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The End of Sit & Git PD

Powerful, Professional Learning Communities


Fueled by Blended, Personalized Content
Collections
By Dr. Richard Vineyard and Dr. Jack McLaughlin
March 2016

The End of Sit & Git PD

Summary
In the landscape of the 21st Century, education is global in its reach and personal in its impact. In order to meet
the needs of students, teachers and the lifelong learners of our current generation, educational systems will
need to effectively use technology to allow the learners to access content that is relevant and useful for the
questions they are trying to investigate. However, the use of technology is also going to have to provide for
structured opportunities for individuals to create and grow communities of learning to add depth and texture to
the application of what they learn to impact the world in which they learn, live, and work.
The Pepper Online Professional Learning Network was developed as a system to provide high-quality,
personalized, professional learning opportunities to a growing community of learners. An important and critical
component of Pepper and its ability to support personalized learning is the capacity in the system for the
creation of professional learning communities.
Educators in Pepper have the opportunity to create a personal network of instructional coaches and peers from
their school, District, or across the country. Educators use these community networks to share progress as
they interact with content collections, discuss course work in portfolios and discussion boards, and share chunks
of content from a particular course in small groups.
It is within these communities that the individual participants have the chance to engage in a structured
discussion around the challenges and successes in their education programs. The communities can be virtual
or face-to-face, but in all cases, the ability to make the learning visible and communicate their results to others
who are engaged in the same program, strengthens the collective learning for all.

Blended Learning v. Traditional Sit & Git


In a 2014 presentation, Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC stated that,

Harnessing the power of digital technology is central to improving our education


system and our global competitiveness. In the Internet age, every student in America
should have access to state-of-the-art educational tools, which are increasingly
interactive, individualized and bandwidth-intensive.
As the number and variety of online education programs continues to grow, there have been a number
of recent studies on the impact of blended learning (online + on-site, in-person instruction) relative to
traditional classroom-based instructional models.
One of the early, but still often cited studies, SRI International conducted a meta-analysis study that looked at
online and blended learning programs from 1996 through 2006.
Key findings included:

Although the programs studied dealt mostly with college-level and adult learners, they found that
students in blended learning programs out performed those in fully online or fully in-person classes.
Programs that provided for teacher or peer facilitated interactions to discuss and process the content
delivered by online systems that were most successful in supporting increased learning.

In a more recent study, Enyedy (2014) found that more schools and districts were experimenting with bringing
blended instruction, where some, but not all, instruction is delivered online. He found that the blended model
was gaining favor because it allowed teachers new flexibility in how they could plan their instruction and to
decide what type of interactions they would have with their students.

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Teachers may choose to offload remedial instruction of background


knowledge to the online environment. Freed from having to lecture and review
earlier material with students who are behind, teachers may spend their time
implementing more engaging activities or more challenging work, or perhaps
providing individualized feedback to students.
- Enydey (2014)
With many indications that online and blended learning programs provide measurable improvements in the
academic outcomes for students, the challenge becomes how to make these programs more available to
students and their teachers. In one of the final recommendations in his 2014 study, Enydey stated that:

Policymakers should encourage more partnerships among developers,


educational researchers and teachers. Such partnerships have great potential
to produce systematic and rigorous evidence of what works and what doesnt,
including studies that take into account the various combinations of technical
features, pedagogical approaches and implementation models. We cannot trust
market forces alone to sort out which systems are effective.
- Enydey (2014)
Combining the Power of Blended Learning with Personalized Instruction
The addition of an online or blended learning component to traditional classrooms, adds options for
increased variety and depth of instruction to make both decisions about instructional strategies and
learning goals more personal for both teachers and students.
In his 2014 study, Enydey defined personalized instruction as focusing on the ability to tailor the
pace, order, location, and content of a lesson uniquely for each student. He characterized it as an
updated version of individualized (differentiated) instruction that has long been an option in
classroom teaching. Personalized learning, however focuses on the process of learning instead of
the delivery of content. Personalized learning includes the ways that:

teachers or learning environments can vary the resources, activities, and


teaching techniques to effectively engage as many students as possibleas
when, for example, students with a stronger intuitive understanding of the topic
are assigned to small groups and given a challenging task to independently
extend their understanding while the teacher concurrently works directly with
a small group of students who have less prior knowledge of the topic. This
interpretation of personal does not imply that each student receives a unique
educational experience, but instead that students are provided with multiple
entry points and multiple trajectories through a lesson.
- Enydey (2014)

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Building an Online Professional Learning Platform


