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THAT'S WHAT PLD SHOULD BE ABOUT: A JOURNEY INTO VIRTUAL PROFESSIONAL LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT

THAT'S WHAT PLD SHOULD BE ABOUT: A JOURNEY INTO VIRTUAL PROFESSIONAL LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT

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Published by Hazel Owen
The abstract reads:
Best Evidence Synthesis indicates that regular, lifelong, life-wide Professional Learning and
Development (PLD) for educators is essential because of its influence on the quality of teaching, and
in turn on high quality outcomes for diverse students. PLD, though, needs to offer flexibility of choice,
time and approach, and to value personal theories and experiences. Learning should be accessible
(both physically, time and design-wise), cumulative and relevant, and couched within an active
Community of Practice.
A pilot to develop a Virtual Professional Learning and Development (VPLD) Model that offered
personalised, contextualised PLD was initiated by the Ministry of Education in New Zealand, who also
funded the project. Five principle objectives were to:
• Focus on contextualised, personalised learning for educators that could be accessed
regardless of location by any educator in New Zealand, in part by using a range of
technologies;
• Foster Communities of Learning and Practice, that would encourage collaborative
relationships and enable co-teaching and co-construction;
• Develop an approach to PLD underpinned by mentoring;
• Raise student achievement of learning outcomes, partly by ensuring a strong student focus,
as well as links to curricula and National Certificates of Educational Achievement; and
• Be sustainable (financially and environmentally) and scaleable.
The VPLD was therefore designed to offer flexibility of choice, time and approach, and in a way that
personal teaching theories and experiences were valued. Theory and practice would be interconnected,
while the professional learning was accessible (both physically and design-wise),
cumulative and relevant. Encouragement of reflection, trial and practice in a 'safe' environment,
sharing of experiences, small group collaboration and trialling new strategies were to be included,
which in turn, it was felt would encourage greater engagement, ownership, and confidence. Therefore,
after the initial formation of the VPLD CoL, the National Facilitator, assuming the role of a mentor,
worked with the ten educators to develop individual learning plans, as well as to discuss details of
mutually agreeable expectations of the quality and nature of participation in the VPLD initiative.
Learning outcomes were negotiated by the participants, and the skills that they identified as important
related directly to the students with whom they were working.
This paper provides an overview of the VPLD pilot (2009–2010) while also a) synthesising main
findings from the in-depth evaluation conducted during the pilot, and b) summarising key
recommendations.
In brief, results suggest that there are affordances built into the VPLD model that encourage and
enable education practitioners to move at their own pace, in a supported, supportive environment, with
access to all that they need to scaffold their learning journey. Thus, if it is accepted that student
outcomes mirror practitioner performance (although this is a somewhat simplistic relationship), it would
therefore follow that if practitioners can be mentored and guided in their own continual development
and thinking around learning and teaching, there is a strong potential that the overall learning
experience for students can be enhanced. However, it is still incumbent upon the wider education
community and structures to act to minimise constraints that discourage, prevent or enforce.
The abstract reads:
Best Evidence Synthesis indicates that regular, lifelong, life-wide Professional Learning and
Development (PLD) for educators is essential because of its influence on the quality of teaching, and
in turn on high quality outcomes for diverse students. PLD, though, needs to offer flexibility of choice,
time and approach, and to value personal theories and experiences. Learning should be accessible
(both physically, time and design-wise), cumulative and relevant, and couched within an active
Community of Practice.
A pilot to develop a Virtual Professional Learning and Development (VPLD) Model that offered
personalised, contextualised PLD was initiated by the Ministry of Education in New Zealand, who also
funded the project. Five principle objectives were to:
• Focus on contextualised, personalised learning for educators that could be accessed
regardless of location by any educator in New Zealand, in part by using a range of
technologies;
• Foster Communities of Learning and Practice, that would encourage collaborative
relationships and enable co-teaching and co-construction;
• Develop an approach to PLD underpinned by mentoring;
• Raise student achievement of learning outcomes, partly by ensuring a strong student focus,
as well as links to curricula and National Certificates of Educational Achievement; and
• Be sustainable (financially and environmentally) and scaleable.
The VPLD was therefore designed to offer flexibility of choice, time and approach, and in a way that
personal teaching theories and experiences were valued. Theory and practice would be interconnected,
while the professional learning was accessible (both physically and design-wise),
cumulative and relevant. Encouragement of reflection, trial and practice in a 'safe' environment,
sharing of experiences, small group collaboration and trialling new strategies were to be included,
which in turn, it was felt would encourage greater engagement, ownership, and confidence. Therefore,
after the initial formation of the VPLD CoL, the National Facilitator, assuming the role of a mentor,
worked with the ten educators to develop individual learning plans, as well as to discuss details of
mutually agreeable expectations of the quality and nature of participation in the VPLD initiative.
Learning outcomes were negotiated by the participants, and the skills that they identified as important
related directly to the students with whom they were working.
This paper provides an overview of the VPLD pilot (2009–2010) while also a) synthesising main
findings from the in-depth evaluation conducted during the pilot, and b) summarising key
recommendations.
In brief, results suggest that there are affordances built into the VPLD model that encourage and
enable education practitioners to move at their own pace, in a supported, supportive environment, with
access to all that they need to scaffold their learning journey. Thus, if it is accepted that student
outcomes mirror practitioner performance (although this is a somewhat simplistic relationship), it would
therefore follow that if practitioners can be mentored and guided in their own continual development
and thinking around learning and teaching, there is a strong potential that the overall learning
experience for students can be enhanced. However, it is still incumbent upon the wider education
community and structures to act to minimise constraints that discourage, prevent or enforce.

