Is online teacher training good for public education?

ByMike V. Cooper

Jun 29, 2012

Online teacher training involves much of the workload of traditional classroom teaching: textbook lessons, classroom observations, teaching students. But the challenges of training successful teachers online were made clear to me in a recent online chat, when the teacher in my Foundations of Education course put on sturdy headphones, looked his computer screen and asked the students what they liked or disliked. about his course on the Internet at the National University.

We were supposed to talk, but no one knew how to use the microphones. After a flurry of typed responses and awkward silences, Professor Lorraine Leavitt, who taught online classes at the San Diego-based National for seven years, filled dead airtime with a discussion of the difficulty of producing great teachers from an online. Classes.

At least I think she did. As she spoke, the echo in the chat system became so loud that I missed most of her speech.

“It’s kind of like the Wild West,” Leavitt, who worked in California public schools for 32 years and taught in-person teacher training courses, said in an interview after the course ended. “We are at the beginning of online education.”

At a time when physical teacher training programs are under fire, the burgeoning world of online teacher training has the potential to help or hinder efforts to improve public education. Internet courses could widen access to the profession and be a solution to the shortage of teachers. But if online training programs can’t guarantee quality, they’ll just pump thousands of ill-prepared teachers into the system.

For four weeks last fall, I joined 19 future teachers in a virtual course at National University to explore how this rapidly growing field is preparing individuals for the classroom. My “Foundations of Education” class was a required course in the master’s program for prospective teachers, covering topics such as standardized testing, teaching in multicultural classrooms, and the history of public schools in America.

I learned a lot about education, but little about how to conduct myself in class. This was partly because this course, as an introductory course, did not cover specific teaching strategies. But some skeptics wonder if the fundamental lack of human interaction during an online course, regardless of the topic, can lead to problems later.

When online-trained teachers come into the classroom to teach students, Leavitt said, sometimes “we see issues that maybe we could have solved earlier,” like how a teacher responds to student questions. “What that tells me is that we really need to start designing our online courses earlier so that they’re a lot more interactive.”

In other words, even the oldest and most basic online teacher training courses should be interactive so that students can learn from the instructor – and from each other – how to present information and that the instructor can start giving advice as soon as possible.

Online courses are exploding across the country at all levels of education, and teacher education is no exception, fueled by teachers seeking a master’s degree as well as career changers seeking a career. a convenient way to access a new domain.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the top six institutions granting bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education in 2010 were fully or partially online private programs, with the University of Phoenix and Walden University being for-profit. at the top of the list. Together, the two have awarded more than 14,600 degrees in education. Nationally, 309,685 teaching qualifications were issued in 2010.

National University, a San Diego-based private nonprofit university that offers in-person and online programs, is the eighth largest producer of education degrees in the nation, awarding more than 2,000 in 2010. Ten percent of California teachers have graduated from National, including at least three former State Teachers of the Year, according to the university.

In terms of curriculum and content, online teacher training programs are similar to traditional programs and require a comparable number of hours that candidates spend doing their teaching assignments in physical classrooms. Online teaching offers inherent strengths – it’s impossible, for example, to escape class discussions, which means professors can monitor written participation more closely – and at least one glaring weakness: the possibilities of in-person interactions are limited.

“I’m nervous about a company that trains people to become face-to-face classroom instructors completely online,” said David Figlio, a professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University, who conducted research comparing online and online student performance. lecture person. “It’s hard to think of too many jobs that require more genuine, old-fashioned face-to-face contact than teaching.”