Helping staff members–and themselves–keep up with changes in technology is a significant challenge for the decision-makers in education. Responses to a recent survey about professional development indicate that the best way to keep pace with the evolution of technology is to implement ongoing, not isolated, professional development opportunities that are tailored to the needs of a diverse audience.

High-quality use of technology in schools requires knowledge and skillful leadership at both the district and school levels. Although educators might enter their jobs with an adequate understanding of technology, the field continues to evolve at such a quickening pace that technology knowledge and abilities can quickly become limited.

Providing appropriate and ongoing professional learning in technology is no easy task. Because teachers and administrators have many diverse interests and training needs, individuals who are responsible for planning staff development experiences have numerous questions to consider: How should staff development be delivered? What percentage of the annual district budget should be spent on technology training? Are some delivery methods more preferred than others? When do most teachers and administrators receive professional development in technology?

In this column, I’ll explore how readers of eSchool News answered these questions and others in a recent survey conducted by the Education Leadership Program at George Mason University. The results of this survey provide a telling snapshot of the state of professional development in the nation’s schools.

Persons in charge of tech development. According to the survey, the people most likely to be in charge of organizing and implementing professional development in technology were instructional technology directors or those with an equivalent title at the district level (25 percent). Other persons who most often provided training in technology listed their job titles as coordinators at the building level (15 percent), building-level principals (13 percent), staff development directors (12 percent), and curriculum directors (12 percent).

Who receives professional development, and when. Professional development programs in technology were most often delivered to teachers (91 percent) after school hours during the week (40 percent) or on specific days set aside for professional development (34 percent). Technology training for administrators was most often delivered during the school day (26 percent) or on specified professional development days (24 percent). Technology personnel also were most likely to receive their professional development training during school days (38 percent) or during specified professional development days (21 percent). According to 72 percent of survey respondents, professional development activities were delivered most often on a year-round basis, while 14 percent said they held or received technology training during the summer months.

Guidance on planning. Forty-four percent of the respondents reported that most components of the training programs were decided in the spring, rather than at other times of the year. Respondents used a specific set of standards or a combination of standards as guides when planning professional development activities. The standards that most often guided respondents were their state or province-developed technology standards (51 percent), the National Educational Technology Standards from the International Society for Technology in Education(ISTE) (46 percent), locally developed technology standards (44 percent), and ISTE’s Technology Standards for School Administrators (21 percent).

Types of offerings and content. Respondents said they’ve used several types of professional development offerings. The type of instruction most often reported was in the use of generalized software programs, such as web-design products, video-editing products, and productivity applications, such as word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation software (75 percent). Other types of training included instruction in education-specific software products, such as electronic grade books, student information systems, or instructional media management software (69 percent); orientation to basic concepts in technology (45 percent); and instruction in data-driven decision-making (43 percent).

Current delivery models. When asked how professional development currently is delivered, survey respondents said they received tech education most often through attendance at conventions and state or province conferences (64 percent). The second most popular delivery model for professional development was occasional seminars or workshops presented by outside facilitators (62 percent), followed by seminars or workshops presented by district-level facilitators or instructors (58 percent) or school-level personnel (58 percent).

Online professional development. Thirty percent of respondents said they currently take advantage of online professional development. Forty percent said their school or district would consider delivering professional development online, while 6 percent indicated they wanted only face-to-face training. Survey recipients also were asked to anticipate their district’s most preferred method of presentation for online professional development. Choices were instructor-led classes, self-study classes, or library-packaged programs. Sixty-one percent indicated they would prefer any of these methods, if the price was right.

Online selection criteria. Technology decision-makers ranked the characteristics they used when selecting online professional development materials. The most important characteristic was content relevance (47 percent). Next in importance was content quality (40 percent), and then price (21 percent).

Online costs. Twenty-three percent of respondents were not aware of the customary price for high-quality and relevant self-study or instructor-led online courses designed for completion within one hour. However, 24 percent estimated the cost would be between $11 to $30 for self-study courses, and 18 percent estimated between $31 and $50 an hour for instructor-led courses. Thirty-five percent said they did not know the customary price of a library-packaged suite consisting of between 5 and 20 high-quality courses on relevant topics. Eighteen percent guessed the cost of this package would be between $250 and $500.

Professional development budgets. Most school districts (40 percent) reported spending between $1,000 and $10,000 per year on professional development for technology. This figure was estimated to be from one to 10 percent of the total professional development budget. Four percent of respondents, all from large school systems, indicated their districts spent more than $1,000,000 on technology training per year.

Years of experience and ages. The bulk of readers who responded to the survey were experienced educators. Seventy-six percent have been educators for more than 10 years, and 74 percent of respondents were at least 41 years old.

Positions held. Technology coordinators at the district and school levels represented most of the survey respondents (26 percent), followed by teachers (24 percent), district office personnel (13 percent), and school principals and assistant principals (7 percent). While 83 percent of those who responded work in K-12 districts, the remainder were employed in colleges, state agencies, and other types of educational institutions.

Gender. Interestingly, 65 percent of those answering the survey were female, while only 35 percent were male. A similar study conducted five years ago indicated no significant difference existed at that time between the genders of respondents (51 percent male and 49 percent female).

District size. The districts in which respondents worked varied in size from less than 500 students to more than 25,000 students. The bulk of respondents (57 percent) reported a district enrollment of between 501 and 10,000 students.

Professional Development ChartSo, what can we conclude from this survey? Savvy education leaders who plan professional development opportunities should know to ask recipients about their preferences for the what, when, where, and how of these educational sessions, and they should understand that both peer-to-peer learning and online formats are welcomed delivery modes. If the respondents to our survey have their way, you can be sure that professional development will be relevant to educators’ needs, have high-quality content, and be reasonably priced.

Editor’s Note: This article marks the return of a monthly column on professional development, to be guest-written by different contributors each month. This month’s author, Jane McDonald is an associate professor in the Education Leadership program at George Mason University. She received her doctorate from Virginia Tech and previously served as an assistant superintendent for instruction, curriculum, and staff development. Dr. McDonald conducts research on leadership development and educational change, and has taught courses on constructing advocacy packets to influence decision-makers on the use of technology for learning and school change.