In this essay I will reflect on one educational topic presented I at the Georgia Educational Researchers Association (GERA) 2012 conference in Savannah, Georgia. I will discuss what I thought was interesting in the presentation and also discuss the applicability of the research to my own teaching and research.
Friday morning I attended several presentations. The presentation I will reflect on was an evaluation research presentation. We all know that professional development training for teachers happens in many places throughout the year in the state of Georgia. As it is customary, Many of the training are immediately followed by an evaluative survey to gauge how the participants viewed the training usefulness and applicability. Most of the evaluative surveys at the end of each training sessions have questions such as: 1) on a scale of 1-10 how satisfied were you with the training? 2) will you recommend the training to others?, and 3) did you learn anything useful from the training? Off course many other useful questions are also asked in these surveys besides the ones mentioned.
In the presentation I attended, the presenters argued that as good as these survey questions maybe at assessing participants’ levels of satisfaction with the training, they don’t go far enough to assess the usefulness of the training in changing practice. The presenter further argued that, if a researcher want to understand whether the trainings are achieving their intended goals, that is influencing best practices at the work place–then they need to go a little further in their evaluative research by visiting training participants in their work places to observe and see whether or not practices are actually changing as a result of the training participants received.
The Presenter had done a research evaluating the effectiveness of training and/or professional development at changing practices. She did an evaluation of a middle school training session on the use of best practices to teach science in middle schools. The training was aimed at teaching middle grade science teachers to use discovery learning approaches in their classrooms. The researchers asked attendees to fill out a survey asking them about their satisfaction with the training and whether or not they will use the best practices learned in their own work places.
The finding from the survey was that a significant numbers of training participants are not using the best practices learned during the training. However, approximately 87% of respondents were satisfied with the training and expressed that they will more likely than not use the teaching methods in their classrooms. When the researcher visited the participants at their work place– only 15% were using or trying to use best practices methodology of teaching in their classes. The findings from this study shows how difficult it sometime is to get educators’ buy in in implementing innovative teaching methods.
For my experience, I have attended numerous professional development in my teaching career, I have not really integrated wholly what I learned in a single training session into my classroom or lecture hall. I feel as though educators attending training session, most often pick and choose what is more important to their teaching and leave the other information that they don’t find interesting and/or useful in their own situations. Training effectiveness evaluators need to realize that most educators are not going to adopt each and every single segment of the training information into their daily practice. More likely than not, they will take what is useful to them and use that rather than adopting the entire new system into their own. There are various reasons contributing to this phenomenon from the educators’ point of view: 1) like many educators, I somewhat believe that if it is working why change it? 2) I feel like traditional educators would not like discovery learning approaches as it takes away authority from them and hands autonomy to students, 3) most schools are concerned more with students’ scores in standardized tests; therefore more emphasis is put into teaching to the test rather than teaching for understanding.
Furthermore, the challenges of implementing a discovery learning approach in a classroom are many. In my own experience, it takes more time to create lesson plans centered in the constructivist learning approaches such as discovery learning as compared to traditional learning approaches. Most often constructivist teaching approaches create classrooms that are louder because of the amount of discussions that are instrumental in meaning making for students. Therefore, creating classroom rules and procedure early on is paramount. In this type of learning, students become autonomous and also take more responsibility of their own learning.
I attended many presentations at the conference, but I was really interested in understanding whether professional development sessions have a positive impact on changing the way educators teach. The evidence from this research suggests that most teachers do not change the way they teach from attending just a single training session. It is possible that more teachers will adapt these learning methods if trainings are conducted over a long period of time or done in chunks.
Overall, I feel that GERA is a very informative conference for teachers and educational researchers. I enjoyed spending time with like minded educators and observing how other educational researchers go about conducting and presenting their findings. Most of all, it was a perfect opportunity to connect, build friendship, and long lasting connections for future research and job opportunities. I am already looking forward to next year!