TEAM COOPERATION TO FIGHT EARLY SCHOOL LEAVING

Overview of innovative online trainings for educators

Wednesday 11 February 2015, by Tina Vršnik Perše

The professional development of educators for addressing ESL can be successfully supported by online trainings or other forms based on information and communications technology. Currently, several online training platforms for educators exist across Europe and globally, but evaluation studies are lacking to help highlight best practices in the field.



The purpose of this paper is to highlight information on existing approaches and resources based on information and communications technology (ICT) that could be successful in the field of educators’ professional development. This could be addressed by the online teacher training platforms that are implemented as traditional online courses, as video observation of the existing practices or as a set of exercises for gaining knowledge and competencies. Any of these can also be complemented with face-to-face interactions. Online or computer-based environments are flexible and easily accessible opportunities that provide access anytime and anyplace to case materials that can be used for learning new content or methods, for observing real-time situations and for (self)reflection and thus for developing the competencies needed for improving the practice of educators and, by so doing, for reducing the risk factors for students at risk of ESL.

Existing practices across the world show several approaches to online trainings for educators. Some only target educators (such as Neopass@ction, MyTeachingPartner or SecondChanceEducation.eu), others are used by educators and students (such as Glow Connect) while in some others the educators are only a small group of target participants (like Aula Mentor from Spain). They use different methods such as online classrooms (e.g. Aula Mentor), sharing resources online (e.g. Glow Connect, SecondChanceEducation.eu, OpeningUpSlovenia, Neopass@ction, MyTeachingPartner), examples of best practices (e.g. SecondChanceEducation.eu), discussion groups and forums (e.g. Glow Connect), web-mediated coaching (MyTeachingPartner) etc. The online platforms also differ regarding whether they include a trainer, mentor or tutor. Some include a tutor in an online environment to ensure that objectives are met (e.g. Aula Mentor, Neopass@ction), others include expert consultants (e.g. Glow Connect, MyTeachingPartner) and often rely on the role of a moderator to supervise the contents (e.g. Neopass@ction, MyTeachingPartner, OpeningUpSlovenia, SecondChanceEducation.eu, Glow Connect). Currently, only a few of the above resources offer contents that specifically address early school leaving (ESL); however, such tools are being specifically developed within the TITA project.

