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.

Hybrid designs

Doering, A. & Veletsianos, G. (2008). Hybrid Online Education: Identifying Integration Models Using Adventure Learning. Journal of Research on Technology in Education. 41 (1). pp. 23-41.

The importance of this article is succinctly presented in a chart defining four models for integrating technology-based instruction. The applicability of the article is that the authors examined how teachers incorporated a computer-based, community-oriented PBL in actual classrooms. Rather than examining teachers’ technical literacy as previous studies have done, the authors ask “how technology is used” and provide real answers.

Previous research suggests three methods that teachers use to incorporate technology:

  1. for efficiency (replacing less efficient methods)
  2. for enhancement (transforming methods)
  3. for entertainment–relaxation and reward (amplifying existing methods)

Doering and Veletsianos define four methods from observing actual use:


Focus Community Activities Online
Curriculum Student-student, student-expert Student collaboration Medium (to high)
Activity Student-student Student collaboration and construction High
Standards Student-student, student-teacher Teams, student construction High
Media Student-teacher Passive student consumption Medium

A larger study may provide a full gradient of methods with a near-infinite number of defined paths–or it may provide validation of this four-method topology. Regardless of the methodological count, the article points the way forward in urging us to consider how technology is used in real classrooms. In addition, the article underscores the importance of teacher-teacher collaboration.

Research Directions (Web 2.0)

Greenbow, C., Robelia, B. & Hughes, J. (2009). Learning, Teaching, and Scholarship in a Digital Age: Web 2.0 and Classroom Research: What Path Should We Take Now? Educational Researcher. 38(4). 246-259. doi:10.3102/0013189X09336671.

Dede, C. (2009). Comments on Greenbow, Robelia, and Hughes: Technologies That Facilitate Generating Knowledge and Possibly Wisdom. Educational Researcher. 38(4). 260-263. doi:10.3102/0013189X09336672.

Leu, D., O’Byrne, I., Zawilinski, J., McVerry, G., & Everett-Cacopardo, H. (2009). Comments on Greenbow, Robelia, and Hughes: Expanding the New Literacies Conversation. Educational Researcher. 38(4). 264-269. doi:10.3102/0013189X09336676.

Owston, R. (2009). Comments on Greenbow, Robelia, and Hughes: Digital Immersion, Teacher Learning, and Games. Educational Researcher. 38(4). 270-273. doi:10.3102/0013189X09336673.

Zhang, J. (2009). Comments on Greenbow, Robelia, and Hughes: Toward a Creative Social Web for Learners and Teachers. Educational Researcher. 38(4). 274-279. doi:10.3102/0013189X09336674.

Greenbow, C., Robelia, B. & Hughes, J. (2009). Response to Comments on Research on Learning and Teaching with Web 2.0: Bridging Conversations. Educational Researcher. 38(4). 280-283. doi:10.3102/0013189X09336675.


This interesting set of articles shows scholarship and the peer review process played out in print. Greenbow begins the multilogue by taking Owston’s 1997 and Windschitl’s 1998 seminal articles on the function of the Web in education and fast-forwards the discussion to the Web 2.0 of today. While the assertion that Web 1.0 was “authenticated knowledge” is inaccurate, the definition of Web 2.0–a platform and a space built on de-centralized knowledge co-constructed from collective agreement–is encompassing and practical. The description of Web 2.0 technologies could be clarified:

  • Web 2.0 is best viewed not as a single platform, but as a collection of “small pieces, loosely joined” (and users define those linkages)
  • RSS and XML are the core technologies implemented in AJAX and REST

While Greenbow notes that interconnections , creation/remixing, and interactivity are Web 2.0 affordances, and while Web 2.0 has been termed the “participatory” Web, the distinguishing factor is the seamless integration of connections (among people and among artifacts) which bring to (digital) life Mark Granovetter’s theory of the strength of weak ties. The ecology lens adds a realistic perspective, viewing learning across multiple spaces (although learning doesn’t travel across these spaces but rather with learners through the spaces). And while Wikipedia does “little to generate meaningful patterns,” it could easily do so with the addition of user feedback mechanisms, version visualization, and user-centric tag clouds.

