Designing Effective Online Professional Development for Teachers in Rural Schools: Evidence from a community primary school in rural Uganda
Numerous research papers have been on the quality of teacher training that dramatically affects the quality of education and student learning in rural areas. Teachers who are poorly trained have limited knowledge, skills, and even motivation to inspire and teach students. They need to gain the ability to understand the curriculum and transfer knowledge in the classroom. This paper discusses online professional development and its impact and relevance in rural schools and on teachers in rural schools. This paper aims to investigate the protocols of online professional development programs to identify the successes, failures, and gaps. The conclusions drawn in this research will be partly from interviewed teachers and the researcher’s analysis. This paper concludes that while rural teachers receive frequent training, the content and delivery may only sometimes be impactful and relevant, leaving gaps for more efficiency in developing online training and capacity building for rural teachers. This literature review captures a holistic approach to online professional development in rural schools and the opportunities for improvement and impact.
Chapter 1: Introduction to the Study
Improving educational systems in rural Africa is a priority because education empowers and enlightens citizens, which is necessary for the continent’s socioeconomic growth. Teachers are the focal point of education, which is why this research focuses on the effectiveness of online professional development. According to Whitaker and Steele (2019), “students are not motivated by lessons; they are motivated by teachers,” so investing in teachers is worthwhile and beneficial to rural school systems. In addition, teachers become more effective by participating in professional development (PD) experiences to broaden their knowledge of teaching concepts (Barrett & McIntosh, 2015). It is important to research the attitudes and perceptions of the teachers because their input leads to sustainable solutions. While most research highlights the importance of training for teachers in rural schools, this research will capture and document teachers’ perceptions and measure the impact and influence of online professional development, including ensuring that online professional development is effective and relevant. This qualitative study aims to identify online professional development best practices that ensure that teacher training interventions are relevant and effective for teachers in rural schools. This study will investigate selected teachers’ perceptions of delivered professional development, measure the impact and effectiveness of online professional development, and outline professional development best practices after a series of online professional development sessions. Gaining insight into how existing online professional development impacts teachers will highlight the highs, lows, and existing gaps that need to be addressed to strengthen teaching and learning in rural communities.
This section will cover
- Research overview and purpose
- Research background
- Research questions
- Research aims and objectives
- Research Significance
- Research limitations
Schools in both rural and urban cities face numerous challenges. Schools constantly seek high-performing teachers and leaders, a dynamic and rigorous curriculum, and contemporary educational resources. However, as schools all have the exact needs, rural schools have distinct challenges, given the underdevelopment of rural areas. For decades, rural schools have had challenges recruiting teachers; rural school districts have struggled to recruit and retain sufficient numbers of educators (Azano et al.). Also, the lack of basic amenities, remunerations, and professional support deter teachers from rural schools (Omotoyinbo & Olaniyi, 2019).
Teachers who commit to teaching in rural areas face unique challenges, mostly surrounding accessing high-quality professional development to enhance instruction. This research investigates how technology can improve access to online professional development. The intention is to capture the teacher’s perceptions as it is relevant to designing practical and sustainable solutions. Gaining insight into how existing online professional development impacts teacher efficacy will highlight the highs, lows, and existing gaps that need to be addressed to strengthen teaching and learning in rural communities.
Improving educational systems in rural Africa is a priority because education empowers and enlightens citizens to build viable communities. Educational systems comprise school structures, students, resources, and teachers. Focusing on teachers, this research investigates best practices for building schools in rural communities lacking needed resources. The greatest challenge with rural schools is proximity to solutions and access to resources. In what ways can the use of technology be utilized to improve rural school systems? How can technology build teachers’ knowledge base in rural schools? If training is made easily accessible using technology, what are the benefits to rural schools and teachers? What are the attitudes and perceptions of teachers in rural schools? What can be learned from this research, and can best practices be established? It is important to research the attitudes and perceptions of the users because their input leads to sustainable solutions. While most research highlights the importance of training for teachers in rural schools, this research captures and documents teachers’ perceptions and measures the impact and influence of online professional development on teacher efficacy.
Teachers who commit to teaching in rural areas face unique challenges, mostly surrounding accessing high-quality professional development to enhance instruction. This research investigates how technology can improve access to online professional development. The intention is to capture the teacher’s perceptions as it is relevant to designing practical and sustainable solutions. Gaining insight into how existing online professional development impacts teacher efficacy will highlight the highs, lows, and existing gaps that need to be addressed to strengthen teaching and learning in rural communities. This research will investigate the theories related to Edutech, professional development, and teacher training to establish a protocol that will ensure that online professional development effectively addresses the training needs of teachers in rural schools and strengthens their self-efficacy, which correlates with student achievement.