In addressing the challenge of developing a program to meet the need for high-quality online learning systems,
the Education Practice of Boston-based Public Consulting Group (PCG Education) worked in partnership with
over 5000 school districts, 27 State Departments of Education, major educational research universities, and
well-established market-leading content publishers to develop the Pepper Online Professional Learning
Network. PCG Education consultants talk with State and District partners every day, ask questions, listen, and
work with them to design solutions that meet the diverse needs of their districts, schools, teachers, and students.
Pepper is a vibrant, online community where K-12 educators have anytime, anywhere access to rigorous, highquality content collections. The community manages facilitated and self-paced, professional learning courses
for educators. Launched in 2014, Pepper has become the professional learning network of choice for more
than 750,000 educators in the U.S. Pepper is built on the powerful edX platform, the Cambridge-based
education partnership founded by Harvard University and M.I.T., to support two important missions: improving
online education, and advancing teaching and learning through research. The use of edX as the platform allows
for the online courses and workshops to be accessed from nearly any web connected device.
In addition to managing and delivering content and pedagogy based courses, Pepper includes capacities and
flexibilities to meet the expectations for high-quality, engaging, and interactive online learning.
According to the Michigan Merit Curriculums Online Learning guidelines, a high-quality online learning program
exhibits a number of characteristics.
Online learning programs are expected to:

Be organized in a coherent, sequential manner


Have instructional goals, objectives, strategies, and assessments that are aligned with state standards,
benchmarks and expectations
Compare in rigor, depth and breadth to traditionally delivered curriculum
Include the principles of Universal Design for Learning by providing multiple approaches to meet the
needs of diverse learners
Be relevant and address many learning styles
Include asynchronous and/or synchronous interaction between teacher and student, and student-tostudent
Include teachers who are knowledgeable in web-based instruction techniques
Incorporate resources outside the classroom
Include a monitoring plan

Based on the Michigan guidelines, a quality online learning experience is a combination of structured, sustained,
integrated, meaningful learning activities. A student that has been successful in this type of experience should
develop competency for being able to learn in a virtual environment (lifelong learning).
Another feature of high quality, online learning, that supports its inclusion as part of personalized, professional
learning programs, is that the content and delivery can be directed to maximize the effectiveness of the
programs to improve learning. In this context, we define effectiveness as the ability of the system to engage
learners in interaction with content that is relevant and useful for them to maximize the return on investment for
the time and effort they devote to the courses. Pepper courses are designed to include elements to make them
as effective as possible in providing a high return in learning, for the investment of time that is required to
complete the course.

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High-Quality Online Learning


PCG Educations approach to online and blended learning is directly informed by the Quality Matters
benchmarks and standards for online course design. PCG is an organizational subscriber and works with
course authors to encourage use of these standards
As stated on their website,

Quality Matters (QM) is a leader in quality assurance for online education and
has received national recognition for its peer-based approach to continuous
improvement in online education and student learning.
As part of PCG Educations organizational commitment to rigorous standards for online course design and
implementation, PCG subject matter experts and instructional designers use QMs rubrics, digital design and
review tools, and continuous improvement models to align our own courses to the Quality Matters nationallyrecognized standards, and to assist our clients in doing the same.
For professional development work with clients, PCG Education uses the QM Continuing and Professional
Education quality rubric.
Pepper allows educators to track and promote their progression and content mastery to others with shared
visibility of their personal profile, current course load, roster of completed courses, shared portfolio of course
work and reflections, and course completion certificates.
The ability to create and curate an online professional portfolio is increasingly important for all teachers as they
work to document their commitments to professional learning and assessment of their teaching performance.

Professional Portfolios & Discussions with Coaches and Peers


For each course, course creators/authors will have the ability to both present AND collect data from the
students. Asking educators to submit samples of work, complete rubrics and planning guides, complete
reflection activities during the course will allow for them to save all of their progress into a professional portfolio
for sharing with instructional coaches and peers.
Personal course portfolios are powerful tools for the organization of all coursework for future personal reference
and allow learners to select portfolio elements to make available for others to view for feedback and
collaboration.
Sharing a course portfolio as well as viewing and collaborating on peer portfolios is a great way for learners
to gather peer support and feedback, and ensure learner accountability as a course participant.
The course portfolio is intended to serve multiple purposes:
An organization tool to review and reference easily all submitted work by session;
A presentation tool to share progress, work, and reflections with coaches and peers; and,
A collaborative tool to reach out with a question or ask for feedback on your work and get support and
suggestions from your peers.
When used as part of a structured evaluation program instructional coaches and peers can provide immediate
feedback in the portfolio which then triggers an internal and external notification that someone has reached
out to provide feedback/interaction. Feedback can be in the form of links, photos, videos, documents and text.

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Bringing it Together in Online Professional Communities


Much has been written in the last decade about both community formation and online community interaction.
The following are four of the key, research-based best practices around using professional communities with
teachers and students.

