Monday, March 8, 2010

Invisible Hand of Learning (Part 2)

How do we motivate adults to learn new things? This question has been on my mind for months. In my first post for ISTE (The Invisible hand of Learning: Part I) I wrote about how we changed our Professional Development (PD) concept from a top-down to a bottom-up model. The experiment is now on it’s fifth month and so far we have had mixed results.

On the positive side, I have noticed that when teachers choose what they want to learn, they are more engaged, more excited and there is a greater chance the tools they learn will be incorporated into their classroom in some way.

The negative is that many teachers are not signing up to learn anything new. Some teachers have even tried to use that time to work on things independently (like checking e-mail or writing a letter to parents) that required no help from me-- and they would like to get credit for workshop hours. This puts me in an ethical bind, but I have been trying to err on the side of being teacher-friendly.

If we took away the 20 hour requirement, what would happen? Would the teachers who drag their feet ever learn anything new? Is it worth it to try to mandate that someone learn something even when they show no interest? For the teachers that use the time to their advantage and are active participants in their own PD, would removing the 20 hours diminish their enthusiasm? It seems like there are some teachers who would rather go home after school and do what they want, but as long as they have to stay and learn, they make the effort. With no incentive to learn, will they continue to learn or will home seem more appealing?

For the remaining few teachers who are ravenous learners, what is the point of removing the 20 hour requirement? If they are learning for their own sake, keeping track of their hours spent learning should have no effect on them one way or the other.

At our school teachers are encouraged, but not required to take workshops in other areas (literacy, classroom management, dealing with ADHD, etc.). Technology is certainly not the only important thing to learn, but for most teachers, it is currently an Achilles heel. Digital Literacy is growing in importance and just this week I came across two examples on Twitter that showcase why we need to be technologically literate.

Example 1- I know someone who was just hired in a social media role for a major academic journal. The journal has a Facebook page, but couldn’t understand why it had no fans. Within minutes at the job, she diagnosed the problem, “turns out they just had the ‘view fan comments’ setting disabled.” Imagine all the feedback they have been missing because of digital illiteracy.

Example 2- Another friend checked his e-mail at work and saw a message sent from his personal e-mail account in his work inbox. When he opened the message he saw it was actually sent from a botnet that had infected his computer. His yahoo account was hacked and had been sending e-mails to everyone in his address book. He quickly changed his password from work and stopped the spamming.

These are just two small examples from the last week. These people were able to solve problems because they were digitally literate. Problems like these will only increase in frequency and magnitude in the coming decades. Digital literacy is as important in 2010 as traditional literacy was in 1910. Teachers need to cultivate both types of literacies in their students. It follows logically that if we are going to teach English Literature, we should know how to read and if we are going to prepare students for the 21st century, we should be digitally literate ourselves.

Building that digital literacy doesn’t necessarily require a certain amount of hours spent learning, however. It just requires some learning goals and possibly proof that learning occurred.

Would it be better to have a “project” requirement?

Meaning, teachers are responsible to planning what they want to accomplish, then taking as much or as little time as it takes to learn how. For example, a teacher may want to use Diigo to have a digital discussion about an article. In August that teacher could say, “For our current events class each Friday, I am going to ask the kids to annotate and write about the articles I post using Diigo.” In order to do this, they would need to spend a certain amount of time learning how to use Diigo, creating an assignment, teaching the children how to use it from home, etc. Maybe instead of having a certain number of hours as their PD requirement, they can set a certain number of lessons? They can fulfill their tech requirement by learning how and then meeting their self-imposed goal of using Diigo each week.

Maybe a teacher wants to start a blog to communicate with parents and children about the topics in their class. They can set a goal of writing a blog post once a week summarizing the weeks lessons and providing food for thought and debate. In order to accomplish this, a teacher will need a certain amount of training and assistance in learning how to embed videos, pictures, moderate comments, etc.

After a few months, the teacher should be so adept at using their new tool that they no longer need much help at all. It might mean less time spent in a workshop learning, but if the end result is genuine tech integration in their learning environment, isn’t that the whole point anyway?

When I see the level of enthusiasm for learning among the faculty, it makes me wonder if having a requirement of 20 hours of PD is a good idea. I can see both sides of the issue, but I am more interested to know: what you think?