Lately, I have been posting in other forums about Viral Professional Development (VPD). I have been speaking to folks responsible for PD in both K-12 and higher-ed about the inherent frustrations in transitioning faculty to eLearning. We all have unique programs, challenges and strategies. I am not a scientific researcher, but I have found a strategy that is working well and keeping pace with my goals, expectations and work load. I call my strategy, “Viral Professional Development,” or “VPD,” because it is based on the popular definition of “viral,” that refers to a technology, tool, or teaching strategy that is quickly spread from one person to another.
Characteristics of VPD:
- The most important characteristic of VPD is that the instructors learn to use the technology largely on their own and with support from each other as the enthusiasm spreads through the institution. Much of the success happens in informal learning spaces.
- You do not need a large staff to implement this. I am currently the only person responsible for eLearning at our institution, but I partner with other stakeholders to get the work done.
- You do need at least a few instructors who are early adopters, enthusiastic about learning and testing new technology and willing to share their knowledge, experience, and materials.
- You cannot spend time worrying about the instructors who refuse to adopt instructional technology. Just let it go. It’s not worth the time in the beginning of the program to try and convince them of the advantages of instructional technology. They need to see success from their peers first.
- You MUST build a network for your instructors. This can be developed on any platform you wish, but should have the ability for participants to create profiles, contribute to conversation and share media files. I use Ning because of the ease of use, flexibility, and stability. You could also use a blog or wiki.
- You must participate in external networking. There is absolutely no other way you can keep up with the technology and quickly find solutions for your instructors. My primary networking source is Twitter.
- Workshops are NOT the foundation of a successful VPD program. Although they may be one component, you can’t spend a great deal of time planning for workshops, scheduling resources, developing materials and dragging in folks who will just never use the technology.
- Open. Open. Open. Expect to share everything. Plan to blog, podcast, tag, post and push out useful tips you learn from your personal network. Invite outsiders to participate in your network. Collaborate!
- Celebrate every success. Spread the word. Pass it up the chain. Let the administration know what you are doing and who’s doing well.
How to get started:
- Set up an online home for your network.
- Seed the network with short pieces of relevant content that can have an instant effect. To quickly add content, insert your del.icio.us tag cloud, RSS feeds, youtube videos and other content that is readily available. Reply to every post your instructors make.
- Invite all your instructors, as well as people from your personal network and outside your system.
- Start joining in when people in your personal network post they are testing tools. Any time I can jump in on someone else’s test saves me a lot of time searching for a tool and people to try it with me.
- Model the tools and techniques you would like your instructors to use. If someone has a “how-to,” question, send them a screencast with the instructions and add on a little about how you made the screencast. If someone wants to talk about webconferencing tools, try one of them when you meet with the instructor to discuss it.
- Find out what software and hardware you have that is not being used. Get it in the hands of people who will use it.
- When instructors implement something new, ask them to share it with the network. Each time you meet with an instructor, share something another instructor is doing.
- Communicate at their comfort level. You may find you have many lurkers who don’t actively participate in the network, but send you email or call you with questions. That’s fine. There will be multiple levels of engagement and you can indulge them to keep the instructors active within their comfort zone.
- Every time you discover a new tool, think about the instructional purpose and either find an instructor who may be interested, or push it out to the whole network in the form of a screencast or blog post.
- Don’t forget about the learning. Don’t let enthusiasm over a new tool get in the way of the ultimate goal of transfer of learning. The “e” in eLearning should represent, “enhanced!”
- Iteratively evaluate your program. After a few months, you should be contributing less and instructors more.
- Have fun and let others see that you are having fun!
This is only a brief introduction and I anticipate many more blog posts about this concept as I grow the program here at BTC. eLearning is a major institutional priority right now and I am fortunate to have top-down support. Please feel free to respond with your particular challenges with this type of PD program and I will attempt to help you modify and revise to suit your needs.
Although I came up with this idea on my own, I thought I would Google and see if others had come to the same conclusion. I found this blog post by Steven Maher with the same title and an interesting activity for K-12 educators. This is the type of thinking that will get you going in the right direction.