Another Agenda

Sprague, D. (2006). Editorial: Research Agenda for Online Teacher Professional Development. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education. 14 (4), pp. 657-661. Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieved from

Like Dede’s article, this editorial sets out a clear vision for the consideration of online professional development for teachers. However, unlike Dede’s proposal, Sprague provides a practical rather than a philosophical rationale:

  • access to experts (not place-bound)
  • time for reflection (not time-bound)
  • possible solution for the retention issue (community involvement)

However, Sprague also acknowledges limitations in moving to online TPD (Teacher Professional Development):

  • online facilitators need training
  • initial costs to build the online resources
  • ongoing costs to sustain the learning community
  • existing programs may view online offerings as competition or diversion, rather than¬† opportunity

In looking to the future of online education in general (not only TPD) Sprague mentions the need to help new teachers learn how to teach online and thus connects online education with TPD: delivering professional development to teachers online is an inductive way to show that teacher how to teach online.

Although Sprague’s concerns about which emerging technologies will have the most impact or the correct balance in hybridization are somewhat irrelevant (because the technologies will continually change and because the balance will be determined through research), her agenda, like her vision, is practical:

  • what is the depth and scope of online TPD needed to have an impact?
  • even if there is an impact, what other factors might prevents change (such as the school environment or the conflicting demands of teaching 21st century skills with NCLB)?
  • what are the patterns of change we should observe in teachers to determine what’s working?

Online Teacher Professional Development

Dede, C., Ketelhut, D., Whitehouse, P., Breit, L., & McCloskey, E. (2009). A Research Agenda for Online Teacher Professional Development. Journal of Teacher Education 60(1). pp. 8-15.

While the oTPD acronym seems contrived, the proposed models and research recommendations offer a compelling vision for this critical endeavor. Echoing Bransford’s analysis, the authors view existing professional development as superficial and “unable to provide (the) ongoing support” needed to sustain community-based systemic learning. Under an NSF grant, the authors are studying three models for long-term impact on teaching:

  • multiuser virtual worlds
  • augmented realities through wireless mobile devices
  • social tagging by teachers to generate mental models of the profession

In order to chart a way forward, the authors first conducted a meta-analysis of 40 research studies of online TPD which showed four general categories of investigation:

  1. program design
  2. program effectiveness
  3. program technical design
  4. learner interactions

Further analysis showed the following purposes underlying the studies:

  • 39% – program evaluation design
  • 22% – how best to teach
  • 20% – content and skills
  • 12% – improvement enablers
  • 7 % – desired educational improvement

These percentages clearly illustrate the underlying problem: the emphasis is on evaluating effectiveness in order to justify programs, rather than a focus on learning improvement through an analysis of design. The authors then outline a series of questions to guide future studies; a simplification of the proposed agenda includes:

  • Scalable and sustainable programs that permanently transform practice
  • Strategies that merge practical and theoretical needs
  • Models that include formative methodologies such as DBR (Design Based Research) and summative methodologies such as clinical trials
  • Designs that clearly pose questions and define assumptions
  • Methodologies that take advantage of the data-gathering possibilities inherent in online instruction and balance the self-reporting nature of most studies
  • Communicating results through a centralized knowledgebase
  • Build on results from other professional development practices

As a community, we can anticipate practical and applicable results from future research guided by these questions.

Teacher Professional Development

“Teacher Learning” in How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition. (2000).¬† Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. pp. 178-193.

The article defines five (actually four) primary ways that practicing teachers learn:

  1. from their own practice (reflection)
  2. from interaction with other teachers (informal apprenticeship, formal in-service workshops, and professional associations)
  3. from graduate courses
  4. from their roles as parents

Bransford then considers the quality of these learning opportunities from the four lenses previously explored in this book:

  • Learner-centered
    • efforts often fall short as professional development is delivered transmissionally
  • Knowledge-centered
    • efforts focus on techniques and methods but fall short on pedagogical content knowledge
  • Assessment-centered
    • most efforts lack feedback
  • Community-centered
    • efforts are most useful when centered on situated discourse around texts and shared data

In response to these failings, Bransford proposes two solutions. The first–action research–is a social constructivist process in which ideas are collaboratively discussed in a community of learners. Despite reported successes, action research faces difficulty because of the disparity “between practitioner and academic research.” The second solution– a revised approach to preservice education–holds greater promise. Current teacher education programs tend to be a disjointed collection of academic theory (both subject matter and methods) and practicum. Instead, Bransford argues for an integration of courses with classroom practice to overcome the belief that the two are unrelated. A possible solution is an epistemic game which provides education students the opportunity to intellectually integrate the profession into their behavioral repertoire.