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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
May 1, 2010
Vol. 67
No. 8

Professional Learning 2.0

Moodle. Wikis. Twitter. Ning. It's a whole new way of talking about professional learning.

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Three scenarios describe how educators usually share information in schools to promote professional learning.
Scenario 1: The principal finds a great article or book. She creates a routing slip to circulate the information among a select group—or, on a highly ambitious day, among the entire staff. The resource typically ends up either in someone's take-home bag mixed among papers to correct or in a to-do pile, one of many around the room.
Scenario 2: A faculty member attends a conference and hears something that really helps his thinking about his instructional practice. The teacher shares the idea around the lunch table, but in the hustle and bustle of daily life in school, the other teachers have all but forgotten the idea by the time they return to their classrooms.
Scenario 3: The instructional leadership team meets in the spring to plan professional learning for the upcoming school year. The team plans the eight faculty meetings on the basis of what is currently happening in the school. But when the new school year starts, emerging issues in the building throw the plan off schedule, and administrivia, such as compliance training, become the new required elements. Just like last year, the plan that promised eight hours of action-packed professional learning becomes three and one-half hours of polite learning that fails to tackle the really important issues in the school.

False Assumptions about Professional Learning

The sharing of resources in each of these scenarios is certainly well intentioned, but the professional learning that results is neither sustained, targeted, ongoing, nor job embedded. These scenarios speak to models that rely on false, yet culturally embedded assumptions about professional learning.

Assumption 1: Passing information on is enough.

This assumption considers the principal, coordinator, or superintendent as the key staff member with access to resources to share. The model offers a top-down hierarchy in which the information serves as capital to dole out to those who need it or who are most willing to read or pass on the resource. Rarely does the conversation extend beyond the routing slip.
The model of the administrator as the disseminator and keeper of information is well engrained in most learning organizations; teachers who find a resource don't usually route it on their own. Relying on a single person within the organization to share resources and provide access to information merely pays lip service to professional learning. Principals can say with pride that they share resources—a step in the right direction—but simply passing resources from one person to another rarely triggers the substantive and purposeful conversations that are the heart of professional learning.

Assumption 2: Insight must come from outside.

This assumption relies on sending staff members outside the school to learn from various experts rather than tapping into the thinking of the educators in the school. It's assumed that staff members will informally share with colleagues the information they have gleaned from these activities; no formal structures exist for discussion or dissemination of this information. Those who hold this assumption don't always value homegrown expertise.
Schools often rely on outside experts to inspire their staff members to think differently about their instructional practices. Although this can be valuable, what if only a handful of staff members hear the speaker and the only outlet for sharing the information is around the faculty lunch table? What if a school never promotes collaboration and conversation among staff members to access their thinking on the topic? What if the school always looks outward, rarely considering internal expertise? How then does the school support new and creative thinking from within?

Assumption 3: Planning means learning.

This assumption equates professional learning with having a great plan. Even when the plan for learning derails, its creators can say, "But we had a great plan!" This assumption allows professional learning to be cast aside when the school needs time to address more "pressing" issues.
Learning organizations need to develop long-range plans, but they often develop such a rigid plan that it leaves no room to address emerging issues. In addition, the professional development planned for faculty meetings is usually scattered; rarely do such meetings offer the time needed for focused and sustained conversations about teaching and learning. Another drawback of professional learning plans is that because they were developed the previous year, they are typically based on last year's—not the current year's—needs.

Upgrading Professional Learning

Each of these false assumptions takes hold because of a reliance on traditional models for professional development. The school goes through the motions of professional learning, but its approach is based more on the illusion of collaboration than on substantive, ongoing, sustained conversation.
Although traditional learning structures certainly play a role in the learning life of teachers, we need to update the approach. Web 2.0 technologies can help schools create structures for sustained, complex, and meaningful professional learning.

Structure 1: Share access to information.

A 2nd grade teacher who is establishing a reading workshop in her classroom needs some suggestions for strong model texts—published pieces of writing whose ideas, structure, or craft can inspire students to write something original. Her district has established a Ning where teachers can post questions. She asks a question there about model texts. Within a few days, she receives some great ideas, titles, and reflections on the topic from colleagues across the district.
The teacher has also sought out blogs by teachers who have developed reading workshops. She gleans some strong titles and good ideas from those sources as well. In fact, she contributes some of her own thinking to the conversation on the Ning forum.
The Web 1.0 mind-set looked at professional learners as consumers of information. Teachers, for example, might go on the Internet to look up content created by someone else. Web 2.0 tools are based on the understanding that professional learners can be both consumers and producers of information. Web 2.0 tools such as Moodles, wikis, forums, blogs, Nings, and RSS feeds can provide access to opportunities to consume, create, and share information and ideas (see "Defining the Lingo").
Using these Web 2.0 tools, any member of the learning organization can post information and resources to which everyone has access. The routing slip has now turned into inclusive, generalized sharing of information and resources that enables teachers to reflect, ask questions, and make connections.
Using Twitter, for example, teachers can tailor the professional conversation as they "follow" particular education thinkers. The links users share on Twitter provide access to other resources and emergent thinking in the field, with levels of diversity and complexity that the routed resources could never touch.
Forums provide the opportunity to post questions or share information, resulting in long-term, sustained conversations around teaching and learning. What is uniquely powerful about forums is the ongoing nature of the conversations. As teachers access resources and tackle problems in individual classrooms, they can enter the conversations and share information and ideas. Forum conversations provide a chronicle of professional thinking and become a valuable professional resource.

