Staff Development

Warning. Once you're on this train, there is no getting off. I'm talking about the never ending need for your own self-development in the area of E-learning technologies should you start to venture into this exciting field. I jumped on the train in 2006 out of a necessity to get better outcomes for our distance learners in a Youth Work training program that was still paper/snail mail based content and assessment. Prior to this I had an interest in Educational Technology, but not what soon became a passion and a career. We all have these turning points in our careers but once you have that moment when your witness technology truly enhance your own teaching, there is no going back. With a job you love comes a drive to always be better at what you do and to stay on the cutting edge of your profession. It is only when you gain a more mature understanding of technologies and their potential applications that you can make informed decisions about how Edtech can enhance your practice and in some cases the answer is NOT AT ALL. There may be no more rapidly changing and tumultuous landscape than that of Educational Technologies and the professional development requirements of those who work in this area are endless, epic and complex. Scared? Good, let's do this then.

What do you see?

a digital learning object with video and a multi-colored navigation area from IFE Learn

What do you see when you look at this learning object? On the surface it looks like an attractive web interface with pretty colors and a video in the middle. After completing many E-learning projects the questions I would now ask about this learning object are things like;

  • What does this look like on a mobile, a desktop?
  • Do they own that stock image?
  • Does this represent one module of many?
  • What type of video format is being used?
  • Is there a transcript or text alternative for that video?
  • Are those icons PNG, SVG or something else?
  • How fast is the load time from a 3G device?

You will no doubt have many more questions you would ask and the point isn't to over analyze this example. It is my opinion that educators need to start seeing what is 'under the hood' and have enough understanding about digital content to ask the right questions to make decisions that lead to the best outcomes for learners. Staff Development in the area of EdTech needs to therefore be about seeing beyond the surface of things.

Key Areas (for now)

There is no road map for the future and you cannot pin it down. You can't build capabilities in people who work in a rapidly changing sector without drawing out some general concepts and key principles. E-learning as a multidisciplinary field requires a variety of skills and the ability to grasp generalized concepts between technologies and Educational theory.

For some years I have been working towards a professional development framework for educators in the use of technologies to enhance teaching and learning. I can readily admit I am floundering at this task as the categories or technologies keep both expanding and merging at a canter and attempts to describe their impact on Education both informally and formally are often lacking real-life examples and we end up with yet another info-graphic of BLOOMS taxonomy decorated with Web2.0 icons #shudder. The following are some key areas I've come across and I'm always open to hear what general threads or categories of learning others see coming through as E-learning as a part of Education evolves.

  • Real-Time Facilitation (Synchronous Delivery)
  • Designing Learning Environments
  • Developing Digital Content
  • Facilitating Online Communities
  • Productivity Tools (for an Educator)
  • Content Aggregation and Search

It does seem to me that each sector in Education (HEP, VET, P-12, Workplace Training) has unique and effective ways of enhancing education delivery through technology. A research project I would love to be part of would be to measure the benefits of cross sector exposure/pollination in E-learning. There is a need for Evidence Based Practice to be given more weight in the Education Sector, but it is difficult to find research that is current and transferable to other contexts. I'm currently looking into research methodologies that could capture meaningful data in a rapidly changing context.

"Staff development, eLearning and new technologies all that can be a very tricky mix. What I wanted to share quickly in this video is that I have found that instead of concentrating on the technologies you start by talking about what are peoples common goals. And with that as your focus, you can basically get anyone to do anything. The technology just becomes the tool that helps that to happen."

Jonathan Nalder, JNXYZ Education

Deep and Wide in E-learning PD

There is a case for 'learn a little bit of everything' when using Educational Technologies. If you are doing a straightforward task like making an ePub eBook, there is an App for that. The need for wider knowledge comes when you want to customise an ePub eBook with extra enhancements, media and styles you will need to at least know a little bit about ePub3, CSS3, HTML5, XHTML, JavaScript and that is just a quick list. You often don't need to know a whole language, but you DO often need to know what your looking at to identify what technologies are being used so you can identify the currency, function, complexity, design approach of a learning object. If you rely on outside help, then all the more reason to know a little bit about what is under the hood so you don't get screwed over by the mechanic. Many of the systems or digital assets you will design are actually made up of multiple technologies. This is the reason to be a Jack of ALL trades. But there are certainly advantages to moving towards being a Jack of MOST trades and master of SOME.

To Code or not to Code

A guitar tutor takes the time to learn about the types of wood used to make instruments. A tennis coach finds out about the materials used to make a tennis court and the steps required to build one. An English teacher does a short course in calligraphy and discovers the process behind typography design from letters to punctuation marks. The deeper and broader your knowledge in an area the better teacher you can be.

Francis Kneebone speaking at HTML5 conference

You may be asking yourself, how much do I need to know about the code that sits behind Digital Content. If you're like me in recent years you learnt a little bit of HTML, then stretched yourself by learning some CSS, just so you could take more control of your online content, or to hack an LMS module to make it look pretty. But not many educators go beyond learning HTML or CSS. More advanced coding languages like JavaScript, Ruby or Objective C take more personal investment of time and 'mental' energy. Many of us can get away with never learning any languages beyond HTML/CSS, but what if we did? What could be possible?

Many educators begin to develop their own ICT skills by playing with free resources and tools on the web (Prezi, Youtube, Ning). At some point educators may learn to use an LMS and it's components for creating content and or designing assessment. Opportunities are opening up for educators to use code to make their dream learning tools, through Learning Tools Interoperability, essentially allowing developers to make LMS Plugins written in any programming language.

"Learning Tools Interoperability provides a single framework or standard way of integrating rich learning applications, with platforms like learning management systems, portals, or other systems from which applications can be launched"

There is one argument against learning code, that says we can save time and pain by outsourcing to overseas talent at cheap rates. My fear is that the over use of outsourcing and 'rapid' design tools could lead to a brain drain amongst educators, leaving us only floating on the surface of things.

Outside the Edtech Cliché

What the E-learning profession needs more than anything is to get out a little more. People like me need to learn from people outside of the Edtech Cliché including Graphic Designers, Cloud Computing Entrepreneurs and Social Media experts. The result is Professional Development for educators by people who are the best in their field. Techsperts outside the Cliché may not always make the connection between technology and education. That is your job, not theirs. So go and listen to audio engineers describe how they aim to communicate ideas to an audience, read books about computer game design and watch documentaries about the development of quantum computing because the Edtech Cliché is stuck in a bubble of its own breath and the only way to grow in a multi-discipline area I believe is to join hands with the pure disciplines, to learn from the masters, and only when we see opportunities for technology to truly enhance Educational practice then we find our role to guide, encourage and demonstrate what is possible.

Go and...

  1. Join Codecademy and learn HTML, CSS and more...

  2. Ways to stay current and yet emerging in EdTech;
    • Join Twitter - you heard me go and join twitter #now #stillwaiting

    • Follow Geeks, Coders, Designers, Philosophers, sometimes Edtech Professionals

    • Be an early adopter, play, experiment, critique and measure a technologies worth getting ahead with

    • Spend 30min every week learning more about a technology YOU ALREADY USE.
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