The theoretical framework adopted is the community of inquiry model. This framework investigates online Learning and its impact. The COL framework represents the process of creating a deep and meaningful learning experience through the development of three interdependent elements – social, cognitive, and teaching presence Garrison, D. R., Anderson, & Archer, W. (2000). As defined by social psychologists, “social presence” refers to “participants’ capacity to connect with the society (e.g., course of study), speak meaningfully in a trusting setting, and create inter-personal connections by means of projecting their distinct characteristics” (Garrison, 2009). In order to achieve learning results that are both personally important and academically beneficial, teachers must “create, facilitate, and steer cognitive and social activities” (Anderson et al., 2001). To have a cognitive presence is that “students are able to generate and confirm meaning via continuous thinking and speech” (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2001). Education is the process of character building where personalities are exposed to knowledge to make them rational, capable, and intelligent. Knowledge transfer in education is the core of society and sets the stage for socialization. Through education, minds are cultured to determine attitudes, perceptions, and reactions. While the education process may vary across cultures, countries, and peoples, the core focus of education remains the same. The goal is to nurture minds and mindsets. Regardless of the type of education, the custodian of the processes is the teachers tasked to ensure that education is meaningful, relevant, and impactful. Teachers are charged with the responsibility to nurture and mold students’ characters. The role of a teacher is irreplaceable and vital in every society. Teachers play an integral role in building education systems and determining education quality. As the learning processes mainly determine the quality of education, teachers remain at the center of education’s relevance. Education’s how, why, and what rests on teachers to adequately articulate knowledge. Teachers are also tasked with expanding and spreading education across communities. When countries set out to improve students’ literacy and performance rates, teachers are the vehicle to achieve these goals. To give access to education to all persons, countries need a consistent influx of many teachers to teach and train students. It has already been established that the teacher’s quality correlates with student achievement and student achievement determines the education quality (Darling-Hammond, 2000; Wright, Horn, and Sanders, 1997). Therefore, building and preparing teachers should be prioritized to ensure good education quality. Professional development plays a crucial role in a society’s education quality because of how teachers are trained in the delivery and engagement of students. Also, professional development is the process through which teachers are taught the necessary skills, knowledge, and attitude to excel in their responsibilities according to a designated standard. Education systems have goals and standards that develop with time.
Purpose of the study
Teachers must constantly be exposed to and familiarized with the current standards and goals. When a stellar curriculum is designed, the implementation is crucial to its success, so teachers must be equipped to deliver the curriculum as intended. Acknowledging the importance of professional development for teachers, this research investigates how to leverage technology and build the capacity of teachers in rural communities.
Summary and organization of the remainder of the study
All teachers need access to effective professional development, but teachers in rural areas face unique challenges that affect their access to the learning tools required to enhance their teaching. Utilizing technology, online professional development can expand access and transfer teachers’ necessary resources and knowledge to excel in the classroom. Building on existing knowledge regarding professional development for teachers, educational technology, and improving access to education, this research will review the lived experiences of the AJS teachers capturing the recurring sentiment and opinions they have regarding online professional development. Utilizing the TPACK knowledge: Content Knowledge (CK), Pedagogical Knowledge (PK), and Technological Knowledge (TK) as a critical lens, this research will analyze teachers’ perceptions and experiences with online professional development the highlight the best practices that ensure effectiveness and efficiency.
Chapter 2: Literature Review
The literature review is a thematic review of the concepts that emerged from this research. It will examine the history, theories, and contemporary issues of online professional development for teachers in rural communities to determine the best practices and curate sustainable solutions to improve education quality in rural areas. Through the lens of the TPACK framework, this research will analyze the process and issues of online professional development and the research audience – rural teachers. Hopefully, this research will be helpful for education agencies that manage rural education and global education leaders and contribute to research on professional development, especially how to design solutions relevant to teachers in rural communities.