Introduction Educators’ work tasks are very complex and have been changing rapidly in the last few decades, thereby offering a great challenge for both educators’ performance and job satisfaction. In order to stay in touch with these challenges, educators tend to attend diverse professional development programmes. {{E-learning or learning with the assistance of ICT (such as online trainings) is one of the approaches that provides effective assistance for [professional development->http://titaproject.eu/spip.php?article146]}} because it can ensure rapid communication between colleagues and improves the quality of the work (Chang, 2016), but the choice of a method of e-learning is complex. Learning based on ICT has several variations and can be carried out as any combination of: purely online (no face-to-face meetings), blended learning (combination of online and face-to-face), tutor-led group, self-study, self-study with expert support, web-based (Internet application), computer-based (e.g. DVD), video type, audio type, written-text-based type, synchronous communication (chat, videoconferences,…), asynchronous communication (forum, email,…), webinars, virtual classrooms, exams (online, paper,…), application sharing, resources sharing… Any of the above approaches and its combinations can be used for professional development and can be included in online trainings where educators observe and/or reflect on other educators’ (or their own) ideas, practice and examples in a real or virtual environment. This paper focuses on presenting the role of the existing online training programmes and platforms for educators since several advantages of online trainings for educators have been recognised. The article aims to provide an insight into the pro and cons of online educators’ trainings and an overview of the existing online professional development resources for educators, some of which may also tackle issues related to preventing ESL. Methodology We conducted a review of the literature by searching in the ERIC, Proquest, Wiley, Science Direct and Google search engines for information. Search criteria were established concerning e-learning, online training platforms, teachers’ professional development, and the cross-references for these search criteria were first examined. The search and analyses of other related papers followed. We included three types of documents: scientific papers for the theoretical background to the contents under scrutiny, web pages representing online training platforms as well as EU documents and reports. Based on these documents, the theoretical background and some already implemented online training programmes were presented in order to offer guidelines for modelling innovative online trainings. Advantages and limitations of online trainings Recently a frequent choice for educators’ professional development has been online courses (combined with face-to-face training) since they provide two of the most essential elements of effective professional development: They give participating teachers opportunities to practise what they learn over relatively extended periods of time (as opposed to traditional in-service one-off seminar courses) and they provide an ideal environment for interaction among participants (National Staff Development Council, 2001). Since existing traditional face-to-face professional development programmes typically do not include all of the educators in a school and the courses are usually held as one-off events, online virtual communities and all complementary alternatives could enable educators to share their experiences and exchange information and reflections and complement them continuously and collaboratively and thus improve as both individuals and a school team. Many existing teacher professional development programmes are not high in quality, offering only ‘fragmented, intellectually superficial’ seminars (Borko, 2004) that do not meet the educators’ expectations in terms of developing the much needed competencies. Not only are educators often not very satisfied with the traditional professional development training courses but the lack of continuity of and collective approaches to those training courses also needs to be addressed. Therefore, several strong initiatives for implementing new technologies in educators’ professional development have emerged since the end of the 20th century. The use of ICT in education in general was recently found to be most effective when it is used as a teaching supplement, as learning support, as encouragement for reflection and as promotion for cognitive dissonance (Smetana & Bell, 2012), as an enrichment (Pedro, 2005) and not so much if it is used as the only source for learning. Since teachers are (already) education professionals with limited time and financial resources, ICT-supported possibilities for professional development are among the easily accessible ways to achieve the goal of supporting educators’ professional development. It is commonly agreed that we need to build teachers’ capacity for development and improvement but we also need to be sure that time, effort and scarce resources are expended only on quality programmes (Dede, Ketelhut, Whitehouse, Breit, & McCloskey, 2009). {{Virtual platforms and supporting online networks could make the implementation of educators’ competence development more effective in all those aspects: online teacher professional development models can provide high quality learning opportunities; teachers have access to experts in a given field; they are able to collaborate with others; online learning allows time for [(self)reflection->http://titaproject.eu/spip.php?article147] and for dialogue; it allows for flexibility in scheduling, timing and the development of one’s own learning spaces.}} In other words, it can be empowering as teachers take ownership of their own learning. Online teacher professional development can also serve as a bridge between preservice education, new teacher support (induction) and continuing teacher development (Sprague, 2006). The induction process is often mentioned as an important but organisationally and financially challenging characteristic of a quality education system. Participating in face-to-face situations as an observer (mentor or trainee) is challenging since one cannot be present everywhere at once and cannot pay attention to all students and situations simultaneously. The observations and participation in real-life situations are also very time-consuming. Therefore, the solutions such as computer-supported settings could be implemented because small segments of video clips can be used where teachers observe their own performance or the performance of other teachers and professionally develop through (self)reflection. In addition, a lot of teachers can observe the same situation and learn from it. As the TALIS survey sums up, in seeking to meet teachers’ professional development requirements, policymakers and practitioners need to consider both how to support and encourage participation and how to ensure that opportunities match teachers’ perceived needs. This must be balanced with the cost in terms of both finance and teachers’ time (OECD, 2009). Moreover, policy measures should be aimed at reviewing and adapting the offer of in-service training opportunities to ensure they respond to teachers’ needs for professional development (balancing them with needs at school and at the system level) and have a proven impact on teachers’ practice and, consequently, on learner attainment. Providing attractive possibilities for professional development helps teachers address skills deficits and update their competencies throughout their career. This is especially relevant in the current circumstances of limited budgetary possibilities and the barriers to participate in continuing professional development as indicated by TALIS such as 'conflict with schedule' (OECD, 2014). Similarly, policymakers will want to look at the effectiveness of the different forms of continuing professional development on offer and focus on those which combine theory with practice and offer the possibility to collaborate and exchange with peers. In the current budgetary conditions, countries should explore the possibilities offered by Open Educational Resources as they have the potential to address some of the key obstacles identified by teachers, such as high costs and conflict with work schedules (OECD, 2014). {{The online trainings and other ICT-supported forms of professional development thus offer many opportunities}} in terms of providing attractive possibilities for balancing between needs at the individual, school and system levels, also considering the limited financial resources and reducing conflicts with the schedule. {{But, like with other methods, the online forms of professional development must be used with careful consideration.