The Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) was held last week here in Orlando, Florida. It is fascinating to see the number of technology offerings available to those in the education industry. From SMART boards to classroom response systems, companies continue to gear up to meet the needs of teachers and their students. Although seeing all of this technology was “cool,” the more important question that people were asking at the conference was, “How are teachers using this technology to improve their craft?” And, “Does all of this technology actually enhance the way teachers teach and students learn?” It seems to relate in many ways to the same debate that Richard Clark and Robert Kozma had in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The debate revolved around whether or not the media (or technology) you use to deliver content improved one’s learning. There have been many arguments made on both sides of this discussion, but at the end of the day most would agree that the technology you choose has to make sense for the content you are teaching and the instructional strategies you are using. The two go hand-in-hand.
Of particular interest to us last week was to see how educators are using technology to improve their own professional development. Since the creation of our TeacherStudio product (http://www.teacherstudio.com/), we have participated in many conversations that revolve around this topic. Several sessions were focused on this subject and we enjoyed learning about how others are approaching this very important task. It’s no surprise that teachers are doing more with less, and it is important that they still have time for their own professional growth. Some school districts are partnering across state lines to share best practices. Others are looking to “free” online tools, such as Moodle and Ning, to provide their teachers with online support. The reason we put “free” in quotes is because although these tools do not cost any hard dollars, per se, it does require someone’s time within a school or district to get these sites set up and organized. Great progress has definitely been made in this arena and it is exciting to see.
We attended Diane Lewis’ presentation where she talked about how her district, Seminole County (Florida) Public Schools, is using a palette of professional development options to meet the diverse needs of their teachers. From face-to-face training to an educational world in SecondLife they offer a wide array of options. However even with all they were providing – there was still a gap. They needed a way to give their teachers just in time training and a way to see exemplary teachers in action. Our TeacherStudio product is proving to be an answer to that question. It gives districts a way to offer an affordable online professional learning community for their teachers. It makes sharing of best practices easy which lets districts maximize face-to-face time with their teachers, as well as dollars. Although this is just one solution, it definitely offers online tools that teachers and administrators can use.