Monday, July 29, 2013

The Difficulty With "Best" and "Must Use" in Professional Development

We've all been in a professional development workshop in which we had to learn to use a specific instructional method or a specific website/ app/ software. The trouble with this is that despite what some education reformer activists and politicians tell us, teaching and learning can't be put into a one-size-fits-all program. This is why I enjoy trying to see as many presentations as possible when I go to a conference. When I'm at a conference I want see how other people teach the things that I sometimes teach.

If you're planning PD workshops try to include a couple of alternative tools for each activity. The tool that you love may not be loved by everyone in your workshop. The reason the tool you love may not be loved by others could be as simple as visual appeal. For example, last week at the Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp we spent 30-40 minutes on EduClipper. Many people liked it and ran with it quickly. There were also a few people who didn't care for EduClipper because the interface was too busy for them. So instead of trying to persist in getting those people to use EduClipper, I showed them Diigo. Diigo offered the same kind of social bookmarking experience as EduClipper, but in a format that was more visually pleasing to those who were turned off by EduClipper's layout. The "best" bookmarking service for one group of my students wasn't the same as the "best" bookmarking service for the other group.

Every week a new round of blog posts appears on the web with titles like "The Best Apps for X in School" or "10 Sites Every Teacher Must See." The problem with those posts is the same problem as trying to force everyone to use the exact same tool and method when there are other options that work just as well. It's because of that that I try to avoid using titles like that in my posts. I am guilty of writing list posts, but I do try to keep "best" and "must" out of my posts because what's best for me is not necessarily best for you. That said, a topical list can be good for discovering the best app/ site/ tool for you and your students.

Of course, there are occasions when the "everyone has to do this" PD session cannot be avoided. If you have to lead a refresher on first aid you probably don't want people improvising. Or if your school has just spent thousands of dollars for a new student data management system, you probably cannot say, "this doesn't work for me, can I use something else?"