June 1, 2018

Online tool allows for collaborative professional development

Werklund School graduate student needed a platform that supported shared knowledge creation, so she built one
Knowledge Net
Marcie Perdue's Knowledge Net allows teachers to build and share expertise online

Technology and good teaching have played a big part in Marcie Perdue’s success as both a student and an educator.

As a child, Perdue remembers driving around the oil patch with her father and using an alphabet strip to learn the letters; she also recalls her mother teaching her to read with Little Golden Books and the accompanying records. 

This extra aid was due to the fact that Perdue was diagnosed with a learning disorder at an early age.

“My parents had a goal that both of their girls would be highly educated so they worked with me to support my learning.”

Through hard work and with the help of her parents and supportive teachers, Perdue completed her high school diploma and went on to pursue a Bachelor of Education degree at the University of Alberta. Technology was again important to her success as she came armed to record her classes on tape.

During her graduate studies in the Werklund School of Education and even today, in her work as Associate Superintendent of Student Services with Chinook’s Edge School Division, Perdue says she does not hesitate to turn to a variety of tools for help.

“I still use quite a bit of assistive technology in my world. High prediction on my cell phone for texting, a reading pen for my doctorate and professional work is also a must have!”

While Perdue acknowledges she faced some significant challenges, she feels they have made her a better educator.

“I often think my personal story helps me understand student programming and I know it provides me with a unique perspective that many of my colleagues would not have regarding student services. I see it as an asset in my job, believe it or not.”

It is this unique perspective that allowed Perdue to zero in on an overlooked aspect of education when it came time to choose an area of focus for her Doctor of Education in Learning Sciences thesis.

Professional development 2.0

Recalling the support she received as a student and coupling it with her passion for technology, knowledge sharing and her years of experience teaching High School English, she decided to tackle teacher professional development.

Perdue explains that earlier models of teacher education focused on the development of individual skills and expertise. A structure she wanted to challenge.

“I feel that the context and complexity of the current classroom requires a more robust and collaborative model where teachers can build and share their ideas through a knowledge building network.”

Perdue found that a tool which could store teacher resources while also providing a flexible environment to effectively support shared knowledge creation did not exist. So she created her own.

Welcome to the Knowledge Net

Perdue’s Knowledge Net brings together the expertise, skills and experiences of individual teachers to advance the knowledge and professional practice of the collective community.

When teachers log onto the network they can compose what Perdue calls a Wondering, she explains Wonderings are similar to twitter posts that are displayed on the network. Examples include questions about teacher practice, specific requests for resources or unit plans or assessments.

“These Wonderings often form the basis of a group of teachers coming together to create a ‘Knowledge Team’. In these Knowledge Teams, teachers create ‘Idea Builds’ and then share these builds with the broader network.”

To ensure the tool met the needs of its primary audience, Perdue carried out a six month pilot study with a rural Alberta school division.  Working with teachers revealed a number of barriers to knowledge building. 

One significant barrier Perdue and her team addressed was how to manage the classification and codification of knowledge.

“My programmers helped create an ‘Elastic Search’ feature that allows teachers to search for any topic throughout the network. The feature presents all files, Knowledge Teams and Idea Builds related to that topic in the network.”

Realizing how expansive the network will become led to the creation of a Knowledge Builder Wall where teachers can post their current Idea Builds and Knowledge Teams and a Watch List so they can track the progress of various builds in the network.

Perdue says that what makes the Knowledge Net truly unique is that it is informed by knowledge creation theory.

“It is not often that you have the opportunity to develop a digital tool that truly represents current theory and can be easily customized to meet a specific user audience.”

As for post-convocation plans, Perdue says she will take some time to reflect on her next steps but hopes to share the Knowledge Net with other school districts.

Whether through alphabet strips or online collaboration networks, Perdue understands that technology can always contribute to good teaching.