Darren Draper, a technology specialist in Utah's Jordan School District, was getting ready to offer a professional-development course last fall about using social software in the classroom. Rather than a traditional sit-and-get workshop, he envisioned a more interactive experience in which teachers would use blogs, wikis, and the other Web 2.0 tools they would be learning about.
On his blog, Drape's Takes, he posted an entry describing what he had in mind. In the entry, he also invited interested teachers, from anywhere in the world, to participate in the workshop series -- at no charge. He also extended an invitation for interested colleagues to join him as cofacilitators.
That was the start of OpenPD (Open Professional Development), a professional-learning network that has attracted participants from several states as well as Australia, Argentina, China, and New Zealand. Draper's cofacilitator is Robin Ellis, a technology coordinator from Quakertown, Pennsylvania. (See her blog here.) Although the two are just about to launch their third workshop series and have presented the OpenPD concept at three education conferences, they have never met face-to-face.
"We are all members of the world classroom," notes Draper, who is amazed when teachers join the OpenPD conversation from halfway around the world. "We have so much to learn from each other." Draper says the chance to interact with colleagues has been a big draw for participants. "Teachers say they want experience with the tools, and they also want social interaction with other teachers using technology." The open format serves both goals.
Most participants come into OpenPD with little firsthand experience with Web 2.0 tools. They quickly learn by doing, using a combination of free online tools for communicating and collaborating in real time. It took some experimenting for the facilitators to settle on the collection of communications and file-sharing tools that would meet their needs. They now use Skype for conference calling, Ustream.TV for sharing video and audio, and a chat channel for text discussions.
Once teachers get familiar with blogs, wikis, and other tools, they brainstorm about how to best use them in their classrooms. Draper says the collaborative learning process is also helping teachers expand OpenPD's professional network. He envisions teachers finding like-minded colleagues within the network and going on to design projects together after the workshop series comes to a close.
The OpenPD wiki provides a link to each participant's portfolio, which includes work samples the teachers have developed collaboratively and their thoughts on learning with social software. A short video introduces the OpenPD concept, with reflections from the two facilitators and teachers from around the globe.
One of those teachers, Sue Waters, joined the video conversation from Perth, Australia. She contrasts OpenPD with a more traditional closed approach, in which adult learners have little or no interaction. The OpenPD approach, on the other hand, allows participants to model "what you want teachers to be doing in the classroom," she explains. "It's how learning is changing. It's no longer about being confined within the classroom. It's about getting out, being more global, collaborating on a global scale." She believes this approach will lead to "greater knowledge gain, greater experience. Everything's just so much better."
The next five-week session of OpenPD begins March 26 and will continue for five Wednesdays. At least four geographic clusters of teachers will participating in the United States from school districts not only in Utah but also in New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas. More individuals are joining from all corners of the globe. Does anybody else want to join in?