By Karen Fasimpaur
Professional learning for K-12 teachers is an exciting space with great demand and high payoff for successful models. However, much of the professional development currently done for in-service teachers reflects old, industrial-era models of learning: rows of desks, teachers standing front and center, seat time, and lecture. Current models of granting credit to teachers are similarly antiquated and are rarely designed to prompt innovation in the classroom.
The School of Ed on Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) was started to foster new models of professional learning for K-12 teachers. It is focused on open, community-based peer learning. It’s about hands-on experiences driven by each educator’s particular needs and classroom situations. It’s about connecting, collaborating, and creating, not just reading or studying.
All courses and groups in the School of Ed are free, open-licensed (CC BY), and online. The content in them can be used by anyone for any purpose.
P2PU’s School of Ed is very much a “lab” environment where participants are encouraged to try different models to see what works. This has included groups that are online and hybrid, synchronous and asynchronous, leader-driven and participant-driven, highly facilitated and self-guided, domestic and international. Activities in courses can include asynchronous conversations, collaborative projects, readings and videos, web meetings, face-to-face gatherings, making things together, and more. The range of possibilities is limited only by the imagination of the participants.
Work To Date
This project was begun in the summer of 2011 with the launch of seven courses:
- Teaching in Online and Blended Classrooms
- Student Engagement
- OER in the K-12 Classroom
- Differentiating Instruction
- Using Web 2.0 and Social Media to Encourage Deeper Learning
- Writing & the Common Core: Deeper Learning for All, and
- Multimedia and Graphics to Facilitate Deeper Learning.
Several key findings came out of this pilot. High quality facilitation is a key to success. Time for teachers is limited, and discussion among the groups was the favored method of participation. Some course topics lend themself better than others to peer learning, and overall teacher preparedness to engage in peer learning was lower than expected. The issuance of formal credit was explored, but it was not clear if the benefits would outweigh the associated challenges. Informal credit is of interest to some participants.
Building on this experience, the next round of seven courses was launched in March, 2012.
Institutional partnerships has helped to expand interest, participation, and quality for the School of Ed. In the pilot phase, partnerships with K12 Handhelds, the Education Development Center, and the National Writing Project have been a key to success.
Another round of groups will be launched in the summer of 2012. These will build on the experiences and lessons learned to date and will include more lab-type experiments to encourage groups to play with what learning experiences are most effective.
Additional partnerships are being forged. In particular, there is a good fit with educational groups that have a mandate to provide professional development and are looking for a way to do so more effectively and with greater reach. Several new partnerships are in the works, and existing ones are being expanded.
As the School of Ed grows, the issues related to incentives and credit for teachers will continue to be explored, doing things that will benefit teachers while not compromising the best parts of the program. Informal credit options such as badges and partnerships with credit-providers who are willing to be innovative are likely to be a part of this.
The School of Ed will also explore sustainability options. To date, the program has been small and funded by small donors and volunteer efforts. While the great interest we have attracted begs the question of scale, we are committed to maintaining an innovative lab environment and high quality offerings. In the shorter term, a small amount of funding is needed, which is likely to come through grants and partnerships. In the longer term, sustainability options such as income from customized services and pay for formal credit will be explored.
Karen Fasimpaur works with schools to integrate mobile technology into the curriculum by providing professional development and curriculum development. She is an evangelist for open education, an award-winning author, a blogger, an online community organizer, and a carpenter.