California has been experimenting with an online model that blends professional development with collaborative curriculum design to help promote improved instruction and use of digital open educational resources. And in an era when current data shows billions of dollars annually spent on professional development has yielded little measurable improvement, California has instead been wrestling with the accelerated success of their program statewide. What has been a bit more perplexing though, is the unexpected impact of 300,000+ educators annually wanting to access the resources from states outside of California.
Dan Weisberg, Chief Executive of The New Teacher Project, states, “There is no doubt that there are initiatives that are probably producing positive impacts. But it’s not helpful if you don’t know what they are.”
With recent research from Weisberg’s New Teacher Project citing traditional professional development’s limited effect on teacher improvement, a big question many were asking at this year’s national Association for Career and Technical Education Vision 2016 Conference in Las Vegas was, “How do we create and sustain effective communities of practice that retain teacher’s interest and ongoing growth?”
Luckily, California’s CTE Online project was ready to share data to show precisely how this work can be accomplished on a statewide and even national scale when combining a robust community of practice platform with a focused model curriculum development and sharing project. In reflecting on the ability to collaborate and then share in a single online environment, Project Director MaryRose Lovgren shared, “We had to have some kind of a model that is online and accessible to the teachers, to the team-leads that we have working with the teachers, as well as the curriculum specialists…so that we can give them feedback and help support their progress in writing all of this curriculum. Being able to not just create, but to share their curriculum adds another level of relevance to their experience.”
With teams from every state in attendance, the CTE Online project shared the fact that over 66,000 educators have full accounts to California’s CTE Online community platform to access and copy their own modifiable versions of the model curriculum that is generated as part of the PD program. Additionally, teachers access professional development modules, and engage in discourse around instructional strategies, standards, and methods to engage students. However, hundreds of thousands more come to simply access the open educational resources as guests, leaving California to determine how far they should go to support accounts and full access for teachers from beyond the golden state, that now make up more than 2/3 of that traffic.
This has led some California state leadership personnel to ask how a project developed expressly for California educators, and not promoted to any degree beyond its borders, finds itself with 25,000 visits a month from non-CA educators. A quick glimpse at traffic to the site from the ’15-’16 academic year through to this December shows collectively a pattern of growing use across all states. Pronounced access in states that share similarities with California such as Texas with over 44,000, New York with over 18,000, and Florida with over 14,000, correlates to known trends. But states such as Georgia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Illinois, and Virginia each has over 10,000 visits as well.
It will require a bit more examination to clarify all the reasons for the growth of this type of program, but what the project’s leadership team is seeing is nothing more than meeting a specific need in supporting strong, collaborative professional development. When asked about why he thought this model was gaining so much traction with educators, a participating Science/STEM teacher shared, “Having this designated time to make awesome lessons while we are all sitting next to each other, focuses us on something we really care about. Ultimately we’re creating resources for teachers everywhere to utilize, while also bringing these skills back to our own school sites.”
When current reports show that teachers are largely feeling disconnected from their traditional, site-based professional development, the fact that they are voluntarily flocking to a blended system that focuses on helping guide their curriculum development, reflect on high-quality standards of practice, assess their curriculum in terms of student engagement, and increase use of rich Open Educational Resources to diversify content is worth documenting and sharing.
In presenting this information last week at a national conference focused exclusively on CTE and Career and College Ready programs and talking with leaders from many of the regional CTE initiatives and national projects, many were interested in and appreciative of the open access the California Department of Education’s Career & College Transition Division has made readily available online. Clay Mitchell, project monitor with California’s Department of Education, isn’t surprised about the growing interest from other state leadership teams. “Like many states, we had many programs and projects doing similar work with teachers from district to district and struggled to connect these efforts in a unified approach. We made a decision to fund and support a system that allowed those projects to still retain their own methods and strategies of outreach and support, but committed them to a common set of outcomes and tools in order to optimize returns on our PD and curriculum efforts statewide, and that is precisely what has happened.”
As one pragmatic participant said in passing, “If all the various statewide curriculum development projects I saw here at ACTE committed to the digital development and sharing of their resources and processes in this way, none of us would need to buy another piece of curriculum or guess at what valid, blended PD looks like.”