A Research Agenda for Online Teacher Professional Development

Feb. 01, 2009

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, Volume 60 Number 1, January/February 2009. p. 8-19.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The paper highlights key online teacher professional development (oTPD) areas in need of research based on a review of current oTPD research. This research conducted in conjunction with an oTPD conference held at Harvard University in fall 2005. The literature review of this field documents much work that is anecdotal, describing professional development programs or “lessons learned” without providing full details of the participants, setting, research questions, methods of data collection, or analytic strategies.

The authors highlight two areas that should serve as the nucleus of future research ventures:
(a) research questions that address understudied areas and (b) design and methodological strategies for studying these questions.

Understudied Aspects of Online Professional Development

This study and others are illustrations of how researchers are moving toward empirical, replicable studies to inform model building in oTPD. The authors discovered that the research questions of the 40 empirical oTPD studies which reviewed, cohered loosely around four categories:
(a) program design, which evaluated content, pedagogical strategies, methods of delivery, and identification of best practices;
(b) program effectiveness, which looked largely at selfreports on participant satisfaction and short-term pedagogical change outcomes;
(c) program technical design, which compared the effect of individual communication and multimedia tools as well as the effect of technology on specific goals such as collaboration
and building a learning community; and
(d) learner interactions, which evaluated contextual factors such as quality of participation and efficacy of online communication and collaboration.

The authors found that current oTPD program and research initiatives center on program design and effectiveness, largely within a community-of-practice theoretical framework that promotes collaboration and reflection.

Study Design and Methodology

One of the key challenges on which the field needs to concentrate is designing studies that help build collective knowledge. The authors suggest four main ways that this can be done:
1. Studies should draw on previous research conducted on oTPD.
2. Research designs should make use of the data streams collected in technology-mediated interactions—and not typically possible via traditional face-to-face methodologies—to investigate new questions of interaction, collaboration, and communication.
3. The authors can learn much from studies of professional development in other domains, such as medicine, law, and industry; too often, they end up recreating the wheel.
4. All studies should commit to reflecting on and revising theory as an overarching goal.

Until more rigorous oTPD research is conducted, developers are hard pressed to know the best design features to include, educators remain uninformed about which program will help support teacher change and student learning, and funders lack sufficient guidelines for where to direct their support. The authors believe that the recommendations in this paper for a research agenda will guide oTPD scholarship toward an evidence-based conceptual framework that provides robust explanatory power for theory and model building.

Updated: Mar. 23, 2009