Exploring the Value of Professional Development

Exploring the value of Professional Development

Posted Mar 3, 2018 8:43 AM

Among the various interesting conversations in our last forum, a question came up related to the need for timely and effective professional development to support differentiated instruction. The participant asks,

“How do you change the culture of the school to embrace a technique that is known to have excellent results without overburdening teachers that are already stretched to the the limit?”

Another participant  responds to the question: “So many times teachers are provided professional developments and expected to implement them immediately after 6 hours of instruction – as well as continue to teach everything you already had on your overflowing plate.”

Changing the culture of a school or group requires a “systems thinking” and change theory viewpoint. In our series we examine the research of Donald Ely and Everett Rogers for markers of successful innovations in schools.

Another question surfaces: How can we as  professionals make informed decisions to successfully plan and implement effective professional development (PD)?

We have learned that K-12 professional development should be treated as a “process” and not a “product.” Spirrison (2017) asserts, “In this environment, continual and perpetual education is essential.”  We hear the latest buzz words in professional development: “Continuous Learning Platforms.” Check out   Spirrison’s recent brief article, “Five Reasons Continuous Learning Platforms are the Future of PD” (Participate.com).

“Educators who self-organize on Twitter and other social networks to share knowledge, resources and best practices with peers around the world are pioneers in the continuous learning movement.”

Participate.com article link

Sources Ely & Rogers on Change Theory

Ely (1990) Conditions of Change: https://sites.google.com/site/elysconditionsofchange/history

Rogers, E.(2001)  Diffusion of Innovations: https://www.enablingchange.com.au/Summary_Diffusion_Theory.pdf

Soft Skills and Formal Assessment

Topic 1:  Types of Formal Assessments

A Formal assessment, pertaining to an exceptional population, may be commonly thought as an IQ test.  Depending how we view IQ tests, these tests can help predict how a student will cognitively perform in school. For example, in order to be considered academically gifted, a score of 130 is required on Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC). Students having a score of 130 or more on the WISC generally have a high level of academic success. Conversely, children receiving a score below, 80 for example may learn at a slower rate and may not be able to master higher level concepts. Of course there are many factors that influence academic success.

The other types of frequently used tests in schools are achievement tests. Simply put, achievement tests give us information on how a student is achieving in the classroom compared other students in a number of measurable skills areas. We may compare by age, grade, or aptitude. For example, if a fifth grade student with an IQ of 130 has scored on a third grade level, there may be other factors that could interfere with his/her ability to learn. What are those factors?

“Current teachers are able to get a deeper and more granular understanding of who the individual is as well as the “hard” and “soft” skills and dispositions he has demonstrated.”  (Fontichiaro and Elkordy, 2015*)

We can look to educational psychology to explore additional factors that could possibly impact learning. Heckman & Kautz’s Hard Evidence of Soft Skills (University of Chicago, 2012) delve into “the important skills that achievement tests miss or mismeasure” (p.2). The authors assert, “Achievement tests do not adequately capture, soft skills— personality traits, goals, motivations, and preferences that are valued in school, and in many other domains. Children who are more academically motivated and more curious learn more and have higher test scores” (p. 2). In addition, Heckman and Kautz believe that, “Personality traits foster the development of cognition but not vice versa” (p. 37).

Let’s briefly summarizes these factors:

Achievement tests miss Soft Skills that are valued in work and life:

  • personality traits
  • goals
  • motivations
  • preferences

Soft Skills: 

  • predict success in school and life
  • are not well captured by measures of cognition
  • conscientiousness–tendency to be organized, responsible, hardworking
  • predicts educational attainment as strongly as cognitive ability measures (Heckman & Kautz, Labour Economics Volume 19, Issue 4, August 2012, pp 451-464)

In summary, the soft skills of conscientiousness, perseverance (persevering on tasks), sociability (extraversion, cooperation), and curiosity (openness to experience, imagination) are indicators found in student personality traits, goals, motivations, and preferences. It is valuable for us as IT professionals/educational technologists to be aware of the potential impact of soft skills on student achievement and on choosing ed tech/assistive technology (AT) in formal and informal assessment.  For example, the use of digital badges in K-12 and higher ed has the ability to “formalize” student soft skills: ISTE asserts,

Digital badges have the potential to be the effective and flexible tools teachers have long sought to guide, recognize, assess and spur learning. And they can recognize the soft skills [my emphasis] not captured by standardized tests, such as critical or innovative thinking, teamwork or effective communication” (p.2).


Digital Badges

Digital Badges in Education

“Digital badges are tied to competencies, allows the viewer to verify the knowledge and skill of the person holding the badge. With this deep connection, badges become more than a visual symbol, they are explicit evidence of skills, competencies, and experience.” (p. 35)

About and Characteristics

  • These same highly social and interactive systems also presented us with a new culture of reputation, influencing how we build identities online that others find credible and meaningful.(p. 3)
  • Many of the badge systems being built include a suite of features that are common in reputation systems: voting, tagging, ranking, rating, “liking,” and commenting, to name a few. (p. 2)
  • Badges also reflect a desire to resolve a peculiar and novel problem in the digital age: To whom does reputation belong online? Only on the Internet can reputation be tethered to a proprietary system. (p. 4)
  • Khan Academy or massive open online courses (MOOCs) where people earn badges that can only be displayed within the technical system where they were awarded. The badges are thus only visible to those who are logged into the system, which limits the value and portability of the reputation to outside audiences. Open digital badges, however, contain standard technical specifications, and these open standards (not to be confused with academic standards) help foster a digital medium of exchange for credentials that previously did not exist, allowing learners to collect, keep, and share the reputation they have built across different platforms. (p. 4). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
  • Open digital badges present us with a design challenge to advance principles of credibility that we have yet to clearly define. These principles are being embraced (if not exactly defined) in different fields like design and software engineering, where employers put less stock in schooled learning and traditional credentials, and reputation and evidence alone can be keys to advancement. (p. 5)
  • Badges dovetail nicely with the elimination of seat-time requirements, for example, and the potential to design more flexible learning pathways or scaffolds has made digital badges particularly relevant to competency-based learning. (p.6)
  • The three main purposes of badge systems are to map progress and foster discovery, signal reputation beyond the community where it was earned, and incentivize learners to engage in pro-social behaviors (Gibson, Ostashewski, Flintoff, Grant, & Knight, 2013).
  • There is certainly motivation from the instructional technology community to experiment with badges and develop platforms.  Lin Y. Muilenburg; Zane L. Berge (2016-03-22). Digital Badges in Education: Trends, Issues, and Cases (p. 9).
  • This ecosystem consists of the expected stakeholders— the badge issuers, earners, and employers, who directly exchange badges for recognition, reputation, and evaluation— in concert with organizations and entities that add standards and endorsements to the badges to influence their valuation. The complexity does not stop there, as the interplay of these stakeholders, perceived value, and usage of the badges involves much more than the badges themselves; also involved are authentication, verification, and validation of the competencies and learning they represent.  Lin Y. Muilenburg; Zane L. Berge (2016-03-22). Digital Badges in Education: Trends, Issues, and Cases (p. 19).


Lin Y. Muilenburg; Zane L. Berge (2016-03-22). Digital Badges in Education: Trends, Issues, and Cases (p. 35). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.