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Alternative Professional Development Initiatives - featured May 28, 2010

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Alternative Professional Development Initiatives

By: Christopher R. Bugaj, MA SLP, AT Trainer - A.T. Tipscast, The Blog

There are very few who would say that learning new things is a burden. Everyone wants to learn something new. Everyone covets new strategies, new skills, new research or new techniques that will enhance abilities and ultimately make life easier. However, finding the time to learn something new is a constant challenge. Everyday responsibilities gobble up free time faster than Uncle Henry eating the last piece of pumpkin pie during Thanksgiving dinner. Soccer practice, gymnastics, dance, wrestling, Tae Kwan Do, homework, preparing meals, listening to Sis on the phone complain about Mom, and more steal the precious time one has to learn something new. When those responsibilities aren’t soaking up the time and a few free minutes do roll around we’re all confronted with a difficult choice. Do we spend those moments doing what we should do or do we spend those moments doing what we want to do? Jack Bauer, Ryan Seacrest, and Tom Bergeron might be calling. Edward Cullen’s glittering seductions might be too strong to resist. Which of the old high school gang might have a new post on Facebook? Better check. Everyday responsibilities meshed with the desire to do something fun leave little time for professional development.

Traditional forms of professional development conjure visions of rows of people packed into a stuffy room listening to some so-called “expert” ramble on about this or that. Unless that speaker is a hilarious stand-up comedian or giving out rare diamonds, the thought of sitting through an after-work workshop isn’t all that enticing. More recently, technology is being used to alter the traditional model with ways to make professional development accessible anywhere, including at home and via the Internet. Multimedia slideshows, videos, webinars, and virtual worlds (such as Second Life) are being used to house content that can be accessed from locations that have a high-speed Internet connection. However, the producers of this form of professional development make three general, and often incorrect, assumptions about the person who is to receive the content at home. The first assumption is that the potential participants have high-speed Internet access at home. Second, the assumption exists that participants know how to use these tools with minimal support. Third, there is the belief that people have the time to experience the content at home. In order to provide effective professional development outside of the traditional “sit-in-chair” model, without making these assumptions, alternative professional development methodologies could be employed.

Consider the following three methods to disseminate content aimed at professional development outside of work hours that slide into a busy, hectic, even chaotic schedule with relative ease:

Short Videos Burned To DVD
The popularity of resources like YouTube and TeacherTube have reinforced the idea that not only do people enjoy watching videos but that they prefer to watch short videos. No matter how entertaining the content of a professional development video the longer a video is, the greater the chance segments of the audience will lose interest and tune out. A good rule of thumb is the 7-Up rule. Once a production hits seven minutes in length then time is up. If a video goes over seven minutes, well then absolutely don’t go over eight. Eight Is Enough. Once a number of videos have been created consider burning that compilation to a DVD that can be accessed by staff via a check out system, similar to the service Netflix provides. A set of questions contained in a booklet could be developed to accompany the DVD. As a participant watches the videos the questions in the booklet can be answered proving that the videos were understood. Once the entire DVD has been experienced the DVD and booklet can be returned to receive credit. Due to the brevity of each video a person could watch one segment of the DVD during each commercial of their favorite television show, experience the entire contents encapsulated on the DVD, and still not miss a quip of the brilliant but callous doctor with a bad leg from New Jersey. Although this strategy still assumes some technology knowledge on the part of the participant, the technology being employed (the DVD player) is much more widely used and accessible than that of most web-based tools.

The Assistive Technology Team for Loudoun County Public Schools implemented a DVD workshop titled “A.T. Tonight” in the Fall of 2004. The DVD featured five videos, each approximately 5 minutes in length, on a variety of topics related to utilizing technologies already present in schools to assist students. Any educator in the county was given the opportunity to check-out the DVD using the county’s on-line staff development website. Once a participant signed up they were sent a copy of the DVD along with a question booklet. The booklet contained five questions per video serving to reinforce the main points made in each video. The final page of the booklet asked for participant feedback about the videos and the style of professional development. Participants were not given a timeframe in which to return the DVD and were encouraged to keep the DVD for as long as necessary. Upon return of the DVD and completed booklet participants were given a certificate containing information about how they scored. Participants received one hour worth of staff development credit for completion of the workshop. Within the first year the DVD workshop greatly surpassed the number of participants when compared to other forms of staff development workshops. Furthermore, the DVD was checked out by educators with varying responsibilities, including general educators, special educators, and administrative personnel. Feedback gathered about this form of professional development was overwhelmingly positive. During the 04-05 school year an additional five videos were produced and A.T. Tonight, Volume 2 was created. Volume 2 maintained the same methodology as the first volume but contained additional special features including subtitles, storyboards, DVD-ROM content, and bloopers. Volume 2 proved to be even more successful than Volume 1. Both volumes continue to available for school personnel and the videos are available to the public by selecting the “Video Library” link from Based on the popularity of the format A.T. Tonight, Volume 3 is currently in production.

