Skip to Content

Case Studies

Detailed profiles of districts that have designed and implemented effective online and connected professional learning can be accessed below. Each profile provides ways to obtain additional information about that district’s approach, including key action steps and lessons learned.

Albemarle County Public Schools

Charlottesville, Virginia

Albemarle County Public Schools is a geographically large and economically diverse district that surrounds Charlottesville, Virginia. Its more than 13,000 students attend 29 schools.

Albemarle’s 2015 plan articulates Seven Pathways that describe the educational environment they seek to cultivate in every school. They are choice and comfort, instructional tolerance, university design for learning/individualized learning, maker-infused curriculum, project-/problem-/passion-based learning, interactive technology, and connectivity.

Leaders at Albemarle believe that these principles apply as much to educators as they do to students. For example, although elementary students have a choice of reading print books or with tablets in the library, teachers can embrace their choice of social media, alongside more traditional face-to-face professional development workshops, to support their learning. The teachers of those elementary students, for example, might use Pinterest to find and share innovative ideas for making their classrooms more comfortable for kids in the comfort of their own homes.

Twitter stands out as the network of choice for staff at Albemarle. Use is widespread and effectively modeled by Superintendent Pam Moran and other district leaders. Teachers and principals throughout the district use Twitter to share what’s going on in their classrooms and schools, posting pictures of creative student work (made possible by getting permission from parents at the beginning of each year) and using a common hashtag, making activity within the schools visible to students, educators, and community members alike.

When Albemarle leaders began to encourage use of Twitter, they used a private Yammer network, which they sometimes referred to as “Twitter on training wheels” to help educators become comfortable with sharing. It is also standard practice to use online backchannels such as TodaysMeet in face-to-face meetings to further instill habits of online sharing.

Teachers are able to receive continuing education units that contribute to recertification not only for their participation in traditional professional development but also for their learning through communities and networks.

Albemarle leaders stress that the culture they have developed in their district didn’t take root overnight. It took several years of sustained and repeated effort, with strong modeling from district and school leaders, to reach the level of engagement they have achieved. They are quick to note that it is not fully ubiquitous, and it may never be. Their focus is on the learning, and they want educators to embrace whatever tools and processes make that happen.

For more information:

  1. Watch the video interview with Superintendent Pam Moran and Director of Educational Technology and Professional Development Becky Fisher
  2. Visit the Seven Pathways website
  3. View the Connected Educators profile of Superintendent Pam Moran


Clark County School District

Las Vegas, Nevada

Clark County School District is the fifth largest school district in the United States, with 300,000 students and 17,000 teachers. Based in Las Vegas, the district experienced extremely rapid growth as the city expanded over a decade. Starting in 2012, the district made a significant effort to help all its educators to understand the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and to align the district’s curriculum and instruction to the new standards. Clark County School District is accomplishing this through an innovative online professional learning project called Bringing Learning and Standards Together (BLAST).

In creating content for the CCSS professional learning modules, the district considered existing professional learning resources and partnerships with other districts and professional organizations across Nevada and the United States. Curating and cross-referencing these resources, the BLAST project team created a rigorous process for small teams to develop and review research-based content for professional learning modules that was tailored to the needs of Clark County district instructors.

The resulting online modules were designed as self-directed resources that instructors may review selectively or in their entirety, based on the instructor’s professional learning needs. Although offering great flexibility in how much of the module an individual instructor chooses to access, the BLAST modules also encourage collaboration with other graduate-level teachers or with other department staff, thus building capacity within the district. The collaboration may be face-to-face or online, through Edmodo. The Edmodo platform allows participants to expand their individual personal learning networks to share ideas, lessons, and examples of study work.

Within the first nine months of launching BLAST, Clark County district witnessed significant amounts of daily activity, as revealed by quantitative and qualitative data. In 2012, Edmodo ranked Clark County among the 10 most collaborative districts nationally. The district and BLAST project team are using this feedback to inform planning of future modules. Initial feedback from participant surveys housed in each module has been positive. Teachers report that they appreciate the on-demand aspect of the online modules, which allows them to get help 24/7 rather than waiting until a designated staff development day. They have also appreciated seeing and discussing examples of student work. District and state administrators and strategists continue to promote the BLAST project and the idea of the self-directed teacher, thus empowering instructors to pursue their own professional learning needs, within the broader district goal of improving student learning in the areas of the CCSS.

