Beyond the Inner Circle: Busting Barriers to Implementation of the CONNECT Modules

 by Marilou Hyson

 

CONNECT Modules provide a rich resource to faculty and PD providers, so why doesn’t everyone use them? Are there new ways to “slice and dice” the CONNECT Module pie? Join Marilou Hyson for a discussion about barriers to module use and ways to bust through those barriers.

The CONNECT Modules are a rich resource for early childhood faculty and other professional development providers to use with learners.  They fill a serious gap in the preparation of early childhood educators to serve young children with disabilities and their families.  They’re innovative, evidence-based, interactive, practice-focused, packed full of videos, audio clips, handouts, activity guides, and more.

So why doesn’t everyone use these modules?   I’ve been thinking about that question in light of several personal experiences.  One is my background as a university faculty member in an early childhood department.  Another is my recent consulting work on teacher preparation issues in several developing countries.  And still another is the work my co-authors and I did to summarize research on early childhood higher education for a  forthcoming handbook chapter.

Let me describe what I think are some of the barriers to implementation.  See what you think, and please share your views—not just about the barriers, but about how we can “bust” them.

  1. Computer/web anxiety among individual early childhood faculty.  There is at least anecdotal evidence that many faculty, especially those who have been teaching for years, are reluctant to use web-based resources and other innovative technologies such as those offered by CONNECT.  The enthusiasm shown by CONNECT’s “early adopters” has not diffused into higher education as quickly as I would have imagined.  Do you agree?  If so, what can be done?
  2. Limited opportunities for faculty professional development.  Few faculty have the financial or administrative support they need to keep current in content and pedagogy.  CONNECT puts great materials out there.  However, the scaffolding needed for implementation, including images of good faculty practices, and diverse options for modules’ implementation, may not be sufficient for overworked, under-resourced faculty.  Do you agree?  If so, what can be done?
  3. Technological barriers to the use of online resources in certain contexts.  These barriers certainly persist in the developing countries where I consult.  Sometimes there is no access to computers at teacher training sites, and even in the country offices of major organizations, the computers are so outdated as to preclude access to CONNECT’s video resources.  Even in the US, such barriers are a reality for many faculty members.  Do you agree?  If so, what can be done?
  4. Institutional and state-level barriers to adding new, time-consuming content.   Mandates about course content and allocation of time (often related to teacher certification) may pack the semester.  In the minds of some faculty or administrators, CONNECT is introducing new content into crowded curricula.  Do you agree?  If so, what can be done?

Other guest bloggers and participants in the CONNECT pilot have addressed some of these issues and provided realistic examples of their own implementation strategies.  But my sense is that many of the CONNECT “inner circle” have access to greater supports, or a more enabling environment, than the majority of faculty—more than half of whom are part-time.  How can the CONNECT Modules most effectively serve the needs of the wider professional development community?  Are there new ways to “slice and dice” the CONNECT pie, to introduce overwhelmed or innovation-averse faculty to materials that they will  be eager to adopt?  Again, please share your reactions to any of what I’ve posted here.

About the Author: Marilou Hyson, Ph.D. is a consultant in early child development and education and an Affiliate Faculty member in Applied Developmental Psychology at George Mason University.  Formerly Associate Executive Director and Senior Consultant with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC),  Marilou contributed to the development of position statements on issues including early learning standards, professional preparation standards, early childhood mathematics, and curriculum/assessment/program evaluation.

Starter Questions

  • In your own or your colleagues’ experience, have you observed other barriers to implementation?
  • What strategies have proven most useful in busting these barriers?
 

Comments

I have just attended a

I have just attended a training on using web based modules in classes and I agree that you must be careful to not add too much into courses. There is a tendency in hybrid and/or distance courses to add on, not take out. This may be a bit of a problem with the Connect Modules (which I have used and will continue to use) as I don't see how they can be broken up into smaller units.

Technology has not been a barrier and I am happy to say, we get a lot of technological support at my university--faculty and students.

