Support Structures Play a Vital Role in Online Learning

Dr. Kathryn Kennedy has over 15 years of experience in online, blended, and digital learning in PreK-12, higher education, and beyond. Her work is focused at the intersection of research, practice, and policy. She owns and operates her own consulting firm that is currently helping inform PLTW’s current and future teaching and learning experiences. 

One of the guiding principles to any quality online learning program is providing support structures for all involved in offering that experience. In the last eight weeks, the PLTW team has undertaken a major overhaul of PLTW Core Training to shift from a physical in-person experience to a completely online in-person experience.

My last blog post focused on the design and development process for these trainings, which starred the amazing PLTW Instructional Development and Media Teams. While these teams were working their magic on the curriculum side, the rest of the teams – including but not limited to Engagement, Support, IT, Marketing, Communications, Training Operations, Business Operations, Government Relations, Programs, and Leadership – have been committed to developing a multitude of support structures for the Master Teachers who will facilitate the trainings, as well as the educators who will engage in those trainings for certification.

As a result of many collaborative efforts across these teams over the last month, there have been many touchpoints with both Master Teachers and educators in preparation for the start of the training season (June 1!), including but not limited to the following: 

Prerequisite Trainings are provided to educators to help prepare them for both training content and the technologies used in the training experience.

Master Teacher Training is provided to bolster Master Teachers with the confidence and support they need to thrive in the online learning environment. 

PLTW Master Teacher Meetings are conducted within each of the five PLTW Programs (PLTW Launch, PLTW Gateway, PLTW Biomedical Science, PLTW Engineering, and PLTW Computer Science) to give Master Teachers an overview of changes that have been made to the training curriculum. These meetings, led by Master Teacher Leaders or PLTW Team Members, also provide Master Teachers an overview of the modifications made to the trainings themselves given the shift from physical in-person trainings to fully online in-person trainings. 

Master Teacher Office Hours give Master Teachers a chance to test out the technology that they’ll be using during PLTW Core Training, especially Zoom and its vast interactive features.

Master Teacher Meet-and-Greets with Tech Checks are meetings that Master Teachers host with their cohort of educators right before the start of their PLTW Core Training. During these sessions, Master Teachers introduce themselves and provide an overview of PLTW and their specific training. Additionally, this session allows for tech checks for the educators. 

Know Before You Train Email Series gives educators a checklist and some tips on preparing for their PLTW Core Training, including access to prerequisite courses, equipment and software requirements, Welcome to PLTW Core Training content, among other key resources provided to set up participants for a successful and engaging online learning experience. 

Technology Navigation Guidance is embedded at the start of every PLTW Core Training to continue to acclimate educators to the technologies used during the training, as well as an introduction to the online learning experience.

In addition to the many support structures provided above, two new roles have been created to offer even more support to Master Teachers and educators during their PLTW Core Training experience, including Online Support Specialists and Master Teacher Content Support Specialists. 

Online Support Specialists are available to Master Teachers and educators to provide as-needed support for technology-related issues and other PLTW-specific questions during their PLTW Core Training sessions. 

Master Teacher Content Support Specialists are program-specific Master Teachers who can help with content-related questions. They will support Master Teachers who have educators in their training who are struggling with content. 

Both of the above support specialists have received preparation in the new training approach so that they can provide the most meaningful support possible.

Infused throughout the PLTW Core Training experience are well-being checks for both educators and Master Teachers to make sure everyone feels supported. Additionally, iterative improvement cycles are situated throughout the training implementation to provide all stakeholders opportunities to give constant feedback to help PLTW continuously better the learning experience for all involved. 

Despite the disruption caused by the global pandemic, with the thoughtful approaches made to strengthen the support structures for PLTW Core Training, PLTW remains steadfastly dedicated to its mission to serve and support PreK-12 schools, educators, and students.

PLTW’s blog intends to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of each guest author.