A Professional Learning Community Approach for Teacher Development and OER creation - A toolkit/Building Professional Learning Communities

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A Professional Learning Community Approach for Teacher Development and OER creation - A toolkit
Establishing ICT infrastructure Building Professional Learning Communities Developing capabilities for OER creation

Teacher preparation

While success of ICT implementation will depend on many inter-related factors (provision of ICT infrastructure, basic infrastructure, teacher preparation and curriculum), perhaps the most important of all is teacher preparation. Without the required teacher preparation, providing infrastructure or specifying ICT integration through the syllabus would not be effective. However, the weakest component of ICT implementation in school education, has been the inadequate and sometimes irrelevant preparation of teachers to understand the use of ICT for their own professional development and for use in teaching.

Broader digital literacy, not teaching few proprietary applications

One problem with past teacher training has been a predominant focus on teaching the use of few popular proprietary software applications. Instead, the program needs to focus on understanding the nature of the ICT (digital literacy1), use of subject teaching related software tools, accessing web resources, encouraging teachers to create digital resources using a wide variety of (free and open source) authoring tools etc.

Secondly, as world becomes more complex, teacher education needs to prepare the teacher and the learner to be capable of adapting to new environments and tackle new challenge. Being able to develop one’s capabilities is much more important than content knowledge, and the focus of ICT integration for TPD should focus on capability development and not merely on sharing or supplying digital content. A universal program of teacher education on these aspects would empower teachers to become comfortable and competent in using ICT for their own development, creation of digital resources and in subject teaching.

It is necessary to envisage this training as a part of the regular in-service teacher education program and not as a stand-alone effort. All state governments prepare their teacher education plans for the next academic year, with budgetary support from the state government along with that of the central government through the SSA and RMSA programs.

Based on the TPACK framework, digital literacy would be subsumed as part of the content (subject) and pedagogy related teacher education planned for the teachers.

Need based TPD

The program to build teachers capacity to integrate ICT for their TPD and practice, can also support the broader reform of in-service teacher education. The NCFTE says "All programmes must find acceptance of their aims with the teachers’ group concerned, regarding whether they need such a programme and why they are to attend it. The principle of choice of programmes to attend, based on teacher’s own assessment of what he/she needs or is advised based on some valid assessment of professional requirement, would provide a sound basis for in-service programmes, especially those that are of a long duration and which seek to impact practice. One size cannot fit all".

This can only happen if there are spaces available for teachers to voice their needs and aspirations, where they can also discuss with teacher educators, the scope of professional development programs. Such spaces are possible to be created as a part of the virtual networks of teachers. These spaces can also be used by teachers to frankly share their feedback and comments on the programs they have been a part of.

Continuous learning and mentoring

By building virtual networks, the program supports interactions amongst teachers for continuous learning. Teachers can seek help for their difficulties as well as for the broader professional development needs and their senior, more knowledgeable colleagues could support them over these networks. Since this operates on 'as and when required' basis, it can be most useful.

Implementing the program

Based on the perspective plan and the AWP, the program would be implemented in the selected geographies and for the targeted group of teachers. The agenda of the teacher education workshops would need to be prepared, focusing on digital literacy, learning to use generic software applications as well as subject specific software tools. The agenda preparation should needs to be designed carefully, the National ICT Curriculum NCERT, 2013 should be referred in this process. Digital literacy (DL) often is wrongly conflated with expertise in specific software applications and platforms. Digital literacy MUST enable the teacher to explore DTs with a critical perspective, which means being aware that DTs can be useful or useless or even harmful and hence need to be carefully chosen/designed for incorporating into practice, and also being aware of the larger implications of DTs on society - on institutions, governments, markets, media, communities etc - both the positive and negative implications. It is important that digital literacy should move the teacher from being a 'consumer' of DTs - a mere user of applications, to an informed and critical 'citizen' who can decide if, when, how to use DTs and on what terms, and also seek out design of DTs that meet her needs and priorities. This is also necessary for meaningful design of the program agenda.

Apart from digital literacy, the program agenda would include learning digital methods (generic resource creation applications, subject specific applications, web tools and web resources) to create OER, for subject teaching and networking with peers.