Content Packed Course

I thought it would be difficult to implement Module 5 in an already packed class but ˆfound the perfect answer. I assigned the students to do Module 5 when I had to go out of town for a couple of days. The students got started before I left by working through the first activity together in class. I created a link to the CONNECT website and allowed them to work with a partner and submit their work in the Dropbox of D2L while I was gone. In their reflections they commented that for early childhood dual majors Module 5 was a review with a twist. Although they know a lot about assistive technology, this the first time they thought about the perspective of the teacher who may be hesitant to use it.

Content Packed Course

I'm just entering the discussion, so reading through comments one by one. I too built the module into the course syllabus. I've used other Connect Modules in the past, but in a different manner. Students were informed that they were not in class for 3 hours and on average they should be devoting 3 hours outside of class to work. The biggest complaint was the time, of which I asked them how long it took. Most indicated 5-6 hours, so I said not a valid complaint. Luckily, the students really learned from the Module. We have initially discussed and will come back to after next week.

Content Packed Course

Vicki, Keep us posted on student reactions.
Have others gotten feedback from students on the benefits and challenges of the modules? Please share.
thanks

Content Packed Course

Jocelyn, I love this oh-so-practical example! It would SO relieve the anxiety of a faculty member who's just dipping a toe into the CONNECT waters (or, if you take the weather up here in western MA, stepping out into an October snowdrift). One question: I'm wondering how you think their better understanding of a hesitant teacher's perspective may help them in the future? Very interesting.

Content Packed Course

I had a wonderful experience the other day. I saw a colleague at meeting and she came up to me with a lot enthusiasm about the CONNECT module 5. She is an avid user of CONNECT. I asked her to post on my blog to let us know how she is embedding the module. She found a great deal of value in using the module with her students. Her excitement did create a discussion on CONNECT and we were able to share the information with several professional development providers. I was happy to see the interest.
Lisa

Use of CONNECT Materials in Developing Countries

Hi Marilou,
I haven't talked to you for so long. I am very interested in your international work. I am doing some work in the former Soviet Union with teacher training institutions. I have introduced the CONNECT Modules which have been well received for just the reasons you mentioned: the wonderful videos, materials and handouts. Pictures are definitely worth a thousand words. The problem is incorporating the decision making process. The process is looking like it may be too complicated and different from what is already in place. Time will tell. I would love to hear others' perspectives.
Shelley

Use of CONNECT Materials in Developing Countries

Shelley and Marilou,
I'm wondering if there are cultural differences in terms of teacher autonomy and the role of experts. Is the idea of making an individual case by case decision based on a host of factors including evaluation and feedback based on one's own experience trying a new practice counter to the idea that there may be one way of doing things? Is the 5-step Learning Cycle a little difficult to comprehend because of factors that are related to culture? I'm interested in your perspectives (and others') on that question. Especially would love to hear from our colleagues in Portugal who are developing a cross-cultural translation of CONNECT Module 1.

Use of CONNECT Materials in Developing Countries

Yes, I would also love to hear those perspectives. My experience has been in developing countries (Indonesia and Bangladesh). Culturally, the education system (as you probably know) is much more authoritarian. Future teachers are expected to learn to do exactly what the teacher ed/training has told them to do. Hope to have more conversation about this issue and how to respect these differences while guiding teachers toward needed responsiveness and autonomy. Hmmmm.

Use of CONNECT Materials in Developing Countries

Shelley, so great to see you pop up! Would love to hear more about your work in the former Soviet Union--last year I was in Vietnam several times consulting on a project that also intends to use teacher training institutions (in this case, those in kind of remote areas, to do community-based training as well as preservice). I should find out more about what's going on, as they may have the technology to use these--I just don't know. In some of the places I've worked, such as Bangladesh and some of the more remote parts of Indonesia, there are still tech barriers. But it's changing, and the interest is there.

