Motivation: To make recommendations for effective online professional development (PD) for computer science (CS) teachers based on individual differences in computing knowledge and prior computing teaching experience.
Three theoretical perspectives: The research balances three complex components:
- Knowledge required to be a CS teacher, both in terms of content (computing) knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) — this component is complex because the teachers come to PD with vastly varied prior experience in both computing and teaching computing. Qian et al. point out that there is not yet a comprehensive framework for knowledge that a CS teacher needs, but their PD does include both the CS content knowledge and PCK.
- Framework for PD — this component is complex because countless frameworks have been developed for PD based on a myriad of features. Selecting one framework that is general enough for the current program yet specific enough to be useful is a tough balance to strike. Qian et al. selected Desimone’s (2009) framework, which abstracted from many PD programs five features of effective PD.
- Design for motivating and engaging teachers in an online learning environment — this component is complex because online learning environments lack many of the social aspects of in-person learning, particularly social benefits of having a community of peers and the social pressure to stay on task and keep coming back. For this reason and others, motivating students in online learning is quite different than in face-to-face classrooms. Qian et al. selected Keller’s (1999) ARCS model for motivation in online learning environments.
Methods and Results: The PD was specifically to prepare teachers to offer AP CS Principles, a course designed for 10th-11th grade students as a well-rounded computing course that includes several areas of computer literacy including the Internet, algorithms, programming, and data management. None of the teachers had taught CS Principles before, though some of them had taught other CS courses. Qian et al. used a design-based research methodology, which is appropriate for this kind of complex and applied work. Participating teachers completed a questionnaire that provided information about their general teaching experience and CS teaching experience. The majority of participants were experienced teachers who had not taught CS.
From interviews and feedback surveys, Qian et al. identified five themes:
- Experienced teachers who had taught CS believed that they did not need PD, though they were teaching CS Principles for the first time.
- Novice teachers who had taught CS were most likely to remain active in the PD, and they liked and used the PD.
- Teachers who had not taught CS saw the value of the PD but lacked the time to use it, perhaps because they lacked computing content knowledge.
- Some teachers who had not taught CS had a CS background, such as a CS minor.
- Teachers’ perceived need for the online PD depended on the other types of PD that they had completed.
From these themes and their other results, Qian et al. make three recommendations upon which they elaborate in the text, starting on p.174:
- “Match PD to teachers’ background,
- Align PD with the course curriculum, and
- Use motivational design to enhance teacher engagement.”
Why this is important: Qian et al.’s work is valuable because it simultaneously explores multiple aspects of a complex system to make practical, holistic recommendations for online CS PD. Online PD is perhaps the most efficient and practical method to prepare computing teachers, but it presents many difficulties, especially for motivation and engagement. A lack of motivation and engagement is particularly dangerous for CS teachers because they are likely to have little experience with computing and already be full-time teachers. Therefore, the difficulty of learning a new content area while balancing professional (and personal) responsibilities can easily become overwhelming. Evidence-based recommendations to improve online CS PD are always welcome.
The work was also conducted over a 2-year span and compares the cohorts from one year to the next. This type of (albeit minorly) longitudinal work is almost non-existent in CS teacher development because many programs, if they are even two years old, will substantially change one year to the next as the field rapidly advances, making comparisons unreasonable. Therefore, this project is more generalizable than much of the current work that is available. Most importantly, this work takes a step forward in identifying the aspects of CS teacher PD that should vary based on individual differences and those that are universal for all teachers who want to learn to offer a new CS course.
Desimone, L. M. (2009). Improving impact studies of teachers’ professional development: Toward better conceptualizations and measures. Educational Researcher, 38(3), 181-199.
Keller, J. M. (1999). Using the ARCS motivational process in computer‐based instruction and distance education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 78, 37-47.
Qian, Y., Hambrusch, S., Yadav, A., & Gretter, S. (2018). Who Needs What: Recommendations for Designing Effective Online Professional Development for Computer Science Teachers. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 50(2), 164-181.
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