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Video: Why use the Web for professional development?
HGSE Professor Stone Wiske

There are lots of advantages in using network technologies as opposed to just graduate programs or traditional, one-shot professional development workshops in promoting this process of sailing against the wind, to really change your practice.

One is that you can model the kinds of ongoing learning, taking in new ideas, trying them out, getting feedback, reflecting on what worked in the process of teaching if you offer an online course that extends over time, as opposed to just going in for a one-day workshop or a few sessions and pumping ideas at people and then leaving them on their own.

So you can model the kinds of learning practices through the way you design the online experience, and include pictures of practice and videos and so on in that environment. Through online programs that unfolds over time, you can provide people multiple opportunities to take in new ideas, try them out in their regular contexts, reflect on how that worked, report on it online, and have multiple opportunities to accommodate, negotiate this accommodation process.

In an online environment where everyone is connected to one another, you can use coaches to help people make sense of new ideas, reflect on how they worked, consider ways of tinkering or translating principles into practice that would work for their own situation. And in WIDE World, that's exactly what we do. Participants in our courses are clustered into study groups of about ten people or ten small teams. Each of those teams works with a coach whose purpose really is to help the participants in that team get comfortable in the online environment, feel connected to it, and then build up relationships with one another. So that over the course of the six- to twelve-week online course, they can really learn from and with each other, not just from the materials, the instructor, or the coach.

Other ways that the online environment I think really helps people sail against the wind and connect new ideas to practice are that in an online environment, the participants reflect on their work. They post ideas about how they might translate these new principles based on research into their own setting. They talk about how it worked when they tried these new ideas and what didn't work very well.

Just putting your ideas into words I think really supports a process of thoughtful reflection on practice that isn't as easily accomplished when you're working by yourself or just have chance meetings with your colleagues, or attend a workshop where you sit there silently. Thinking through the relationship between principles and practice I think is really promoted through the online dialogue.

What I'd like to emphasize is that I really am excited by the potential of a program like WIDE World, not just to promote the integration of new ideas about effective teaching into practice, but to build a kind of professional community of inquiry that sustains educators and enhances their professionalization.

Copyright © 2009 The President and Fellows of Harvard College