The Impact of Online Professional Development (IOPD)

Funder: National Science Foundation

Dates: July 2006 - June 2010

PI: Barry Fishman

Co-PIs: Daniel Edelson (National Geographic) & Spyros Konstantopoulos (Boston College)

This research project is designed to enhance understanding of how online professional development environments contribute to teacher learning, changes in classroom practice, and changes in student learning in comparison to face-to-face professional development.  We explore this issue in the context of secondary school teachers learning to use a reform-oriented science curriculum.  High-quality professional development is crucial to the success of systemic and standards-based reform initiatives in science.  We propose to conduct an experiment where teachers are randomly assigned to one of three conditions: (1) A traditional face-to-face workshop, (2) self-guided online professional development, or (3) online professional development guided by a facilitator and structured as "short courses."  The content of the professional development will be held constant.  All teachers in this study will be new adopters of the NSF-supported Looking at the Environment curriculum.

This research project will address the following policy-relevant questions:

(1) What is the value of an online professional development experience in comparison to a face-to-face professional development experience, when the content of professional development is held constant?  Are there differences in teacher beliefs and knowledge, classroom practice, and student learning outcomes as a result of the professional development?

(2) What is the value of a facilitated online professional development experience, organized as online "short courses" as compared to an un-facilitated online professional development experience, when the content of the professional development and the resources employed are otherwise similar? Are there differences in teacher beliefs and knowledge, classroom practice, and student learning outcomes as a result of the professional development?

(3) What between-teacher differences predict outcomes from the three different conditions of professional development (face-to-face, un-facilitated online, and facilitated online)?

(4) What are the benefits (improved teacher learning, classroom enactment, and student learning) as a function of the relative cost of different professional development conditions?

Intellectual Merit

The intellectual merit of the proposed research is in its unique contribution to the knowledge base on teacher learning from PD. There has been little to no research to date that links teacher learning in PD directly to changes in classroom practice and subsequent student learning. Furthermore, there has been little research in teacher learning that employs randomized experimental designs in the context of the enactment of a high-quality curriculum to demonstrate these links causally. 

Broader Impacts

The broader impacts of the proposed research are on the real-world practice of professional development. This project will impact 90 teachers and an estimated 9000 high school students directly. It will result in the creation of PD resources that will potentially reach hundreds of additional teachers, and it will result in PD approaches that the PIs will disseminate through the auspices of the Center for Curriculum Materials in Science and the National Staff Development Council to a national professional development community.


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© Barry Fishman — fishman@umich.edu