Communities build social capital and maximize participation by focusing on the gifts and abilities
that members bring to the table. As Peter Block writes in Community: The Structure of Belonging,
Focus on gifts [C]ommunity is built by focusing on peoples gifts rather than their deficiencies
[D]efficiencies have no market value; gifts are the point. Citizens in community want to know what
you can do, not what you cant do.

In Pepper, we want educators to want to participateeven if their participation is incentivized through resumebuilding certificates or mandated via their district administrators, the goal is to create a community in which the
expertise, experiences, talents, and perspectives of each member can be maximized. Rewards are a valueadd, and if community members know their contributions are valued, they will return and invest and grow social
capital.

Strong, thriving communities require shared and overlapping interests, and easy, intuitive ways to
communicate about these interests. Shared interests ramp up the social cohesion and sense of
common purpose, and if communities encounter difficulties, often the shared interests provide an
incentive for working through challenges. As Rich Millington of FeverBee explains, A clear, strong
community identity is the key element of keeping a highly-engaged audience. (Millington, 2013)

In Pepper, this community identity should center on a desire to appropriate, learn about, engage with, and
share information about new assessments and standards and the best practices associated with them.

Communities that flourish rely on robust governance but this governance needs to be emergent,
and grow out of the concrete context and situations of the community itself. It cannot easily be
delivered from the top down in a prescriptive fashion, beyond the most basic guidelines about
expectations and unacceptable behaviors.

Research shows that top-down governance is often resented by community members, but when members
themselves are partly responsible for developing codes of conduct, organizing communication structures, and
innovating within the platforms provided, that sense of ownership leads to stronger community cohesion and
longer community duration.

Adaptability, dynamism, and flexibility are critical characteristics for online communities to
succeed. Strong communities are not rigid structures. They need a free market approach in which
social capital can move from member to member and locus to locus. As new community needs
emerge, the community structures need to be able to adapt or members will find other resources and
communities to meet their needs.

As the Pepper learning community of educators grows, we may discover that community members want to
collaborate across content areas in ways we had not originally envisioned. We will need to ensure that the tech
is in place to allow those collaborations to happen. Or we may find that sub-groups develop, and offer a space
for more in-depth, content-rich conversations and learning to take place. We would need to ensure that those
sub-groups maintain cohesion with the community as a whole while still providing that unique space.

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References:
Block, P. (2009) Community: The Structure of Belonging. Berrett-Koehler, 2009.
Enyedy, N. (2014). Personalized Instruction: New Interest, Old Rhetoric, Limited Results, and the Need for a
New Direction for Computer-Mediated Learning. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. (2014)
Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning
Studies. Conducted by SRI International for the U.S. Department of Education, 2010.
Millington, R. (2013) How to Build an Online Community. www.FeverBee.com. February 27, 2013.
The Michigan Merit Curriculum's Online Learning Experience Guideline document
(http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/Online10.06_final_175750_7.pdf)
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Richard N. Vineyard, Ph.D., is Lead Program Manager for Science at PCG Education.
His extensive experience in science education and assessment informs his work with
the K-12 community, specifically in helping schools understand the Next Generation
Science Standards (NGSS). Dr. Vineyard works with state, district and school
administrators to design and develop new instructional programs based on the NGSS.
He also supports projects focused on the professional development of teachers in
science and other Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education
initiatives. Prior to joining PCG in 2015, Dr. Vineyard was Assessment Director for the
Nevada Department of Education (NDE) where he worked to supervise the
development and implementation of all state level assessments in Nevada. His career
with the NDE spanned more than 17 years, during which time he worked first as the
state Science Specialist on statewide education initiatives including the development
of science content standards and Nevadas first assessments in science. As
Assessment Director, Richard was also instrumental in the development and revision
of content standards in all areas and state level assessments in ELA, Math, Science,
including the Nevada Alternate Assessments for students with disabilities. Richard has
served on numerous state and national committees on science education and
assessment, and is Past President of the Council of State Science Supervisors.
Dr. Jack McLaughlin is a Manager for PCG Education. Dr. McLaughlin comes from a
proud family tradition of service in public education. Jack has served as school teacher
and administrator in New York and California. In California, Jack served as a
kindergarten teacher, Director of Curriculum and Instruction and as District
Superintendent. Working in New York City, Jack served as an educator in District 75
(Special Education) and as Director of Educational Services. Jack has served as an
executive in the private industry since 2001, working to improve student achievement.
Jack has worked with more than 400 school districts in the US and the Bahamas. Dr.
McLaughlin received his Masters Degree in Education from the University of Southern
California, and his Doctorate in Educational Administration from Teachers College,
Columbia University in New York City.

To reach the authors or for more information, please contact PCG Education at (775) 313-3121.

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