If you’re a teacher today, you know that technology is moving into every part of the educational experience.

Whether you’ve been teaching for a long time without digital tools, or you were an early adopter, the fact is that keeping up with educational technology can require considerable time and effort.

Capella University recently began offering free professional development courses in edtech for teachers. Jane Spencer-Mills, a Japanese language teacher at Mills High School in Millbrae, CA, has taken a course, and she shares what makes it different—and more valuable—than others she’s taken in the past.

Learning to Better Help Others Learn

Spencer-Mills notes that it’s standard for teachers to be told to “take as many courses as you can so you can move up on the pay scale.” But she feels there should be a different motivation when approaching professional development, especially when it comes to education technology.

“I wanted to learn not just for my own sake, not just to move up the pay scale, but to learn new ways to help my students learn, and help them enjoy that process,” she says. “The course was set up to support that motivation—allowing me to evaluate how well I knew something, and how well I could teach it to others.”

The Value of Self-Checks

In the case of technology, there’s an imperative to continue to keep up. “Technology is like a box of fractals,” Spencer-Mills says. “Once you open it, they all go off in a bunch of different directions. Trying to put a large group of people into a tech class and assume they’re all at the same level and will progress at the same pace, that’s not going to work.”

That’s where she found Capella’s approach to be particularly successful. “I really liked Capella’s option for self-checking,” she says. “You can work at your own pace, and you can pause partway through to see if you’re really grasping the concepts rather than continuing to the end and discovering too late that you didn’t.

“Self-checks are something I hope to do with my own students,” she adds.

Foundation for an Advanced Degree

Another aspect of Capella’s professional development courses that Spencer-Mills appreciated was that the course could act as foundational work towards an advanced degree. “I liked that I was building units to do a master’s, even though I’m not currently planning on going for that degree,” she says. “But knowing that the course could lead to that, it upped the game.”

Advice for Others

If you’re looking into edtech-focused professional development courses, Spencer-Mills has some tips for you. “Look for the course deliverables,” she advises. “Is there direct application to your work? You want a course that tells you, ‘At the end of this course you will be able to…’ Theoretical is fine, but direct application is what’s really valuable. And that’s what I found at Capella.”

She had more personal advice on the subject as well.

“Take a course on a topic new to you,” she recommends. “Then you’re experiencing the process of learning from the other side of the desk like your students do. It makes you remember the first time you approached learning something new. Otherwise, you can get stuck in a teaching rut. If we’re telling kids to be lifelong learners, we have to walk the walk.”


Learn more about Capella’s free edtech-focused professional development courses for teachers.