Greenbow lays out a three-part research agenda:

  1. what learners do with Web 2.0
  2. equity and access to Web 2.0
  3. building theory and corollary practices and policies

In the discussion of identity formation, Greenbow identifies areas which seem particularly relevant to Web 2.0: the need to consider learners as multiple selves, and the risks and benefits of emergent online identity development. However, in discussing the possible integration of Web 2.0 and school, two findings seem suspect:

  • students come to campus expecting to leverage online social networks to learn
  • 70% of parents believe social networks would help students improve reading and writing

In arguing for the concept of social scholarship, Greenbow identifies key elements:

  • sharing resources
  • developing an online (scholarly) identity
  • publishing and discussing individual research

The research element is particularly intriguing. Publishing in print means permanence and the ability for scholars to later reflect, dissect, and replicate. In the Web 2.0 world, digital research is now offering the same durability intertwined with a communicative interchange. At the same time, research into Web 2.0 (as opposed to research using Web 2.0) highlights the traditional ethical question of researcher impact, a problem acknowledged by danah boyd in her Friendster research.


While Dede’s taxonomy is simplified (mash-ups are less like the co-creation of wikis and more similar to blogging), and while I prefer Shirkey’s ego-centric and object-centric delineation, Dede proposes a sweeping idea to foster wisdom: a suite of Web 2.0 tools could provide an environment for addressing wicked problems where:

  • stakeholders have different views
  • constraints change over time
  • solutions must be attempted before the problem can be understood
  • no complete solution will ever exist


Leu approaches the conversation from a different perspective which seems designed primarily to advance a personal vision. Leu first identifies four limitations to Greenbow’s use review:

  1. the progression from Web 1.0 to 2.0 is continuous not binary (true)
  2. networking tools used for social interaction should not direct academic interaction (true although social networking tools should be analyzed and the appropriate affordances should then be incorporated into formal discourse)
  3. Web 2.0 tools should also be considered for the workplace (true although the original scope was defined as academic settings–and adults use Web 2.0 differently than do young adults)
  4. information technology is slighted in favor of communication technology (actually, Greenbow’s analysis is of usage not technology)

Leu’s proposal to view Web 2.0 as a literacy issue–and particularly to integrate the Web into subjects–is welcome. The distinction between new literacies and New Literacies (lower-case literacies are tested and become part of upper-case Literacies and then shared with other lower-case literacies) is needlessly pedantic. However, the caution on equitable access warrants continued monitoring.


Owston offers three potential areas for elaboration:

  1. the effects of continuous immersion
  2. the use for professional development
  3. the use of games for learning

Owston cites only a single research study that suggests digital media impairs the development of reasoning and social abilities; this area warrants further investigation because conflicting research suggests that some digital tools increase problem-solving, metacognitive ability, and effective collaboration. Owston advocates online professional development (based on asynchronous access to a community) and accurately acknowledges three potential problems: community sustenance, the tension between structure (which increases participation) and creative flexibility, and community socialization (made easier in face-to-face mode). The finding that successful online professional development programs were “directly related to the curriculum that teachers were teaching” underscores the importance of situated learning. Owston’s report of the ability for games to increase traditional literacy and improve collaboration skills seems to conflict with his earlier assertion that digital media impairs the development of these abilities.


Zhang’s design-based research perspective offers the ability to quantify the research areas suggested by Greenbow. Zhang emphasizes the community aspects of Web 2.0 and succinctly outlines the dilemmas posed by integrating Web 2.0 into the academy:

  • Web 2.0 enables collaboration but doesn’t treat these communication artifacts “as explicit objects in their own right” which inhibits reference and synthesis
  • Web 2.0 supports collaboration but doesn’t retain the historical evolution of knowledge with progressive visibility

Web 2.0 represents a classical tension between the gatekeeper model of peer review (offering both organization and totalitarianism) and the participatory model of consensus (offering both creativity and the superficial popularity of personal opinion). If Surowiecki’s “wisdom of crowds” model has validity in academia, it may need extension with visible and attributable iteration.

Zhang recommends four DBR areas:

  • Reflective representation of community knowledge
  • Inquiry into pedagogy
  • Progress-focused peer review
  • Scaffolding collaborative creativity

Zhang puts these recommendations into practice by tying the goals to professional teacher development.

