Online Professional Development: Benefits and Drawbacks
Online Professional Development: Benefits and Drawbacks
About the Guests:
Nov. 16, 2005
Barbara Treacy, a managing project director of the Center for Online Professional Education at the Education Development Center;
Peggy Gaskill, the head of the master’s degree program in education at Walden University, which offers college degrees online to students nationwide.
Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Thank you for joining us for today’s online chat on the benefits and drawbacks of online professional development programs for educators. Based on the number and variety of questions we’ve already received, this is clearly a popular and interesting topic.
To be sure, the benefits of online learning for educators are significant, from the convenience of being able to take courses or earn degrees from home to the possibility of sharing ideas with colleagues from all over the country. But experts say the proliferation of such opportunities raises some serious concerns, particularly about the quality of online professional development.
So let’s get the discussion started ...
Question from Terri Beeler, Independent Consultant:
What would be the characteristics of quality online professional development ?
High quality online professional development has to meet the same high standards as any effective professional development course or program. Research has led to some commonly agreed principles about the characteristics of high quality programs, including that they should: improve and increase teacher’s content knowledge; prepare teachers (and/or administrators) to help their students meet challenging academic standards; improve classroom management skills; be sustained, intensive and classroom-focused; advance teacher understanding of effective pedagogical approaches; and foster teacher collaboration. To meet these goals, online professional development has to be well-designed, and not just be a face-to-face course converted quickly for online delivery. It should use a format that is designed to meet the specific goals of the course, using carefully selected technologies appropriately, providing rich opportunities for interaction with and feedback from the instructor, and in many cases, also providing rich interactive opportunities with other course participants. - Barbara
Question from Estela G. Jurado,Bilingual Ed. 5th grade Teacher, Alta Vista Elementary:
How do you address the legitimacy issue of online professional development? Many veteran teachers and administrators do not consider online professional development to be as legitimate as standard workshops or seminars.
We need to conduct well-designed research to document the effectiveness of online professional development, and publicize the results of these evaluations. Many people know examples of unsuccessful and/or poorly designed online courses, so it’s important for advocates to recognize and distinguish them from well-designed online professional development.
One advantage of online delivery, is that in most cases, all content and interaction is archived electronically. It’s easy to document the time participants put into an online courses and/or the quality of their participation. Online course management systems generate lots of statistics automatically which can be used to show that often more activity, time, and learning happens in online courses, than in some traditional courses. -Barbara
Question from James Pence, Product Manager, Co-nect:
What types of courses seem to be popular with teachers? Why these?
For our online graduate courses, as well as degree specializations, reading courses are most popular. These range from how to teach reading, how to support the struggling reader, and reading in the content areas. Teachers are also interested in classroom management.
The national focus is on the improvement of reading because research indicates that good reading skills contribute to success in other curriculum areas and life in general. Our teachers want their K-12 students to be successful.
Question from June Furlough, Counselor:
How do we know which colleges or universites are accredited?
You can call or write to the institution, or check their website for accrediting information. There are different accrediting agencies for different purposes and regions, so you should know which agencies are appropriate to the institution or program you’re investigating, and sometimes there will be more than one accreditation. The SREB (Southern Region Education Board) has a large project to list accredited online programs and courses in their 16 state region called the “Electronic Campus” (http://www.electroniccampus.org/)though I don’t know of a comparable resource in other regions. -Barbara
Question from Dianne Lindo, Director of Outreach, St. John’s College, Belize, Central America:
What sort of accreditation do online learning programs have? How can a student find out if the online program is accredited?
Online (and traditional) programs usually post their accreditation(s) prominently on their websites. I don’t think there’s a special agency focused on accrediting online programs, no that there needs to be! Online courses and programs should go through the same rigorous accreditation process as traditional courses and programs, and they have been going through them successfully. For example, Florida Virtual School is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Commission on International and Trans-Regional Education. The SREB’s Electronic Campus provides a good list of accredited online courses and programs in the 16 state region covered by the Southern Region Education Board. -Barbara
Question from Frantz Simon, educator:
What are the organizations that support or provide resources for the creation of online schools or educational centers?
We at EDC, through the EdTech Leaders Online program, provide capacity building training to enable educational organizations (school districts, state departments of education, regional centers, etc.) to establish online courses, programs, virtual schools, etc. Florida Virtual School also offers training to help organizations set up and manage their own virtual school programs. Other programs, including many in a number of colleges and universities, offer courses on how to design online courses though I don’t know of any specically focused on setting up whole online schools/centers. A number of commercial course management system providers also offer some training on how to set up an online program.
Question from Miles Myers, Senior Researcher, ISCA, Los Angeles`:
Your programs appear to be aimed at college students. Do you favor extending your on-line learning programs to secondary and elementary students? Or do you think modifications are necessary? If so, what?
