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How Technology Can Transform Professional Learning

Over the last several months, I have met with a number of people who are working on exciting new possibilities for using technology to transform professional learning. This has created a real evolution in my own thinking and my openness to new possibilities, and I have started to participate in more conversations with organizations and foundations interested in the promising intersection of technology and professional development.

Last month we had the honor of co-convening, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a group of leading education thinkers and practitioners committed to finding technology solutions to the challenges we face in improving teaching and learning. We focused on closing the gap between the status quo and the desired future, and examined the contribution professional learning must make to close that gap. We agreed that technology-enabled professional learning had the potential to accelerate the pace of change we need to see in American schools and classrooms. We discussed how such innovations would provide educators the information, resources, and feedback they need to improve their practice at the moment when they face their greatest challenges.

Over the course of two days, we immersed ourselves in some of the practices and technologies we hope to see employed in schools, and discovered some of the benefits and challenges associated with them.

From my perspective, we exceeded the goals of the convening. I gained new knowledge, skills, and perspectives, broadened my network of colleagues, and committed to new actions to advance this field. I learned more about some fascinating solutions, including classroom video capturing, ear-bud coaching, performance learning systems, virtual classroom simulations, learning management systems, 24-7 online tutoring, and more, each with great potential for improving the performance of all educators.

And yet my final conversation with a participant was among the most important. She noted that while the innovations we discussed would certainly be helpful, they weren't the kind of game changers the system truly needs to achieve the goals we have set. She suggested that, in addition to developing technologies focused on improving the current system, we should simultaneously focus on technologies that can make obsolete the problems associated with the current system. Her words inspired me to once again open my thinking to new possibilities and technologies, and to promote the breakthrough changes our educators and children deserve.

I am confident we are on the right path, but we have many more challenges to overcome. I invite others who share these concerns and expertise in this space to continue to identify challenges, propose innovations, and widely collaborate. As we heard at the beginning of our convening, "If you want to run fast, run alone; if you want to run far, run together."

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, Learning Forward

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