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Education apps open next frontier for teacher PD

Some apps allow teachers to videotape themselves so they can get instant feedback from peers and mentors
New PD apps can save districts money on travel costs by connecting them virtually with education consultants.
New PD apps can save districts money on travel costs by connecting them virtually with education consultants.

A new wave of apps connects teachers with mobile access to professional development and expands opportunities for collaboration with mentors and peers.

“When apps first started, they were basically for entertainment or information,” says Robbie Melton, associate vice chancellor of mobilization emerging technology at the Tennessee Board of Regents. “As mobile devices evolved, we now have a wealth of information and apps for education and workforce development.”

Melton is a member of ISTE’s mobile learning committee and a self-proclaimed “appologist,” or someone who reviews educational apps to find the best for classroom use. Last year, Melton’s Tennessee team launched its own site, App-A-Pedia, which allows educators to search for apps in more than 150 different academic areas, including PD.

Melton gets requests every month from teachers and curriculum advisors looking for apps. Teachers can access these on mobile devices to participate in a webinar or watch a coaching video, for example.

“As the tech advances, we’re going to see a lot of training shifted to that platform,” Melton says. New tools like the iWatch may further increase mobile PD accessibility, she adds.

Some apps allow teachers to videotape themselves so they can get instant feedback from peers and mentors. Other apps can save districts money on travel costs by connecting them virtually with consultants who answer teacher questions and provide lesson coaching.

CIOs remain responsible for handling cost, safety and security, and sometimes maintenance of teacher PD apps. They also have to check the reliability of using the apps on mobile devices, rather than on a laptop or desktop.

Resources

Robbie Melton, associate vice chancellor of mobilization emerging technology at the Tennessee Board of Regents and a member of ISTE’s mobile learning committee, recommends the following websites out of many for finding the right PD app for your district.

  • APPitic: A directory of Apple-compatible apps for education from Apple Distinguished Educators. The apps have been tested by teachers.
  • App-A-Pedia: A site launched last year by Melton’s Tennessee team along with education organizations and teachers worldwide that allows educators to search for apps in over 150 different academic areas, including PD.
  • Mobile Apps MERLOT: Another site where education and PD apps can be searched for by platform, grade level and discipline.

Melton offers the following recommendations for moving to apps-based PD:

  • Have a strategic plan. “Some PD is best face-to-face. But like flipped classrooms, this is flipped PD, and has benefits,” Melton says. For example, apps are good for updating large groups on new policies.
  • Work with current PD publishers to align apps to the district’s needs—or develop your own app. One thing to consider is whether teachers can access any PD materials while offline. Another is how the app allows collaboration, such as through messaging or video chatting. 
  • Determine which device will be used for PD delivery. “We recommend that PD for teachers should be done with BYOD,” Melton says. “The moment a teacher has to learn a different device for their own PD, they are not going to use it.”
  • Evaluate overall effectiveness, such as with teacher surveys or knowledge tests.
  • Keep updating. “Every six months we have a new innovation in mobile tech,” Melton says. “It’s not that you have to purchase it, you just have to be aware.” Staying in touch with education technology organizations can help CIOs keep on top of major developments in mobile PD.