Over the past five years, professional development (PD) products have flooded the marketplace. More than half of the 28 tools profiled in EdSurge’s PD Report last June take the “top-down” approach, meaning they’re designed mostly for administrators to conduct observations, give feedback to teachers or assign specific content.
But teacher-driven PD tools have been fewer and far in between. It’s a little ironic, given that technology is supposed to empower learners--whether they be students or teachers.
BloomBoard, an Imagine K12 company started in 2010, is attempting to serve both the “top-down” and “bottom-up” models of professional development. Its flagship platform, used in five states and 500 districts, lets teachers set goals based on their district’s teaching frameworks, and allows administrators to conduct observations and purchase content from the company’s marketplace of third-party professional development courses.
Now, the company wants to put teachers in charge of their own PD with the creation of a new free tool, Topsoil.
“We are very much a teacher growth company first. But there’s this balance between trying to figure out [how] to be both top-down and bottom-up” when it comes to PD, says Jason Lange, CEO and co-founder of BloomBoard.
Topsoil has leveraged the concept of playlists, a tool used in schools like Summit Public Schools and Lindsay Unified School District that allows students to set their own learning objectives and choose what materials to use. Lange wants to give teachers a similar ability to set their own goals and curate the resources they use to achieve them. “How do we create a goal environment to build shared playlists of things to support goals and support each other around those goals?”
He enlisted the help of school leaders who have developed student playlist tools. “I’ve been talking to Summit [Public Schools] from day one. What we are trying to do for teachers is what they are trying to do for students,” says Lange.
Teachers start on Topsoil by creating their own goals, which can be as formal as getting standard teaching routines down in their classroom or as playful as mastering the art of Lego robotics. (That’s not so silly. That’s just cool...)
Afterwards, they begin building their playlist, pulling in any resources such as articles, videos and courses from Coursera. But they don’t have to build these lists alone. Teachers can invite others to support their goals and help contribute comments or resources to their playlists. Once they tackle their goal, they can self-report results with other teachers.
While all the resource collection is currently done by teachers on their own, BloomBoard hopes to change that in the future. The company’s data team is developing personalized analytics tools to see what materials are effective in helping teachers master different objectives. In the future, there’s a likelihood that Topsoil can recommend content from BloomBoard’s existing marketplace of third party PD providers. (It currently takes a cut of sales.)
Topsoil is free for any teacher to use. Currently, the product is being piloted by San Mateo County Office of Education and Los Angeles Unified School District. So far Lange says he’s focused on getting feedback from existing clients and through its pilots.
A common criticism that teachers share about new PD products is not having the time to use them. Will they find time to engage in this type of tool on their own, or will they need nudging from an administrator? Also, will Topsoil, and its “bottom-up” approach that allows teachers to set and pursue their own goals, create conflicts with existing PD procedures?
These are just a few of the questions that BloomBoard likely face with their new tool. Many educators--and companies--will be keeping a close eye as PD providers begin to focus on putting teachers at the center of their own learning.