In a previous post, I discussed some overriding concepts when implementing a 1:1 tablet program. Specifically, the post focused on the first rule of iPads: do not talk about iPads.
While the first rule of iPads forms the philosophical basis of a PD program in a school, it remains important to develop specific programs that build off of this philosophical basis. If your school is lucky or innovative enough to dedicate an Institute Day/Workshop Day to technology, this is the perfect time to begin developing the pragmatic manifestation of the philosophy introduced above.
I am a huge fan of the Unconference Model, in which participants determine what is going to be discussed and control the overall development of the conversations. These events, however, are populated mostly by teachers who are attracted to the model and thus willing to participate in the manner in which the model intends. When dealing with an institute or staff workshop day, the unconference model might be a bit shocking for faculty less familiar with the concept, and part of the day might then be spent explaining the structure to uncomfortable faculty members.
This does not mean that the overriding philosophies of the Unconference cannot be brought to a faculty workshop or institute day. My school has developed a structure for faculty workshop days dedicated to technology that follows some of Unconference concepts, while simultaneously providing an overall structure that might make faculty less at ease with technology feel more comfortable. The institute day is planned by our Technology Steering Committee (TSC), a group of teachers interested in providing leadership for the colleagues in the area of technology. These teachers brainstorm a list of 20-30 session ideas, guided by a simple principle: the title should begin with an action verb that has nothing to do with technology: “Creating films as assessments,” “Collaborating with music,” “Documenting Student Work.” These sessions place the focus on teaching and learning, NOT on “how-to’s.” This provides attendees with a grounded focus for the day. Rather than going to “the session on Evernote,” (with all the technological biases inherent in that statement), teachers can attend sessions that focus on what they do, and, more importantly, what they want to do, in the classroom.
Members of the TSC then volunteer to lead these sessions, creating conversations about teaching and learning. Specific technologies are introduced, but only in the context of what they do to achieve learning goals.
Workshop Day is filled with three of these sessions, interspersed with what we call “Playtime.” After each session, the faculty is asked to reconvene in our cafeteria where devices of all kinds (Macbooks, iPads, Chromebooks) are made available. For these hours, teachers are encouraged to meet in teams (grade level or department, but potentially cross curricular and cross divisional groups might emerge from the more ambitious members) to play around with some of the ideas they learned from previous sessions. Teachers are encouraged to talk further about how to transform their curriculum using the ideas discussed in the sessions. Members of the technology staff are also available to assist with some of the “how-to’s” in using specific software, hardware, or apps.
At the end of the day, teachers are given an evaluation survey (distributed through google docs). Instead of general questions about “what did you like/dislike about today,” the questions in this survey are very specific about what teachers want to do about their curriculum. Teachers are asked about what ideas they have for their classes and their plans for the coming year. Furthermore, they’re asked to list what specific training (in terms of hardware and software) they’d like to see in order to make their ideas come to life. This gives the technology staff as well as the TSC a framework on which to build Professional Development in the following months.
With a staff at varying levels of technological proficiency and enthusiasm, using workshop/institute days in this way gives teachers a chance to both learn new ideas and consider specific ways to implement those ideas. While it certainly isn’t a cure-all for all the contingencies or pitfalls that might arise during a 1:1 rollout, we’ve found it to be a model that addresses a lot of teacher concerns. And during that rollout, faculty buy-in is an absolutely essential foundation on which to build.