Yes, the programs at Walden University focus on graduate programs for working professionals. Our online courses and other learning experiences are designed for adult learners. I think online learning is a viable option as ONE tool for K-12 students or for adult learners. Design of any learning experience should be adjusted for audience it is expected to serve.
Comment from Cheryl Ward, Executive Director of Educational Development, Perry Public School District, Perry, Ohio:
Our school district is in the process of developing a blended master’s program for the teachers in our district and surrounding districts with a well-known university in our area. We know this first of a kind program will face challenges as teachers “learn to learn online” as well as stay connected and self-motivated. We would be interested in hearing of the experiences of others, specifically in the area of ensuring that new online learners are successful. Thanks!
Question from Barb Butler-teacher:
Is there some way of guaranteeing the quality of online classes/seminars? Some ‘stamp of approval’ that districts would recognize?
There is no commonly agreed upon stamp of approval to guarantee the quality of online classes/seminars, but there’s a number of collaborative efforts to establish one, with remarkable convergence in content and approach. The SREB (Southern Region Educational Board, in collaboration with EDC, NSDC, SEIRTEC, and other organizations, developed standards to assess quality of online programs, courses and teachers. The NSDC (National Staff Development Council), the NSBA (National School Boards Association) and NASBE (National Association of State Boards of Education) also developed important documents that address quality of online programs and courses. SETDA (the State Education Technology Directors Association) produced a toolkit at their National Leadership Institute, which included an important section on criteria for evaluating online courses/programs . Texas Education Agency produced IQ - Investigating Quality of Online Courses Pilot (IQ Pilot), and the Massachusetts Department of Education produced “Recommended Criteria for Distance Learning Courses.” At EDC, we’ve also been working with a policy group composed of the state technology directors in the New England/NY region to develop a common set of standards to evaluate quality of online courses/programs. -Barbara
Question from Barbara Blanke, Lecturer, Cal Poly:
Do you see any gender issues with the students who chose this type of educational venue?
I may not be understanding your question and hope you will write back with clarification if my response is not on target. I’m taking the question in a purely demographic sense. There are far more females enrolled in online teacher education courses and education degree programs at Walden University. However, this may be indicative of a profession with more females than males.
Question from Belinda Chan, student (interested in education):
Online degrees might be very good for professionals who want to study further on a subject while continuing to work full-time. In such situations, they have more flexibility and control of their time. However, wouldn’t the students have less opportunities for practical training? Wouldn’t it be difficult for majors like: medical, law, nursing, etc...? Do the graduated students have difficulties finding jobs? Do their employers have doubts about their credibility? Thanks!
Belinda, You are correct that online programs may be helpful in regard to some flexibility of time for the working professional. There are numerous opportunities for practical training in our Walden education courses. We use video to model new strategies in real classrooms and then our students are expected to practice these strategies in their own classrooms. The final step is a reflection of the process with input from colleagues and the faculty member. I would suggest that with this type of modeling, we can create examples rather than waiting for chance happenings in a real classroom.
Question from Kathy Brabec, Senior Consultant, Colorado Department of Education:
It seems that credit-granting institutions require more “seat time” for online courses than for “live” courses. Why is this?
Good question! It’s hard to estimate comparisons of seat time for online and live courses. Research shows that students often spend more time in online courses than in traditional courses because they have the time to complete all assignments, and because they’re engaging. Perhaps the challenge for credit-bearing institutions, is that they don’t understand how and when students learn online, and underestimate the time students are on task. For example, online courses may require an offline investigations, experiments, explorations, etc, and we have to work with institutions to understand how to count this time as seat time or class time?. There is also a fear that online students are trying to get away with an easy course, so institutions may increase the requirements. In those cases, we have an educational process to explain that online students are on-task, even if its on their own schedule. The good thing, is that many course management systems track time students are online, and this data can help convince skeptical administrators. -Barbara
Question from Dawn Crawford, CRM, Thinkronize:
How do we overcome the stigma that online PD doesn’t provide that human learning interaction or the environment for collaboration that “live” PD does I find that is the most common arguement against online PD.
That’s a great question! There’s lots of evidence that online PD DOES provide robust and intense interaction, and that it provides lots of important and rich opportunities for collaboration, but sometimes it taking seeing it in person to believe it! It’s important that we publicize successes, with case studies, quotes and stories from participants who can confirm the rich collaborative environment that online technologies afford. I also find it helpful to invite skeptical administrators or other decision makers or stakeholders into a live course to see and experience for themselves the warmth, humor and engagement in an online course. -Barbara
Question from Lisa Ross, Federal Policy Director, Pre-K Now:
High-quality, publicly-funded pre-kindergarten is a growing field and more teachers are needed every day. However, many shools of education do not have early childhood departments and there are not currently enough early childhood professors in the pipeline to teach in all of the schools even if they all tried to add such a department. So online coursework for BA degrees as well as for continuing professional development seems a promising way to deal with the problem. What can we do to help develop these programs before they are started to ensure that they are high-quality? How can we tell if the existing ones are high-quality? And what can we do to improve subpar programs?