For more information:

  1. Listen to April Holloway, instructor and BLAST project team designer, describe the project in this June 2013 video
  2. Get an overview of sample content for the BLAST Math module (K-8)
    Follow the District through its social media sites


Forest Hills School District

Cincinnati, Ohio

The Forest Hills School District is a comprehensive PK-12 school district located in the southeastern suburbs of Cincinnati. The district serves nearly 7,800 students living in the communities of Anderson Township and the Village of Newtown. The combined population of these two communities is about 45,000.

The Forest Hills School District believes that preparing students for the 21st century requires learning environments in which students are actively engaged in a cohesively integrated curriculum that fosters innovation and creativity. These environments provide students with adequate access to emerging technologies that will help them personalize and customize their learning, as well as prepare them for an increasingly networked, technology-rich world. Forest Hills was chosen as one of four schools in the United States to be leaders in the “connected educator” space. The journey toward this vision started in 2005 with a teacher tablet pilot, and has progressed through 2014 with the Power Up Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program.

District leaders had identified three key strategies that helped establish a foundation on which connected education can be built:

  1. Invest in developing “connected leaders” with a deep understanding of innovative connected approaches to professional learning.
  2. Start connected learning programs with small groups of adventurous, innovative teachers as pilot groups that will share how the new practices and tools are positively impacting their professional performance and subsequently influencing others to participate.
  3. Involve educators from all roles to reimagine what professional development looks like to change professional learning programs and goals to match what educators value. This may include multiple, personalized paths and giving credit for educator-selected tools and programs.

For more information:

  1. Listen to Instructional Technology Specialist Cary Harrod, Curriculum Director Natasha Adams, and IT Director Christine McCormick discuss starting connected education efforts small by supporting limited cadres of early adopters in this video.
  2. Connect on Twitter with Cary Harrod, Natasha Adams, and Christine McCormick.


Waterloo Region District School Board

Kitchener, Ontario Canada

The Waterloo Region District School Board services 62,000 students through 120 sites in Ontario, Canada.

The Board recognizes the importance of providing a variety of ongoing professional learning opportunities for staff development. The district’s information technology services department is committed to providing support for teacher growth and development in technology use to support student learning and achievement. This means striving to align technology use with the best instructional and assessment practices, and providing opportunities to help staff become connected educators.

To implement this, Waterloo staff is expected to use a Plan, Act, Access, Reflect model to guide their learning and classroom practices. Accordingly, staff is encouraged to use online tools such as blogs, wikis, Ning, Twitter, and Google Drive to support the learning process and to build connections with face-to-face professional learning programs.

Waterloo has implemented programs to support this approach:

CATC by the Water:
Computers Across the Curriculum (CATC) by the Water is Waterloo’s summer technology-based, self-directed, and self-organized, learning opportunity for staff. The event takes 100 teachers offsite, away from distraction. These teachers or “technology campers” receive technical support and learn from facilitators as well as each other based on their individual professional learning interests and goals.

CATC Connection:
CATC Connection provides selected staff with a mobile device on which they complete independent learning. These educators then use online communities of practice to share learning experiences and engage in face-to-face focus groups to inform and influence peer practice.

Powerful Learning Practice:
For each of the last five years, select staff participated in the Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) program to gain experience in a job-embedded professional development process, which includes action research component and fosters reflecting and sharing to build professional relationships and enhance learning.

Futures Forum Project:
Evolving from a PLP action research project, the Futures Forum Project established an ongoing process to bring staff together both face-to-face and online for discussion, sharing, and reflection to inform the process of determining next best steps.

For more information:

  1. Listen to Chief Information Officer Mark Carbone discuss empowering educators to own their professional learning in this video.
  2. Read Mark Carbone’s professional blog.
  3. Explore the CATC by the Water website.


White Oak Independent School District

White Oak, Texas

White Oak Independent School District serves White Oak City, Texas, and its 5,624 residents and over 1,300 students. The district prides itself on being at the cutting edge of digital learning practices. The district applies technology-enabled professional learning for its educators, and engages students with use of blogs, ePortfolios, podcasts, video, and Moodle course environments.

Rather than mandate the use of technology, White Oak applied a viral approach by selecting a few eager primary grades teachers, supplying them with technology tools and instructional freedom, and allowing those teachers’ innovation and enthusiasm to spread to other staff to scale the program. Enthusiasm and positive impacts to student learning generated instant interest among other staff, who then sought ways to transform their practice. Web 2.0 tools are the norm in K-12 classes while mobile device apps have become a leading contender for personalization of the learning process. Collaborating with learners from around the globe in an inquiry-driven mode gives students a real-world application of both the content and the style in which they are learning.

