Professional Development in a Technological Age: New Definitions, Old Challenges, New Resources
TABLE OF CONTENTSIntroduction
WITH SCHOOLS INCREASINGLY INVESTING IN TECHNOLOGIES for the classroom, there has been a growing realization that these expensive resources will never be used to their fullest unless teachers are provided professional development to guide their use. Many schools systems have approached this challenge in the same way that they have approached other learning needs of teachers: by sending them to training sessions on the use of specific new technologies. Yet, too often the results of these sessions have fallen short of hopes: there has been little carryover into the classroom, and new technologies have remained on the periphery of school life and been used only sporadically by teachers, despite the high expectations of trainers, reformers, and the teachers themselves.
Why is this problem so pervasive? This paper looks broadly at the field of professional development and the underlying principles that guide current approaches. We suggest that professional development for technology use creates conditions that highlight and underscore current problems in professional development in general. The paper offers a definition of professional development that goes beyond the term "training" with its implications of learning skills, and encompasses a definition that includes formal and informal means of helping teachers not only learn new skills, but also develop new insights into pedagogy and their own practice, and explore new or advanced understandings of content and resources. Our definition of professional development includes support for teachers as they encounter the challenges that come with putting into practice their evolving understandings about the use of technology to support inquiry-based learning. We suggest specific issues that come with the process of supporting teachers in technology use, and conclude with a discussion of ways that current technologies offer resources to meet these challenges and provide teachers with a cluster of supports that help them continue to grow in their professional skills, understandings, and interests.
There is an extensive and diverse literature on professional development. Much of the early literature focuses on methods of staff development that follow a "training" paradigm: short-term, standardized sessions designed to impart discrete skills and techniques. Under the right conditions, such as some workshop settings, training-based staff development approaches can be useful in delivering to teachers certain types of information about teaching techniques, for example, methods for organizing portfolio assessment of students' work (Little, 1993) or technology use (e.g., placement of computers in the classroom to support collaborative student work, "learning the ropes" of a telecommunications software package, learning how to connect with the Internet).
Unfortunately, in too many settings this approach has become the dominant or even the only channel for professional development, much beyond the domains in which it can be effective. How can "activities planned and developed far from the school site, with insufficient relevance to ... classroom practices and inadequate follow-up to permit integration of new ideas and methods into professional activities" (McLaughlin, 1991, p. 62) deal with the many broader dimensions of substantive school reform? Professional development must be constructed in such ways as to "deepen the discussion, open up the debates, and enrich the array of possibilities for action" (Little, 1993, p. 148). It must help teachers move beyond "mechanical use" of curriculum and technology to become facilitators of inquiry (Lieberman & Miller, 1990; Little, 1993).
In contrast to the training paradigm, an approach that emphasizes growth and practice holds a view of teachers as professionals who are productive, responsible members of a professional community and who hold a distinct knowledge base from which they act on behalf of their students (Little, 1993). Where often teachers are labeled as unnecessarily resistant to change, in reality what they are doing is assessing it "for its genuine possibilities and technical adequacy, not to mention how it bears on self and group interests" (Fullan & Miles, 1993, p. 9).
Reflecting this view, more recent professional development programs encourage the "establishment of new norms of collegiality, experimentation, and risk-takingäby promoting open discussion of issues, shared understandings, and a common vocabulary" (Lieberman & Miller, 1990, p. 1049). They emphasize the need to develop new professional cultures in schools (Little, 1981, in Lieberman & Miller, 1990), with structures which enable teachers "to collaborate with colleagues and participate in their own renewal and the renewal of their schools" (Lieberman & Miller, 1990, p. 1051).
As we consider the role of professional development in supporting introduction of technologies in schools, this paper builds upon a growing understanding that effective programs in professional development are inextricably linked to building a professional culture in schools, one which supports qualities of reflection and collaboration in the context of action. We consider the following topics:
Because school improvement is a systemic process (Fullan & Miles, 1993), and professional development both changes and is changed by the organizational context in which it takes place (Sparks & Loucks-Horsley, 1990), we recognize the importance of a comprehensive approach that includes professional development for principals, assistant principals, and administrative and resource staff at school and district levels. However, this paper focuses on professional development for teachers because of their central role as those who plan, guide, and direct the daily activities in the classroom and who must find ways to assure that technologies are used most effectively to support student learning.
Furthermore, we understand technology to be a powerful tool to support inquiry-based learning in schools: learning that is constructivist in orientation, that values conceptual understanding over procedural efficiency, that is responsive to students' prior knowledge and experience, that builds connections to the world outside schools, that supports the development of metacognitive skills, that prepares for lifelong learning, and that promotes educational equity (see Rubin, p. 34). We recognize that these important understandings about technology's role in supporting student learning are equally critical to understanding its role in enhancing teachers' learning. To create inquiry-based environments for their students, teachers themselves need experience with learning in inquiry-based environments. Only then can they internalize its aims and transform the ways in which they teach their students.