Monday, October 27, 2014

The Professional Development Reformation

Two weeks ago, I attended a TEC-SIG meeting in Austin. TEC-SIG is a special interest group component of the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) and consists of mostly directors of technology and instructional technologists. 

We had the fantastic keynote speaker, George Couros, who spoke on Leading Innovative Change. While many things stuck with me during his presentation, a particular idea stands out from this quote by Will Richardson: "...teachers should be responsible for their own PD now. Kids wouldn't wait for a blogging workshop. Adults shouldn't either."

I am someone who provides staff development and I am never really happy with the type of staff development I provide. I am constantly trying to figure out new methods for engaging people into learning. I try to undo, redo, and shift professional development to be more participatory. I also don't like the model of PD expertise that limits knowledge to only one person in the room. I have moved around my fair share of districts to know that there should be more than one person who is the expert in something should they move again. 

So this Will Richardson quote has been stuck in my mind and now written on large format paper on my wall to help me develop a new way to help teachers develop their own professional learning and to enhance the entire system to be more dependent on itself instead of just 1 person.

And at this point of the school year, it is a good time to start asking questions about the format of professional development in order to develop new ideas for teachers to access in spring and summer. 

In years past, I researched how businesses group and then train their staff. I've studied books on gatherings, groupings, gamestorming, and collaborations. All these topics tied to adult learning. I've tried new methods for getting groups to collaborate and share. There have been some successes but an overall impact on shifting professional learning has not occurred. 

My eye has now turned toward the idea of SOLE - Self Organized Learning Environments, developed by Sugata Mitra from his TED Talk on "Build a School in the Cloud". While this is directed toward student learning, I am working on developing this for some teacher professional development. 

SOLE learning is when students are fueled by answering their own created BIG questions. In the toolkit, the following are the guidelines for running a SOLE learning environment:
  • Students form own groups of 4 and develop their own questions to explore.
  • Students can look at what other groups are doing and take the information back to their own group.
  • Students can move around freely.
  • Students can change groups anytime.
  • Students can talk and discuss between groups.
  • Students have the opportunity to share what they learned in their SOLE.
In all my years as a trainer, I have been part of committees that study professional development and look at course offerings to change up the catalog to reflect what teachers want to learn. I've developed catalogs and even curated online resources for teachers to access outside the catalog for further learning. I've hosted, participated in, and sent staff to conferences, unconferences, miniconferences, and learning events outside the district PD catalog. 

But, all of these involved having the guide of the district-built staff development catalog and calendar. Time has and is the impetus for staff development. It is the award system for credits. It is the organizer for space use. And it is the most limiting challenge to learning. Based on all this, my question is:

What if instead of providing a professional development catalog, our teachers self-organized by forming and answering BIG questions related to their field? 

In the SOLE method, teachers would organize into small groups to not only develop the initial questions but also develop the definitions based on further questions. Multiple groups covering the same questions will develop different perspectives to be shared. It seems to be a more action-research professional learning community when applied to adults. 

If this shift was to occur, how would professional development "credit" be awarded? Currently, credits are awarded by time spent in professional learning. A half-day awards 3 credits or a full day awards 6 credits. Our district also has distinguished levels of achievement for staff in how many hours of professional development they achieve each year. A change from a catalog would need to take this into account as well. 

Also, what is the final product? In current staff development, we award credit based only on time. If time isn't the factor, do we provide a quiz to measure what was learned? Or could we look at measuring with a tangible outcome? What is this tangible outcome? How do we "grade" it?

Do we get rid of the catalog completely or are some teachers needing to rely on the catalog for their learning?

These are just my beginning questions. I am reading, watching, and listening to ideas for answers. Perhaps the activity itself is a SOLE professional development idea question for us to develop. I definitely welcome responses and more questions about this. Maybe we can develop a new way to develop professional learning. Doesn't all learning start with a question?

Your feedback is welcome and encouraged!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday Fad: Disposing of DIVX

In 1998, Circuit City was a competitor with other multibrand consumer electronic stores across the nation. It was second in recognition and sales to BestBuy. At a time when DVDs were already successful, Circuit City and partners invested in a new technology coined DIVX. The DIVX DVDs were meant to be a disposable rental for $4 and up to 48-hours of viewing. After the 48-hours, the video would no longer play unless you paid for an extension to view or purchased a limited license fee to store it longer. 

To the consumer, the sales point was the concept of "No returns. No late fees." Previous to Netflix Internet streaming, the idea of disposable DVDs wasn't bad. You didn't have to send them back or drive over to your local video store. You simply watched the movie and then threw out the disc when you were done. It wasn't the best thing for the environment, but hey it was the 90s!

Also, you had to purchase a DIVX player which connected by phone line to the DIVX servers to track views over time and to institute that 48-hour view ability. 

Let's just say DIVX didn't do very well. Here's why:

1. Cost: A DIVX player initially cost twice as much as a DVD player. Price dropped a few months later to increase demand but it may have been too late.

2. Availability: DIVX players were sold only through Circuit City and a few of their partner stores. Blockbuster was approached to provide DIVX discs for rental but they turned it down. 

3. Limited Features: DVDs had extra trailers and behind the scenes features. DIVX had maybe one trailer and no extra features. Also, the aspect ratio of the video was standard viewing. It didn't adjust for the different sized televisions of the home viewer. 

4. Limited Titles: DIVX first released with only 10 available titles but within three months had expanded its library to over 400 movie titles. By the end of 1999, DIVX was no longer a viable product and Circuit City discontinued selling DIVX players. They even began offering a $100 rebate to customers who returned their DIVX players by the end of 1999.

In previous posts, I have shared a similar thread for why there are technology failures mostly tied to creating something not really needed by the market. DIVX failed because DVD was successful. The technology was the same but the only difference was you were basically throwing away a DVD you rented. Disposing of something you just purchased wasn't a good selling point. 

I think this is vital to remember as more technology becomes available and as we, the consumers, look at what we are investing in for our future. Does this current technology solve a current problem? And is that problem worth solving with technology? 

All in all, Circuit City experienced a loss of $337 million from DIVX and it was hailed as many technology insiders as one of the top 25 tech failures of the 1990s.