Making professional development days both effective and engaging is critically important as it is ultimately beneficial to students. A wide array of professional development options exist today which take advantage of the latest technologies and today’s rich online social learning environment. Adults today are accustomed to accomplishing many things online on their own time in a self directed fashion. There has been no better time than the present for taking a close look at online options for professional learning.

Blended learning is not only for students. Blended learning can be a real and powerful force in professional development. In the book Blended Learning by Curtis Bonk, we are reminded that Blended Learning is a concept whose time has come. Though the term ‘blended learning’ has been around since 1920, today’ s use of blended learning involves ‘technology mediated learning’.

  • Anytime
  • Online Resources
  • Media Rich
  • Learner Choice

How can schools open options to teachers and administrators beyond the simple one size fits all ‘sit and learn’ sessions? How can your school adapt and incorporate these new means of learning for teachers?

Online and Blended Professional Development Options for Educators

  1. Online Professional Learning Community – Consider using an online community for teachers. There, teachers can discuss topics relative to their schools and classrooms. They can pursue resources to support school academic goals and collaborative projects. Many schools administrators have found this to be an effective means for connecting with teachers outside of regular professional development days. Online communities can be made private for your faculty only.
  2. Virtual Sessions –  Provide online professional development. Archive it for later viewing. In the schools in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, virtual academy classes have been offered since September of 2009. They begin their third year in September. This has been an effective solution for providing professional development across a broad geographic area. Covering many 21st century learning themes, virtual sessions have been made optional to teachers and administrators during after school hours. As a result, 15% of teachers attended virtual sessions outside of school hours. Many more accessed the archives.
  3. Form a Professional Learning Network (PLN) – Teach teachers to connect online to other educators and to other ideas by forming a Professional Learning Network. Today’s web tools such as Twitter, Google Reader, Delicious and others allow teachers to read and comment on blogs and literally enter the classrooms of others online. Online communities exist also where teachers can network with one another sharing excellent resources. These connections can infuse teachers with new ideas, new strategies and allow for global connections in his/her classroom.
  4. Record Site Based Sessions – If you do happen to hold site based sessions, be sure to record them for later viewing. A teacher who was absent from the session or wishes to access it later for any reason will be happy to find it that it has been archived.

Increasingly adults carry out many tasks online. Why not provide access online professional development too?   Administrators and school CIOs can tap in to blended online learning professional learning options to create meaningful experiences for learning in today’s classrooms. A wide array of professional development options exist today which take advantage of the latest technologies and more importantly harness today’s rich online social learning environment.


Related Resources


Virtual Academy for Teachers

There is no turning back. The ever growing set of professional development resources online makes it easy for teachers to have quality, effective professional development online from any location in the comfort of their own homes or classrooms. Evidence of the growth in online learning is compelling. Designing online professional development for teachers at our 167  schools made perfect sense.  We decided to set up a Virtual Academy to deliver online professional development to our teachers and administrators.

Two years ago when our schools were participating in a PLP cohort, three things became apparent

  1. Teachers could easily learn online. We had had several online sessions via Elluninate (for webconferencing) and our teachers and administrators really enjoyed it. They liked the online method of professional development. Plus, they could personalize their learning – PLN.
  2. When teachers learn online they experience digital learning, and the power of networked collaboration. They see how technology can enable and enhance learning.
  3. Teacher Reflection and networking play and important role in the learning.

Plan your Sessions: We enlisted the help of Powerful Learning Practice and their Virtual Institute.  Together we designed a set of online sessions for our teachers in the 2009-2010 school year.  In advance, we surveyed our educators to see what topics would be of interest, incorporated our archdiocesan goals of Rigor and Relevance, the TPACK framework and the results of the latest Horizon Report. Session resources are stored on this wiki and session archives from 2009-2010 school year Virtual Academy sessions are here. Sheryl Nussbaum Beach has been an excellent guide in the process. They are also posted on the PLP site under Virtual Institutes.

Listen to Participants: Topics offered reflected a blend of educator requests and diocesan goals.

Set up a Virtual Community: A ning was set up where discussions, resource sharing and reflection could take place. We now have close to 800 educators in our ning. This has been a valuable tool.

Repeat!  Our 2010-2011 Sessions are underway. View our topics and archives.

Philadelphia had 16 inches of snow recently over a 2 day period. It was a heavy, wet snow that shut schools down for 2 1/2 days. One of our online sessions via our PLP cohort was scheduled. We were happy to see 57 teachers arrive in Elluminate. It was great to see that so many took the time during a snow day to further their own professional development.  Anytime, anywhere learning for teachers is here to stay!

Students Own Learning One by One


Welcome Back to our Virtual Academy!

What a way to kick of our 2011 Virtual Academy sessions! We recently held the first of our 2011 Virtual Academy sessions. These are online professional development sessions for our educators across the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

20 Years of One to One Laptop Experience – Gary Stager Sharing

Gary Stager has worked with schools for many years and has a sharp focus on student engagement and constructivism.  He helps educators make sense of the extraordinary potential of technology for learning and has worked with schools over the last 20 years in making the shift to One to One Laptop Learning. We were happy to have Gary with us at our first 2011 Virtual Academy session. This post summarizes this session and shares the resources. To listen and watch view the archive linked below along with the other resources shared.

