On Supporting Teachers

Computers intruded into the world of education starting in the 1970’s. Sure, “intrusion” may not be the appropriate verb, but the arrival of the devices meant educators, administrators, staff, and students were forced into new ways of teaching and learning and managing the institution’s operations. New infrastructure was added to buildings, new personnel had to be hired, and new training became necessary. Of the changes we associate with the arrival to digital tools, the need for training has been among the most challenging to overcome. 

The fact that educational institutions struggle with training seems paradoxical, but the reality of our struggles is well-known to many. I trace this situation to the relatively rapid evolution of computer hardware and software and to the similarly rapid organizational and individual adaptations necessitated by the arrival of new technology. For decades, I have been hearing, “just when we figure out how to use it, you change it.” Fellow technology professionals will confirm this response is triggered regardless of the length of time the replaced system has been in service.  

In a recently published chapter (Ackerman, 2020), I described the work of a group of educational leaders who accepted they need to play an increased role in leading technology professional development for faculty. While these particular educators worked in k-12 education, what they learned about leading and developing the professionals within their institutions to become more competent users of technology can be applied to higher education as well as other organizations in which leaders seek to increase efficiency and effectiveness with technology. 

Over several months, the group of leaders engaged in an iterative process in which they discussed and planned for professional development that would take place in the following year. Between their planning sessions, a group of educational technology experts reviewed and discussed the documents the leaders had developed. Before their next planning session, the leaders listened to audio recordings of the experts’ discussions and saw written feedback from the experts. The planning reflected a serious commitment of time and energy by the leaders, but they found it to be a worthwhile undertaking.  

Near the end of the project, it became clear the leaders and the experts were intensely focused on three aspects of the plan and differences in these three aspects results in three distinct types of professional learning experience. The leaders differentiated technology training, planning for technology-rich teaching, and designing technology-rich experiences. 

Training was described as professional learning in which outside experts led users through the work of knowing how to operate hardware and software to access, store, manipulate, and disseminate information. For example, when vendors arrive to show people how to use the new student information system, it is experts in the software who arrive, and they can train faculty who teach all disciplines how to record grades. Training is completed with little attention to the nature of the students or the nature of the curriculum; it is faculty learning which buttons to click to accomplish necessary tasks. 

Planning was described as professional development in which faculty were leading efforts to prepare lessons and activities that made use of technology. The primary focus of plans is the curricular or instructional goals that faculty have for students. Whereas training can be organized for broad audiences, planning is organized for small and specialized groups. Technology expertise during planning is typically provided by specialists in instructional technology who have experience both in teaching and in the technology faculty plan to use. Planning was understood to be a predictive effort. In data recorded during the study, but not reported elsewhere, one of the experts noted, “you really are guessing when you plan. The best plans fail because the technology doesn’t work as you thought, the students are not prepared, or something else on an infinite list of unforeseen problems surprises you.”  

Design was described as professional development in which plans are evaluated and improved. The instructional technology specialists have an increased role in design as they seek to resolve any difficulties experiences as students where interacting with the technology. Their interest is in both improving the planned lessons and improving the functionality of the technology systems for all users. Design is an iterative process; each time the activity or lesson is used, the faculty seek to refine it by incorporating the feedback of additional groups of students and collaborating with instructional technology leaders to improve the technology. 

All three types of professional development activities can be understood in terms of the focus on technology, the source of the expertise, and the role of students in informing the work. Training focuses exclusively on technology, relies on those (often outsiders) who have great technical expertise, and is indifferent to the students. Planning focuses primarily on teaching and how technology can affect it, relies on the expertise of teachers, and predicts how students will react. Design focuses on how the technology actually worked, relies on the expertise of instructional technologists, and incorporates the experience of students into the design. 


Ackerman, G. (2020). A typology of professional development. In. M. Grassetti & J. Zoino-Jeannetti (Eds.), Next generation digital tools and applications for teaching and learning enhancement., (pp. 180-200). IGI-Global.