Online professional education for teachers and administrators has been a rapidly expanding industry over the past several years. Educators and districts across the country have been drawn to the convenience provided by online courses and workshops. But how effective are these courses, and what features determine the success of an online offering? EDC’s Center for Online Professional Education is building a body of research to answer such questions. In this article, Glenn Kleiman, director of COPE, and Rebecca Carey, an associate project director, report on some of their current studies.
Since its founding at EDC in 1998, the Center for Online Professional Education (COPE) has been developing and testing new models of online learning for teachers and administrators. Our work incorporates research studies that use a variety of methods, ranging from formative research to improve the quality of our courses to experimental studies in which we explore the impact of alternative models of online professional development. The experimental studies use rigorous methods and are designed to inform policymakers, developers, and educators about the use of online professional development. Each study is focused on a core set of questions, which help to determine the methodologies we employ. Below are some examples of studies in progress, along with some preliminary findings.
Maine’s Impact Study of Technology in Mathematics
Question: How does technology-rich professional development for teachers affect student achievement, classroom practices, and student and teacher use of technology to enhance math learning?
Study description: Maine provides a unique context to test the impact of educational technology. The state has a large rural population and an innovative one-to-one computing initiative, in which each student in the seventh or eighth grade is given a laptop for use in school. Using an experimental design, schools are randomly assigned to the treatment or control condition. Schools in the treatment condition receive a technology-infused professional development program designed to deepen teachers’ understanding of the relevant mathematics, strengthen their pedagogical practices, and enable them to use technology to enhance mathematics teaching and learning. Student achievement is measured through their performance on the Maine Education Assessment and through pre- and post-tests designed to assess student understanding of specific mathematics content, such as numbers and number sense and mathematical communication. Additionally, we administered teacher assessments pre- and post-intervention to measure their content knowledge in mathematics and their confidence in using the available technology. Our partners in this project include the Maine Department of Education and the Center of Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation at the University of Southern Maine.
Preliminary findings: Detailed findings from this three-year study are due in the fall of 2006, but preliminary findings indicate that both those teachers who received the professional development intervention and the students of those teachers performed better on the content-based pre- and post-tests.
Evaluating the EdTech Leaders Online Program for the Milwaukee Public School District
Question: How effective is the EdTech Leaders Online Program in building online professional development capacity in a large urban school district?
Study description: EdTech Leaders Online (ETLO) was founded in 2000 to help districts, state departments of education, and other educational organizations build their own capacity to incorporate quality online professional development into their programs. Since the start of the program, organizations from 26 states have participated in ETLO, and more than 10,000 teachers have participated in ETLO workshops. The Milwaukee Public School District has been part of ETLO since 2002 and has trained more than 40 online specialists to provide professional development workshops via the Internet. To date, 140 workshops have been delivered to more than 1,000 Milwaukee public school teachers. We collected pre- and post-training survey data from the facilitators trained by ETLO and from the teachers and administrators who enrolled in the online workshops these facilitators delivered. The surveys gathered both quantitative responses as well as narratives provided in response to openended prompts. We examined the aggregate quantitative survey responses and the narratives for patterns in the data across the pre- and postsurveys. Once patterns emerged from the quantitative analysis and the analysis of the narratives, we conducted focus groups to gather information from a small group of teacher participants and workshop facilitators who had participated in at least two workshops.
Preliminary findings: Post-survey data from the courses taught by the ETLO-trained facilitators showed sizable improvement in the workshop participants’ understanding of the content areas the professional development course covered. Participants also reported feeling substantially more confident designing projects for use in the classroom that reflect the content goals of the workshop, subsequent to their participation in the workshops, and a majority of participants reported that the online course they took met or exceeded their expectations. Overall, the data collected indicate that the effects of the ETLO program for personnel have been quite positive, both for capacity building at the local level and in providing quality professional development.
Optimizing the Impact of Online Professional Development
Questions: How effectively can online professional development impact the content knowledge, pedagogical beliefs, and professional practice of K–12 teachers? What models are the most effective?
Study description: This three-year experimental research study funded by the National Science Foundation compares common models of online courses to one another as well as to more traditional face-to-face professional development programs. There have been three phases to the project to date, with a fourth comparison planned for the fall of 2006. The first phase was a comparison of a highly facilitated, community-based model (where teachers completed coursework on a weekly schedule and facilitated an asynchronous discussion board with a lot of participant-to-participant and participant-to-facilitator interaction) to a self-paced course where participants had exposure only to the course facilitator and no weekly schedule to follow. The second phase was a more nuanced version of the first phase; it included four online models, each with a different level of support for participants (from a highly facilitated, structured, communitybased model to a self-paced course with little to no facilitator interaction). In both of these phases, teachers were recruited nationally via e-mail and elists and were randomly assigned to one of the online models. The third phase was a comparison of an online model to a traditional face-to-face experience. Again, the teachers were recruited via e-mail and e-lists and were randomly assigned to one of the models; however, this time teachers were targeted in specific geographic areas in order to make the face-to-face condition work. Those courses are running now. Our partners at Boston College developed instruments to measure teachers’ content knowledge, pedagogical beliefs, and instructional practice, which were delivered preand post-course to the teachers and their students.
Preliminary findings: The data collected to date indicate that all teachers who took part in the professional development were positively impacted by the course, and that there weren’t significant differences among the conditions. Further analyses and investigations are being performed, and complete findings from this study are expected in December 2006.
Originally published on June 1, 2006