Evaluation Shows WIDE World Online Professional Development Makes a DifferenceBy newseditor
A recent evaluation by the EDC Center for Children and Technology (CCT) proves that WIDE World‘s professional development programs are succeeding in teaching participants to apply educational theory to practice.
WIDE World is an innovative professional development program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), reaching over 6000 educators in 70 countries. The program offers global online courses year-round that are based on the Teaching for Understanding framework, an approach to learning that was developed through 30 years of research at HGSE. One of WIDE World’s challenges in offering online professional development courses, as with any educational program, is determining whether learners are actually putting course ideas into action.
The privately-funded and independent evaluation by EDC, conducted over the 2005-2006 academic year, was enormously helpful in this regard, demonstrating that WIDE World learners are able to integrate theoretical concepts into their practical decisions as educators. The evaluation showed that WIDE World participants understand the educational theories learned in courses and apply them in their teaching.
“Teachers are bridging the knowledge-action gap and putting course ideas into practice in ways that show promise for having an effect on the performance and learning of their students,” says David Eddy Spicer, WIDE World’s research manager.
The results of this third-party evaluation were welcomed by WIDE World as a valuable complement to and affirmation of its own studies of course outcomes, Eddy Spicer notes.
“It’s very hard to figure out whether you’re being effective when your goal is not just to change people’s minds, but also to change their practice in the workplace. It is difficult to design methods and metrics that give you that information,” says Lecturer Martha Stone Wiske, WIDE World’s co-principal investigator. “This opportunity to draw on [the findings of] an expert research firm helps assure us that we are on the right track. It also produced findings that our clients and potential customers can put more stock in than if we told the story ourselves.”
Part of what sets EDC’s evaluation apart is the two methods used: the Critical Incident Technique, which collects detailed information about respondents’ behavior in defined situations, and a scenario-based assessment.
EDC Deputy Director Cornelia Brunner said this evaluation allowed WIDE World to grasp whether learners understood the key ideas of their online course, including ways to make assessment a critical component of teaching and learning.
“WIDE World does a good job, using a theoretical framework so that it benefits people in a single semester,” Brunner says. “Having such a clearly articulated theory is extremely helpful because it enables learners to make the leap from isolated ideas to understanding. We found that WIDE World’s courses prepare learners to align their assessments with their goals and instructional practice.”
As a result of the evaluation’s findings, WIDE World hopes that research-based, online professional development will become an even more appealing option for educators.
Moving forward, WIDE World expects that future independent evaluations will focus on how students are affected by the professional development experiences of their teachers. “We’re eager for others to look at all the good work students are doing in the classrooms of teachers who participate in our programs,” says Eddy Spicer.