Improving Professional Development: Polishing a Turd

As usual when sitting down to finally write, many times this week I found myself distracted and pulled in a hundred different directions, reading articles and blogs, watching videos, following tweets – all related to the general topic of mobile learning, but with no focus.  Most recently, when trying to figure out a title to this week’s post, I found myself watching the Mythbusters episode about shining a turd.  I was trying to think of a metaphor for the act of reforming schools based on some fixed notion of how a school should be rather than how learning could be.  (I’m not sure that’s the blog title that’s going to generate traffic to my site, but you get the point).  My question this week is – how to create a mobile learning app for teacher professional learning that truly uses the ideas of mobile learning in a new way – to access the differences in learning that can occur when it goes global.

In “Rethinking Learning in the Digital Age,” Mitchel Resnick makes the case for reforming educational reform, pointing out that most school changes have been incremental and have centered around assessment tools, largely leaving curriculum and teaching strategies the same.  He calls for a rethinking of how, what, where and when people learn, especially in light of technological developments – education reform based on new realities of ubiquitous learning.  If that type of radical change is to take place, the ways in which teachers learn also must change radically – most likely ending the role of the teacher as we know it.

Speaking at a TEDx conference in Tokyo, teacher Kim Cofino describes her vision of the future of education based on her experiences in Southeast Asia, noting that the future of education will be mobile, just in time, adaptable, customizable, always on (anytime), collaborative, blended (old and new), quick, flexible and global – all aspects of learning that are supported by mobile technologies.

When I viewed that video, I kept thinking of a girl I’ll call Emily who I talked to in a chemistry class this week.  She was sitting (quietly) at her lab table, completely disengaged as her partner conducted experiments on a burning flame, feeding Emily the results and telling her the conclusions of the lab.  I asked Emily why she wasn’t participating in the lab and she stated bluntly, “I hate chemistry.”  This was day two of a year-long course.  Emily is friendly, curious, college-bound, and she is stuck in a class she hates for the next 179 school days.  That is not learning that is adaptive, quick, individualized or just in time.

Contrast that learning experience with the ones describe by Alan November in his TEDxNYED talk in 2011.  In creating a technology class, November challenge students to find a problem in their community, and then identify how technology can help them solve that problem.

When charged with a purpose for her learning, and leveraging technology, students take initiative to learn beyond the “curriculum” to leave a legacy that will make the world a better place.  Imagine if Emily had been told to find a problem in the community and then figure out how chemistry could help her solve it?

In thinking about mobile learning for teachers, and applying modern learning ideas and theories described above and in previous posts, I was reminded by November’s talk about the idea of motivating students through purposeful learning (an idea also discussed in Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising truth about what motivates us, and Tony Wagner’s book Creating Innovators (described in a previous post)).  Professional learning opportunities I present to teachers must at the core be about finding teachers’ purpose and igniting their passion for their own learning.  As an administrator, however, I must also consider the needs of the students, to be given opportunities to learn new content in ways that meet the goals of a 21st century education.  To step away from the confines of traditional professional development means remembering to see the teachers through the lens of 21st century learners much as we are asking them to see their students.  In both instances there is room for a blend of learning modes and methods – formal and informal, synchronous and asynchronous, complementary and independent.  In reading for today’s post I found a useful table that describes a framework for mobile learning that describes the “complex landscape” in which it occurs:

(Source: mLearning (2010))

I see these ideas in a continuum rather than as discreet nodes – learning is not this or that, but rather a soup of technologies, methods and learners.  Where all of these ideas intersect is where actual “real-life” learning occurs.

Next week I will examine how to apply the ideas of mobile, modern learning to create an app for teacher professional development.  Stay tuned.


mLearning: A platform for educational opportunities at the base of the pyramid. (2010)  Retrieved online from

New York TEDxNYED. (2011, March). Alan November – 3/5/2011. [Video File]. Retrieved from YouTube database

Resnick, M. (n.d.) Rethinking learning in the digital age. Retrieved online from

Tokyo TEDxTeachers. (2012, March).  Kim Cofino: Mobile, Connected, Collaborative. [Video File].  Retrieved from YouTube database


About Katy Foster

I am an Assistant Principal in Larkspur, CA. I blog to publicly reflect on my own learning in leadership.
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One Response to Improving Professional Development: Polishing a Turd

  1. Pingback: Improving Professional Development: Polishing a Turd | Technology in EducationTeaching and Learning |

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