April 27, 2015 by Mike
This account in Education Week of a debate at the recent AERA Conference attracted my attention this week. It concerns the whole “deep or wide?” debate in EdTech professional development, with contributions from both sides of the argument that were driven by empirical research (quite rare, actually!).
Researchers from North Carolina State University adopted the “wide” side of the argument. Basically, this means making professional development available to faculty on a mass consumption basis, the logic being to reach as many teaching staff as possible and as quickly as possible. The results of this research were quite interesting. Students in deprived areas (the target population for the study) did perform better within three years when faculty had been exposed to this form of development, with classroom use of technology increasing steadily over that period. The potential rub, though, was that even among new teaching staff, the actual use of the technology for anything other than to support lecture delivery was not particularly innovative.
Adopting the opposing position, presenters from the New York Institute of Technology looked at the benefits of a “deep” approach to professional development. Here, faculty are supported in lengthy programmes of development that go way beyond simply having a series of workshops on specific technologies and applications. This more sustained approach allows deeper engagement with pedagogical aspects and with curriculum redesign. The results of this research suggest there is a knock-on benefit to students and the development of their technology skills. Teachers exposed to this type of development aren’t just more likely to become “rock star” teachers as evaluated by their students, they also set more work involving student use of technology as “cognitive tools”. In other words, they have the students use the technology more too, mainly for research and information-sharing purposes, and this collaborative approach to learning fosters better tech skills generally. As always, though, there is a flipside in that institutions adopting at “deep” philosophy are able to reach a much smaller proportion of faculty and so adoption of EdTech stays firmly in the hands of a smaller group of enthusiasts.
So, what’s the answer to all this? Deep or Wide? The answer is both, of course, although we need to be creative to achieve this within tight budgets. For institutions relatively new to widespread use of EdTech, my suggestion would be to start “wide” and reach as many faculty as possible in the early stages. Getting staff to “try to things” (however simple they may be) in their courses can have a fairly quick positive impact. Once this is starting to happen, then our EdTech enthusiasts should be encouraged to dig “deeper” in terms of their development, acting as role models for their peers as their skills progress.