The U.S. Division of World Education is seeing increased use of online courses, webinars, virtual professional learning communities (PLC), and other virtual resources for professional development. How might these resources be used in ways that enhance their effectiveness and assure changes in practice by adult educators? We’d like to share some models and best practices from our experience.
Our approach to improving practice in the adult education field is guided by research suggesting that effective professional development should:
- promote active, collaborative learning;
- be sustained over time;
- be job-embedded and data driven; and
- assess changes in participants' knowledge, skills and practices.
Leveraging virtual resources has helped us and our partners provide sustained and extended PD activities that implement these features. Let’s look at some examples from Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
Minnesota Numeracy Initiative (MNI)
Launched in 2010–11, MNI combines online and in-person professional development activities. The first phase includes an in-person kick-off meeting, use of the Foundations of Teaching Adult Numeracy online course, a follow-up webinar, and participation in a virtual PLC. Participants meet weekly (in person or on the telephone) with a partner to discuss & collaborate on course content. During the second phase, participants complete self-assessments and reflections, observe their partner teaching math/numeracy skills, and continue to participate in the PLC. The third phase culminates in an in-person wrap-up meeting where participants make a presentation on what they learned. This phase mirrors the first phase with a second online course, Teaching Reasoning and Problem-Solving Strategies, partner meetings, and sharing in the PLC.
The cohort of 24 teachers who completed the first year of MNI were invited to continue with a second year of activities that included an in-person kick-off and capstone meetings, use of the Algebra: Introducing Algebraic Reasoning online course, and a practitioner research project. Partner meetings and the PLC continued as well. Participants were encouraged to present at staff meetings, state regional and summer institutes, and national conferences.
The fourth cohort of teachers will begin MNI in the fall of 2014 with Rebecca Strom as the Project Lead, and Amy Vickers as the online course facilitator. Both are teacher leaders from that first cohort. MNI was created by Dr. Kimberly Johnson, former ATLAS Director at Hamline University, and Astrid Liden, Adult Basic Education Professional Development Specialist at the Minnesota Department of Education. (MNI reports and information are available at: http://atlasabe.org/professional/math-and-numeracy.) The online courses are part of World Education’s ElearningPD offerings.
Pennsylvania Adult Education Resources: Essential Core Courses for Science
The Pennsylvania Professional Development System supports job-embedded professional development activities with content area experts, Wiggio groups, and online course offerings through its Course Management Project. This spring, Cynthia Zafft from World Education served as the Science Subject Matter Expert and piloted three blended PD activities for Pennsylvania adult educators.
- Attendees at the COABE-PAACE Conference session, Deepen Your Science Instruction (and Have Fun, Too!), created and tested brief lessons with their students and then posted their results and reflections in Pennsylvania’s Science Wiggio. This six-hour, interactive activity gave teachers the opportunity to practice developing lessons that dig deeper into the science content of everyday situations through eight scientific practices.
- The new LINCS course, Engaging Adult Learners in Science, provides an overview of the relevance and importance of science in the adult education classroom and introduces the use of the nationally recognized Next Generation Science Standards framework. As teachers took the course, Cynthia supplemented it with activities, online discussion, and instructor feedback according to a set schedule for a total of ten hours of PD.
- Scientific Practices in Context could be taken by teachers interested in developing a science lesson to help students become college and career ready and prepare for the science section of the 2014 GED®. Again, Cynthia facilitated activities and online discussions and provided feedback on the lessons teachers created for ten hours of PD activity over six weeks. The online course provides an overview of contextualized instruction, an opportunity to explore science resources, and a framework for designing effective lesson plans.
Teachers participating in all three activities had the benefit of developing and trying out three lesson plans. Pennsylvania intentionally develops blended PD offerings that culminate in implementation in the classroom. Content area experts may conduct webinars, provide additional resources, consult with lead consultants and local agencies, and lead conference sessions in addition to adapting and facilitating existing online courses.
Virginia Adult Career Coaching (VACC)
Virginia’s Community College Adult Career Coaches assist community college students, adult education students, and One-Stop Career Center clients in developing career and postsecondary education and training plans. They assist clients with gaining admission to education and workforce programs, applying for financial aid (including applying for financial assistance available through the workforce system) and attaining workforce support services (including childcare and transportation). The adult career coach acts as a guide to college services including tutoring and student support services.
The Virginia Community College System contracted with World Education's National College Transition Network (NCTN) to assist in designing a hybrid certification training for Virginia’s statewide Adult Career Coach Initiative, adapted from Sandy Goodman’s courses on College and Career Readiness. The Adult Career Coach initiative is funded through the US Department of Labor, Trade Act Adjustment Community College Transformation grants.
World Education developed a customized online course that is the centerpiece of the certification training and hosted on our e-learning platform. The Virginia Community College System enrolled 75 adult career coaches in the first cohort of certification candidates in February, 2014.
The certification program includes successful completion of the following activities:
- 30-hour online, self-paced course
- 10 hours of in-person training and collaboration with other coaches
- ACC Capstone Project
These three examples provide some insight into how online courses, virtual personal learning networks, and other methods of delivering activities virtually can be used to provide effective professional development that adheres to research-based PD features, including PD of sufficient duration and extended over time to affect changes in practice. Consider ways that you can leverage existing virtual opportunities. Explore the U.S. section of the World Education website to see what we have to offer.