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.


Virtual Worlds

Common Sense Media/MacArthur Foundation/USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future

This webcast brought together four experts who discussed the activity of youth in virtual worlds. Much of the discussion focused on Whyville and Club Penguin (sites targeted for 8-14 year olds) and Teen Second Life (targeted for 13-17 year olds) but the issues raised seem applicable to the complete age range of youth examined in other studies. While the experts were generally enthusiastic about the affordances of virtual worlds, they admitted to and responded to moderator and audience questions:

  • since you get a “do over” in games and virtual worlds, is this a classroom or a playroom?
  • virtual worlds are inherently commercial; are these worlds simply teaching kids to be good consumers?
  • bullying occurs in virtual worlds; since you can get away with whatever you want, do these negative behaviors carry over to the real world?
  • virtual environments are addictive; how can compulsion be positive?
  • is online inherently anti-social because you don’t interact face to face?

Not every question received answers. However, potential benefits were proposed that may outweigh the On the plus side:

  • virtual worlds are not identical to the real world, but teens kids learn (in a simulated and thus simplified environment) how to be members of a community
  • because you can customize your ‘virtual’ self, teens are experimenting with virtual identity, a concept which ties in with danah boyd’s claim that teens need identity formation experiences
  • setting a timer and helping teens maintain a balance is necessary
  • while virtual worlds are not face to face they are extremely social
  • much of what happens in virtual environments is informal learning as teens explore ethical questions, making choices and understanding consequences
  • in authentic (although virtual) worlds, teens also learn how to use electronic tools to locate rather than memorize information

The discussion highlighted the ability of virtual worlds to create a culture of participation and lower the barriers to creative expression. A remaining question was the role of adults in teen virtual worlds: teens are drawn there partly because adults aren’t supervising, a claim that is supported by danah boyd’s view of social networking sites as the new “mall,” and thus adult intrusion could cause abandonment or rebellion. At the same time, the experts generally argued for parental oversight (computer in a common room) if not outright co-participation.


Anastasia Goodstein:
Douglas Thomas:
Yasmin Kafai:
Barry Joseph:

Papert on Turtles


Papert, S. The Turtle’s Long Slow Trip: Macro-Educological Perspectives on Microworids, Journal of Educational Computing Research. 27.1 (2002). 7—27.


Papert argues for a revolution in school-based education which he sees as based in static media as opposed to dynamic digital media. Much of the discussion involves illustrative stories of Papert’s Turtle. He argues that microworlds provide a simplified reality (easier for focused learning) and mental structures.

Papert’s proposes 3 stages of learning development:

  1. Exploratory, self-directed, experiential, non-verbal
  2. Acquisition of mediated knowledge (answers to questions, stories)
  3. Self-directed, exploratory, verbal (reading)

Papert summarizes with 4 features of his turtle:

  1. Relating the unknown to something you already know–yourself
  2. Getting to know the concept’s conceptual relations
  3. Understanding what the concept can do for you
  4. Using the concept on a level of use and a level of meta-use


Papert’s argument that a microworld “must genuinely belong” to the knowledge domain and not simply use the microworld to support teaching the domain’s traditional content really hit home for me; it’s equivalent to saying a serious game (or virtual world–although Papert’s examples also involve the physical world) should pose an authentic problem in the discipline, rather than add games to the discipline.

Papert sees a duality between a learning microworld providing goal attainment and “providing a framework for building permanent mental representations, ” a distinction I have difficulty finding. In a sentence that summarizes the entire article for me, Papert warns that online information, “could avoid the child’s dependence on adults (and school) to provide knowledge.”