Nearly everyone commutes. Some have short commutes, some have long commutes, some have lonely commutes, and others wish they had lonely commutes. Although there are different methods of transport depending on where you live, many people drive to and from their place of employment. For that time spent driving people are trapped with nowhere to run. That time could be spent fiddling with the AM/FM dial to find the latest morning zoo radio show, tapping away on the satellite radio to choose from the myriad of choices, or jamming to some of the same old classic 80’s tunes over and over again (you loved them back then and you still love now) or that time could be spent learning new strategies to enhance everyday professional practices. There are an incredible number of podcasts available for free on an array of topics that could be downloaded, burned to CD and distributed via a checkout basis to anyone who wants to listen. Examples related specifically to speech-language pathology and assistive technology include ASHA’s aptly named podcast “ASHA Podcast”, StutterTalk, Speech-Language Pathology Praxis Exam, MSHA Radio- Mississippi Speech-Language-Hearing Association MSHA Radio- Mississippi Speech-Language-Hearing Association and (a personal favorite) the award-winning A.T.TIPSCAST- Assistive Technology: Tools In Public Schools A booklet containing questions about each episode of the podcast could be developed to prove that the participant listened and understood the content of each episode. People don’t need an .mp3 player or even need to understand how podcasting works in order to participate if the shows are burned to an audio CD. The only technology people need to use is the CD player in the car.

Using a multimedia tool, such as Microsoft PowerPoint or Google Docs, a “Strategy-A-Day” presentation could be created. One solitary technique, tip, best practice, or any particle of knowledge that needs dissemination could be embedded per slide of a presentation and then shared daily with staff. This presentation could be distributed by changing the image that displays on the background of each computer within a network, shared via a daily e-mail update, or produced as an old-fashioned, paper-based daily tear-off calendar.

Although these methods could serve as standalone “workshops” any professional development is enhanced with a meaningful follow-up activity. Whether face-to-face or over a shared virtual environment (like a forum on a website) individuals who have participated in one of these workshops could discuss what they’ve learned and, more importantly, share how they’ve used what they’ve learned. Integration activities where participants share or show how they’ve used the content in a workshop serve to enrich the entire experience, spark additional ideas among participants, and further embed the newly acquired knowledge.

Acquisition of new knowledge is usually highly coveted but finding the time to learn something new isn’t always easy. Implementing alternative professional development workshops demonstrates to the participants that the producers of the content recognize time as a valuable commodity. Respecting the time of a staff member can lead to positive attitudes about all forms of professional development rather than gripes and groans. Utilizing tools that everyone has access to and that are common place eliminates any inequities in what is available in the home environment or potential resistance due to fear of unknown technology. Once participants get a taste of the success offered by these new methods of professional development they’ll begin to crave additional workshops that implement the same methodologies resulting in an overall increase in job performance and satisfaction… in no time at all.

Featured Organization and Author: Christopher R. Bugaj, A.T. and The Practical (and Fun) Guide to Assistive Technology in Public Schools:

Christopher R. Bugaj, MA CCC-SLP earned his Bachelor of Science in Education at the State University of New York at Fredonia and earned his Masters of Arts in Speech Pathology at Kent State University. Chris is the host of the A.T. Tipscast an award-winning podcast featuring different tools that can be used to differentiate instruction. Chris is the co-author of The Practical Guide to Assistive Technology in Public Schools: Building or Improving Your District’s AT Team which will be available in April 2010. Chris has presented at a variety of local, state, and national conferences and is an active member of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. He currently works as an assistive technology trainer for Loudoun County Public Schools in Northern Virginia as well as an adjunct professor for George Mason University. Chris is also the co-producer and co-author of the popular Night Light Stories podcast that features original stories for children of all ages.

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Tags: Article 28 May 2010 Assistive Technology Professional Development