Saturday, January 18, 2014

Thoughts on Professional Learning - Inspired by CodeEval & HackerRank

I came across CodeEval tonight and am kind of intrigued by the idea and how it could apply to education and professional learning. Essentially it is a free, gamified site where programmers can complete coding challenges, participate in developer competitions, and earn points while also helping employers find potential new hires based on their abilities and skill sets. Last year HackerRank launched a similar site to connect programmers and share code challenges and events. They now have over 150,000 members of the community and are getting ready to introduce HackerRankX (formerly Interviewstreet) this month as a way to bring together programmers and employers.

These sites provide value to varying stakeholders who have different interests in the service being provided. Companies have a better chance of finding candidates who demonstrate and possess the right skill set and caliber of knowledge. Applicants have the ability to showcase their skills and secure an interview based more on their work than on the appearance of a resume or how much education they have (knowledge over seat time kind of a deal). Perhaps even more interesting to me is the group of participants who use sites like this to learn and practice coding and contribute to a community of like-minded individuals in computer science.

What I'm wondering is if a similar platform could be used as a place to collect a variety of synchronous and asynchronous PD opportunities (communities and discussions, online courses, backchannels and event pages for F2F, etc) and provide badges and/or points for participation as well as collecting stats on someone's skills and PD. Educators could go to the site to find learning experiences that meet their needs in both content and delivery mode, could get "credit" for participating in any of the offerings, and could have a central location to keep track of the PD they've participated in as well as the skills and knowledge they have acquired. I also love the idea of this information being available to other educators so they could connect with and seek out colleagues and mentors who were knowledgeable in their areas of interest / need. I think this format would also allow for a great deal of user-created content and learning opportunities as well as sharing of information and resources openly so as to eliminate a lot of the re-creation that takes up valuable staff time.

Another valuable use I see is in connecting teachers within my district and maximizing the potential of existing PD. The amount of meaningful learning that seems to go on compared to the vast number of PD structures and hours spent is quite disparate in my mind. I would really like to see teachers engaging in learning that meets their needs by taking a close look at the current methods and shifting the thinking from a compliance, seat-time model to something more personalized. Lately I've been contemplating how to provide more opportunities for less site-specific PD that meets the individual needs of a teacher while still meeting the needs of a school. I think there are several places where PD could be more interest-based and connect educators around the district - widening the reach and building a greater community of valuable perspectives. For example, in Denver Public Schools there is a ProComp pay incentive for contracted teachers who participate in PDUs (Professional Development Units), but most of the time these teacher-directed courses are limited to several teachers from 1 school who form a PDU group. This of course can be valuable, but I think there are a lot of teachers yearning for opportunities to stretch their thinking outside the walls of their buildings and the colleagues they work with on a regular basis. I see a lot of value in a simplified way for teachers to list the PDU they are interested in facilitating or participating in, and connecting with teachers from around the district to do so. Connecting teachers at various schools would often necessitate a more asynchronous format, meaning course materials could be archived and used (or modified) for years to come by other educators interested in similar topics.

I love the idea of recognizing knowledge and growth over seat time and making the experience personalized so teachers are engaging in valuable learning, but there's still something missing for me when I think about using badging to do so. I'm not sure exactly what the missing piece is, and it is possible these feelings are due to not having fully thought through what it might look like.  Maybe I have been seeing badging as a (the?) singular method instead of one piece of a much larger puzzle? I do think we need a comprehensive approach to the different aspects of the professional learning process that meets a variety of needs and learning styles while still working from a centralized place so as not to over-complicate or frustrate users when looking for the opportunities to meet their needs.

CodeEval, and similar sites, excite me because they meet several different needs and serve a purpose for multiple user groups within one platform. I also like the guiding principles that seem to be present when offering a place for users to learn and grow while also providing them opportunities to advance professionally with employers who are interested in their specific skill sets. This type of model places a lot of power and choice in the hands of the professional to see where their strengths and weaknesses are and to seek out the learning they feel they need to be more competitive and effective. I continually wonder where we would be, and what direction we would be headed in, if teachers were given that same power.