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Published by: Hazel Owen on Aug 03, 2011
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08/03/2011

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THAT'S WHAT PLD SHOULD BE ABOUT: A JOURNEY INTOVIRTUAL PROFESSIONAL LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT
Hazel Owen
Ethos Consultancy NZ (NEW ZEALAND)info@ethosconsultancynz.com
Abstract
Best Evidence Synthesis indicates that regular, lifelong, life-wide Professional Learning andDevelopment (PLD) for educators is essential because of its influence on the quality of teaching, andin turn on high quality outcomes for diverse students. PLD, though, needs to offer flexibility of choice,time and approach, and to value personal theories and experiences. Learning should be accessible(both physically, time and design-wise), cumulative and relevant, and couched within an activeCommunity of Practice.A pilot to develop a Virtual Professional Learning and Development (VPLD) Model that offeredpersonalised, contextualised PLD was initiated by the Ministry of Education in New Zealand, who alsofunded the project. Five principle objectives were to:
Focus on contextualised, personalised learning for educators that could be accessedregardless of location by any educator in New Zealand, in part by using a range of technologies;
Foster Communities of Learning and Practice, that would encourage collaborativerelationships and enable co-teaching and co-construction;
Develop an approach to PLD underpinned by mentoring;
Raise student achievement of learning outcomes, partly by ensuring a strong student focus,as well as links to curricula and National Certificates of Educational Achievement; and
Be sustainable (financially and environmentally) and scaleable.The VPLD was therefore designed to offer flexibility of choice, time and approach, and in a way thatpersonal teaching theories and experiences were valued. Theory and practice would be inter-connected, while the professional learning was accessible (both physically and design-wise),cumulative and relevant. Encouragement of reflection, trial and practice in a 'safe' environment,sharing of experiences, small group collaboration and trialling new strategies were to be included,which in turn, it was felt would encourage greater engagement, ownership, and confidence. Therefore,after the initial formation of the VPLD CoL, the National Facilitator, assuming the role of a mentor,worked with the ten educators to develop individual learning plans, as well as to discuss details of mutually agreeable expectations of the quality and nature of participation in the VPLD initiative.Learning outcomes were negotiated by the participants, and the skills that they identified as importantrelated directly to the students with whom they were working.This paper provides an overview of the VPLD pilot (2009–2010) while also a) synthesising mainfindings from the in-depth evaluation conducted during the pilot, and b) summarising keyrecommendations.In brief, results suggest that there are affordances built into the VPLD model that encourage andenable education practitioners to move at their own pace, in a supported, supportive environment, withaccess to all that they need to scaffold their learning journey. Thus, if it is accepted that studentoutcomes mirror practitioner performance (although this is a somewhat simplistic relationship), it wouldtherefore follow that if practitioners can be mentored and guided in their own continual developmentand thinking around learning and teaching, there is a strong potential that the overall learningexperience for students can be enhanced. However, it is still incumbent upon the wider educationcommunity and structures to act to minimise constraints that discourage, prevent or enforce.Keywords: Professional Learning and Development, e-learning, personalised learning, Communities of Learning, virtual learning.
Proceedings of EDULEARN11 Conference.4-6 July 2011, Barcelona, Spain.ISBN:978-84-615-0441-1
000444
 
1 INTRODUCTION
Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) indicates that regular, lifelong, life-wide Professional Learning andDevelopment (PLD) for educators is essential because of its influence on the quality of teaching, andin turn on the achievement of high quality outcomes by diverse range of students. PLD, however, hasbeen offered in a variety of formats - some of which have proven more effective than others. Onecommon example is a series of institution-wide workshops where disparate groups come together in aclassroom setting for a period of time ranging from an hour to several days [1]. A number of issuescan be observed:
 
S
hort workshops do not encourage participants to form lasting communities of learning /practice;
 
When a teacher becomes enthusiastic about an initiative or skill, lack of encouragement frompeers can lead to a sense of isolation;
 
Even when workshops use collaborative work there is little authentic knowledge co-construction, ongoing collaboration or problem solving;
 
Short exposure to a theory, approach, skill and / or tool gives only a surface insight into how,when and where to apply it;
 
Skills learned in workshops are often not practised or applied meaningfully during theworkshop and are thus forgotten or considered irrelevant; and
 
