THIRD CYCLE RESEARCH QUESTION:
How effective will the practice of engaging faculty members in online professional dialogue be in increasing the integration of technology in classroom instruction?
The school year has moved into testing season and students have to relinquish their netbooks to classroom cart management, which means a significant number of tech team members no longer have access to after school meetings. I shifted my action research attention directly on the educators who determine if and how the netbooks are used in the classroom. This allowed me to continue working on my overall goal, improve my technology integration support so that all stakeholders are invested and see their role in the successful implementation of the middle school 1:1 program.
In my regular work, I had been exploring different professional development formats. Earlier in the year, my work team successfully launched a blog for 30-Day Challenges that engaged teachers in daily applications that could enhance their instruction. I designed a virtual book club that bridged that model with a traditional book study. I secured funding for purchasing 50 books and posted the virtual book club on the district professional development registration site. Within the week, the 50 spots were filled with a waitlist of nine.
- Determine reading selection.
- Establish the blog and norms for participation.
- Complete the book study.
My work team surveyed teacher and administrators in the district to determine the needs and interests for professional development midyear. Digital literacy ranked high in the results so I selected Literacy 2.0: Reading and Writing in the 21st Century Classrooms by Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher and Alex Gonzalez for the book study. I knew this choice would both address fundamental communication and collaboration tools and digital literacy for neophytes, yet still be applicable to experienced technology users.
I looked at various platforms for hosting the virtual book discussions. It was critical that the choice double as a model for potential classroom use. I considered the success of the 30-Day Challenge blog, the group of participants it created, and the likelihood that some of those members would register for the virtual book club. A definite advantage to the blog is that they encourage broader readership and allow participants to determine how they would connect in terms of notifications. Additionally, blogs are not complicated for new users. I established a virtual book study, EVSCiReaders, and asked participants to become members of the blog. As it turned out, there was a large number of registered participants who had not completed the 30-Day Challenge, so I created pages with instructions for how to get started as a blog member for their reference. Those pages could also be used as instructional tools should participants decide to introduce their students to blogging.
The virtual book study ran from February 27 through April 24. The 50 registered participants could be credited 8 hours of professional development points. A pacing guide provided structure for reading; however, the only requirements for meeting the 8 hours were to contribute to one discussion per chapter and to attend the face-to-face concluding meeting. In the initial weeks the participation was slow so I built in additional face-to-face opportunities and offered to arrange videoconference spaces for group meetings. While I posted the weekly discussion topics, I deferred commenting in attempt to encourage participant exchange of ideas and questions. For each chapter, at least one post was an open-ended question so that members could bring up their own topics of interest.
EVIDENCE USED TO EVALUATE THE ACTION:
I evaluated the outcomes of my actions by looking at the collective evidence in three areas:
1. The response to the virtual book club to determine the viability of repeating this type of professional development.
2. The role community and dialog took in the professional development format.
3. The influence on teacher integration of technology.
The response of the virtual book club members
I collected 25 of the 50 book club members’ responses to the virtual book study in a post survey. One responder did not provide consent to include her results. I determined the 50% turnout on the survey was a valid data collection since the 50% who did not complete the survey were those who did not complete the book study, did not post regularly or did not attend a face-to-face meeting. I think it is safe to assume that non-respondents would indicate that they were not likely to implement change, which means about half of the overall participants benefitted from the activity. Of the 50% who completed the survey, not everyone finished the book, but the overall response was positive as 100% would be making changes in their instruction based on their new knowledge. One clear indicator is the level of interest in repeating the experience, 100% of the respondents (or 50% overall) would participate in a virtual book study again assuming the book was provided. Nearly half of the responding group, 11/24 (or 22% overall), would participate in another virtual book study even if they had to purchase the book themselves.
The role of community and dialog
Participants were asked to indicate what benefits the professional development model provided. Overwhelmingly, the respondents said they appreciated the flexibility the virtual book study provided (24/24). And only 2/24 listed flexibility as the only benefit they identified. The next highest ranked response was finding value in the diverse group of perspectives, which 20/24 said they benefitted from. Nearly the same number of participants, 19/24, felt they benefitted from the professional discussion. Slightly over half, 13/24 enjoyed the experience of being a blog member. Of that group, only three of the thirteen did not include the other community benefits.
When given an open-ended question asking how the professional dialogue of the blog enabled participants to build an understanding of the topic, sixteen comments specifically mentioned knowledge building or gaining insights from reading other’s perspectives. In addition, eight separate responses noted that reading and responding to other’s perspectives changed or challenged their thinking. In those twenty-four reflections, two commented that the community encouraged them to try new things. Two members who also happened to be what could be deemed expert participants noted that they liked being able to share their ideas with others and being challenged to support their thinking.
