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Portal to brave new world

The schools digital network holds the promise of keeping CPD at the cutting edge, reports Elizabeth Buie

Opportunities for teachers wanting to do continuing professional development online are set to open up with the Scottish Schools Digital Network.

The online CPD initiative is run in partnership with the National CPD Team and Learning and Teaching Scotland.

Still in the planning stage, the project, co-ordinated by Con Morris, seeks to establish how SSDN facilities and other online tools could help teaching staff access CPD in a variety of imaginative ways. Project adviser Fiona Taylor is focusing on raising awareness of what is possible, identifying what is desirable and trying to gauge the CPD priorities of teachers in different sectors.

Phase one of the project would consist of setting up a single point of access for online provision of CPD, a database of CPD provider information, publication of high-quality CPD resources and an online self-evaluation tool.

Phase two has not yet been so defined but might include a single log-on user authentication, a personal CPD portfolio which would include a professional review and development (PRD) record, personalised CPD information and resources, access to online communities of interest, a facility to extract relevant information to a school's or local authority's management of CPD and online tools for collaborative working.

Mr Morris says that since consultation on CPD online started in January, the themes that have emerged are: reflection, self-determination, keeping CPD co-ordinators in the loop, building and enhancing communities, moving away from course-based CPD and maintaining quality.

A reflection and CPD portfolio tool would allow teachers to reflect on their performance and needs, plan a programme of activities, record progress through these activities and maintain evidence of the process and the impact on professional practice.

While the team running the initiative is exploring possibilities such as creating links to national CPD opportunities, special interest groups, setting up a like-minded colleagues alert and a virtual advisory service, it is aware of a number of questions.

"Is there enough homogeneity for a national tool?" asks Mr Morris, given that PRD throughout Scotland lacks homogeneity.

Will it mean moving away from the national database of CPD providers on the GTC register, which is currently a requirement of the teachers' agreement?

If an online reputation tool is set up, what would it look like and would it have to be policed?

Would participants rate a CPD experience in the same way as people rate a hotel online?

Should CPD providers be rated before they go on the database or on the basis of users' experiences?

Should local authority and private CPD providers be subject to the same quality assurance rules?

These are all issues which will be discussed before the service becomes available in April 2007. The possibilities, nevertheless, are little short of breathtaking.

With local authorities facing growing pressure to share services and collaborate, what would there be to stop teachers collaborating cross-border in CPD opportunities? So, if a teacher in Edinburgh can access the authority's CPD portal online, would it not make sense to be able to link to the complementary CPD services that are provided nationally?

It is anticipated that individuals will be able to control whether their presence is made known to others online. One approach to this may be through a "colleague connect" tool, which is not part of the SSDN specification currently.

Using the SSDN technology, special interest groups could be set up. Tools available to them could be discussion threads, a storage area to share documents, a search facility and a tool to alert users when other members of the group are online.

Learning and Teaching Scotland plans to set up a pilot project offering a virtual advisory service next session.

Within the CPD online service, the potential role of a virtual adviser could include specialist curricular or cross-curricular advice, contribution to special interest groups, repurposing CPD materials for delivery in the virtual teaching and learning environment, maintaining a questions section and delivering seminars online.

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