Timetables, location and workload make it difficult for teachers to attend face-to-faceworkshops.(Adapted from [2])A pilot to develop a Virtual Professional Learning and Development (VPLD) Model that trialled acombination of PLD approaches was initiated in October 2009 by the Ministry of Education (MoE) NewZealand (NZ), who also funded the project. Five principle objectives were to:1. Focus on contextualised, personalised learning for educators;2. Foster Communities of Learning and Practice, that would encourage collaborativerelationships and enable co-teaching and co-construction;3. Develop an approach to PLD underpinned by mentoring;4. Raise student achievement of learning outcomes, partly by ensuring a strong student focus,as well as links to curricula and National Certificates of Educational Achievement; and5. Be sustainable (financially and environmentally) and scalable.This paper provides an overview of the VPLD pilot initiative, 2009–2010, while also a) synthesising themain findings that emerged, and b) summarising some of the ‘lessons learned’.
2 THEORETICAL BACKGROUND
Research suggests that a range of factors significantly contribute to students' improved academicsuccess [3]. These factors include (although are not limited to) teachers' classroom practices, belief systems, and values around teaching and learning [4]. In 2003, evidence from research conducted inNew Zealand indicated that “up to 59% of variance in student performance is attributable todifferences between teachers and classes” ([5] p. v). Findings from the
Outcomes for Teachers and Students in the ICT PD School Clusters Programme 2005-2007 
[6] report indicate that the mostsignificant outcomes from the initiative were the effects on teachers’ understanding about principles of teaching as well as their own teaching practice. In turn, there was an increase in confidence andenthusiasm on the part of the teachers, as well as a better understanding of student-centred teachingand learning, and an augmented ability to meet a greater range of student needs [7]. These resultssuggest that the teachers who participated in the PLD were better equipped to create learningexperiences that recognise “diversity and difference as central to the classroom endeavour and central
000445
 
to the focus of quality teaching in Aotearoa , New Zealand” ([8] p. 5). Furthermore, those educationpractitioners who
do
engage in long-term PLD that blends theory and practice [9] , and can attest to itsimpact, “are likely to strike a resonant chord“ [10] with other educators.Having established the fundamental importance of PLD, the question remains about the shape andform that PLD might take. Shea, Pickett and Li (2005) report that PLD which encourages “instructorsto participate in ways that highlight the opportunity to explore, learn, create, and apply their learning totheir traditional teaching methods, may lead to higher levels of adoption and continued use” (p. 8).Another key consideration is a practitioner’s work-context, which will include history, customs, rituals,and narratives that help define their education community [11]. Context is something that needs to beaccommodated, whereby the shape of the PLD moulds to multiple contexts rather than attempting tomould them. In addition, given that “the everyday demands of work are always likely to takeprecedence over any staff development” ([12] p. 17), PLD needs to be flexible and integrated into whata teacher is already doing, rather than additional. Easy access to peers, mentors and resources isparamount, as are peer critique and authentic practices [13], and involvement in a variety of tasks [14].These factors can be complemented by Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) in general, andsynchronous communication in particular [15] through their ability to empower educators to decidewhen and with whom they collaborate. Through this approach participants are “able to test ideas byperforming experiments, to ask questions, collaborate with other people, seek out new knowledge,and plan new actions” ([16] p. 3).
3 DESCRIPTION
The VPLD pilot was initiated by the MoE in 2009, and was formed around the development of thecapability of ten NZ educators. The integral principles and aspects of the VPLD initiative arerepresented in Fig. 1, and some of these are unpacked briefly in the following section.The VPLD pilot sought to foster the formation of a community, which initially resembled a Communityof Learning (CoL) as opposed to a Community of Practice (CoP). In a CoL a group of learners alongwith a mentor, guide and/or teacher, for an agreed period of time, are “motivated by commonvision...[and] engaged in the pursuit of acquiring knowledge, abilities and attitudes” ([17] p. 59). CoLsdo retain a notion of 'situated learning' where a learner is seen as engaging in a community [18], andas being provided with opportunities to engage in dialogue with peers. Membership of a CoL does notpreclude membership of existing, associated CoPs, or the formation of new ones. The VPLD CoL wasestablished with nine secondary and primary school teachers and one tertiary teacher, from a varietyof locations ranging from Kaitaia to Canterbury, as well as from a range of disciplines (see Fig. 2). Thepractitioners were from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures.The VPLD was designed to offer flexibility of choice, time and approach, and in a way that personalteaching theories and experiences were valued. Theory and practice would be inter-connected, whilethe professional learning was accessible (both physically and design-wise), cumulative and relevant.Encouragement of reflection, trial and practice in a 'safe' environment, sharing of experiences, smallgroup collaboration and trialling new strategies were to be included, which in turn, it was felt wouldencourage greater engagement, ownership, and confidence. Therefore, after the initial formation of the VPLD CoL, the National Facilitator, assuming the role of a mentor, worked with the ten educatorsto develop individual learning plans, as well as to discuss details of mutually agreeable expectations of the quality and nature of participation in the VPLD initiative. Learning outcomes were negotiated bythe participants, and the skills that they identified as important related directly to the students withwhom they were working.
000446

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