Online CPD: a necessary tool?

A reflection by Cecilia Astolfi on why online CPD may be here to stay

Online CPD: a necessary tool?

When the covid-19 lockdowns started, teachers had to drastically change their normal way of working, often adopting a myriad of EdTech tools, with varying degrees of support. At the same time, we were also meant to continue our journey in terms of continuous improvement to our teaching practices. Within the hardship, there was a major silver lining: workshops being moved online meant being able to access training that would otherwise be financially or geographically inaccessible.

The Standards for Teachers Professional Development in the UK are set by the Department of Education. In this post, I will focus on Standard 3: “Professional development should include collaboration and expert challenge”. Can this be achieved through online training?

Collaboration is “the action of working with someone to produce something”. It is clear that this can be achieved digitally: through shared documents, interactive tools, and sharing platforms. In its simplest form, collaboration can be reached through Zoom Breakout room discussions and participation in online forums. I would argue that collaboration in fact requires at least an element of digital work, as physical posters or resources or plans can then be shared more effectively.

An Expert is “a person who is very knowledgeable about or skilful in a particular area”. The conventional, in-person way to include experts is to have talks, workshops, keynote speakers — approaches that can be easily moved online. Moreover, having experts delivering training or facilitating discussions online means that location of the expert is no longer a limitation; there may be a financial advantage for both parties as commuting is no longer required.

In teacher professional development, Challenge could be seen as a call to justify (and change) our teaching practices. The Standards refer to “expert challenge”, which in the school setting is likely to mean 1-to-1 conversations that teachers have with mentors, coaches, line managers. Moving these conversations online means being able to access expert challenge from a wider variety of sources, including subject-specific experts. For example, I enjoyed participating in a training organised by the Institute of Physics branch with The Blackett Lab Family, a collective of UK-based Black Physicists. The event provided the opportunity to discuss with other education professionals on how to best develop inclusive practices in our departments.

In conclusion: online CPD has the potential to be a more accessible and therefore inclusive practice than in-person CPD, while maintaining the aspects of Collaboration and Expert Challenge that are necessary for its success.

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