For more information:

  1. Listen to Superintendent Michael Gilbert discuss creating a working environment that fosters innovation by allowing space for experimentation and learning from failure in this video.
  2. Check out the district’s Roughneck Blog & EPortfolios site, Blogging Central.
  3. Watch the Power On Texas video on a viral approach to learning forward.


Mount View School District and the Mathematics and Science Partnerships Program

Mount View, Maine

Summer Book Blog Project: Teachers Integrating Engineering into Science (TIES) K12

In 2011, the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance (MMSA) received a grant to conduct a Mathematics and Science Partnerships (MSP) program called Teachers Integrating Engineering Into Science (TIES) K12. Mathematics and Science Partnerships (MSP) programs are designed to foster collaboration between science, technology, engineering, and mathematics departments at institutions of higher education and high-need school districts. The overarching goal of the MSP program is to improve classroom instruction and student achievement in mathematics and science by providing district educators with professional learning that is standards-based and steeped in content.

The goal of the TIES K12 program was to assist educators in integrating engineering into their science curriculum through collaboration between engineering professors at the University of Maine and instructors from five schools in Mount View School District. One component of teachers’ professional learning took the form of a book blog. This innovative summer online program took place in 2012 and involved 30 educators. About half of the TIES instructors were involved in other professional learning initiatives, such as year-long professional learning communities (PLCs), which required teachers to try out standards-based engineering activities in their classrooms, among other work. The other half participated in this summer program and was not involved in PLCs or other intensive, job-embedded professional development.

The purpose of the summer book blog was to give teachers a better sense of what engineers do and to connect teachers with University of Maine engineering professors. The goal was threefold: to use the trade book to show the “human side” of engineering, to connect teachers with engineering professors, and to elicit conversations around K-12 engineering education. Participants received a modest stipend, a copy of Henry Petrosky’s To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design, and participation guidelines.

MMSA configured the book blog project so that each participant was an author, thus setting expectations that everyone would contribute regularly to the blog. According to Lynn Farrin, science education specialist at MMSA, the book study was not as structured as traditional online professional learning, with a syllabus and assignment dates; instead, the blog encouraged participants to react to readings, to write about what resonated with them, and to pose questions. The book blog was an eye-opening experience: the teachers better understood how engineers worked and understood the decisions that go into developing technologies. In turn, the engineers gained appreciation for the work of the teachers.

Every five years, each teacher in Maine must complete a certain amount of professional development and this blog work counted toward their recertification credits.

For more information:

  1. Read a project description.
  2. Review their blog.
  3. Examine a welcome letter, sample rubric for participation, and stipend details.


Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts

Baltimore County Public Schools, Baltimore, Maryland

Patapsco High School & Center for the Arts staffs 92 educators serving over 1,400 students in Baltimore County, Maryland. The school places a strong emphasis on professional learning for teachers as means to improve student achievement. School leadership believes in allowing teachers to design their own professional learning to include options that are highly personalized, intentional, and reflective.

To help educators reach personalized professional learning goals, the school has implemented Patapsco University. The program combines traditional, school driven professional development opportunities with opportunities for teachers to customize experiences within a standardized framework. Standardized and customized options are credit-bearing, carrying an assigned number of forty-minute “credit hours” that allow teachers to work toward an annual expectation of 12 credit hours earned. Patapsco leaders find that due to the highly customized nature of many of the available professional development offerings, teachers frequently pursue opportunities in excess of that expectation.

Patapsco University learning opportunities include:

  • An EdCamp covering topics selected by participant teachers
  • A Tuning Protocol course in which groups of “critical friends” engage in instructional strategy analysis and examination of student work
  • Opportunities to contribute to the Patriot Pedagogy professional learning memo
  • Structured peer observation and “teachers teaching teachers” observation and feedback sessions
  • Teacher-driven PLCs and study groups
  • Paired lesson study
  • Book studies in small groups or independently
  • Teacher and leader Learning Walks that allow for observation and reflection on practices throughout the building
  • Online and face to face classes and tutorials, such as Tech Tutorials on new tech tools for classroom use, each including a reflection and debrief after implementation of the learning content in classrooms
  • Participation in committees
  • Student mentoring

For more information:

  1. Visit the school web page.
  2. See the Patriot Pedagogy submission form.
  3. Review the PLC study group proposal requirements.
  4. Explore the Learning Walk optionsavailable for Patapsco educators.