In my last blog post I suggested creating a Professional Learning Community using Desire2Learn and Blackboard Collaborate. Now I know that there are colleagues of mine who have read it by now and thinking that I have finally lost my mind. After reading my previous blog post one would be incorrect in extrapolating that I would advocate a completely online professional development model. Nothing could be further from the truth.
True, I believe that most, if not all, teacher inservicing should be done online using some type of synchronous tool (to be recorded for later viewing) and true I also believe that some professional development can or needs to be (based on geography) conducted virtually. However there are two areas where not only is face to face professional development preferable, it is absolutely necessary.
1) Technology Integration: When teachers are trying to discover which technologies may be useful for integration into their classroom or when they have been given a technology they need to link to pedagogy/curriculum use in their classroom, face to face professional development is better. In this situation, a teacher experienced in both the technology and curriculum can model its use as well as lead the discussion on the link between technology and pedagogy. It has to be a teacher knowledgeable in the curriculum to successfully accomplish this.
Simply put, some teachers need to be shown where the technology can be integrated. Once a few ideas are "planted", the "seed" of use will grow over time. More importantly, an experienced teacher will also discuss what pitfalls to avoid and relate their experiences as they gained proficiency. Even simple hand holding is much more easily done in the face to face PD session when compared to virtually.
2) Conferences: In my career I have had the good fortune to attend many professional development conferences in North America. While I have contributed to such conferences in the role of presenter, I have taken away far more than what I have contributed. Conferences are the places where a teacher will encounter new technologies and new ideas. It is also where they will meet new like minded people who they will remain in contact with, collaborate with and even be friends with.
There are people that I collaborate with to this day that I have met in a bar at a conference. I can't say the same has happened in social media sites, as good as what they are. I remember the first T^3 International Conference I attended. It had a profound impact on the teacher I am today. In fact school districts should ensure new teachers be exposed to face to face professional development within a couple years after being hired.
If teachers are placed within a good, well supported, online professional learning community then perhaps, just perhaps, monies can be saved and some of those allocated for teachers to attend face to face professional development. Can you imagine what they would bring back to that online learning community? I can :)