You are absolutely correct about the high need for teachers in this area of education. And, yes, quality online courses and degree programs might help solve access to such programs.
To ensure high quality, I would urge you and your organization and professional association to collaborate on setting standards for teacher preparation in the field. While your question has singled out pre-kindergarten, we would most likely look to NAEYC for standards related to the preparation of teachers for Early Childhood Programs. At Walden, we would build such a program or courses to focus on those standards and identify the outcomes necessary to measure results.
I would then encourage you and your associates to look to programs designed using these standards and ask to review their Program Outcomes Assessment Plan for results. Talk to their graduates.
Probably another good approach is to become a faculty member in an online Early Childhood Education program and work from the inside to make any necessary improvements. We look for degreed faculty with specializations and experience in the fields in which they are teaching. This leads to having them involved in program/course development, program reviews, and revisions.
All along the way is a theme of collaboration. It’s a very powerful tool to reach excellence.
Question from Amy Cahill, substitute,Marysville:
I’ve heard that getting a Master’s online doesn’t “hold as much water” as actually going to campus and getting a degree. Is this true? Do principals “look down” on degrees earned online?
Since you are talking about in-service teachers and the master’s degree, probably the best way to quell this thinking is to share with your principal the things you are learning. One of the best ways is to invite him/her to observe in your classroom as you implement new learning with your students, share the course materials, the rigor of the assignments, and the research project you’ve done to show that your students are more successful because of the new strategies you are learning to name a few.
This type of thinking comes with never having the experience or having a bad experience. But in the Department of Education’s regional accrediting process, Walden University, as an example, is an online institution accredited using the same standards as a bricks and mortar neighborhood institution.
My primary point is looking at results of your online experience for the children in your classroom. That is the real proof of any program/course for an educator.
Question from Steven Morrison, Asst. Professor of Arts Admin and technology consultant for Wolf Trap stART smART web site:
What do teachers see as primary obstacles to using web sites for professional development (time, difficult to use, etc.)?
What sort of web site features are most desirable for teachers?
What sort of content are teachers seeking?
The obstacles for using web sites for professional development may be their design, the user’s technology skills, and, in many cases, the lack of interactivity with components of the site or with colleagues.
In web-based learning platforms used in our online environment, we find that it is best to provide an orientation to the platform before any coursework starts and ongoing technical support for students and faculty during each course. While communication can be asynchronous or synchronous in an online classroom, the most important feature is that teachers enrolled in a course and their faculty member can communicate through a Discussion Board, chat room, or emails on a regular basis. This ongoing communication is an integral part of the learning experience.
Teachers are looking for new knowledge and strategies that will help them help their own students in their K-12 classrooms. Peggy
Question from Doloers Tan Stevns , substitute teacher, SBAC:
How does the hiring body of a school perceive these online education programs? Did anybody get hired based on an MA online degree in Education ?
I would expect that an enlightened school hiring body would consider results in their classrooms of graduates of both online and bricks and mortar programs as a measure of the quality of such programs. Based on the way our Walden courses/programs are designed, school officials can see results throughout a degree program in the graduate student’s K-12 classroom.
However, we do acknowledge that there is a threat to the reputation of both campus-based and online higher education institutions as a result of the unethical practices of diploma mill-type organizations. We believe that accrediting bodes such as the North Central Association and the Higher Learning Commission are the best protectors of quality education practices. When hiring officials become better informed of the standards met by accredited institutions, we expect that acceptance will become more universal.
While our Walden master’s degree students must be practicing teachers (have classroom access) to enroll in the program, there are many who have moved to other schools, school districts, and leadership roles based on receiving a master’s degree in Education. A useful tool in such a process would be the required Program Portfolio which provides evidence of their work, including videos of their teaching and student work samples, toward meeting the defined outcomes of the particular specialization.
Question from Mark Knapp, Soquel High school teacher, Santa Cruz City Schools:
Is there an exam to be passed before entering the Master of Ed. program?
While some graduate degree programs use an entry exam, Walden University does not for being admitted to the Master of Science in Education program.
Question from Brenda Tucker, Indian Creek Middle:
I am considering a Master degree in Math Middle grades. I am concerned I may not comprehend the formulas. Will there be a way to contact someone who can further explain the information to me if needed?
As a former middle grades mathematics teacher (many years ago), I would be very excited to be part of the Walden M.S. in Education with a specialization in Mathematics, Grades 6-8.
Every course is assigned a mathematics educator as the faculty to support all of the students. They are available to support students on a continuing basis in replying to emails from students (they respond within 24 hours), interact with students on the Discussion Board, and assess student work each week in a developmental program. If there are difficulties with content, the faculty member is available.
