Richer Professional Development

CELT may have hit on a richer type of learning experience – students and faculty learning together – and all by accident. Here’s how it happened.

Matthew Ragan was planning a workshop with Elli Caldwell on using Google Spreadsheets as a interactive data gathering tool.

Matthew had made a guest appearance in Elli’s classes to walk students through an activity in which students used Google Spreadsheets to examine complex (or not so complex) data sets. In this case, the class was looking at the caloric content of fast food menu items. The class used a Google Spreadsheet to estimate the calorie content of several fast foods, and then recorded the actual calorie counts of those foods. Finally, they created charts and compared the data they had just compiled.

Elli and Matthew decided to use this same activity for a professional development workshop. Instead of simply telling the attending faculty about the activity, they decided that the real value of the lesson was in the activity itself: it’s difficult to imagine how an activity is going to work without first seeing it. They decided that while they worked through the same lesson they had delivered to Elli’s class, they should also stop along the way to discuss the theory and purpose behind specific teaching techniques. Rather than only lecturing about the content of the lesson, the participants would be asked to participate in each step of the process.

You can see the spreadsheet they came up with here: Food Fight SpreadSheet

Typically it’s only Keene State faculty who attend CELT’s Faculty Friday professional development sessions. This Friday, however, was different. Professor Susan Whittemore heard about the presentation and asked if she could come and bring the students working with her on a research project. Her cohort of students was getting ready to collect a chunk of data, and hoped that learning a little more about Google Spreadsheets might help their efforts.

Since the space was available, CELT invited the students to attend the workshop – and that made all the difference.

As the 7 students and 5 faculty worked through the activities, lots of exciting things happened:

Students and faculty worked together on teams tussling with the data problems, getting to see how each other thought and worked on problems

Students got to see their teachers as learners.

Students watched their teachers grappling with how they could use this learning activity in their classroom, seeing their own learning at a different level.

Faculty got to see students engage in a simulation activity with several reflection components.

Students shared how they planned to use Google Spreadsheets in conjunction with the work they were doing in their research.

Faculty shared what assignments and lessons could better be facilitated by examining data critically.

Students and faculty were engaged in a dialogue, together, about how to use this technology.

Faculty had the opportunity to see how students collaborated with one another in real time, and hear students reactions to this type of activity.

Students and faculty left with skills they could use immediately.

While this format for a professional development workshop won’t always be best, in this case it did provide valuable insight into the learning process for both the attending faculty and students. For students, it made the process of  teaching a little more transparent and highlighted the intention behind classroom-based activities. Faculty got to see students actively engaged in the learning process, and hear student enthusiasm about being able to work collaboratively with their peers.