Even though the data lead me to think that the community aspect of the PD was of value, the type of follow-up participants favored was direct instruction/coaching. Since participants could select multiple responses to this question, I looked to see what the personal responses were composed of. I tallied combinations of individual and community follow-up against those that were solely individual. Only 4/24 responses were solely individual follow-ups (classroom support or coaching sessions). In the open-ended question about the professional dialogue, three responders shared that they would be taking the information to other educators on their grade level team or in their content area. Similarly, five suggested “other” types of follow-up; primarily working with colleagues in their building.
The influence on teacher integration of technology
Blog comments about plans for implementing new tools into instruction were the biggest indicator that the book study and professional discussion was making an impact on teachers. There were participants who regularly posted challenges they faced or questions they wanted answered before taking a risk. Sometimes the other participants shared their strategies and perspectives, and other times the thread was left alone. Interestingly enough, we even cleared up some misconceptions about which technologies are and are not accessible in the schools.
In the post survey, participants were asked how they could connect Literacy 2.0 and their learning to their goals for students. Two key responses surfaced. First, a third of the responses specifically noted a gained awareness or appreciation for 21st century skills. Teachers developed tangible goals to weave into their lesson planning as evident by blog comments. Secondly, five of the 24 responses expressed taking personal responsibility for teaching digital citizenship. The later, representing 10% of the total book club participants, are educators who can now describe their intentional role as a model of digital citizenship for their students.
Responses to what participants want to do with the information they learned from reading the book ranged from introducing new websites to a third of responses indicating that the reader has adopted the book’s overarching idea that literacy and technology intersect, and each is shaping and informing the other. Of the eight who responded that they would be using new web tools, three specifically noted that they were going to apply their new understanding about the function of the tool.
Respondents were asked to rank how likely they were to integrate a new technology into their instruction based on this professional development experience. Keeping in mind that half of the book club participants did not complete the survey, I can say at least half of the participants intend to integrate a new technology into their instruction.
Realizing that 22% of the participants who registered for the virtual book study, would not only repeat the experience, but would also be willing to purchase their own book confirmed that this form of professional development is worth replicating. My endorsement of the format was affirmed when the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) modeled their summer book study after the same. It will be interesting to compare the participation on that blog to the one we completed. There are some distinct differences in the participating audience. My participants were earning professional development points, which required that members show eight hours of learning, while the IDOE’s is non-credit. Also the IDOE’s is promoted through the online Learning Connection (similar to a learning management system) so those participating are already somewhat technology savvy. I am curious how many participants would be willing to join a virtual book club that did not track hours and award professional growth points.
Since there was a large percent of participants who had never followed a blog or commented on other’s posts publicly, I did get some pushback on the blog as the format for the virtual book study. I will take that feedback into consideration and integrate more support for new users. I found myself frustrated that people expected me to email them weekly with reminders about new posts. But in response, I will be adding a more visible subscribe by email text box before the next study. I will add that and other suggestions for managing your own notifications to the beginner tips and tricks page.
Even though I did not directly share that the virtual book club was about supporting learning within a community, the participants clearly recognized it. In fact, one member shared an increased confidence in posting online and contributed that to being able to observe others in action. Another member noted the advantage of being able to return to posts and revisit what others had shared. While these represent insignificant numbers, I believe had I considered listing those comments as specific benefits in the survey, that respondents would have ranked these highly based on discussions I have had with other participants.
There were some hurdles in building participation in the virtual book club. In the same way that students struggle with constructing their own knowledge, the teachers resisted a bit and wanted me to provide more direct instruction. At the start of the next book study, I will want to survey participants’ comfort level with the topic and provide an anticipation guide. I think it would have been fair to assume that most participants in the Literacy 2.0 book study were insecure about their knowledge of digital literacy and digital responsibilities. I know from my daily work that most teachers and administrators rely on the expertise of my work team to provide the instruction on these topics. They are looking for someone to provide the answers to the problems that come with 1:1 learning. Through the process of this professional development, I observed a small group of change makers realizing that they can construct their own meaning and solutions. One very insightful survey comment shared that the member wanted to see more discussion about ideas–he felt that members weren’t engaging each other enough. This is something that teachers complain about their students’ participation in online forums and even face-to-face discussions. I see my challenge as helping them recognize their own patterns so that they can reframe how they both set-up future activities and view student engagement.
As a provider of professional development workshops, I often find that participants can defer contributing to the discussion in large groups or create private off task conversations. While this still could happen with the virtual book study, it was observable and measurable. The blog held members accountable in ways that face-to-face workshops do not. Financially, the virtual book club when compared to the typical eight-hour workshop cost a fraction of the substitute pay for classroom coverage. More importantly, I think we will see a greater return on the investment. Not every participant earned the eight hours of professional growth points. Those members who did experienced transformational learning through their participation in the book study. I am fairly sure that not only will they will incorporate technology into their instruction as a direct result of this professional development, but they can articulate to others why they are integrating web tools and purposefully teaching digital literacy.