Structure 2: Look inward for insight.

A principal attends a national conference and wants to share his learning with the faculty. His school has established a Moodle containing an RSS feed of the school's Twitter account. The principal uses the Twitter account to live tweet as he attends the conference sessions so that his faculty can learn right along with him, even though they are hundreds of miles away.
On the basis of one of the principal's tweets focusing on differentiated instruction, the library media specialist posts a new journal article on the topic and establishes a wiki on the Moodle for teachers to share strategies around the ideas in the article. The principal's initial conference tweets have resulted in an ever-growing treasure trove of shared instructional strategies based on the latest thinking in the field, along with authentic examples of practice from teachers' classrooms.
Instead of relying solely on the expertise of others, teachers using Web 2.0 tools can synthesize what they've learned and distribute this expertise across the organization. Using Moodle, teachers can share their conference notes and ideas from professional learning opportunities with the entire learning organization.

Structure 3: Protect learning time.

The music teacher logs onto the Moodle to read the principal's weekly newsletter, which is posted to an updates forum. Instead of using faculty meeting or planning time, the principal has embedded a Jing—a video tutorial—in the newsletter that visually illustrates how to use the new tracking and payroll system. The Jing enables teachers to learn about the new system as well as ask questions through the forum. The principal has also posted a link in the newsletter to a great article on building cultural norms.
In the calendar part of the newsletter, the principal references an upcoming school concert. The music teacher seizes this opportunity to post an invitation to faculty members and provide some important details. Being able to post to the forum in response to the information eliminates the need for lots of e-mails about the concert—e-mails that clog mailboxes or that teachers may accidentally delete. The newsletters are archived so that teachers can easily access the resources, responses, information, and links provided each week.
One of the challenges for schools committed to ongoing professional learning is retaining the value of the conversations and learning that occur during such opportunities as faculty meetings. Schools can now do this using Web 2.0 tools.
Shared e-mail folders, forums, or Moodles enable communications that focus not only on upcoming events but also on data and other information that the school would otherwise share through binders and countless paper copies. Staff members can update information and share ideas around the resources in real time.
Using technology to take care of the administrivia that can creep into monthly faculty meetings can protect time for professional learning. Through forums, faculty members can converse and share resources before and after the meeting.

Learning 2.0 in Action

At the beginning of the 2009–10 school year, Northwood Elementary School established a Moodle as a protected place for professional learning and conversation. Located in a suburb of Buffalo, New York, Northwood is a K–6 school in the West Seneca Central School District; the school has 50 teachers and serves approximately 600 students. As the school principal, I work with the library media specialist to maintain the Moodle. The Moodle is open to all faculty members and houses a variety of learning opportunities.

Feedback on Lesson Plans

Teachers submit their weekly lesson plans electronically and receive my feedback in their own lesson plan drop box. Although the Moodle is public and collaborative, the lesson plans are visible only to the teacher and me. The feedback component of the drop box is set up as a wiki to promote ongoing, private, and individualized conversation between teacher and principal.


Teachers catch up on the latest professional reading and thinking using the Twitter account linked to the Moodle. When faculty members attend conferences, they use the Twitter account to update their colleagues in real time on the learning taking place. The thinkers and associations that faculty members follow on Twitter—such as ASCD, Education Week, Heidi Hayes Jacobs, and authors Daniel Pink and Stephen Covey, among others—align directly with Northwood's curricular and instructional norms and expectations. Teachers are encouraged to frequently check in to the school's Twitter account to update themselves on relevant professional discussions and reading.


Teachers stay updated on what is happening around the school by reading the weekly newsletter housed on the Moodle. Publishing the newsletter on the Moodle enables me to add resources, links, and information to which teachers have ongoing access. It also enables staff members to comment on and converse with one another about the information presented.


Forums are set up for discussion around a variety of topics: reading workshop, writing workshop, differentiated instruction, great reads, meeting the needs of learners with special needs, and Moodle help. On one forum, teachers recently shared observations about their students' progress in reading workshop as they implemented the model across the building. Another forum emphasized reading workshop structures, strategies, and texts.