Use of CONNECT Materials in Developing Countries

Hi Marilou,
I am just getting going w this project and am not sure how it will be organized but would love to confer. I am going back in the spring but will work remotely until then. I will contact you when I know more.
Shelley

Busting Barriers

"1. Computer/web anxiety among individual early childhood faculty. There is at least anecdotal evidence that many faculty, especially those who have been teaching for years, are reluctant to use web-based resources and other innovative technologies such as those offered by CONNECT. The enthusiasm shown by CONNECT’s “early adopters” has not diffused into higher education as quickly as I would have imagined. Do you agree?"
I do agree with this comment/view. Especiall those instructor who have been teaching for a while are very reluctant to use any type of technology. I will admit that sometimes I find myself resisting. My last year in college was the first year that "blackboard" and on line learning started taking off at the university.I remember I was extreemly anxious and wondered how it was going to work. It did and I love this use of technology. I would consider myself "new" to the field of teaching and so for that reason I agree that there is some anxiety present.
2. Limited opportunities for faculty professional development. Few faculty have the financial or administrative support they need to keep current in content and pedagogy. CONNECT puts great materials out there. However, the scaffolding needed for implementation, including images of good faculty practices, and diverse options for modules’ implementation, may not be sufficient for overworked, under-resourced faculty. Do you agree? If so, what can be done?
I also agree with this opinion too. Faculty are expected to do more with less these days, including professional development. There may be limited opportunities for professional development and if there is an opportunity, because of budget restriction we may not be able to attend.
3. Technological barriers to the use of online resources in certain contexts. These barriers certainly persist in the developing countries where I consult. Sometimes there is no access to computers at teacher training sites, and even in the country offices of major organizations, the computers are so outdated as to preclude access to CONNECT’s video resources. Even in the US, such barriers are a reality for many faculty members. Do you agree? If so, what can be done?
I am lucky to say that this does not effect me personally. However I could see that there would be limited resources in some areas/schools.
4. Institutional and state-level barriers to adding new, time-consuming content. Mandates about course content and allocation of time (often related to teacher certification) may pack the semester. In the minds of some faculty or administrators, CONNECT is introducing new content into crowded curricula. Do you agree? If so, what can be done? Again I will say that Im very fortunate to be able to design my courses in a way that I see best suits my students learning and my teaching strategies. In my experience of using the CONNECT module, it fits very well with what I am currently doing. This is for my situation and I realize that for everyone this may not work as well.

Busting Barriers

Beth, I really appreciated your comments, as someone who is dealing with all of these issues on the ground! I wonder if you might think back to your anxiety when you first started using blackboard and online learning. Do you recall what you were anxious about, specifically? and what weresome of the things that lessened your anxiety and got you to the "I love it" stage? I think your memories could be really helpful to others going through this transition themselves.

Busting Barriers

I have just attended a training on using web based modules in classes and I agree that you must be careful to not add too much into courses. There is a tendency in hybrid and/or distance courses to add on, not take out. This may be a bit of a problem with the Connect Modules (which I have used and will continue to use) as I don't see how they can be broken up into smaller units.
Technology has not been a barrier and I am happy to say, we get a lot of technological support at my university--faculty and students.

Adding new content

Hi Marilou,
I wanted to respond to the fourth challenge you outlined, pertaining to adding new, time consuming content. The CONNECT modules have helped me both integrate new content into our early childhood curriculum, as well as reorganize existing content. In both cases, they were adaptations to our program’s curriculum that really needed to occur in order to remain current and reflect our commitment to incorporating evidence-based practices that support young children who are ability diverse and their families. In the case of Module 2, which focuses on Transitions, we were able to completely reorganize and streamline content and ENHANCE what was being presented without making a net addition to the amount of material covered. We did this by restructuring content on home visits, center-based assessment, and family-based interviews to include a focus overall on the topic of transitions, which included each of these individual components. In the cases of Module 1 and 3, we did make additions to our curriculum, but these were additions that reflected our program’s commitment to ensuring that our students were effectively prepared to enhance the development and learning of each and every child. Overall, the addition of the Modules to the program has made our job in terms of developing curriculum much easier, and has helped us truly provide resources that are beneficial to our students.

