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Open Professional Development: Learning in the World Classroom

| Suzie Boss

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?

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Comments (18)

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Jane Krauss (not verified)

Blogs for 5th/6th grades

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TammyO we are on the same quest. I asked my compadres on Classroom 2.0 the same question and the discussion of issues and options for kid blogs might be helpful to you. Visit Classroom 2.0 and see the discussion thread tagged "blogging" .

TammyO (not verified)

Looking for a blog for 5th/6th grade teachers

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I too am a Walden student. Before beginning this class, I thought blogging was for fun. Now that I see its endless applications for learning for me, I know that it can help me grow tremendously as a professional. Does anyone know of a blog for fifth or sixth grade teachers?

Lindsay T. (not verified)

Not all embrace ed tech

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I agree with you when you say that this story and these teachers inspire you...I wish that I had opportunities like this in my school. Unfortuneately, there are many teachers in my school who do not consider technology a priotity or a useful tool in the classroom. The most common train of thought is that "our school has been successful, consistently has high test scores, and all of this was done with minimal or no technology, so why do we need to add it now?" And my arguement is always that we get new students every year, and every year that passes, those students have been- and need to be- exposed to more and more technology, and we should demonstrate and appreciate the use of technology to support these students and the skills they are going to need in their lives and careers.

Abigail (not verified)

The importance of using technology in the classroom

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I am completing my Masters at SUNY Albany in Curriculum Development and Instructional Technology and integrating blogs and Instant Messaging, Wikis and Chats have all been features of one specific course I am currently taking. I used to see these elements as being centered around my life, my education and my social activities and it is only once I began learning about their practical uses in the classroom did I realize the tremendous benefits they have in our classrooms. I think technology should be integrated into classrooms on all levels, from elementary through university schooling and it is only once we educate our students how to effectively use this technology in our classrooms that they can be successful technology consumers in their own lives.

Penny Memphis, TN (not verified)

The benefits of distance education

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I am now taking an online class at Walden University. Blogging is one of our assignments. I have honestly benefitted from this experience. Distance learning allows you to contact others from different parts of the world with different prepectives on some of the same experiences.

I teach the third grade and I am studying intergrating Technology Into the Classroom

Abigail (not verified)

Benefits and sucesses of distance education

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The fact that this successful course was planned and implemented without the creators ever having met face-to-face is a testament to the benefits and success of distance education!

Are there any K-12 teachers out there who have used some distance learning in the classrooms and would like to share how their lessons went?

Abigail
New York

Catherine Laguna (not verified)

Science and Mathematics - Grade 8

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Suzie,

With the support of great technology specialists like Darren and Robin, teachers are able to take the steps necessary to learn the 21st Century Skills that we are meant to instill in our students. The excitment engendered in the teachers at the OpenPD sessions is soon translated into excitement in our classrooms as students learn, create, and share with other students employing the same web 2.0 tools utilized in the OpenPD class.

When teachers learn to support each other through online networking, we also learn to support our students. We all become better learners in this process.

Catherine Laguna,
Quakertown, PA

jethro (not verified)

Open professional development

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I am a teacher in Darren's district, and even though I cannot make the OpenPD sessions, they do inspire me. He has inspired many teachers and improve their own skills.

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