Saturday, June 28, 2008

What!! No PD?

I’m in San Antonio for NECC. I am looking forward to a great week.

Right now I am thinking about professional development. At supper tonight, the DG of our school board was telling me about his recent trip to Uruguay. They are deploying OLPC laptops to all their students following the approved “saturation” approach. Apparently this involves getting the laptops out there, and letting the teachers and students figure things out. No PD!

I am appalled.

I teach in a school board with 1:1 laptops. Some teachers use them extensively, some hardly at all. Some use them well, others less so. Either way, they most certainly use them more and better than if they had received no professional development. Teachers who are intimidated by the laptops have at least become brave enough to use them a little. Teachers who are comfortable with the technology use them more creatively as a result of our PD.

In my experience, PD is essential for 1:1 laptops to work at all. Even the teachers who know how to use the technology benefit from hearing new ideas about how they can use the machines effectively. For those teachers who are less proficient, or who are resistant, the right kind of PD can show them how the technology fits with what they are already doing.

What a shame to simply pitch these machines willy-nilly into classrooms. Some will certainly be used, but the challenges will be too many for most to meet on their own.

Earlier today, Gary Stager posted the following on Twitter:PD to do what? (important question) PD doesn't work. Professionals develop autonomously in environments where it is supported and expected.”

PD to do what? If all I know about my laptop is that I can type text, and I never have an opportunity to learn otherwise, am I using my laptop well? If the challenges and frustrations are numerous, and I feel abandoned, helpless, and alone, will I use the laptops at all? PD does not need to be something that is done to 50 teachers in a room – far from it. What if the environment supports and expects teachers’ PD in collaborative environments? What if PD consists (in part) of time for half a dozen teachers to get together and talk about what they are doing? They can share ideas, what’s working, solutions for challenges, etc. They might also connect with a mentor teacher online using Skype.

Whatever the shape it takes, I believe that PD is a necessary part of 1:1 laptop deployment.

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