Confused at a higher level

The view from Carleton College's physics department

On-line versus face-to-face professional development

Posted by Melissa on August 7, 2012

These days you can’t read much about higher education without someone opining about the promise/ peril/possibilities of on-line education and its impact on students, but much less has been said about how on-line education trends might impact the professional development of professors.  However, that’s been on my mind in response to Andy Rundquist’s recent post comparing his experiences at the AAPT summer meeting and at the Global Physics Department (GPD). As there become more opportunities for on-line networking, presentations, and discussions, how will that change the role of professional conferences? Andy’s post summarizes nicely some of the key benefits/drawbacks that he sees in these two avenues for professional development.

My experience engaging with AAPT and GPD is one example of the challenges of making the transition from the face-to-face world of professional meetings to the on-line world of professional meetings. For those who are unfamiliar, GPD “meets” on-line every Wednesday at 8:30 pm CT. A speaker presents, with a back channel for communication, and then there is plenty of time for discussion at the end. I like the format, and I’ve learned a lot from several of the GPD meetings, but I’ve never actually “attended.” My entire involvement with the GPD has come from watching/listening to recordings of the meetings after the fact.  Wednesday nights are difficult with my schedule, and when I do manage to find the time, I often feel obligated to take care of the to-do items that are in front of my nose, rather than spending the time logging on to GPD in real time. AAPT meetings on the other hand demand my attention as they pull me away from the daily grind. Yes, conferences are expensive and require travel, but that forces me to commit to being involved in a way that GPD doesn’t, and I find the long conversations and relationship building to be extremely valuable. The downside, of course, is that AAPT meetings are few and far between. Particularly for those individuals who feel isolated in their endeavors in the classroom, meeting once or twice a year doesn’t provide much support. GPD, with its weekly meetings, can provide a stronger sense of community.

If I could actually “attend” the GPD meetings in real time, I’d be able to participate in the conversations, but as is, the GPD isn’t an interactive experience for me. Because I don’t participate in the conversations, I don’t feel like I get much of a sense of community. Therein lies both the blessing and the curse of the on-line world. It’s flexible enough to allow you to connect when you can, but if you don’t connect on-line in real time, the engagement isn’t as fulfilling.  Have you had a great experience with on-line professional development? If so, what made it work? If not, what were the stumbling blocks?

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One Response to “On-line versus face-to-face professional development”

  1. Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist said

    Another thing I’m excited about doing, using my online connections, is real-time collaboration on projects. The GPD is busy trying to put together an online physics problem database (http://database2.globalphysicsdept.org/public/), and we’re doing it in a way that we hope allows many people to participate and learn how to do php/mysql programming. My idea is to start a google+ hangout on a night when I’m planning to tackle a problem (deleting a problem from the database and all it’s connected comments, attachments, etc). I think it’ll be cool because I’ll be able to brainstorm with others good things to try, and people can see how I go about doing it in php. People are free to join the conversation at their leisure, and g+ will record the session. We’ll see :)
    -Andy

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