September 05


4 Examples: Making Online Professional Development Count

EMILY_HAMLINBy Emily Hamlin, Instructional Designer

Small tweaks can accumulate into big changes.

Maybe we’ve heard this before in the context of diet and exercise, the power of the everyday language we use, car maintenance, flossing … and yet when it comes to online learning environments we sometimes approach it as an “all or nothing” endeavor.  We’re either going to fully commit to blending our classrooms or we aren’t; there’s no “in between.”  Right?

Along with my colleague, Susan Fine, I recently spent a few weeks facilitating the Online Learning Environment course, or OLE 1, where we engaged in an exploratory dialogue with sixteen member school faculty from all over the map: Mexico to Massachusetts, South Carolina to Hawaii, Pennsylvania to California.  Not only was this group geographically diverse, but their school experiences varied from veteran educators to beginning teachers, including middle school faculty, upper school administrators, a physical education teacher, an Online Learning Coordinator, and an Academic Director of Studies.  While interest in talking about blended learning on a theoretical level spurred some of our conversation, participants were eager to get talking about what blended learning can actually look like for them and in their schools.

As a culminating exercise for the course, participants rejected the intimidating idea that blending some aspect of their work meant that they’d have to overhaul all that they do.  Instead, each person in the course tackled one thing — an assignment, a project, a unit, a meeting — and designed (or redesigned) an assessment or activity to take place in an online setting.  I wanted to share a few examples from what they’ve created:

1)  This Middle School Spanish unit on “la casa” will engage students with their homes, analyzing their families’ energy use and comparing that to their own online research of per-person energy use in Spanish-speaking countries around the world.  Students will chat with a classmate on Skype, sharing when and where their families are using energy; additionally, students will place pin markers on a shared class Google Map that will pinpoint “average watts per person” around the globe. Finally, small groups will apply what they’ve learned through their local and global research to create a short Public Service Announcement video for their school community on what students should/n’t do around the house to save energy.


2) Another participant wants to refresh the Faculty and Staff annual summer reading exercise by engaging community members online prior to returning to campus.  Faculty and staff choose one of five summer reading options that align with school goals and mission and are asked to briefly consider one of the following questions just before returning to campus for faculty meetings:

  1. Complete this sentence: “I intend to apply the ideas in this book this year by _____________.”  You are limited to just one sentence.
  2. Tell the story of the book in 6 words, in the tradition of Ernest Hemingway:
  3. Choose your favorite page of the book.  You are limited to just one page number.

Once on campus, faculty and staff gather in their chosen book groups, using their answers to the prompts to generate conversation, mindmaps, and then prepare a 3-minute presentation for the full faculty on the book’s implications for their professional practice. Digital documentation of the exercise will be collected — photos, videos, mindmap images — and shared back with faculty on asynchronous platforms throughout the year to revisit the goals and conversation.  Faculty and staff will take a brief Google Form survey at the end of the professional day to assess usefulness and enjoyment of the exercise.

3) An Upper School AP European History teacher will tackle the Reunification of Europe by having students apply their knowledge of the evolution of European propaganda combined with independent student research regarding the addition of new member countries into the EU to create a commercial advertisement.  In small groups, students are charged with persuading voting members to join the European Union.  Their process will include use of a shared Google Doc to brainstorm ideas and allow the teacher to check in remotely on their progress, an online help forum and discussion board to gather peer feedback on their work throughout the process, video sharing of the commercial itself, and online office hours with their teacher because the project will be taking place at the end of students’ senior year when this school allows for flexibility with time management.

Europe Image

4) A physical education teacher will introduce a Wellness Class for faculty and staff that uses an online platform to create community, conversation, and commitment around the wellness pillars: physical activity, nutrition, mindful meditation, and sleep and stress management.  For the physical activity component of the class, participants will begin by choosing an online article from the curated options and reply to it in on a shared discussion board.  Participants will utilize Fitbit “loaners” from the Physical Education department to track data on movement for a week.  Data will then be shared with their Fitbit cohort and discussed in the context of self-perception of movement compared to the data they gathered.  By leveraging online discussion boards, subscribing to the New York Times Well Blog, using the Fitbit App on smartphones and having face-to-face check-ins, participants will establish their Wellness goals, create accountability, and find support within their school community.


Follow the hyperlinks to learn more about the Online Learning Environments Series, our Professional Development offerings, or about our instructional design team.