}} It is interesting to examine how educators will accept the online or other ICT-based programmes for their professional development. A large-scale professional development programme “Intel Teach – Advanced online” in Germany offers a blended-learning course with face-to-face meetings of teachers with a tutor and other teachers and e-learning training phases in which teachers use the online platform for individual and collaborative learning. The evaluation of this programme indicates that teachers have accepted the platform very well and use it as resource for theoretical and practical contents. The teachers’ attitudes, with positive attitudes to technology, were also positive regarding the platform. On the other hand, the evaluation showed that a major limitation of implementing the platform was that teachers with low interest and negative attitudes to technology were clearly underrepresented or did not join the platform (Todorova & Osburg, 2009). This is a very realistic consideration for all initiatives for implementing ICT involving professional development programmes such as online professional development programmes and a reminder that this might not be the only option and that it should focus on diverse and attractive programmes and methods. Yet, on the other hand, it is very likely that the share of teachers who would join such a platform is larger than those with low interest and negative attitudes to new technologies and that it will grow in the future. TALIS (OECD, 2014) already indicated that teachers are expressing less of a need to learn about ICT than they did in 2008 (OECD, 2009), most probably because more teachers are becoming competent in ICT due to its use in everyday life. Nevertheless, these and other potential limitations of the online or other ICT-based programmes should be considered when planning such solutions in terms of preparing user-friendly solutions that are attractive and in-depth regarding the content. Further, the lack of face-to-face communication could also be considered as a major potential limitation. Online training courses and traditional professional development courses can address similar issues and, when used as complementary methods, they can offer great potential. Some online programmes are supported with the possibility to watch and/or analyse video resources that can be used as tools for self-confronting one’s own activity, for crossed self-confrontation crossing with colleagues’ activity, confrontation with the recording of others’ teaching and also collective confrontation where a group is confronted with a video (of their work or of the work of others) (Flandin & Lussi Borer, 2016). Considering the characteristics of modern society like complex working tasks and everyday life it is important to note that the ICT-based solutions for the professional development of teachers should not and cannot completely replace face-to-face programmes and experiences but could offer ongoing support for teachers who are not being provided with the traditional professional development programmes. It could provide a community-based (online community) and collaborative model of professional development. Examples of existing practice Several models for online educators’ professional development are available. We present a few based on availability of information about the programme and primarily based on the content of a programme. A comparison of the online resources is found in Table 1. The presented platforms indicate several similarities and differences. ||Table 1. Similarities and differences among online platforms for educators’ professional development||| |{{Title}}|{{Country of origin}}|{{Target audience}}|{{Methods (Video, interactions, forums…) }}|{{Including trainers, tutors}}|{{Language}}| |{Aula Mentor}|Spain|all adults seeking professional development, computer literacy and personal development and unable to access training courses |online classrooms, also traditional classrooms with Internet access, CD Roms, study guides |tutor or mentor is included in all programmes and they are responsible for ensuring that learning objectives are met online|Spanish | |{Glow Connect}|Scotland|Glow is used by staff and learners in schools and early years establishments in Scotland|tools and resources for students, sharing resources online, discussion groups and forums, national professional learning community |services have moderators and some even consultants or professionals for expert support|English | |{SecondChanceEducation.eu}|EU|teachers|qualitative benchmarking of schools, tools for working with beneficiaries (examples of best practices such as webinars, learning apps etc. are available), validation of international placements|moderator|English| |{OpeningUpSlovenia} |Slovenia|educators at all levels of education, researchers, industry and technological partners|project initiatives, mobile application presentations and development, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are online courses aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web), events, publications|moderator|English, Slovenian| |{Neopass@ction}|France|educators|distance self-training resources (written and video), resources for institutionalised training with trainers or tutors|moderator, trainers, tutors|French | |{MyTeachingPartner}|Virginia,USA|teachers|video clips, training course, web-mediated individualised coaching|moderator, expert consultants|English| Some of these models are considered formal as they {{lead to a formal degree}} or certificate and are developed through multiple partnerships such as {Aula Mentor} (Spain) and {Glow Connect} (Scotland). One of the most complex computer-supported systems designed for continuous professional development is {Aula Mentor (Mentor Classroom)} from Spain. Today, {Aula Mentor} offers a range of courses and options and covers 27 different areas, ranging from Introduction to computer technology to Education and several specific professions such as textile and tourism (Aula Mentor, n.d.). Only certain courses specifically target educators and their professional development. {Aula Mentor} was one of the first web-based designs to focus on the professional development of educators, having been first established in the early 1990s. It is an open and distance learning system used primarily as a way of communicating through an electronic platform and website and its courses are designed to provide additional training for those seeking professional development. It is aimed at groups unable to access training courses and all successfully completed courses are certified (Aula Mentor, n.d.). Altogether, over 120 courses are offered through the programme (Aula Mentor, n.d.) and they are all intended to last an average of 4 months. In the area of Education, there are 10 different courses of which there are currently no specific courses dealing with early school leaving or cooperation directly, although they are being developed within the TITA project. Given the self-paced nature of all coursework, however, actual study time may either be shorter or longer. In pacing themselves, students (enrolled in courses in Spain) must keep in mind that final exams are given five times a year and must be taken in person in order to obtain a certificate (Verdisco, 2002). Scotland has developed a nationally available digital environment for learning called {Glow Connect} that also supports programmes that lead to a formal certificate. {Glow} is the world's first national intranet for education and connects 800,000 learners and teachers across Scotland. {Glow} encompasses over 2,700 schools, 750,000 school students and over 50,000 teaching staff; there is also the capacity to accommodate 700,000 parents within the system. It is funded by the Scottish Government and managed by Learning and Teaching Scotland. A number of contractual stakeholders are identified as users of {Glow}, among them local authorities, faculties of education and several governing institutions. It provides access to a range of digital tools and services, and an environment in which learners and teachers can create, collaborate and innovate (Glow Connect, n.d.). Therefore, it is designed as a multi-professional system and inter-agency cooperation that supports several different types of experts and stakeholders. {Glow} is not just a platform but also offers a username and password that gives access to several different web services: Microsoft Office 365 (provides storage space on Microsoft's cloud storage service), WordPress blogs (online blogging system storage), Wikispaces wikis (a social writing platform for education, easy to create an online classroom workspace where teachers and students can communicate and work on writing projects alone or in teams) and Adobe Connect (a web conferencing software service for online meeting experiences for collaboration, virtual classrooms and large-scale webinars) as part of a Broadcasting service (Glow TV and Glow Meet). {Glow} provides a variety of safe and secure cloud-based services for collaborative, innovative and social learning, co-creation, and easy web publishing. {Glow accounts} are available to all schools and education establishments across Scotland, including independent schools and teacher education colleges/universities (Glow Connect, n.d.). Other {{models are less formal}} and involve the use of a variety of tools, including case studies or e-mail discussion boards (such as {SecondChanceEducation.eu} or {Opening-up-Slovenia}). The {SecondChanceEducation.eu} project is an initiative of the Digital Second Chance Opportunities project and is a learning platform for educators. This project has been funded with support from the European Commission and is carried out by an international consortium. It focusses on the quality improvement of second-chance education, paying particular attention to the development of a European online knowledge and quality centre. The training possibilities support teachers, trainers, mentors and other educators working with early school leavers to develop and grow. Further education of teachers, qualitative benchmarking of schools, tools for working with beneficiaries and validation of international placements are the project’s main goals. More than 30 trainings are available as professional development training programmes for educators and several of them focus on the factors that are common risk factors for early school leaving, such as managing conflict, raising standards through mentoring etc. In addition, more than 30 practices are available that offer best practices in the form of records used