This research aims to outline the best practices for designing online professional development programs. To achieve this goal, this research answers the following questions: (a) What is the perception of school administrators and teachers in rural schools toward online professional development? (b) What skills and knowledge do school administrators and teachers consider important for online professional development to be effective? (c) How do educators in underserved communities see their professional growth and development? This chapter presents the literature review on online teacher professional development, educational technology, rural education, the Community of Learning framework, and the perspectives of teachers working in rural schools to answer this question and accomplish this goal. This literature review begins with a discussion of the history and function of teacher development, followed by an examination of the role of education technology in this field. This section also includes an overview of educational technology, and the readers get insight into how technology can be leveraged to address education challenges. The second segment of the literature review unpacks the theoretical framework adopted in the Community of Inquiry (COI) research, explaining its structure and why it was chosen. The third section of this literature review introduces rural education and teachers’ challenges in rural communities. This insight builds the foundation for the fieldwork and the data used in this research. The three sections of this literature review introduce the main research areas and the supporting literature for this study.
Education Technology and Online Professional Development for Teachers in Rural Schools
The term “edtech,” which means “education technology,” refers to incorporating ICTs into education to improve student engagement, classroom participation, and individualization. (Daley, 2022). This refers to the technology-based solutions used to teach, learn or support all aspects of an educational institution. Examples include Computers and Laptops, Learning Management Systems (LMS), Digital Whiteboards, and Video Conferencing. Online professional development is made available through virtual platforms like google classroom, zoom, and WhatsApp. Through these platforms, schools in rural communities can engage with the resources and facilities in urban and more developed communities. Currently, there is a learning crisis in Africa. Despite policies that have created more schools and improved access to education, rural schools still lack the resources, and students in rural schools still have low competencies in various subjects. They need to have the trending skills for today’s workplace. As stated earlier, while schools have similar challenges, schools in rural communities have additional unique challenges.
In every career, people constantly learn and improve their skills to keep up with client demands. In education, teachers are tasked to constantly improve their skills to engage students and improve student learning. Given the complexity of teaching and Learning in today’s classroom, teachers are constantly tasked with learning a new concept, skill, or approach required for student engagement or knowledge transfer. As student learning is paramount in educational settings, research has been done to investigate how best to ensure students are learning. Most research has concluded that teachers’ knowledge directly correlates with the knowledge acquired by the students (Darling-Hammond & Sykes, 1999; Wilson Floden & Ferrini-Mundy, 2001). It is therefore important to define and understand professional development for teachers, what it entails and how to measure its effectiveness.
Various academics have varied definitions and perspectives on what constitutes professional development. Gall and Renschler gave a clear definition of professional development (1985, p. 6): “initiatives to increase teachers’ competence as professionals via the acquisition of new information, values, and practices, According to Fullan (1995, p. 265), professional growth can be defined as “Day’s (1999, p. 27) definition emphasizes teachers’ ongoing professional Teaching within the broader context of transition and its interrelated elements, while also defining professional learning as “the sum of formal and informal instruction pursued as well as skilled by the educator in a compelling educational environment under situations of complexity as well as dynamic change.” and states, however, Darling-Nielsen provides the best definition for this study. Professional development, as defined by Hammond and McLaughlin, “must begin with preservice training and extend throughout an instructor’s career,” as they stress that “deepening instructors’ knowledge of the learning procedure and the learners they teach” is essential. To add to this, “successful professional development involves teachers both as learners and instructors and helps them to cope with the ambiguities that follow either role,” they write. Next, we will discuss the value of continuing education in career advancement.
The capacity to define and measure what constitutes good professional development for teachers is central to this study, building on the description offered by Darling-Hammond and McLaughlin. The Consortium for Policies Research in Education compiled a set of questions into a framework for evaluating professional development practices and policies (CPRE, 2005). Some of these queries are as follows:
- How do educators, district administrators, state authorities, and lawmakers define professional development?”
- What do the laws and regulations make of this term, and what do the collective bargaining agreements say about it?
- What kinds of actions do these categories cover? Exactly what is outside of them?
- Is the common understanding of what constitutes high-quality professional development in line with the accepted definitions?
- Is it considered professional growth to participate in professional activities that lead to acquiring new information or skills?
- How much responsibility is put on the teacher, the school, and the district for professional development?
- Is there a governing body determining how much time is spent on professional development and what courses are offered?