Participants will learn to use digital methods to create resources. The training resources (digital format) will be provided through a website, to encourage participants to refer to them on-line, physical copies should not be provided. Participants will have internet access throughout the workshop, hence can download the resources to their own computers (or pen drives). All participants will also get a copy of the software applications covered in the workshop and they will learn how to install the same on their own computers and school computers.

The program can use the cascade model of teacher education, in which select group of teachers are trained to become 'Resource Persons' (RPs). These RPs in turn will conduct similar programs for their colleagues in their geographies.

Blended cascade

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The cascade model of in-service teacher training has been criticised as being ineffective. One drawback is 'cascade dilution' where the the quality of the program to develop RPs is not replicated in the cascade workshops, since the RPs would not have the same depth of understanding of the training contents, as their faculty who are usually experts in that area. The cascade dilution problem can be mitigated by using a 'blended cascade' model, wherein, the RPs continue to be in touch with one another, and with their faculty, even after their own workshops. This continued networking has two benefits - the faculty can continue to guide the RPs subsequently and help them to enhance the quality of the cascade workshops. The RPs can also be in touch with faculty and with one another, to solve any doubts, questions that they may have. In addition, some of the key aspects of the cascade workshop can be captured (by way of text, image, audio and video enabled workshop reports), which can be shared on the virtual networks for peer learning and support.

State level workshops - Building the pool of RPs for each subject area

STF MRP workshop, Bengaluru South DIET, 2013
Karnataka STF MRP workshop, Bengaluru South DIET, 2013

The PLC program begins with the design and conducting of the workshops to create RPs for each subject area (Mathematics, Science, Social Science, Language etc.). These workshops would need to be facilitated by faculty / experts identified by the department. These workshops would be typically conducted in ICT Labs set-up at the state capital / head quarters. The agenda would include enrolling the participants in the state-wide PLCs. The participants would continue their interactions on these virtual networks.

Regional / district workshops - Blended cascade program of teacher development, for each subject area

The RPs would subsequently facilitate workshops at regional / district levels to train their peers, in the regional / district ICT Labs. The agenda for these workshops would be on the lines of the state workshops, but would the actual transaction would need to be tweaked by the RPs, based on the profile of the participants. It would be useful to invite teachers are seen to be more interested and able to participate in this program first, this would help strengthen the training program and the RPs. If it is possible, the first few workshops could even be by 'application' where interested teachers are asked to apply to participate in the program. Over time, in a phased manner, all teachers must participate in the program, and be enrolled in the state-wide PLCs. In addition, the participants may also create district virtual groups and enrol themselves in these. Teachers can form part of different virtual networks, each with its own aim, scope and geography covered.

Technology Support Group (TSG)

There is a need to build a eco-system of ICT integration in schools across the state, to support teachers. This is even more required in the case of FOSS. There is initial non-familiarity with FOSS platforms and applications and this can become an inhibiting factor for the program.

Suitable persons from each district need to be identified who can form part of the 'District Technology Support Group" (DTSG). In some states, these could be technology team members at the district SSA/RMSA offices. In states where no such technology team members are available, interested teachers (there are likely to be few teachers who are keen to learn ICT and become resource persons to help other teachers) will need to be enrolled into these DTSGs.

Similar to the Subject RPs, workshops would be designed and conducted to train the state RPs for the DTSG. These RPs would conduct workshops to train 5-20 people in each district to form the DTSG for that district, this number is dependant on the overall number of schools and teachers in the district.

School leaders professional learning community

Similar to the subject-wise teacher PLCs, the Head Teachers would also participate in similar program, which would focus on the area of school leadership and development. In addition, the agenda for this program would include a broad orientation of the digital methods that other teachers have learnt, the maintenance of the school ICT Labs, implementation of the program at the school level. Head Teacher PLCs are a valuable space for Head Teachers to discuss administrative challenges that they face, and with facilitation, these forums could also focus on academic issues and aspects such as pedagogical leadership.