by other educators. {SecondChanceEducation.eu} is also building the largest database of learning methods and good practices in the triangle of learning, living and working. Any educator can join and share their good practice or learning method and therefore receive feedback on their own ideas. It was developed based on previous projects and materials developed in them (such as DISCO – {Digital Second Chance Opportunities}, that was a project funded by the Erasmus + Programme (EFVET, n.d.), {LION - Learning, lIving, wOrking for Neet-group}, that was a Gruntvig multilateral project, addressing the issues of people who are not in employment, education or training (CESIE, 2013) and EXACT – {Excellence academy for trainers}, that was funded by the “Lifelong Learning Program” of the EC (SecondChanceEducation, n.d.)). {OpeningUpSlovenia} from Slovenia is a full-scale, national-level and unique experimental case study that is attempting to create a unique nationwide research environment in open education. It is planned to support the development and availability of: open digital pedagogies, open educational resources, open ICT-based technologies, open innovative business models, and open digitally-supported learning environments. The initiative is still in its initial phase and development is in progress (OpeningUpSlovenia, n.d.). Its main contribution should be open-access materials for different focus points concerning education and also flexibility for developing areas of interest to educators at any given moment. The test-bed comprises a coalition of all Slovenian universities, compulsory and vocational education institutions with technical, research and industry partners. Moreover, some course websites are designed for {{complementing face-to-face professional development programmes}} (such as {Neopass@ction} or {MyTeachingPartner™}). {Neopass@ction} is a tool for teacher training from France that seeks to provide examples of actual teacher work at the national level as distance self-training resources or institutionalised training with trainers or tutors. {Neopass@ction} is mostly based on video resources likely to significantly contribute to the professionalisation of beginning teachers and also for analysing issues for more experienced teachers. The platform is designed to serve at the national level as a resource for either web-based training, which the learner does alone, or for instructor-led training conducted in a classroom setting (Neopass@ction, n.d.). The training module developed from this platform is therefore not aimed at imparting the practices of expert teachers in a prescriptive manner, but at bringing to bear the real experiences and current practices of beginners in the classroom, in view of gradually transforming those practices in line with personal standards of feasibility and professional effectiveness. One of the design assumptions is that, to facilitate the creation of links between real classroom experiences of platform users and their experiences during the viewing of training videos, the situations viewed must have some features in common with those already encountered by the users (Leblanc & Ria, 2013). Similarly, {MyTeachingPartner™}, or MTP, is a system of professional development support from Virginia, USA that was developed for improving [teacher-student interactions->http://titaproject.eu/spip.php?rubrique104]. It contains three specific resources that may be used either individually or in tandem: a video library of annotated examples of best practice, a college course and web-mediated individualised coaching: The video library contains more than 400 1- to 2-minute video clips of teachers’ effective interactions with students for all levels of education and gives teachers an opportunity to observe other teachers’ effective interactions as they implement a wide range of instructional activities in various contexts. The MTP coaching programme involves the following five steps in a 2-week cycle: a teacher records a classroom video, a coach reviews and selects the video and writes prompts, the teacher reviews the video and responds to the prompts, the teacher and the coach discuss the prompts and practice, summary and action plan for the next cycle (MyTeachingPartner™, n.d.). One of the research papers concerning the effectiveness of the MyTeachingPartner coaching intervention indicates that a variety of individual and contextual factors relate to teachers’ responsiveness to the programme objectives. Psychological factors, specifically anxiety and readiness to change, are related to several indicators of responsiveness. Thus, it may be beneficial to focus on participant characteristics prior to an intervention (Roberts et al., 2014). {{Based on the evidence and the scarce evaluation studies about certain platforms, the recommendation is to implement a combination of online training and personal contact}} with the trainer or mentor and/or other participants since that provides an opportunity for implementing the personalised materials and courses regarding the needs of the trainee and also provides an opportunity for personalised improvement and the development of communication competencies. Thus, the motivation for professional development and the interest in further participation in the training are improved. Conclusions and recommendations Online or ICT-supported environments can simply provide easy access to case materials that can be used for learning new content or methods, for observing real-time situations and for (self)reflection and therefore contain a motivation factor in themselves. {{The analysis of the existing information regarding online or other ICT-based professional development programmes of educators has indicated more advantages than disadvantages of its implementation.}} As described, the online and other ICT-supported professional development programmes are well established and widely used approaches to the professional development of educators. But although the approaches have shifted a great deal from traditional to modern and are more focused on the construction of knowledge and ICT-supported technologies, the contents of professional development programmes are still mostly oriented to the traditional roles of the educators, mostly involving competencies about certain issues (such as teaching content, didactics, discipline, special needs etc.) and {{only a few involve contents focused on preventing ESL,}} such as understanding ESL, educators’ self-reflection, social and emotional competencies and other. The presented programmes are concentrated on several concepts, i.e. the programmes in {Aula Mentor} (n.d.) are focused on child development, the education of parents and families, sign language and drug use prevention etc., {Glow Connect} (n.d.) stresses the sharing and developing of resources, chiefly involving teaching content resources, {OpeningUpSlovenia} focuses on developing innovative approaches, primarily regarding different approaches for how to address the teaching content, {Neopass@ction} offers resources on how to support students in the transition from education to work, how to communicate with students, how to deal with discipline incidents etc., {MyTeachingPartner} concentrates on teachers’ effective interactions with students, while {SecondChanceEducation.eu} aims to support educators working with ESL by highlighting communication, managing conflicts and connecting the education and work environments. Therefore, the scope and complexity covered by the different online programmes and platforms is very comprehensive and the required educators’ competencies are even more so. Accordingly, the choice of a professional development programme for educators is complex. The support provided by online or other ICT-supported professional development programmes can help trainees improve their understanding of the complex teaching know-how and improve their ability to analyse their own activities. But this link generally remains implicit during their formal training and, for the time being, evaluators must settle for postulating that users will engage in a self-analysis that will be useful to them, if not for acting directly then at least for recognising the corresponding professional situations in the field (Leblanc & Ria, 2013). An important consideration for the designers of new platforms is thus to establish a system that makes the choice of programme easier by trying to encourage maintaining the use of the newly acquired competencies even after completing the initial course and to provide trainees with an opportunity to return to the platform for learning on another issue they are interested in. Therefore, each platform should be complex and flexible regarding both the contents and methods used but at the same time easy to comprehend and use. The greatest challenges and points to consider when developing new platforms are: a) to be user-friendly; b) to provide tasks in such a way that participants cooperate/collaborate with each other and with a mentor or coach; c) to incorporate contents that are interesting and attractive to the participants; d) to include face-to-face interaction; e) another issue that could be resolved by including a skilled trainer is how to reach professionals who are not interested in using ICT; and f) establishing a system to maintain use of newly acquired competencies even after completing the initial course and for the return of participants to learn about other topics. When addressing those issues, {{the developers of online platforms}} (such as those being developed by the TITA project) {{should create platforms that will address current issues, such as ESL, but will also have the potential to focus on different issues when the need arises.}}

