The Modern Age of Professional Development: Virtual PD in K-12 and Higher Education
Virtual professional development has become a common practice in K-12 and higher education to continue the advancement of employee learning while also maintaining teacher health and safety through social distancing. This presentation seeks to explore how the innovations in virtual meeting spaces can provide increased engagement, professional growth, and efficiency.
Life-long learning is a required component of the teaching profession (Sharma & Singh Pandher, 2018). However, as our way of life continues to be impacted from the global COVID-19 pandemic, so too does the world of education. Simultaneously, as the methods that students are now learning and engaging with their peers are changing, so too are the approaches that school leadership must take to provide professional development to their teachers. Virtual professional development has become a common practice in schools and organizations in order to continue the advancement of employee learning while also maintaining staff health and safety through social distancing. While educators and leaders might initially express concerns with professional development held remotely, innovations in virtual meeting spaces have actually provided the opportunity for increased engagement, professional growth, and efficiency. Whether it be consistent professional learning community meetings or semester or yearly training from an outside expert, virtual professional development is most effective through the use of an appropriate online platform, timely planning, engaged participants, and prepared presenters.
Long-Term School or District Plans
Under the current pandemic, Joseph (2020) stressed the need for school districts to create long-term virtual professional development plans in order to benefit educators during this time of uncertainty, anxiety, and upheaval. School leadership is tasked with providing their staff a sense of confidence in their skills and abilities to manage these changes, oftentimes including the ability to teach in a completely new environment. Consequently, the original goals and needs of professional development may have shifted. Joseph (2020) recommended that in order to develop a long-range professional development (PD) schedule, educational leaders ask themselves:
- What are the session goals?
- Are the topics aligned with the district’s vision and goals?
- Who is the target audience for each session?
- How does this training align with existing PD opportunities?
- Who can I invite to facilitate or co-present?
- How often, and by whom, will follow-up be provided?
In addition to Joseph’s (2020) questions, funding may be an additional concern when evaluating potential virtual PD experiences for staff. Therefore, school leadership may need to be more creative in terms of the type of PD that is offered in the 2020-2021 academic year. For example, instead of outside sources being funded, teachers may need to collaborate to provide training to one another on topics that they are more experienced or skilled in. Primarily, teachers who are skilled in technology may need to take more leadership roles this year in providing PD training to their peers in times of budget cuts and increased pressure on teachers to provide more technology and accessibility to all students in the virtual classroom.
Prepare a Professional Presentation Environment
At this point, we have probably all been on a virtual meeting with an unprepared or struggling presenter. And with the almost overnight shift from in person to Zoom meetings, we might have even been that unprepared speaker! After one specific training presentation where Aubrey felt the web camera built into her laptop was no longer sufficient, it took an additional purchase of an attachable camera for her to feel more comfortable presenting in a virtual meeting space. One primary component of virtual PD is the creation of a professional presentation environment.
In addition to having the necessary tools in place, including a capable webcammer, this environment actually relies on the role of an engaging speaker who is prepared to deliver content in the virtual environment. It is important to note, that presenting in a virtual meeting space is not the equivalent to presenting in person. The speaker must be prepared to look at a camera generally the size of a pinpoint, while also running their slides, viewing their notes if needed, and often checking the meeting space chat feature for questions from participants. Therefore, it is important that if an outside source is hired for PD, they are well prepared and experienced with presenting in the virtual environment. If the PD speaker is going to be an in-house facilitator, the teacher should be willing to spend additional time preparing for the training and should be aware that facilitating a virtual PD experience will probably feel very different than teaching in a face-to-face classroom. For example, the Zoom blog recommends avoiding robotic monologues by practicing the material that is going to be delivered, even including the speaking rate. Interestingly, Zoom noted that the conventional science behind public speaking indicates that presenters should speak at roughly 120 words per minute (Zoom, 2020).
