Last year, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, sought help from the audience during a discussion of education at Stanford. Her technology problem was the difficulty teachers had in sharing information with each other, which has been alleviated by TSL Education's Share My Lesson, an online portal which teachers can access without charge.
"We've been trying to find a way to have teachers be able to access information quickly, actively and share with each other," Weingarten said. "It felt to me almost too good to be true, that some private entity had created a platform for teachers to be able to share."
Share My Lesson is expected to launch in August with over 100,000 pieces of user-generated material and rapidly become the largest online resource for US teachers. AFL and TSL have already committed $10 million to develop and maintain the site.
"We must support the incredibly complex work teachers do at every opportunity, including by sharing and promoting best practices through online resources and communities of practice," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.
His enthusiasm is expected considering the challenges that have arisen for professional development in the education world. The slashed budgets of many districts have meant that teacher preparation is increasingly patchy depending on location. Some new teachers have veterans to aid them learn their craft; others are left on their own without support. Share My Lesson is expected to smooth out the effects of the current zip code lottery.
"For a lot of people, I think teaching is a very isolating experience," said Karen Brennan, a research assistant at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "You don't have as many opportunities as you'd like to connect with the teacher in the classroom next to you, or in the school or district. And that's where I think network technologies have enormous potential."
The new focus on professional development, and this consequent program, arises from concern over the US being left behind globally.
"In places that out-compete us, places like Singapore, Finland, Canada, what you hear is that their districts spend a lot more time providing them the resources and the tools to do their job," Weingarten said. "Teachers are far more equipped when they walk into the classroom."
The increasing use of modern technology to communicate and share ideas will have positive professional effects for many of the estimated 80 million teachers in the world, who will be able to learn from each other strengths and better identify and resolve weaknesses.
TSL Education launched TES Connect in 2008. It has almost 2 million members spread across nearly 200 countries and handles over 2.5 million downloads a week.