Workshop logistics

The number of days in a workshop should not be less than 5 since this is the initial period of immersion necessary to build basic capacities and confidence. Periods larger than a week can also cause fatigue. In the case of the RPs workshops, it is useful to have 2 sessions of 5-6 days each. The second session can be held after a gap of 2-3 weeks after the first one, so that the RPs can use the interim period for practising their learning, reading additional resources and come with their questions and suggestions.

It is essential that the teacher:computer ratio in the workshops be 1:1. Each participating teacher must have an exclusive access to a device to allow unconstrained participation and hands-on. Having more than one teacher on a device will seriously limit the learning of one or all teachers in the program. At the same time, one workshop should not have more than 25-30 participants, larger numbers will reduce participation by teachers and reduce effectiveness of learning. Smaller groups (less than 30) will provide more opportunities for teachers to voice their views, doubts/issues and discuss the same. These discussions are also useful to build personal bonds amongst participants, which would help in better team work and coordination as RPs.

The number of RPs to be trained from each district, would be a function of the number of candidate teachers in that district, to be trained. Teams of 5 RPs can be developed for each district. In case of larger districts, more RP teams would be required to share the load of training amongst teachers, to reduce the time spent by the teachers from their schools. If it is possible (and seen desirable), these teachers could be deputed to the DIETs during the period of training, so that they can be available without any constraints for the program.

Workshop preparation

Continued learning

After being part of the training workshops, teachers may try some of the lessons they have learnt in the workshops, and share their experiences on the mailing-lists. They will create digital resources by using the applications and share resources. They will seek help when they face problems. Other members of the mailing-lists can provide academic, technological support, creating a self-sufficient learning community. Assignments for resource creation could be identified during the workshops and be completed and shared over the mailing-lists. Specific discussions on identified topics could also be carried out in the mailing-list, on topics of interest to the teachers, concerning their subjects and also larger issues in education.

Teacher educators and experienced teachers and college faculty can also be added to these mailing-lists to mentor and support the discussions on these forums, to facilitate teachers self-directed learning and peer-learning. During the discussions on the lists, it is likely that some teachers (who may not be from the known MRPs) will take lot of initiative to support their colleagues. Thus providing a state-wide canvas can enable natural leaders to emerge, who put in effort to share their learnings and experiences with their colleagues and also respond to their support requests.

If required, the district teams can visit the school of any teacher to provide site-based academic and technological support, if the virtual support provided is not adequate. The teacher-education institutions can also use the PLC as a forum to discuss issues of educational and social concern and also to get inputs.

Virtual networks - professional learning communities

In all workshops, along with learning different digital methods for TPD and teaching, teachers will also enrol into PLCs. PLCs can be of different kinds - of teachers by subject in different geographies - at state and district levels, of teachers across subjects in a smaller geography - at a district or a block level or of subject teachers and TSG members. All teachers for a subject should certainly be enrolled into the state-wide PLCs for their subject, and learn to use software applications for connecting and learning, for sharing ideas, experiences and seeking help. The participants therefore are likely to continue to interact with one another after the workshops, through the mailing-lists and these interactions will continue between the district and state levels, for continued support and learning.

PLCs can be formed using one of more digital methods - such as mailing lists or mobile-phone communities. The state-wide PLCs should certainly include a mailing list. Phone based interactions tend to be brief and cryptic owing to the constraints in posting long text messages. Emails can provide a method for more meaningful and intense discussions amongst teachers and mailing to the PLC Mailing list should be strongly encouraged.

PLCs as autonomous spaces

It is important these virtual networks are autonomous. While they may be established as a part of the in-service teacher education programs, it is necessary that they not be considered as dissemination forums by the department officials. The discussions must be initiated primarily by teachers, on issues they consider important for themselves - these could be academic or administrative or even mundane.

Moderation of the forums

While the forums need to be autonomous and not subject to directions of the department, there is also a need for moderation of discussions. Administrators should take on the responsibility of sharing guidelines for discussions (which would be evolved during the teacher education workshops) and facilitating adherence to. Posts which violate these guidelines require to be responded to and the authors alerted to these violations. While the enforcement need not be strict or severe it needs to be sure.