Joseph (2020) also noted the importance of having a moderator, notetaker, small group facilitators, and timekeepers prepared for each PD meeting. Further, technical support should also be available to troubleshoot for participants who are unable to connect to a meeting or utilize all features of a virtual meeting space. In a recent PD training we were a part of, all participants were provided the same Zoom log-in link yet only about 15 of the 50 participants were able to initially log-in to the meeting. Therefore, immediate troubleshooting needed to take in place in order to manually enter students into the training.
Lastly, in order to establish a professional learning environment, participants should be reminded at the beginning of a meeting, as well as throughout the call if necessary, to put themselves on mute when not speaking in order to avoid distracting background noises or unintended commentary. Further, features in meeting spaces such as Zoom can be utilized to provide background noise suppression. In fact, according to Zoom at the highest suppression feature, the sounds of barking dogs and kids playing in the background nearly disappear during important presentations and meetings (Hill, 2020). Also, participants should be reminded of the importance of turning their cameras on in order to demonstrate interest in the presentation as well as professional dress and behavior during the PD experience.
The most significant potential drawback of virtual PD is a lack of engagement from the participants. Audience members may be more tempted to multi-task by checking e-mail, grading papers, or scrolling through social media. Hence, to hold the attention and interest of PD participants, session presenters and organizers should make the most of virtual meeting space features in order to create engagement. For example, filters, reactions, video overlays, and virtual backgrounds all allow presenters and speakers to engage with one another through fun, creative, and meaningful ways (Hill, 2020). Additionally, at a recent three-day PD training held via Zoom, we utilized the chat function during various presentations. This feature not only allowed the speaker to continue to present without interruptions, but also enabled and engaged the audience to provide feedback to the topics being discussed, to interact with one another, and to ask questions. We found that having one or two facilitators monitor the chat feature was beneficial in assisting the speaker to be able to still focus on the content of their presentation while continuing to create engagement through chat with our participants. In addition to chat, in our experiences of PD for adult learners, many of them teachers, we have found that quick ice breakers as well as team games were effective in creating engagement. These tools allow meeting participants to get to know one another and also explore the material of a professional development training.
Research specific to PD indicates that educators should regularly conduct self-assessment and self-reflection in order to determine their commitment to the profession (Sharma & Singh Pandher, 2018). Further, Sharma and Singh Pandher (2018) posited in their study that in performing these times of self-reflection, teachers should also use these professional exercises to develop creative problem-solving approaches with their students by providing challenging learning activities for their learners to address and grow through. In the same manner, educational leaders currently have the opportunity to demonstrate innovative problem-solving for the unprecedented challenges being faced during COVID-19 and the era of social distancing, including how to create life-long learning and necessary, yet engaging PD training for educators during a global pandemic. Therefore, through planning, creativity, and an assessment of long-term goals, school leaders can effectively provide PD to their teachers and staff through the innovative means of virtual meeting spaces.
Learning outcomes of the workshop include:
- Session participants will be introduced to strategies to streamline virtual functionality and interaction with audience.
- Session participants will discover the possibility of tools and platforms to enhance virtual interaction and audience engagement
- Session participants will receive recommendations on virtual activities best suited to audience age and setting: K-12, Higher Education, or Professional Workplace.
- Session participants will discuss potential opportunities for expanding upon current virtual meeting practices and reworking processes to optimize desired outcomes.
Hill, J. (2020, August 4). Filters, reactions, lighting & more! New features to liven up your meetings.
Zoom Blog. Retrieved from https://blog.zoom.us/filters-reactions-lighting-features-zoom-meetings/.
Joseph, M. X. (2020, April 29). Strategies for virtual professional development. Tech&Learning. Retrieved
Sharma, P. & Singh Pandher, J. S. (2018). Teachers’ professional development through teachers’
professional activities. Journal of Workplace Learning, 30(8), 613-625.
Zoom. (2014, August 19). 6 Keys to delivering information in Zoom video webinars. Zoom Blog.
Retrieved from https://blog.zoom.us/5-keys-deliver-info-zoom-webinar/.