Only inertial and prejudice stand in the way to giving every child access to a computer

Gary reminds us that it is ‘important to focus our energies and funds, schools can get more laptops into the hands of our children. We spend money on music lessons on entertainment on video games and so much more.’ Making laptops available to students more often for more purposes can have a profound impact on the quality of learning. In doing so, classrooms can ‘Be learning centered, provide more collaboration, and enhance learning.’

With technology advancing we can learn and do things that were not possible a few short years ago. More engagement than ever is now possible. It is important to stop believing that we live in a world where kids are not connected.

Expanding access is critically important says Stager. ‘Most children use computers for less than one hour a week. He feels that one reason that technology is not used more in schools is that there simply hasn’t been enough of them to use.

School has always reflected the technology of the day. What is readily available is what is present in schools.

Who is the Technology For?

Before going One to One with laptops for students, schools should determine who will have agency or power.  Who is the technology for?

  1. For the System
  2. For the Teacher
  3. For the Learner

Stager emphasizes that if we emphasize technology For the Learner, only then can we reach the full potential of technology in schools. Summing up the theme of his presentation, in four words, would look like this:

Less Us, More Them

Allow our students to do more and they can learn more.  Laptops create a more student centered, constructivist learning environment and this creates an environment for powerful learning. Stager’s 20 Lessons Learned is below:

20 Lessons Learned on One to One Laptop Classrooms

  1. Determine who has agency – Empower the learner espoused by many such as Seymour Papert
  2. What sort of ‘laptop school’ Move in this direction for the good of the students. Be  one that supports students and supports the use of the technology well.
  3. Set high expectations– Computers are readily available and more affordable than ever before.
  4. The laptops go home – “It is inevitable that all students will have laptops whether we are planning for it or not” Move towards one to one access if at all possible.
  5. Behave as if the laptops are personal computers – ‘The notion of personal is important’ Personal gives ‘ownership’ of the item and the learning.
  6. Children need real multimedia portable computers – The laptop hardware and software should enable the capacity to learn and create with the tools given.
  7. Laptops make good teachers better – They act as a magnifier onto our current practice.
  8. The network is not the computer – Trade laptops for wired computers. Heavy investments in infrastructure and server storage may be less necessary in laptop schools.
  9. Every child’s laptop is a studio, laboratory, publishing house – Actions and activities should flow towards student creativity, problem solving
  10. 1:1 is cost effective– nobody washes a rental car. Shift as much agency and ownership to the student as possible.
  11. Every laptop needs open-ended creativity software, but less is more if fluency is the goal – Young people ‘can learn to sing and dance and create on their computers. We need to empower students for these learning purposes.’  Software determines what you do and what you do determines what you learn. Microwolds Ex, Pixie or Imageblender, Animationish, InspireData, Comic Life, Scratch, Pico Cirickets and Wedo, I Work Pages,Keynote, Numberrrrs and Ilife for Imovie, Iphoto, Garageband, Iweb and Idvd are software examples cited.
  12. Seize the impossible – Imagine, build, create. Students will pleasantly surprise you in what they make and build.
  13. That is what it looks like if students have time -“Less us, more them” The ubiquity of one to one computing can transform the work that is done when fully supported. Provide the professional development time, the student time, the software, connectivity and more. Support it fully for best effect.
  14. Entire cohorts of students need to get laptops at once –  Choose full groups of students for one to one access. Example – One class or floor at a time.
  15. There is zero benefit in giving laptops to teachers first – Don’t make students wait until teachers have had new computers first. Teachers can see what is possible and reflect on their practice if they first can see through the eyes and screens of the child,
  16. Professional development must be focused on benefiting learning – Empower teachers with the skills they need to use the applications so that they can encourage the learning with these applications, activities and strategies.
  17. Work with the living and do no harm!
  18. You need sustainable leadership and vision – Have sustained reflection and collaboration for teachers.
  19. Expect everything to change – Laptops are a window onto the future and a magnifying glass on current practice.
  20. We are done arguing! “If you really believe that one to one won’t eventually happen, you will never believe in the future”  It is part of the world of young people today and ‘it is wrong to deprive them of this type of learning.’

The primary job of teaching is to ‘Make Memories’. says Stager.

‘These types of learning environments allow students to engage in a wider deeper range of projects than they ever have before. It is in their realm to do so and we should be using this environment to its greatest potential.’

Less us, more them

Gary was inspirational and it was clear that he had seen results of One to One Laptops from years of hands on experience. As educators, we know that it is imperitive to give our students the best opportunities for learning. Putting the technology into their hands that they now need can open the world to them. It is our job as administrators and teachers to make that happen. We as educational leaders need to support students and teachers in this regard.  Going One to One in schools really helps  ‘teachers to benefit kids by looking through their screens and through their eyes’.

Resources Virtual Academy Session – One to One Resources with Gary Stager:

  • Research on Technology and One to One Learning Environments by Gary Stager
  • Resources from our Virtual Academy – ONE to ONE Resources with Gary Stager Scroll to the bottom. Excellent resources and research materials for One to One Classrooms.
  • Listen to the archive here:

It was a thought provoking session which gave our educators excellent resources for supporting One to One student learning. We are thankful to Sheryl Nussbaum Beach and PLP for helping to bring Gary to our Virtual Academy.

As one school principal said, ‘ This session gave me the exact support and justifications I needed to take the next steps to One to One. I am excited and ready to make this happen in my school’.