Each month, teachers participate in professional learning in faculty meetings that are conducted as workshops. At the first meeting of the year, groups of teachers, working by grade level or in a specific area, develop essential questions for each meeting date. The overarching essential question posed at the first meeting was simply, What do you need to learn? At the November meeting, the K–2 group discussed the question, How do retelling and other comprehension activities fit into the reading workshop? For the January meeting, the physical education department explored how to build more differentiated learning into its classes.
Wikis for each group are set up on the Moodle so that staff members can build meeting agendas collaboratively and post relevant resources both before and after the meeting. During the meeting, one of the team members captures the work that occurs around the essential questions—the conversation that ensues, the questions that team members pose, and various resources to consider—and records it in the wiki as the meeting progresses. After the meeting is over, a complete record of the learning is available on the wiki. All faculty members can continue to share, add to, and comment on the work undertaken.


Teachers can contribute to the school's list of audio/video resources as well as to the Northwood glossary on the Moodle. Both components enable teachers to share resources and continue the challenging work of creating a common vocabulary across the school. When the U.S. secretary of education was interviewed on TV, the video clip was embedded in the Moodle for all faculty members to watch. The speech teachers have recently expanded the school glossary, adding definitions related to speech therapy that classroom teachers can use in their own practice.


Teachers use individual blogs on the Moodle to reflect on the influence this medium has had on their professional practice. They often comment on the flexible nature of the Moodle, which enables them to collaborate and reflect on issues when they are ready to engage around a topic, and on the open and interactive exchanges around teaching and learning. In addition, this practice has opened up discussions of how to use blogs in the classroom with students.

Emerging Issues

Schools can add blogs, forums, and wikis in response to emerging issues. For example, when our school engaged in a discussion related to emerging transiency issues within our student population, we created a spreadsheet and graph that compared the reading levels of new students with those of existing students and with district expectations. We posted this data in a forum with some guiding questions, providing teachers with the opportunity to respond, converse, and create an action plan.
When the school needs to share a new procedure, staff members can create Jings or forums for teachers to use. For example, we created a Jing that showed teachers how to use the Moodle, and we posted it in the glossary on the Moodle as a reference for teachers as they interacted with this tool for the first time.
Staff members can also use a wiki to assess interest and build a collaborative agenda when planning an upcoming professional learning opportunity.

A Powerful Blend

Together, the faculty and administration at Northwood have built a professional learning resource that supports their work in the classroom, promotes communication, and creates connections as part of an overall blended professional learning environment. In fact, the work on the Moodle has strengthened face-to-face interactions. Teachers who may not have had the opportunity to interact daily now can access the thinking of their colleagues. For example, it has become increasingly common for faculty members to make face-to-face connections on the basis of a forum post.
With Moodle and other Web 2.0 tools, teachers no longer need to go to a specific place for professional development or wait to hear someone from the outside tell them what they need to do. Rather, ongoing professional learning is now part of the culture of the school. As they collaboratively construct understanding, teachers and administrators alike define who they are, how they communicate, and how they can best serve their students.

Defining the Lingo

Web 2.0: This term describes a new generation of Web services and applications that offer the opportunity to collaborate, share, and create content through social networking tools, blogs, wikis, Nings, Moodles, RSS feeds, and so on. In contrast to noninteractive Web sites where users passively view information that others have created, a Web 2.0 site enables users to interact with other users or edit content.

Moodle: Originally an acronym for Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment, Moodle is an open-source course management system that educational institutions use to provide an organized interface for e-learning. Many people use the activity modules—such as forums, databases, and wikis—to build collaborative communities of learning around their subject matter. Anyone who uses Moodle is a Moodler.

Wiki: A wiki is a database of pages that visitors can edit using their own Web browser. A good example of a large wiki is Wikipedia, a free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

Twitter: Twitter keeps users continually informed of timely bits of information in a variety of fields. Users send and receive short messages known astweets, which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters. Users post their tweets via mobile texting, instant messaging, or the Web. Following someone on Twitter means getting their updates, or tweets. It someone gets your updates, they're following you. Popularity on Twitter usually refers to the number of followers a user has.

Blog: A blog is a contraction of the term Web log. It's a type of Web site, usually maintained by an individual, that features regular commentaries on a topic, includes links to resources, and often embeds such materials as graphics or videos.

Ning: Ning is an online platform for people to create their own social networks. Users converse on a specific topic through forum posts and build resources by embedding videos and linking to articles and Web sites. For example, administrators in a book study group might use a Ning, in conjunction with face-to-face discussion, to enrich their learning experience.

Jing: Jing is free software that adds visuals to online conversations. Users can create a narrated video or tutorial, snap a picture of something on their computer screen, or give verbal feedback on a project and send this material over the Web or in an e-mail or instant message. Students might, for example, record themselves working on a math problem at home and then e-mail the file containing this video to their teacher or upload the video to their own Web page.

RSS Feeds: RSS—or Really Simple Syndication—is a family of Web feed formats that enable subscribers to get updates on frequently updated materials, such as blog entries and news headlines. Users receive the latest content from selected sites without having to visit them one at a time. Teachers can set up RSS feeds to easily access the latest thinking and news in the education world from selected thinkers and sources.

Catherine Huber is a principal at Northwood Elementary School.

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