However, these questions are outdated and do not holistically look at professional development because the questions focus on the input, not the output of professional development. Effectiveness should have a multidimensional approach that engages all the stakeholders. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines ‘effective’ as producing a decided, decisive, or desired effect. “Producing” refers to the genesis, while “desired effect” refers to the conclusion. In essence, effectiveness is captured in the completeness of the activity. Likewise, effective online professional development should link teachers’ learning and growth to students’ performance and achievement. According to the study done by Linda Darling-Hammond, Madelyn Gardner, and Maria E. Hyler, with the help of Danny Espinoza, the following are the most important aspects of professional development:
- Does it have a strong emphasis on content
- incorporates adult learning theory and strategies for active participation
- facilitates group work, often in the workplace
- made use of successful practice models
- Gives advice and assistance from specialists
- provides space for reflection and discussion
- Lasts for a long time
This list is more up-to-date and was incorporated in the interviews and surveys for this study because it shows that successful professional development increases teachers’ capability to use the current curriculum and is connected to student learning results. Effective professional development for teachers will strengthen their topic understanding and transfer to higher student accomplishment when planned, implemented, and sustained over time (Ndongack, 2015). More criteria for teacher training that will improve outcomes for all children are outlined in Learning Forward (2011).
- Data- draws from a wide range of information on students, teachers, and the system. Organize, analyze, and assess educational opportunities for working professionals.
- Learning Communities: a group dedicated to progressing toward a shared goal, ownership, and objectives.
- Structures for Learning – incorporates studies of how people learn with theoretical models to get the desired results.
- To effectively lead, leaders must build capability, advocate for their causes, and inspire their followers.
- Provide infrastructure in support of further education for workers. Resource management includes setting and reviewing goals, keeping tabs on spending, and coordinating efforts—teacher training.
- Implementation- Iteratively applying change-oriented research and maintaining enthusiasm for using education and training to create lasting transformation for staff.
- The results-proficient teaching and high academic achievement amongst students. Killion and Crow (2011)
Community of Inquiry Framework
The Community of Inquiry theoretical framework represents constructing a rich and purposeful (collaborative-constructivist) learning experience by developing three interrelated elements: social presence, efficiency expressed, and the teacher’s presence. In their study, Sydney, Seo, and deNoyelles (2012) found that when online conversations are designed to incorporate all three facets of social existence defined by the CoI framework, students report higher satisfaction with the experience. The capacity to “recognize with the society” (such as via a shared academic pursuit), “speak purposefully in a trusting environment,” and “create inter-personal relationships using projecting one’s own personality” all contribute to what is known as “social presence” (Garrison, 2009).
Planning, enabling, and leading cognitive and social processes are all part of “teaching presence,” which aims to provide learning outcomes that are both personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile (Anderson et al., 2001). Because it sets the stage for and pace of professional growth, this part of the process might be called “the backbone” of the training procedure.
According to Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2001), there are four stages to the paradigm. The third stage, “Cognitive Presence,” is the amount to which students can generate and reinforce meaning via prolonged contemplation and speech.
- An problem or subject is identified as a starting point for the investigation.
- Students research the issue in two ways: individually and in groups
- Meaning is created via integration, whereby information gleaned through research is included.
- Problems are solved by using cutting-edge concepts in operational settings.
Chapter 3: Methodology
Schools in both rural and urban cities face numerous challenges. Schools constantly seek high-performing teachers and leaders, a dynamic and rigorous curriculum, and contemporary educational resources. However, as schools all have the exact needs, rural schools have distinct challenges, given the underdevelopment of rural areas. For decades, rural schools have had challenges recruiting teachers; rural school districts have struggled to recruit and retain sufficient educators (Azano, Downey, & Brenner, 2019; Biddle & Azano, 2016). Also, the lack of basic amenities, remunerations, and professional support deter teachers from real schools (Omotoyinbo & Olaniyi, 2019). Teachers who commit to teaching in rural areas face unique challenges, mostly surrounding accessing high-quality professional development to enhance instruction. This research investigates how technology can improve access to online professional development. The intention is to capture the teacher’s perceptions as it is relevant to designing practical and sustainable solutions. Gaining insight into how existing online professional development impacts teacher efficacy will highlight the highs, lows, and existing gaps that need to be addressed to strengthen teaching and learning in rural communities.
Phenomenon and research questions
To investigate the impact of online professional development on teacher efficacy in rural elementary schools, this research sets to answer the following research questions:
What is the perception of teachers in rural areas toward online professional development?
Does online professional development lead to a change in teaching practice and perceptions?
What was the relationship between the frequency of participation in an online professional development course and the teacher’s self-efficacy?
