Evaluating Web-Based Professional Development


Zalles, D. (2005). Evaluating web-based professional development. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting, Montreal, Canada.


As with other great media technology innovations in the past, World Wide Web technology has created new opportunities for learners. Businesspeople and educators have expended many efforts to test different applications and build demand for their educational offerings. Web learning sites have proliferated. The audiences and instructional methodologies for the different Web learning efforts vary. Some are for children, some are for adults. Some offer academic courses that parallel on-site classroom instruction, while others offer professional development programs that a teacher or other professional might otherwise present in a workshop or training program. Some offer traditional didactic instruction, while others attempt, through varying amounts of assistance, to orchestrate more open-ended, constructivist experiences for the user. Some are rigid in the way they channel the learner through a sequence of interactions. Others let users direct their own learning by choosing where they want to go and what they want to do.

Applications of Web-based technology for professional development include:

  • Digital libraries that permit the retrieval of standards, lesson plans, assessments, evaluation resources, full texts of articles, artifacts such as student work, and other resource materials, in any medium.
  • Multimedia learning technologies for training purposes that present information, assess learning, provide feedback, and individualize the learning path.
  • Tools and environments for synchronous and asynchronous professional communication and collaboration (e.g., e-mail, whiteboards, chats, listservs, video-conferences, file-sharing systems, etc.).
  • Professionally useful databases that permit members of professional communities to post, metatag, query, mine, and link records of interest.
  • Annotation interfaces layered over digital library resources that make it possible for members of professional communities to exchange context-embedded reflections and feedback about them.

These are not mutually exclusive categories. For example, a database or digital library can be posted on the same site that hosts virtual meetings.

The National Staff Development Council and the National Institute for Community Innovations (2001) have published a resource guide for the implementation of its standards for the professional development of educators in e-learning contexts. The guide presents examples of applications of Web-based professional development and posits quality criteria for meeting the standards. Although noteworthy in positing a blueprint for electronically delivered professional development, the guide does not address methodological issues pertaining to its evaluation.

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