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Open Professional Development: Learning in the World Classroom

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate
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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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Ross's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our high school staff is debating if music devices should be allowed to be used in the classroom.

I personally like to listen to music when I am working or trying to concentrate. I enjoy the background noise and the music can be soothing or motivating depending on my mood or selection of music. I allow my student to use music devices while they are working with the agreement that they stay on task and that they do not bring up using music device to other teachers. Some students do try and waste time selecting a song to listen too, but once they are reminded that they need to work they do great.

The only arguement that that I have heard from other teachers is that they are becoming a distraction. I believe that classroom management should take care of this issues. If teachers are going to have problems regulating the use of these in their classroom, they are going to have other issues to deal with even if this privaledge is taken away.

Joy Sleeth's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Penny,
I teach in a district where our 2-4th graders participate in a vocabulary program called "Bringing Words to Life" (based on the book with the same title written by Beck, McKeown, and Kucan). There is a wonderful third grade teacher at my school who has created interactive powerpoints that match each weeks three "power words". Her students are not only benefiting from the exposure to new and useful vocabulary but the intergration of technology increases their motivation and participation! If you would like more information please let me know!

Nicola Kerr's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I read the comment about allowing music on in the background, and I have seen this used in Scotland where I used to teach.
We used to play soothing music in the morning as the students came in the room, in order to provide a calm and relaxing setting, and hopefully make the students feel this way too.
We also went on a writing course, and we were encoraged to play this type of music during the time that the teaching input to the class is complete, and the students are individually working on their stories. In addition to this, we also had lights that looked like candles around the room, as we were told that when writing, it is common to have "brain breaks" where the mind wanders in order to gather thoughts. At this time, gazing at a candle can help the brain to gather these thoughts. Writing is a creative process, and as a result it was thought that a creative atmosphere would help the students create their best work.
Nicola Kerr

EVELYN's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a student at Walden University and this is my first time particapating in blogging. I find that is a internet journal for different subject matters and opinions. One day I hope to set up a blog.

Richard M Love's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Sorry for a dumb question, but I really can't get, what NSA is?...

Lauren Stanco's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am totally for music in the classroom. I also believe that it is imortant to know the right time to use it. As you said class room management has to have an imortant role as well. When I play music in my classroom I am th eone that chooses the time and the music. My students clearly understand that the radio is mine and this is a treat for them. If I feel that it is distracting I will turn it off. We do set guide lines as a class in the begining of the year so they know all of this a head of time.

Lauren Stanco's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am also taking courses as Walden and blogging is an application for one of my classes as well. I have participated in blogs before while doing my undergrad at SUNY Old Westbury. I love reading other peoples comments and ideas especially to hear that some of the things I implement in my classroom are being implemented by others even teachers over seas. Distance learning is wonderful I took many online courses toward my bachlores adn I am so excited that I found a program where I can do my whole masters online. The whole experience is wonderful.

Lori Anne Summers's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Evelyn,

I am also a student at Walden University. Did you ever start your blog and if you did how is it going? I have never participated or gone to a blog before. Good luck.

Lori Anne Summers

Lori Anne Summers's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Evelyn,

I am also a Walden University student. Did you ever start your blog and if so, how is it going? I have never participated in a blog before this course.

Good luck,
Lori Anne Summers

Heather Diehl's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


I am taking a class at Walden University and was assigned to blog prior to a discussion assignment. This is my first time blogging and I am interested in reading all the ideas from teachers around the world. I am an Intervetion Support Teacher and work with students in grades K-6. I am always looking for new interventions that will help my students. Has anyone oome across any helpful resources?

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