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Until recently, the options for first-rate training for teachers were fairly limited.
Teachers filed into seats in whatever college happened to be closest to home, regardless of the quality of its programs. Online courses were often regarded as degree mills with low standards. One-size-fits-all training given by consultants or school administrators was often mocked. “Professional development” seemed an empty phrase.
It’s too soon to declare yawn-inducing teacher training a thing of a bygone era, but some new methods are flourishing.
Online courses and hybrid approaches like blended learning are growing in popularity and prestige. The ability to personalize learning – to create a customized lesson matching the ability level and interest of the student – could help teachers get training that fits what they actually need. And, of course, information and teaching materials are more readily available, and cheaper to share, online.
Some say teachers and school leaders should have a say in the development of these new programs.
Among the groups launching new programs that bring educators into the fold is The Redesign Challenge, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They are soliciting ideas and seeking applications from people who want to take part in educator-run meetings that are “an open dialogue between those who often make the decisions and those who have to live with those decisions.” They’ve named the first challenge they want to tackle: What can be done to make video more useful in teacher training?
Advocates for the use of video say it lets teachers see inside the classrooms of effective educators to watch them at work with students. And it provides a way to explain the effective use of new strategies, such as blended learning. (Pro tip: If you simply plop students in front of a computer program and walk away, you’re doing it wrong.)
Many organizations and teachers say everyone is better served if educators and technology gurus meet, share ideas and otherwise work together to ensure that education technology products are useful for schools.
And it’s not just a trend in teacher training programs.
Another example is Launch, a program that incubates early-stage ed tech ideas with technical support and a network of teachers willing to try something new in the classroom. Core to the program is a belief that teachers should be baked into the innovation process – from the beginning. It is one of many education technology initiatives run by the nonprofit 4.0 Schools, a growing organization that recently opened a new office in New York City.
Amid the hubbub of innovation, some say we must also remember to set up ways to measure the effectiveness of education technology. We might get the clearest reading if we evaluate after teachers are properly trained, having been given carefully designed tools and afforded ample time to adjust to a new paradigm.
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