Introduction

Educators’ work tasks are very complex and have been changing rapidly in the last few decades, thereby offering a great challenge for both educators’ performance and job satisfaction. In order to stay in touch with these challenges, educators tend to attend diverse professional development programmes. E-learning or learning with the assistance of ICT (such as online trainings) is one of the approaches that provides effective assistance for professional development because it can ensure rapid communication between colleagues and improves the quality of the work (Chang, 2016), but the choice of a method of e-learning is complex.

Learning based on ICT has several variations and can be carried out as any combination of: purely online (no face-to-face meetings), blended learning (combination of online and face-to-face), tutor-led group, self-study, self-study with expert support, web-based (Internet application), computer-based (e.g. DVD), video type, audio type, written-text-based type, synchronous communication (chat, videoconferences,…), asynchronous communication (forum, email,…), webinars, virtual classrooms, exams (online, paper,…), application sharing, resources sharing… Any of the above approaches and its combinations can be used for professional development and can be included in online trainings where educators observe and/or reflect on other educators’ (or their own) ideas, practice and examples in a real or virtual environment.
This paper focuses on presenting the role of the existing online training programmes and platforms for educators since several advantages of online trainings for educators have been recognised. The article aims to provide an insight into the pro and cons of online educators’ trainings and an overview of the existing online professional development resources for educators, some of which may also tackle issues related to preventing ESL.

Methodology

We conducted a review of the literature by searching in the ERIC, Proquest, Wiley, Science Direct and Google search engines for information. Search criteria were established concerning e-learning, online training platforms, teachers’ professional development, and the cross-references for these search criteria were first examined. The search and analyses of other related papers followed. We included three types of documents: scientific papers for the theoretical background to the contents under scrutiny, web pages representing online training platforms as well as EU documents and reports. Based on these documents, the theoretical background and some already implemented online training programmes were presented in order to offer guidelines for modelling innovative online trainings.

Advantages and limitations of online trainings

Recently a frequent choice for educators’ professional development has been online courses (combined with face-to-face training) since they provide two of the most essential elements of effective professional development: They give participating teachers opportunities to practise what they learn over relatively extended periods of time (as opposed to traditional in-service one-off seminar courses) and they provide an ideal environment for interaction among participants (National Staff Development Council, 2001). Since existing traditional face-to-face professional development programmes typically do not include all of the educators in a school and the courses are usually held as one-off events, online virtual communities and all complementary alternatives could enable educators to share their experiences and exchange information and reflections and complement them continuously and collaboratively and thus improve as both individuals and a school team.

Many existing teacher professional development programmes are not high in quality, offering only ‘fragmented, intellectually superficial’ seminars (Borko, 2004) that do not meet the educators’ expectations in terms of developing the much needed competencies. Not only are educators often not very satisfied with the traditional professional development training courses but the lack of continuity of and collective approaches to those training courses also needs to be addressed. Therefore, several strong initiatives for implementing new technologies in educators’ professional development have emerged since the end of the 20th century.

The use of ICT in education in general was recently found to be most effective when it is used as a teaching supplement, as learning support, as encouragement for reflection and as promotion for cognitive dissonance (Smetana & Bell, 2012), as an enrichment (Pedro, 2005) and not so much if it is used as the only source for learning. Since teachers are (already) education professionals with limited time and financial resources, ICT-supported possibilities for professional development are among the easily accessible ways to achieve the goal of supporting educators’ professional development. It is commonly agreed that we need to build teachers’ capacity for development and improvement but we also need to be sure that time, effort and scarce resources are expended only on quality programmes (Dede, Ketelhut, Whitehouse, Breit, & McCloskey, 2009). Virtual platforms and supporting online networks could make the implementation of educators’ competence development more effective in all those aspects: online teacher professional development models can provide high quality learning opportunities; teachers have access to experts in a given field; they are able to collaborate with others; online learning allows time for (self)reflection and for dialogue; it allows for flexibility in scheduling, timing and the development of one’s own learning spaces. In other words, it can be empowering as teachers take ownership of their own learning. Online teacher professional development can also serve as a bridge between preservice education, new teacher support (induction) and continuing teacher development (Sprague, 2006).

