Annenberg Learner offers workshops and classes online. These can be taken for free for professional development or by paying a small fee to enroll for graduate level credits through CSU. The workshops can be viewed online or purchased on DVD. Users have the option to subscribe to a course’s Teacher-Talk email list or simply click on the course title and go through the workshop’s content independently. Each course on the site provides information, support materials, activities, and a forum for communicating with other participants nationwide. Courses offered range from the Arts, Education Theory and Issues, History and Social Studies, Literature and Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science.
I participated in the Inside Writing Communities Grades 3-5 Workshop. It is a professional development workshop for educators meant to enhance teaching through research-based strategies, interactive activities, and classroom video examples. There are many articles with Examine the Literature Response Charts to help identify key ideas while reading the articles. After reading the articles, there is a video(s) to watch. Next, participants complete the following post-viewing activities:
Although this workshop could be done face-to-face for continued school professional development, the option to access materials online allows for better flexibility. Being able to move at my own pace meant choosing to read the material and view the videos when I felt ready to absorb the information. The online format allows participants to progress through the workshop at an accelerated pace for a quick overview or slower in order to implement strategies in the classroom before moving on to the next section. In my opinion, there is nothing worse than sitting through long videos during professional development. There are sixteen half-hour videos featuring valuable footage of teachers modeling strategies, reflecting on their practice, and interviews with experts in the field of writing. That’s a lot of wasted face-to-face time. However, being able to share initial reactions and questions would be easier in a synchronous learning environment better supported in face-to-face settings. I did not participate in the online forum, but could have to enhance my experience.
Since the online workshop can be accessed independently, there is the need for technical and learning support. Therefore, at the beginning of the course, there is an informational guide to inform students of procedures for progressing through the course and an overview of the resources. This online course has a clear scopes and sequence. Unlike face-to-face professional development in which the instructor is the only one with a copy of the videos, the online videos can be referred to now and in the future as the need arises. In addition, each of the articles is prefaced with a summary informing readers of the purpose. When receiving articles to read in a traditional setting, it is uncommon to receive a summary or abstract with a required reading. Personally, I felt the videos were of high quality and it was really helpful to watch teachers in action. Hearing student dialogue also helped me anticipate how I might respond to students. Viewing the videos independently and on my own time allowed me to really focus and reflect on the content and how it applies to my own teaching practices.
Moreover, the structure of the course is teacher-directed instead of student-led. Therefore, it best follows the objectivist, teacher-centered approach. Evidence includes the clear learning objectives, strict routines (previewing, viewing, and post-viewing activities), and no change in content based on students’ needs or interests. I believe this learning theory is best for the target audience—teachers, and the content—enhancing writing communities. For K-12 students new to the online learning environment, I believe the objectivist approach would be good for developing skills and independence. Unfortunately, the course does not have as much opportunity to engage students in constructing their own knowledge or collaborating with peers. A balance between objectivist and constructivist learning theories would best support the needs of K-12 students.
After completing the workshop, I felt more prepared to implement a successful writing workshop in my classroom. The readings were written by experts in the field and provided only the important information. I can’t wait to share these open source courses with my colleagues. They would be especially helpful for first year teachers or those new to the intermediate grades. I’m definitely a fan of the free online courses offered by Annenberg Learner.