Designing with Teachers: Participatory Approaches to Professional Development in Education

Today, the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab released Designing with Teachers: Participatory Approaches to Professional Development in Education.A PDF of the full report is attached below/ This report represents the collaboration of a working group composed of "a mixture of researchers, teachers and school administrators from a variety of disciplines, schools, and states," who wanted to better understand how we might best prepare educators in order to incorporate "participatory learning" models into their classroom practices. This working group emerged as part of the MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning Initiative.

The report includes case studies of innovative professional development initiatives ( Vital Signs, PLAY, Scratch, Ask Ansai, the Participatory Assessment Project) with a larger exploration of what it might mean to adopt a more participatory model for working with teachers. These "best practices" are shared in a robust multi-media format, which allows you to see media materials produced by these programs and their participants, and in some cases, here educators describe their own experiences.

Ioana Literat, an Annenberg PhD candidate who helped to coordinate the working group's activities, summarized their key goals and findings in the report's introduction:

The principal goals of this working group were to:

  • Provide a common forum for professional development conversations centered around participatory learning
  • Foster interdisciplinary dialogue among vested audiences in participatory learning
  • Identify synergy among members and facilitate learning from each other
  • Construct a common framework for participatory models of professional development
  • Extract best practices and lingering challenges in the field
  • Build a collection of case studies exemplifying these best practices and share them with the larger community of stakeholders in participatory learningOur collective experiences in the realm of professional development and our dialogues within the context of this working group led to the identification and explication of four core values that we consider key to effective participa- tory PD programs. We believe that these four values, along with the design principles that they inform in practice, are an essential take-away from this multi-stakeholder conversation.Thus, in our view, the values that shape the design of participatory PD are:
  1. Participation, not indoctrinationThere is a critical need, in the field of education, to transition from professional development for teachers to professional development with teachers. Participatory learning relies on a model of “distributed expertise”, which assumes that knowledge, including in an educational context, is distributed across a diffuse network of people and tools. We believe that professional development for teachers should similarly be conceived and implemented in a non-hierarchical, inclusive and partic- ipatory manner, thus modeling the type of dynamic pedagogy that characterizes participatory learning.
  2. Exploration, not prescriptionIn order to inspire this sense of ownership and co-design in the participants, PD initiatives must allow ample room for personal and professional exploration. Attention must also be paid to what teachers want from a professional development experience, rather than just what is required of them. By allowing teachers to explore who they are and what their professional goals are, the PD program can provide educators with an opportunity to connect to the content and to display their own individuality in the process.
  3.  Contextualization, not abstraction:  PD programs should be tailored to the specific questions and particu- lar career goals of the participants. We acknowledge the tension between the desire to create scalable and flexible initiatives, and the need to cater most effectively to specific disciplines and levels of instruction; this challenge is all the more acute when it comes to sharing strategies for integrating media and digital technologies into the classroom. However, we believe that there is a way to reconcile this tension. By addressing the common core standards teachers need to fulfill, while in the same time accounting for the various disciplines and grade levels, program designers can craft versatile PD initiatives that represent – and feel like – a genuine investment in professional growth.
  4.  Iteration, not repetition:In order to sustain ongoing learning, the design of successful PD programs must provide opportunities for constant improvement, trou- bleshooting, and evaluation. In this sense, assessment emerges as a problematic yet nevertheless vital topic in the realm of professional development implementation. We hope that assessment practices in professional development will increasingly mirror the participatory shift in program design and reflection. These values offer a blueprint for an innovative type of professional devel- opment. By incorporating these values into the design of professional development programs, researchers and practitioners can efficiently craft initiatives that are participatory, non-hierarchical, personally and profession- ally meaningful, relevant, flexible and sustainable.

If you'd like to learn more about participatory learning, let me also recommend you check out the current issue of Knowledge Quest: The Journal of the American Association of School Librarians, which is focused on "Participatory Culture and Learning," which includes a essay asking "Can Public Education Coexist with Participatory Culture?," which I wrote with Elizabeth Losh. Other contributors include Allison Druin, Buffy Hamilton. Antero Garcia, Howard Rheingold, James Paul Gee, and Kristin Fontichiaro.