Designing Powerful Professional Learning Experiences for Making - Digital Promise

Designing Powerful Professional Learning Experiences for Making

May 13, 2022 | By and

In 2021, six educators representing community-based organizations, libraries, public schools, and the Digital Promise Maker Learning team embarked on a journey to increase opportunities for virtual and remote maker learning. The insights from this experience are valuable to all who wish to engage in powerful maker learning.

This blog is the second in a series sharing our Maker Learning team’s experience designing and facilitating this professional learning experience. In our previous blog, we shared how our team designed the Maker Learning @ Home cohort professional learning opportunity. In this blog, we share how the Digital Promise Maker Learning team designed a unique professional learning experience that centers the needs, experiences, and expertise of educators from the recruitment to implementation. Explore the Professional Learning Experience Guide to learn more about the best practices we used to design the Maker Learning @ Home cohort and for support to design educator centered professional learning for making.

A powerful, accessible professional learning cohort experience requires intentionality in its design, balancing the stated outcomes of the work with the needs of the target audience. For the Maker Learning @ Home cohort experience, our team established a need to design the application, interview, and onboarding process with intentionality and a focus on equity and inclusion. A priority for us was to design an application experience that focused on asking applicants only what we needed to inform our decision-making. In the previous iteration of this opportunity, we found that we had included questions in our applications with the idea “That might be good to know…” or “That could tell us….” and to that end, we realized that we did not want to burden our applicants with including questions we might use. Furthermore, we discussed that there was no need for us to collect data, especially sensitive data about learners that we had no use for beyond the application. Our design process included considering the persona of the ideal participant we were aiming to invite to this cohort experience by asking our team these questions:

  • What challenges are they solving for?
  • What context are they operating within?
  • How and why are we able to support them?

Our application process also included an interview portion where we identified specific questions we had for each applicant based on what information we needed to better understand their context and interest in the cohort. Ahead of the scheduled interviews, we provided the applicant with questions for their review. We focused on developing an understanding of each educator’s needs, community context, and project idea. We asked the applicants questions about their desired outcomes as participants in the cohort and what experience and expertise they might contribute to the professional learning environment. All of this information was incorporated into the design of the Maker Learning @ Home Cohort.

We continued to center diversity, equity, and inclusion in the design of the cohort experience. One of the primary sources we referenced to support our efforts is the Liberatory Design Framework by Stanford d.school. We strived to create conditions that allowed cohort participants to co-design the learning environment and culture collectively. The cohort experience included two primary meetings types: full group cohort meetings and one-to-one partner meetings. Additionally, we used tools like Slack to share information and check in regularly, and we hosted office hours two times a week throughout the cohort.

Building strong relationships and an understanding of each person helped us to design cohort meetings to meet the diverse needs of the cohort participants. We ensured there were multiple forms of engagement and we utilized multiple facilitation techniques, such as consultancy models, guided conversations, scaffolding, and breakouts. We also hoped to center the educators’ experiences in the design of the professional learning experiences by creating opportunities for them to share their own expertise throughout.

Building community among the cohort members was a strong focus of the synchronous time that we had together. Our six-month time constraint made it so that we leveraged asynchronous time and tools to continue building relationships outside this time. Activities that supported community building included:

  • Opening Activities: Icebreakers allowed us to get to know one another better.
  • Lighting Talks: Each cohort member presented about their project, areas that they had experience or expertise in, and areas where they wanted to support opportunities for collaboration.
  • Facilitation Techniques: Within our synchronous cohort meeting, we designed smaller breakout groups, keeping in mind who had worked together previously and what support the educators could offer each other based on what challenges we were working on.
  • Online Community: We used Slack to maintain communication outside of our online meetings. Within Slack, we encouraged cohort members to share their experiences, ideas, and questions.

Our experience designing this cohort opportunity inspired a new resource to support professional learning facilitators who wish to support educators to bring powerful maker learning experiences to learners.

Explore the Professional Learning Experience Guide to learn more about the best practices we used to design the Maker Learning @ Home cohort and for support to design educator centered professional learning for making.

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