Rationale for Methodology
The methods section of this research is designed to outline the research approach adopted and the expectations of this approach. This section will start by aligning the chosen mixed-method approach with supporting research philosophy, especially as it concerns the mixed-method approach. It proceeds to discuss the environment in which this research will be conducted, including the historical background of the chosen school and how the research methods adopted will be preferred by the audience. The methods section will then discuss the research participants and how they were recruited and prepared to participate in this research. Next, this section will discuss the tools used for data collection and how the tools were chosen, designed, and implemented. Data collection and analysis will be addressed as it concerns the quantitative and qualitative data collection process. Every research has its limitations, and the methods section will share the limitations of this research. This section concludes with the research findings.
This concurrent mixed methods research investigates how technology can be utilized in rural schools to improve access to online professional development and build teachers’ capacity. The research intends to capture the teacher’s perceptions as it is relevant to designing future practical and sustainable solutions. Gaining insight into how existing online professional development impacts teacher efficacy will highlight the highs, lows, and existing gaps that need to be addressed to strengthen teaching and related learning in rural communities. A mixed-method approach was adopted based on the nature and intentions of the research questions. Mixed method approaches are usually used when neither qualitative nor quantitative research alone will effectively answer the research questions and establish a solid foundation to provide interventions and solutions. The quantitative approach will show teachers’ attitudes and perceptions about online professional development. The data acquired from the quantitative data helps understand the actual impact of online professional development. The Quantitative approach will also allow the researcher to use data to explain existing patterns (Byrne, 2017). Qualitative research seeks to interpret the quantitative data by highlighting the reason behind the measured attitudes and perceptions. It is adopted in this study because it allows the researcher to capture participants’ perspectives and experiences (Creswell & Poth, 2018).
The AJS elementary teachers and school administrators will participate in this research. Participants will be recruited through an email request for volunteers for this research. The email will share the research goals and ask teacher volunteers to state the study’s time commitment and intended outcome. Teachers will also be informed that their participation will remain anonymous, and information collected will not be relayed to the school leaders and other teachers to encourage honesty in their participation. Since the study involves online professional development, the target population and preferred participants will be teachers and educators who are familiar with online professional development. In addition to the AJS elementary teachers, the insight of the school leaders will be adopted in this research.
Population and sample section
AJS is a community school founded by social entrepreneurs to support local communities. The Marymount faculty have provided a series of teacher training to this community school, and their partnership will be part of the research. To facilitate this research, volunteer teachers and administrators will complete surveys, participate in an interview and take a pre/post-assessment test. The questionnaires will inquire about their online learning preferences and experiences, and the surveys and focus groups will get more clarification on their online professional development experiences. There will be 32 teachers and eight administrators. All subjects will be above 18 years old. This challenge is one of the research limitations. Ethical considerations will be adopted from the inception of the study. Teachers will participate voluntarily, all participants will complete and sign informed consents, and participants can withdraw from this study at any time.
Source of data
The role of the researcher in a qualitative study is crucial to the effectiveness and success of this research. As the researcher, I am equipped to conduct this research as I am familiar with the challenges of rural education, particularly as it concerns teachers. As an educator, I have created online teacher training programs to build the capacity of teachers who cannot easily access professional development. My understanding of their existing challenges provides the insight to ensure this research is relevant to the education sector. In addition to my professional exposure, I have the necessary writing, analytical and organizational skills to add value to this research. For this research, I also played the role of interviewer, transcriber, interviewer, and data analyst.
The instruments used in this study include pre and post-assessments, interviews, and surveys. The pre-and post-assessment will measure teachers’ thoughts and opinions on their self-efficacy. The survey will consist of 15 questions and will ask teachers about their preferences and experiences with online professional development. This survey will go out to all the teachers who completed the consent form. The questions will be field tested by experienced teachers to ensure effectiveness. In line with the purpose of surveys in qualitative research, this survey will capture the teachers’ perspectives and guide the interview process (Bloomberg & Volpe, 2019).
The teachers and administrators who complete the consent form will complete the interview. The interview will allow the researcher to connect with the participants to understand their personal experiences and nuances that may have been overlooked in the research. Experts will also field-test the interview questions to ensure that the conversations extracted information relevant to this research.
All the research tools are geared toward the four research questions but approach the questions from different perspectives and angles. The pre-and post-assessments will measure the change in perception before and after the online professional development. The survey will capture the teachers’ preferences, and this quantitative data will be interpreted using interviews and focus groups. This research aims to measure teachers’ self-efficacy before and after three online professional development courses. This information will determine the relevance of online professional development and inform researchers on how best to utilize teachers in rural areas and strengthen their teaching skills. Data collected through the pre and post-assessments, surveys, and one-on-one interviews will follow the data collection protocol, which will be ethical and effective.
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