Benefits of Online, Face-to-Face Professional Development Similar, Study Finds
These are really exciting results. Done well, on-line professional development is as effective as face-to-face professional development. These results are promising for our CSLearning4U project. In particular, the benefit that Barry Fishman saw is what we were most hoping for, based on our studies with Klara Benda — it’s all about fitting into the teachers’ lives.
Of course, the devil is in how the teacher training is designed and executed. “There are no shortcuts in professional development,” Fishman stressed.
In the study, teachers who received the online professional development weren’t just plopped in front of YouTube. Instead, the group took a series of self-paced “short courses” via computer. They also interacted online with facilitators who helped them through the units and answered their questions.
Like their counterparts in the face-to-face group, the teachers were expected to become familiar with geographic information system software and how to teach it, as well as how to engage students in a hands-on, iterative learning process. Teachers in both groups had access to the same print materials and computer simulations.
Fishman and his colleagues found that teachers in the online group spent wildly varying amounts of time learning the new curriculum. One teacher cruised through the material in three hours. Another took 52 hours to digest everything. But the classroom results were largely the same.
“One of the benefits of online professional development is that it lets teachers move at their own pace,” Fishman said. “The same thing is probably going on in face-to-face [settings]. You just zone out when you’re sitting in a 40-hour workshop.”