The induction process is often mentioned as an important but organisationally and financially challenging characteristic of a quality education system. Participating in face-to-face situations as an observer (mentor or trainee) is challenging since one cannot be present everywhere at once and cannot pay attention to all students and situations simultaneously. The observations and participation in real-life situations are also very time-consuming. Therefore, the solutions such as computer-supported settings could be implemented because small segments of video clips can be used where teachers observe their own performance or the performance of other teachers and professionally develop through (self)reflection. In addition, a lot of teachers can observe the same situation and learn from it.

As the TALIS survey sums up, in seeking to meet teachers’ professional development requirements, policymakers and practitioners need to consider both how to support and encourage participation and how to ensure that opportunities match teachers’ perceived needs. This must be balanced with the cost in terms of both finance and teachers’ time (OECD, 2009). Moreover, policy measures should be aimed at reviewing and adapting the offer of in-service training opportunities to ensure they respond to teachers’ needs for professional development (balancing them with needs at school and at the system level) and have a proven impact on teachers’ practice and, consequently, on learner attainment. Providing attractive possibilities for professional development helps teachers address skills deficits and update their competencies throughout their career. This is especially relevant in the current circumstances of limited budgetary possibilities and the barriers to participate in continuing professional development as indicated by TALIS such as ’conflict with schedule’ (OECD, 2014). Similarly, policymakers will want to look at the effectiveness of the different forms of continuing professional development on offer and focus on those which combine theory with practice and offer the possibility to collaborate and exchange with peers. In the current budgetary conditions, countries should explore the possibilities offered by Open Educational Resources as they have the potential to address some of the key obstacles identified by teachers, such as high costs and conflict with work schedules (OECD, 2014).

The online trainings and other ICT-supported forms of professional development thus offer many opportunities in terms of providing attractive possibilities for balancing between needs at the individual, school and system levels, also considering the limited financial resources and reducing conflicts with the schedule. But, like with other methods, the online forms of professional development must be used with careful consideration.

It is interesting to examine how educators will accept the online or other ICT-based programmes for their professional development. A large-scale professional development programme “Intel Teach – Advanced online” in Germany offers a blended-learning course with face-to-face meetings of teachers with a tutor and other teachers and e-learning training phases in which teachers use the online platform for individual and collaborative learning. The evaluation of this programme indicates that teachers have accepted the platform very well and use it as resource for theoretical and practical contents. The teachers’ attitudes, with positive attitudes to technology, were also positive regarding the platform. On the other hand, the evaluation showed that a major limitation of implementing the platform was that teachers with low interest and negative attitudes to technology were clearly underrepresented or did not join the platform (Todorova & Osburg, 2009).

This is a very realistic consideration for all initiatives for implementing ICT involving professional development programmes such as online professional development programmes and a reminder that this might not be the only option and that it should focus on diverse and attractive programmes and methods. Yet, on the other hand, it is very likely that the share of teachers who would join such a platform is larger than those with low interest and negative attitudes to new technologies and that it will grow in the future. TALIS (OECD, 2014) already indicated that teachers are expressing less of a need to learn about ICT than they did in 2008 (OECD, 2009), most probably because more teachers are becoming competent in ICT due to its use in everyday life. Nevertheless, these and other potential limitations of the online or other ICT-based programmes should be considered when planning such solutions in terms of preparing user-friendly solutions that are attractive and in-depth regarding the content. Further, the lack of face-to-face communication could also be considered as a major potential limitation.

Online training courses and traditional professional development courses can address similar issues and, when used as complementary methods, they can offer great potential. Some online programmes are supported with the possibility to watch and/or analyse video resources that can be used as tools for self-confronting one’s own activity, for crossed self-confrontation crossing with colleagues’ activity, confrontation with the recording of others’ teaching and also collective confrontation where a group is confronted with a video (of their work or of the work of others) (Flandin & Lussi Borer, 2016).

Considering the characteristics of modern society like complex working tasks and everyday life it is important to note that the ICT-based solutions for the professional development of teachers should not and cannot completely replace face-to-face programmes and experiences but could offer ongoing support for teachers who are not being provided with the traditional professional development programmes. It could provide a community-based (online community) and collaborative model of professional development.

Examples of existing practice

Several models for online educators’ professional development are available. We present a few based on availability of information about the programme and primarily based on the content of a programme. A comparison of the online resources is found in Table 1.

The presented platforms indicate several similarities and differences.

Table 1. Similarities and differences among online platforms for educators’ professional development
TitleCountry of originTarget audienceMethods (Video, interactions, forums…) Including trainers, tutorsLanguage
Aula Mentor Spain all adults seeking professional development, computer literacy and personal development and unable to access training courses online classrooms, also traditional classrooms with Internet access, CD Roms, study guides tutor or mentor is included in all programmes and they are responsible for ensuring that learning objectives are met online Spanish
Glow Connect Scotland Glow is used by staff and learners in schools and early years establishments in Scotland tools and resources for students, sharing resources online, discussion groups and forums, national professional learning community services have moderators and some even consultants or professionals for expert support English
SecondChanceEducation.eu EU teachers qualitative benchmarking of schools, tools for working with beneficiaries (examples of best practices such as webinars, learning apps etc. are available), validation of international placements moderator English
OpeningUpSlovenia Slovenia educators at all levels of education, researchers, industry and technological partners project initiatives, mobile application presentations and development, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are online courses aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web), events, publications moderator English, Slovenian
Neopass@ction France educators distance self-training resources (written and video), resources for institutionalised training with trainers or tutors moderator, trainers, tutors French
MyTeachingPartner Virginia,USA teachers video clips, training course, web-mediated individualised coaching moderator, expert consultants English

Some of these models are considered formal as they lead to a formal degree or certificate and are developed through multiple partnerships such as Aula Mentor (Spain) and Glow Connect (Scotland).

