Interview | PD Online with Judy Zimny

PD Online was initiated in 1996 to complement and strengthen ASCD’s (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) overall package of high-quality, professional development services and products. At the time, educators were asking for resources to support their learning outside of the traditional school and district-based services already being provided by ASCD faculty.

As a result, ASCD staff created PD Online, a series of professional development services and products that leveraged new technologies such as broadband internet and digital content to empower educators to improve the success of each learner. “And we’re not finished,” says Judy Zimny, Chief Program Development Officer for ASCD, “PD Online is always evolving and growing, so that we’re prepared to support educators as they meet the teaching challenges of today and tomorrow.” Here, Judy discusses what makes their program unique, her thoughts on education these days, and—after 33 years in education—what she believes 33 years later.

Victor: What does the name mean?

Judy: The name is simple and descriptive: ASCD is putting professional development online, at the fingertips of educators anywhere, anytime.

Victor: What is it? Who created it?

Judy: Simply put, PD Online is the most powerful and practical online professional development option available to educators today.  This service was created by the talented ASCD professionals and features prominent experts in curriculum, instruction, assessment, and leadership.

Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?

Judy: With a flexible, multimedia design and a deep course catalog, the PD Online series supports the needs of almost any type and size of learning group—from individual learners and small professional learning communities to district-wide professional development, and integration into university courses and programs. In addition, ASCD’s PD Online courses enables states, districts, and schools to personalize and monitor professional development for individual or groups of educators when and where it is most convenient and effective. This level of personalization and monitoring—coupled with ASCD’s commitment to content quality—helps provide teachers with opportunities to earn college and professional development credit.

Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?

Judy: We see our service as unique in the marketplace.  Since 1943, our organization, whose membership spans the entire educational spectrum- superintendents, principals, teachers, professors, and advocates-has delivered expert and innovative solutions to a global audience in the professional development arena.  Drilling down on that, I think our services are unique because:

1.    PD Online, like all ASCD products and services, empowers school administrators to build the capacity of teacher leadership.

2.    PD Online is one of many terrific professional development resources made available to educators by ASCD.  While it can certainly serve as a standalone solution and is often used that way, it can also be included in an overarching package of potential professional development experiences, including print and ebooks, journals, newsletter, PD Infocus, video, conferences and institutes.  These coordinated and complementary ASCD resources provide additional flexibility, personalization and extension of learning.

3.    More than 155,000 ASCD members inform our work, providing input on what services they need and how those services should be delivered.  This, coupled with content from distinguished experts like Bob Marzano , Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, I feel, makes us “best in class”.

4.    ASCD’s leadership positions are filled by individuals with substantive experience in K-12, higher education, online learning and professional development.  The first questions we ask when considering the development of a new product or service are:

“What does this teach?”

“How much will this help education?”

“What is the best medium through which to present this information?”

As a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership association, ASCD has the luxury of focusing first on education.

Victor: When was it developed and could you tell me something interesting about its development history?

Judy: Developed in 1996, I would reiterate that the educator input, outstanding content from experts and the flexibility of these resources are what set them apart. Furthermore, all of ASCD’s online products continue to be updated along with advances in both education and technology.

Victor: Where did it originate? Where can you get it now?

Judy: PD Online is homegrown. ASCD is blessed with a tremendously talented staff that has grown the idea of delivering world class professional development accessible to educators everywhere. You can find PD Online at www.ascd.org.

Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?

Judy: Committed to offering a range of professional development opportunities, individuals may purchase online courses for $99.00.  Universities, districts, and states receive significant discounts on bulk purchases.  Individual subscriptions to PD Infocus are $69 for members and $89 for nonmembers.  For more information visit our store at www.ascd.org

Victor: What are some examples of it in action?

Judy: Currently the state of Arkansas has embedded all of ASCD’s PD Online courses into AETN (Arkansas Educational Television Network) for access by all Arkansas teachers.  Multiple universities use these courses as a sort of digital textbook to complement classroom instruction.  Lastly, school districts across the country and the world purchase these courses to meet a multitude of professional development needs ranging from district-wide to personal needs.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?

Judy: The PD Online series supports the needs of almost any type and size of learning group.  Truly, this product is for everyone–from individual learners and small professional learning communities to district wide professional development. We have courses for the first-year teacher or the teacher who has taught for 25 years. Everyone can expect to find value in our courses. In addition, it can be integrated into university courses and programs.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days? 

Judy: Education today is faced with tremendous challenges and opportunities.  Technology has and is changing the way people learn.  Educators who are busy in the classrooms and schools today need to be able to rely on ASCD to find, evaluate, advocate for and provide user-friendly information that will help them capitalize on “new ways” while honoring the craft they have so carefully cultivated over the years.

Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating ASCD’s Professional Development program?

Judy: I graduated from high school at 16 and college at 20.  I actually thought I was sort of smart. And then I started teaching and realized I didn’t know anything. For years I spent thousands of dollars out of my own pocket because I was absolutely nuts about becoming good at this thing called teaching.

Here’s what I believe 33 years later:

-      Learning doesn’t have to be expensive

-      Learning doesn’t have to be painful or hard

-      Learning can be relevant, succinct and to the point

-      Learning can be when the learner needs it

-      A range of meaningful, affordable, user-friendly learning opportunities can and should be available for every educator seeking to improve their practice

Here’s what I always believed:

-      98% of educators are highly self-motivated and welcome affordable, relevant, practical support that truly helps them improve what they do in the school.

Victor: How is technology helping to advance professional development? Examples? 

Judy: Think of phones. 20 years ago most people still had landline phone. About 15 years ago people really started acquiring cell phones. Then came Blackberries and iPhones. Technology has enabled the cost of communication and organization to go down dramatically while the experience has improved just as much. That is the kind of thinking that is needed in professional development.

Victor: How does ASCD’s Professional Development program address some of your concerns about education?

Judy: We guide and evaluate our work through consistent quality criteria around:

-      Impact – what is it teaching?

-      Relevance – how much will it help?

-      Delivery – what is the most effective, cost efficient, high quality way to get this message to educators?  Money we save is money we can save the school systems.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Judy: The opportunities are endless.  The responsibility is enormous.

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of ASCD’s Professional Development program? 

Judy: We are sincerely committed to helping educators and leaders get the answers they need at a price they can afford.  We welcome and value their input and feedback – all of it serves to help us improve what we do. And at the end of the day, it’s about helping someone, somewhere, learn something that will add value to his or her life.

——-

Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com

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