Greenbow (redux)

Greenbow reminds us that research-based environments for teachers have not scaled up or altered teaching practice, a problem that must lead us to consider alternatives. Incorporating the reviewers’ comments, Greenbow proposes an alternate model in which research is presented as it progresses, a model which provides history and rigor while retaining the advantages of collaboration and multiple perspectives.

Research Directions

Windschitl, Mark. (1998). WWW and Classroom Research: What Path Should We Take? Educational Researcher, 27(1), pp. 28-33.

While Windschitl’s K-12 orientation is different from mine, I found his key point–that there’s a difference between “accessing information” and learning–to be completely appropriate for higher education. And despite the age of the article, Windschitl accurate predicts the evolution from Web 1.0 (a conduit to information, albeit with the navigational flexibility for users to construct their own understanding) to the community emphasis of Web 2.0.


In viewing the Web as a system for inquiry, he notes currency of information and visual appeal as strengths, but asks key questions about how the Web is useful to students:

  • How do they find and validate information?
  • What processes occur during and what products evolve from their searches?
  • Do their attitudes change?

and to teachers:

  • How do they incorporate the Web into the classroom?
  • How much structure should be provided?
  • How do they assess learning?


More importantly, Windschitl views the Web as a communication medium which can broaden perspectives and also allow students to produce messages for other students. While acknowledging the more informal nature of electronic communication, he asks if students can develop new ways of communicating and sharing meaning (academic or social) using the Web. While acknowledging the potential of  computer-based instruction to provide superior learning outcomes, he notes that the benefits may be due to superior instructional design rather than the affordances of the technologies themselves.

A Research Methodology

Windschitl suggests using grounded theory (the discovery and generation of theory from data gathered during research); he argues that a semiotic view, whereby meaning emerges from both the source and the destination, may be appropriate because the Web’s communicative environment is more directly controlled by other people. Windschitl concludes by asking questions that we are still asking a decade later:

  • How are social constructs such as authority or cooperation affected in virtual groups?
  • How do virtual social groups form and are they different from physical social groups?
  • What are the patterns of interaction in virtual groups?
  • Do communities of learners evolve in virtual space?

Web 1.0

Owston, Ronald D. (1997). The World Wide Web: A Technology to Enhance Teaching and Learning. Educational Researcher, 26(2), pp. 27-33.

The K-12 orientation of this article probably explains the initial emphasis on the Web as a content resource; while discussing the accessibility created by multimedia and databases, it slights communication and the potential loss of a socialization component in online courses. However, the focus on learning improvement asks a key question about the unique attributes that distinguish between the Web as a tool and the Web as a medium. Incorrectly, Owston concludes that “no computer-based tool” has ever demonstrated transferable skills (in Owston’s word processor case, for example, MacArthur in The impact of computers on the writing process showed that word processing increased the acquisition and transference of revision skills). At the same time, Owston notes the possibility for deeper learning through the persistence quality of Web postings, as well as the motivational appeal to students.

Owston claims that teachers with computers shift from a didactic to a project-based approach, but this claim rings hollow when compared with other research (including Windschitl’s article). While discussing the Web’s advantages of currency of information, global reach, and student motivation, Owston glosses over another key differentiator: the ability of the Web to offer an authentic audience to the products of students’ learning experiences.

The final section on the Web as a potential cost savings mode is the most persuasive. While one contention seems dated (that costs may increase due to the expansion of campus networks–an expense we now know that was going to occur whether or not learning delivery moved to the Web) and another (that faculty must expend resources to plan content, pedagogy, resources, and maintenance) is equally true for physical classroom courses, Owston makes several critical points that have often been ignored  in the rush to move courses online:

  • course development costs are often hidden
  • faculty need access to instructional support centers
  • online courses reduce the impact on the campus physical plant
  • the asynchronous nature of online courses meets student needs

Owston’s argument that Web delivery can benefit small-enrollment courses (while noting that the primary impact will be seen in moving large-enrollment courses online) misses one crucial argument for accessibility: small enrollment courses which might not “make” have a greater chance of running through the addition of geographically-challenged students.