One of the most complex computer-supported systems designed for continuous professional development is Aula Mentor (Mentor Classroom) from Spain. Today, Aula Mentor offers a range of courses and options and covers 27 different areas, ranging from Introduction to computer technology to Education and several specific professions such as textile and tourism (Aula Mentor, n.d.). Only certain courses specifically target educators and their professional development. Aula Mentor was one of the first web-based designs to focus on the professional development of educators, having been first established in the early 1990s. It is an open and distance learning system used primarily as a way of communicating through an electronic platform and website and its courses are designed to provide additional training for those seeking professional development. It is aimed at groups unable to access training courses and all successfully completed courses are certified (Aula Mentor, n.d.). Altogether, over 120 courses are offered through the programme (Aula Mentor, n.d.) and they are all intended to last an average of 4 months. In the area of Education, there are 10 different courses of which there are currently no specific courses dealing with early school leaving or cooperation directly, although they are being developed within the TITA project. Given the self-paced nature of all coursework, however, actual study time may either be shorter or longer. In pacing themselves, students (enrolled in courses in Spain) must keep in mind that final exams are given five times a year and must be taken in person in order to obtain a certificate (Verdisco, 2002).

Scotland has developed a nationally available digital environment for learning called Glow Connect that also supports programmes that lead to a formal certificate. Glow is the world’s first national intranet for education and connects 800,000 learners and teachers across Scotland. Glow encompasses over 2,700 schools, 750,000 school students and over 50,000 teaching staff; there is also the capacity to accommodate 700,000 parents within the system. It is funded by the Scottish Government and managed by Learning and Teaching Scotland. A number of contractual stakeholders are identified as users of Glow, among them local authorities, faculties of education and several governing institutions. It provides access to a range of digital tools and services, and an environment in which learners and teachers can create, collaborate and innovate (Glow Connect, n.d.). Therefore, it is designed as a multi-professional system and inter-agency cooperation that supports several different types of experts and stakeholders. Glow is not just a platform but also offers a username and password that gives access to several different web services: Microsoft Office 365 (provides storage space on Microsoft’s cloud storage service), WordPress blogs (online blogging system storage), Wikispaces wikis (a social writing platform for education, easy to create an online classroom workspace where teachers and students can communicate and work on writing projects alone or in teams) and Adobe Connect (a web conferencing software service for online meeting experiences for collaboration, virtual classrooms and large-scale webinars) as part of a Broadcasting service (Glow TV and Glow Meet). Glow provides a variety of safe and secure cloud-based services for collaborative, innovative and social learning, co-creation, and easy web publishing. Glow accounts are available to all schools and education establishments across Scotland, including independent schools and teacher education colleges/universities (Glow Connect, n.d.).

Other models are less formal and involve the use of a variety of tools, including case studies or e-mail discussion boards (such as SecondChanceEducation.eu or Opening-up-Slovenia).

The SecondChanceEducation.eu project is an initiative of the Digital Second Chance Opportunities project and is a learning platform for educators. This project has been funded with support from the European Commission and is carried out by an international consortium. It focusses on the quality improvement of second-chance education, paying particular attention to the development of a European online knowledge and quality centre. The training possibilities support teachers, trainers, mentors and other educators working with early school leavers to develop and grow. Further education of teachers, qualitative benchmarking of schools, tools for working with beneficiaries and validation of international placements are the project’s main goals. More than 30 trainings are available as professional development training programmes for educators and several of them focus on the factors that are common risk factors for early school leaving, such as managing conflict, raising standards through mentoring etc. In addition, more than 30 practices are available that offer best practices in the form of records used by other educators. SecondChanceEducation.eu is also building the largest database of learning methods and good practices in the triangle of learning, living and working. Any educator can join and share their good practice or learning method and therefore receive feedback on their own ideas. It was developed based on previous projects and materials developed in them (such as DISCO – Digital Second Chance Opportunities, that was a project funded by the Erasmus + Programme (EFVET, n.d.), LION - Learning, lIving, wOrking for Neet-group, that was a Gruntvig multilateral project, addressing the issues of people who are not in employment, education or training (CESIE, 2013) and EXACT – Excellence academy for trainers, that was funded by the “Lifelong Learning Program” of the EC (SecondChanceEducation, n.d.)).

OpeningUpSlovenia from Slovenia is a full-scale, national-level and unique experimental case study that is attempting to create a unique nationwide research environment in open education. It is planned to support the development and availability of: open digital pedagogies, open educational resources, open ICT-based technologies, open innovative business models, and open digitally-supported learning environments. The initiative is still in its initial phase and development is in progress (OpeningUpSlovenia, n.d.). Its main contribution should be open-access materials for different focus points concerning education and also flexibility for developing areas of interest to educators at any given moment. The test-bed comprises a coalition of all Slovenian universities, compulsory and vocational education institutions with technical, research and industry partners.

Moreover, some course websites are designed for complementing face-to-face professional development programmes (such as Neopass@ction or MyTeachingPartner™).

