The aim of this project was to conduct a national survey sampling science teachers across England in order to provide more in-depth understanding of science teachers’ perceptions of the expected outcomes, benefits of and barriers to online-supported Continuing Professional Development (CPD); to learn from the experiences of those who have experienced online CPD elsewhere and to explore the barriers to engagement for those who have not contemplated online CPD.
It was found that science teachers are online; all of those surveyed use email and a significant proportion of them subscribe to mailing lists, use YouTube and use social networking tools. In contrast, web 2.0 tools such as wikis, file sharing sites and blogs were not well used. Many of the surveyed teachers regularly access ideas and resources for use in the classroom online. However, less than 10% of them had actually participated in online CPD; the most widely experienced form of CPD was a day course, within or outside the institution. The most common form of online CPD seen was a course that is mainly face to face and has an online component.
Teachers’ comments throughout the survey (N=373) contained considerably more negative perceptions of online CPD than positive perceptions. Their comments both in survey and interview indicated that they felt called to reiterate the need for CPD to involve discussion and feedback. The positive perceptions were more commonly found amongst those with experience of online CPD and these teachers were less put off by forms of online CPD with lower proportions of face-to-face to online contact. Teachers who had not participated in online CPD of any kind were more apprehensive about all types of online CPD and favoured those with a high proportion of face-to-face components to online components.
In particular the teachers valued face-to-face CPD over online because of the opportunity for informal personal contact. The importance of such personal contact is acknowledged by providers of online CPD; they are aware that approaches which foster the development of social presence and trust are more successful. However, teachers’ responses in this survey not only suggest that they are not aware of this but also that they prefer to develop their own informal discussions rather than engage in formal opportunities set up by the course provider.
It was also clear that the teachers valued both the impact of CPD and the tutors’ role chiefly in terms of course content regardless of the method of delivery of the CPD. When teachers are making a decision about any CPD they plan to participate in, the proposed subject or pedagogical content of the course, its perceived quality and time they need to allocate to it appears to be prioritised over method of delivery. Although some teachers valued ‘soft skills’ such as reflection or increased self confidence, fewer teachers reported that these areas of development had impacted on their teaching practice in comparison to those reporting on CPD featuring pedagogical content knowledge.
Expectations that teachers will engage in online CPD outside term-time or the school day are a noticeable concern for many even though the participating teachers had noticeably better online access at home than in school. This association of online CPD with participation in time ‘outside hours’ or in vacations coloured the teachers’ reactions to online CPD.
Lastly, when asked for the CPD events or types of CPD they felt they needed at this moment in time, the most frequent responses were for subject specific knowledge especially that relevant to new curricula.