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Bring the feel of an edtech conference to your district PD

By Timothy Klan
May 26, 2017
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It’s imperative that schools have updated technology. But that technology is only useful if educators understand how to use it to enhance learning. That’s why good professional development is so important.

Good tech PD, however, can be difficult to pull off. If you want to make sure it will truly impact learning and teaching, you must make it engaging, convenient and memorable.

In 2013, my school district, Livonia Public Schools in Michigan, got some exciting news. Our community had just approved a $190 million bond to overhaul our aging buildings, including $30 million for districtwide technology upgrades.

The 3- to 5-year project is still going on. It will ultimately include enhanced wireless capabilities throughout the district, 12,000 Chromebooks for students, updated desktop computers in our classrooms and labs, hundreds of interactive projectors, document cameras and sound enhancement technology in our classrooms.

An overhaul of this scale is exciting, but it also brought a unique challenge – figuring out the best way to quickly train over 1,000 staff how to use the new technologies. We decided to organize a full day of professional development focused on technology. We had never done anything like this before so we were starting with a blank slate. My IT department teamed up with the curriculum department under Chief Academic Officer Sheila Alles to launch this project.

A mini-education conference model

When it comes to creating a new professional development program, it’s important to have the right people on the organizing team. Livonia Public Schools created a Technology Bond Professional Development Committee comprised of staff members across multiple departments and grades. Their sole job was to create a program to effectively train the entire staff all in one day and with limited funds. The committee began meeting in the fall of 2013 and by the end of the year, the Level Up LPS program was born.

To maximize engagement, the committee organized Level Up LPS like a mini-education conference including workshops, a keynote speaker and breakout sessions. We brought in food trucks and student volunteers to help things go smoothly, and we leveraged our own teachers as volunteer presenters for the more than 80 breakout sessions. We also brought in Epson representatives to offer more technical expertise on using the projectors.

Normally professional development programs are building-based or small group-based. Our staff had never experienced local PD that was as involved and engaging and was on the scale of a national or regional conference. Some of our attendees said it was the best PD they’d ever had, and it is now an annual event.

Doing more with less

In public education, keeping costs down is important. Level Up LPS’ biggest expense every year is the keynote speaker. For everything else we use existing resources or find ways to provide services for free. We host the event at one of our larger high schools, so we don’t have to pay for a venue. The student volunteers and food trucks also cost us nothing.

Our breakout sessions are led by our own teachers who volunteer their time. We survey them early in the year to see what they might feel comfortable sharing with peers. Because the district’s tech rollout is staggered, not everyone attending Level Up LPS has the technology yet. So we give some teachers the opportunity to pilot certain types of technology. We ask in return that they present a session on that technology during Level Up.

If you are ready to organize your own edtech districtwide conference, here are some tips to get you started. 

Space. Make sure you have a space that can physically accommodate the staff and the equipment needed for the sessions. Make sure your wireless network can meet the needs of the event.

Presenters. Survey staff early to see how they feel about this as a potential PD opportunity and ask whether they would consider presenting so you know if you will have enough volunteers to make it worthwhile. The number of sessions we could offer was based on how many staff volunteered to present. Some popular sessions were overcrowded because we couldn’t offer as many as needed. So during the second and third year, we let staff team up to present, which encouraged them to volunteer.

Discussion. In our first year, attendees said they didn’t have enough time to discuss what they had learned. So the next year we added open lab spaces where attendees could try out the things they had learned, like creating their teacher websites on our new hosting platform. At the end of the event, we grouped attendees by department and grade-level to discuss the technology and how they could use it in their classrooms.

Feedback. Seek post-event feedback and suggestions. This will improve the event, and the presenters and attendees will appreciate that you are listening to them.

Buy-in. Work with your unions at the onset to make sure contracts allow staff to participate in a day-long training.

Providing high-quality, cost-effective professional development is always a challenge, particularly when a district is in the middle of a massive technology rollout. By consolidating technology PD into a single day, and running it as a mini-conference, districts can get more out of the event, which translates into better results for teachers and students.

ISTE member Tim Klan is the administrator of information and instructional technology for Livonia Public Schools.

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