Neopass@ction is a tool for teacher training from France that seeks to provide examples of actual teacher work at the national level as distance self-training resources or institutionalised training with trainers or tutors. Neopass@ction is mostly based on video resources likely to significantly contribute to the professionalisation of beginning teachers and also for analysing issues for more experienced teachers. The platform is designed to serve at the national level as a resource for either web-based training, which the learner does alone, or for instructor-led training conducted in a classroom setting (Neopass@ction, n.d.).

The training module developed from this platform is therefore not aimed at imparting the practices of expert teachers in a prescriptive manner, but at bringing to bear the real experiences and current practices of beginners in the classroom, in view of gradually transforming those practices in line with personal standards of feasibility and professional effectiveness. One of the design assumptions is that, to facilitate the creation of links between real classroom experiences of platform users and their experiences during the viewing of training videos, the situations viewed must have some features in common with those already encountered by the users (Leblanc & Ria, 2013).

Similarly, MyTeachingPartner™, or MTP, is a system of professional development support from Virginia, USA that was developed for improving teacher-student interactions. It contains three specific resources that may be used either individually or in tandem: a video library of annotated examples of best practice, a college course and web-mediated individualised coaching: The video library contains more than 400 1- to 2-minute video clips of teachers’ effective interactions with students for all levels of education and gives teachers an opportunity to observe other teachers’ effective interactions as they implement a wide range of instructional activities in various contexts. The MTP coaching programme involves the following five steps in a 2-week cycle: a teacher records a classroom video, a coach reviews and selects the video and writes prompts, the teacher reviews the video and responds to the prompts, the teacher and the coach discuss the prompts and practice, summary and action plan for the next cycle (MyTeachingPartner™, n.d.). One of the research papers concerning the effectiveness of the MyTeachingPartner coaching intervention indicates that a variety of individual and contextual factors relate to teachers’ responsiveness to the programme objectives. Psychological factors, specifically anxiety and readiness to change, are related to several indicators of responsiveness. Thus, it may be beneficial to focus on participant characteristics prior to an intervention (Roberts et al., 2014).

Based on the evidence and the scarce evaluation studies about certain platforms, the recommendation is to implement a combination of online training and personal contact with the trainer or mentor and/or other participants since that provides an opportunity for implementing the personalised materials and courses regarding the needs of the trainee and also provides an opportunity for personalised improvement and the development of communication competencies. Thus, the motivation for professional development and the interest in further participation in the training are improved.

Conclusions and recommendations

Online or ICT-supported environments can simply provide easy access to case materials that can be used for learning new content or methods, for observing real-time situations and for (self)reflection and therefore contain a motivation factor in themselves. The analysis of the existing information regarding online or other ICT-based professional development programmes of educators has indicated more advantages than disadvantages of its implementation. As described, the online and other ICT-supported professional development programmes are well established and widely used approaches to the professional development of educators. But although the approaches have shifted a great deal from traditional to modern and are more focused on the construction of knowledge and ICT-supported technologies, the contents of professional development programmes are still mostly oriented to the traditional roles of the educators, mostly involving competencies about certain issues (such as teaching content, didactics, discipline, special needs etc.) and only a few involve contents focused on preventing ESL, such as understanding ESL, educators’ self-reflection, social and emotional competencies and other.

The presented programmes are concentrated on several concepts, i.e. the programmes in Aula Mentor (n.d.) are focused on child development, the education of parents and families, sign language and drug use prevention etc., Glow Connect (n.d.) stresses the sharing and developing of resources, chiefly involving teaching content resources, OpeningUpSlovenia focuses on developing innovative approaches, primarily regarding different approaches for how to address the teaching content, Neopass@ction offers resources on how to support students in the transition from education to work, how to communicate with students, how to deal with discipline incidents etc., MyTeachingPartner concentrates on teachers’ effective interactions with students, while SecondChanceEducation.eu aims to support educators working with ESL by highlighting communication, managing conflicts and connecting the education and work environments. Therefore, the scope and complexity covered by the different online programmes and platforms is very comprehensive and the required educators’ competencies are even more so. Accordingly, the choice of a professional development programme for educators is complex.

The support provided by online or other ICT-supported professional development programmes can help trainees improve their understanding of the complex teaching know-how and improve their ability to analyse their own activities. But this link generally remains implicit during their formal training and, for the time being, evaluators must settle for postulating that users will engage in a self-analysis that will be useful to them, if not for acting directly then at least for recognising the corresponding professional situations in the field (Leblanc & Ria, 2013). An important consideration for the designers of new platforms is thus to establish a system that makes the choice of programme easier by trying to encourage maintaining the use of the newly acquired competencies even after completing the initial course and to provide trainees with an opportunity to return to the platform for learning on another issue they are interested in. Therefore, each platform should be complex and flexible regarding both the contents and methods used but at the same time easy to comprehend and use.

The greatest challenges and points to consider when developing new platforms are: a) to be user-friendly; b) to provide tasks in such a way that participants cooperate/collaborate with each other and with a mentor or coach; c) to incorporate contents that are interesting and attractive to the participants; d) to include face-to-face interaction; e) another issue that could be resolved by including a skilled trainer is how to reach professionals who are not interested in using ICT; and f) establishing a system to maintain use of newly acquired competencies even after completing the initial course and for the return of participants to learn about other topics. When addressing those issues, the developers of online platforms (such as those being developed by the TITA project) should create platforms that will address current issues, such as ESL, but will also have the potential to focus on different issues when the need arises.

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