October 1996

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Enhancing Professional Development in Special Education Through the Web

by Jennifer A. Gold

In Cheney, WA, a teacher wonders where she can find information about Co: Writer, a word prediction software program to help her sixth-grade student with severe speech and motor impairments improve his writing; in Clifton, New Jersey, a specialist wishes she had someone to share ideas with about making Boardmaker overlays for her elementary school students; in Rustin, Louisiana, a parent searches for information about portable Braille devices to bring to his daughter's Individual Education Program (IEP) meeting next month; in Richmond, Indiana, another teacher desperately needs new ideas for an early childhood literacy unit she's preparing for the spring term.

Where do educators turn for information when faced with challenging situations? For years, print was the medium of choice in disseminating valuable information to practitioners in the field. Then came video, offering people a new way to visualize information that could otherwise not be "pictured." Today, educators are exploring the newest technology to foster professional development--the Internet.

As the number of World Wide Web (WWW) sites and online networks continue to grow, educators are witnessing a communication medium that is breaking new ground due to its ability to deliver information in many different formats on a single platform, to reach larger numbers of people in the field across greater distances and at a quicker pace. According to Baym (1995) and Newman (1994), people are now able to access a wealth of information when they need it, and are able to exchange ideas and collaboratively solve problems and across great distances. The Web is growing at an astonishing rate--1758% (in 1994) and doubling in size approximately every two to three months thereafter (Hoffman et all, 1996). For educators, the Web provides unique opportunities for promoting professional development: easy retrieval of information and access to colleagues in the field.

The purpose of this article is to describe a model of professional development designed by the --National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP) that delivers resources and online conversations to educators via the Web. [TOC]



Funded under contract #H180N20013. The contents of this article do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the US Department of Education.

Jennifer A. Gold ( is Research Assistant for the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts. She earned a masters degree in Instructional Technology and Media from Columbia University's Teachers College and is interested in how people use the Internet to support professional development.

Copyright © 1996 Jennifer A. Gold. All Rights Reserved.

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