Adding new content

Hi, Joanne--it was great to meet you at the CONNECT event some months ago. Sounds like you're doing great things that others can build upon. I'm wondering if CONNECT might create some kind of Q&A such as "Are you needing to increase your emphasis on XYZ?" Then the CONNECT modules are meant for you!" (or, maybe better, "Then this module [or even this piece of a module] is meant for you!" Hmmmm

technology and early adopters

Marilou, you summed up so much so well. I can definitely relate to tech challenges. I had lifelong community college faculty as parents. I remember calls from my mother about stencil machines and eventually DVD players when those first made it into her college. Often seems like governing variables are, time and support.
We are seeing success in use of the modules in existing "courseware". For example, many faculty simply link to the CONNECT Module site from inside their own Blackboard, Moodle or Sakai site. “Linking” (as opposed to downloading and distributing) can bypass a lot of tech issues.
We've also tried to lift some of the technology overhead off faculty by providing a full online learning area for students. Again, linking to that (and/or directly linking to specific resources in the resource library) appears to be working for some.
Very interested in hearing from folks about barriers in their settings and ideas for bridging them.

technology and early adopters

Hi, Jonathan--these sound like great supports. I wonder how CONNECT can "market" these supports more widely, so that faculty who are not current users know of or receive tips for some shortcuts or bypasses. Kind of a tech getting-started thing. (Maybe it's there already!)

Instructor Support

CONNECT markets a range of support for instructors, including:
eNews - contains monthly tech tips for instructors. Instructors can subscribe by sending a blank email to: subscribe-npdci-news@listserv.unc.edu
sample issue: http://community.fpg.unc.edu/news/pd-on-inclusion-enews-102011
"Instructor Supports" web area - has getting started videos, teaching tips and techniques as well as FAQs.
http://community.fpg.unc.edu/connect-modules/instructor-supports
"Getting Started Q&A" - a place for instructors to post public questions and get answers. Posting here helps others.
http://community.fpg.unc.edu/discussions/connect-modules-getting-started...
eMail Support - and most of all, we love hearing from folks. Instructors should always feel free to email us at: conenct@unc.edu

Instructor Support

Great to remind folks of these links. I like the "getting started FAQ" concept, but I continue to think even more baby steps may be needed. Would love to hear of any instructors out there who have chatted with colleagues about getting them interested. What do you all think it would take. Carrots? Small sticks?

Getting Started with CONNECT Modules

Hi Marilou,
The concept of "baby steps" is helpful and reminds me of a blog posting from our colleague Lisa Stein who described how she got started with CONNECT modules. I am taking the liberty of bringing Lisa's wisdom into our conversation.
Quoting from Lisa's July 21, CONNECT 2011 blog posting below:
To begin with, the modules have a wealth of valuable information and it may be easy to feel overwhelmed if you are a new user. The question becomes how do you sort through all of the modules and embed them into your existing coursework or practica? I learned that it is important to go slow and start small. Take it one module at a time and be sure to review the videos, and activities. I also feel that working on one new module per semester has worked well for me. Remember you do not have to use all of the resources in each module. Be selective and feel free to mix and match the activities and resources.
The Connect team is extremely responsive to questions and concerns. I have been assisted with technology issues as well as how to use the 5-Step Learning Cycle. Connect Modules have helped my students expand their knowledge on a variety of topics. The time you will put in to researching the modules will be worth it. The Connect team is aware that there is a lot of information and do not expect you to use all of it. It is there to fit into your curriculum. They do however strongly encourage that you use the resources according to the 5-Step Learning Cycle.

technology and early adopters

Linking is a great idea. I've done that while implementing Module 5 in Moodle. I find that the biggest barrier to implementing the modules is the time that it takes to think of how you're going to use it, and then fit it into an already tight curriculum. But it's well worth it. That's why I beleive these blogs are valuable so we can learn from each other.

new content/tight curricula issue

Marilou, Terrific list of the challenges. To follow up on #4 on the list (new content/tight curricula), some faculty are telling us that they realize CONNECT doesn't actually add NEW content but does help them re-organize existing content. Rather than starting with history, theory and research on a topic, they now start with a dilemma and tuck the policy and research underneath (in Step #3 of the 5-step Learning Cycle). Wonder if anyone has an example of that to share? Or thought about that? Kathy, I love that you find the blog a good way to get ideas. THANKS