Challenges of Online Teacher Professional Development Communities: A Statewide Case Study in the United States

Challenges of Online Teacher Professional Development Communities: A Statewide Case Study in the United States

Vassiliki I. Zygouris-Coe, Bonnie Swan
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-780-5.ch007
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With so many educators needing either initial preparation or ongoing professional development to build and sustain expertise in their discipline, online professional development arises as a viable, effective, and timely vehicle for teacher training. Online learning technologies have the potential to transform the professional development of teachers; penetrate cultural, discipline, and other barriers; bring educators together to learn, share successes and challenges; and co-construct and transfer learning. This chapter presents examples of success and challenges associated with a large-scale U.S. statewide online teacher professional development community. It also makes the case for implementing a systematic approach to investigating the effectiveness of online teacher professional development communities through ongoing assessment and responsive evaluation.
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Background: Teacher Quality And Professional Development

Teacher quality has been the focus of much policy analysis as a result of research on the role of teachers on student learning. The No Child Left Behind U.S. Public Act (NCLB) requires a highly qualified teacher in every classroom (Darling-Hammond & Sykes, 2003). The NCLB principles for high-quality professional development are comprehensive, multi-faceted, complex, and require extensive participation from administrators and teachers. In addition, the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) indicates that effective teacher professional development is more than just coursework designed to fulfill a state or district requirement. It is a set of activities grounded in scientifically based research and producing a measurable effect on student academic achievement.

Professional development is most effective when it is part of a system-wide plan to improve and integrate teacher quality at all stages: preparation, induction, support, and ongoing development (USDOE, 2002). According to a congressional report by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (1997):

What teachers know and understand about content and students shapes how judiciously they select from texts and other materials and how effectively they present material in class. Their skill in assessing their students’ progress also depends upon how deeply they understand learning, and how well they can interpret students’ discussions and written work. No other intervention can make the difference that a knowledgeable, skillful teacher can make in the learning process. (p. 8)

Professional development refers to those intentional, systematic, and ongoing processes and activities designed to enhance the professional knowledge, skills, and attitudes of educators so that they might improve the learning of students (Guskey, 2000). Professional development is an essential part of building teacher expertise in schools.

DuFour and Eaker (1998) recommend that the content of professional development programs should “be based on research,” and used to “expand the repertoire of teachers to meet the needs of students who learn in diverse ways” (p. 276). They also recommend that the process of professional development should provide ongoing coaching that is critical to the mastery of new skills, attend to the tenets of good teaching, promote reflection and dialogue, be sustainable over time, and be evaluated at multiple levels with evidence of improved performance.

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