In the months of June and July, the University of Idaho Doceo Center for Innovation + Learning conducted four Technology and Open Education summer institutes for practicing K-12 teachers. Each institute lasted three days, involved up to 30 participants, and was organized according to grade level, with two institutes focusing on elementary and two focusing on secondary educators.
In total, over one hundred K-12 teachers from all over the state of Idaho participated in the summer institutes, representing all grade levels, a variety of subject areas, and all regions of the state, ranging from Blackfoot and Pocatello to Boise and Meridian to Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint.
To our knowledge, there has never been any professional development experience quite like this attempted anywhere. Though some work has been done with open education, the scale and diversity of the institutes and our vision for empowering educators across the state to develop open education literacies that they can take back to their schools for enacting change represents a grassroots, broad-spectrum approach to open education and technology integration that is very unique and untested.
When applying to attend the institutes, potential participants identified subject areas and grade levels that were of most interest to them. If accepted, participants were then assigned to a professional learning community (PLC) within their institutes that was focused on their subject area or specific grade level. This meant that though overall each institute was either focused on elementary or secondary education, each participant had a more focused experience in one of five PLCs, which might have focused on a specific subject area like English, mathematics, or science.
Furthermore, the actual structure of the institutes was atypical of most K-12 professional development experiences. Each institute consisted of roughly 3 phases or days. Day one was more traditional in the sense that it was largely instructor centered and focused on instructor presentations, provocative videos, and classwide discussions. During day one, part of the time was also devoted to helping participants to get to know their PLCs and to begin making plans for how they would work together through the institute. Day two was completely different. As participants came in on day two, they immediately took a few minutes for a planning session to gather their thoughts from the day before and then began a series of development sprints where each PLC worked together to create open educational resources that would be valuable to their members’ schools and classrooms. During day two, the instructor interjected occasionally to provide guidance and support, but virtually all learning and activities were driven by the goals established by each PLC autonomously. During day three, the PLCs were given some time to wrap up their projects, the instructor provided some final guidance, and each PLC presented their products to the larger group and also made them available to the public on the web.
Throughout this process, technology was heavily used to support collaboration and communication. The open course website was made available to participants and the public before the institute even began and will remain open and available indefinitely. This was surprising to participants, because most were accustomed to professional development experiences when information was initially provided, but access and connection to that information was soon severed after the end of the professional development session. Making the information and resources perpetually available to participants gave them more freedom to focus on working on their own products and critically evaluating learning experiences as opposed to spending all of their time laboriously taking notes in preparation for the time when information resources would go away.
Within the lab space utilized for the institutes, each PLC was assigned to a horseshoe-shaped table with a display switching matrix and large-screen interactive display along with personal computing devices to connect into the table. This allowed each participant to wirelessly access information resources and work on institute materials individually but also to work within the context of a group setting where they could effectively collaborate, share, and present their information to other group participants. Throughout this process, collaborative document creation software (Google Drive) was used so that participants could work on the same document simultaneously and share resources in a common, cloud-based folder.
Before these institutes, many participants had never experienced using these types of software and hardware tools before, and most had never used them in a collaborative setting. Furthermore, the lab also provided access to a variety of other cutting-edge technologies like an interactive table, wearable devices, a telepresence videoconferencing robot, and kinesthetic learning games, which participants were given opportunities to try out and consider their applications for local school contexts.
In this way, technology was not the focus of the institutes, but was rather a tool that was used to help participants to collaborate and to envision the possibilities of open education. Because it was assumed that most teachers within the state would have had no exposure to open education, technology was also used as a marketing tool for the institute, because though most teachers may not have had initial interest in the unknown topic of open education, it was assumed that access to new technologies would be a motivator for bringing more participants into the institute.
Throughout the institutes, both quantitative and qualitative feedback were elicited from participants, and initial results reveal that the institutes were highly successful in both increasing participant knowledge of institute subject matter and also providing a positive, collaborative learning experience for participants that will empower them to become leaders for collaborative learning in their schools. A full report on institute findings is currently being prepared for publication in peer-reviewed journals, but initial, descriptive statistics have been provided in the infographic below.
Some noteworthy findings include the following:
- average participant ratings for the institutes overall were 4.86 out of 5.0 points
- almost half of participants stated that it was the best professional development experience they had ever had, and almost another half stated that it was much better than other experiences
- participants believe that the institutes were a good use their time, were of practical value in their classrooms, and helped them to think critically about technology integration
- all aspects of the institutes were rated highly, but participants most appreciated the instructor and the lab where the institute was held
- almost 3/4 of participants were veteran teachers, having taught for five years or more