In addition, cohorts of students establish relationships with each other (even though they may live hundreds of miles apart) and peers provide support.
Question from Hope Gelting, Resource Teacher:
I am interested in the Reading and Literacy masters program. What other career paths can this degree help me obtain other than classroom teaching?
With a Master of Science in Education with a specialization in Elementary Reading and Literacy from Walden University, other career paths are dependent on the certification/licensure requirements for positions other than classroom teacher in the school district or state. This degree was developed for classroom teachers to support the reading improvement needs of their K-6 students.
Question from Dennis Giacomino, Vice President, Cleveland Chiropractic College:
What distinguishes Walden University from other online universities and in particular, the Ph.D or Ed.D. programs?
I will respond to your question within the context of the doctoral (Ph.D. and Ed.D.) programs in the Walden University College of Education.
The primary answer is...the Faculty. Walden faculty are leaders in their fields, highly esteemed scholars, researchers and professionals from multiple geographies and cultures.
Also, the focus of a doctoral student’s study is based on his/her interests, not promoting a faculty member’s research agenda. Walden doctoral programs, particularly the Ph.D. program, is based on a unique design of Knowledge Area Modules (KAMs), some online courses, and a close interaction with a faculty mentor who may be half way around the world geographically but has expertise in the student’s area of study. This leads to a dissertation focused on social change in a student’s school, school district, and/or community. Walden’s mission of social change is a unique feature of all of our degree programs.
I am unable to compare our Walden programs to those of other online universities. I encourage you to consult the Walden website for more information (www.waldenu.edu) or talk to an Enrollment Advisor. This might be your same strategy in reviewing information about other higher education institutions.
Question from Pat Ainsworth, Communications Director, National Institute for Early Education Research:
Online course designers were once cautioned about using too much video...in part due to bandwidth issues and also to avoid the “talking head” syndrome. We are seeing more video in more recent offerings. Does the old advice still hold true?
Since at Walden University we are committed to our mission of "...access to quality graduate education...”, access to technology becomes an issue. We have students who take online courses or full degree programs using dial-up access to the Internet.
However, we do use video, in either VHS or DVD format, as a teaching tool. We find that we are able to bring cutting edge contributing scholars to our thousands of students who may not have any opportunity to have access to Dorothy Strickland or David Allington (Reading), Carol Ann Tomlinson (Instruction), David Thornburg (Technology), or Michael Fullan (Educational Leadership)to name a few. These video tools are sent to students along with texts.
In addition to access to these scholars, we avoid the “talking head” syndrome by interspersing our scholars with modeling of the new strategies in real classrooms with real teachers and their students. Each weekly video is approximately 20-30 minutes in length.
This is the long answer to “yes”. The old advice does hold true to find a way for using video if your goal is access (along with addressing different learning styles) and definitely avoid the “talking heads.”
Question from Miriam Georg, EVP of Strategic Planning and Development, Performance Learning Systems:
With the proliferation of public universities and public companies addressing professional development needs of teachers,what do you predict will happen to the professional development offerings sponsored by state universities? Also, with the growing pressure for alternative certification programs, what is the future of traditional teacher preparation programs through state and private universities?
I think universities will continue to be an important source of professional development for teachers. Teachers often need college credits for recertification or advancement in their school districts, and so college credit will remain an important incentive. With regard to your second question, today’s teachers and college students are demanding increased flexibility in the way they access their education. There is also a great need to train more teachers, particularly in high-need areas, and in specific core subjects, such as mathematics. For these reasons, I expect there will continue to be a growth in alternative certification programs, and an increase in online options, including fully online options. -Barbara
Question from Barry Golden, Ed. Consultant, Wisconsin Dept. of Public Instruction:
Hi Barb... What is the research saying about ongoing support of teachers after completing a course i.e. with those who continue the virtual community versus those who don’t?
Hi Barry, I’m not sure how much research I can point you to about the need for and value of ongoing support, but from our experience in EdTech Leaders Online, its VERY important. There’s lots of implementation and facilitation issues that arise when teaching online, and it’s important to have a place to discuss these issues and share questions, lessons learned, successes and challenges. This is an important part of our program - after we train online instructors, we include them in a national online community of other trained online specialists, and EDC staff. Our participants tell us that this kind of ongoing support is one of the most important features of our program. It also enables us to keep learning along with our participants. Particularly because online professinal development is a relatively new field, its important that we all work together to see what we are collectively learning. -Barbara
Question from Susan Gerke, Literacy coach, Skyline Elementary:
Do you see a difference between accessing a message board for information and on-line professional development? If so, please explain.
I would find accessing a message board as very static and linear without allowing as much interaction with peers and faculty as we would want in online professional development. I think we can also address various learning styles in an online classroom.
These are my initial thoughts since I really haven’t had experiences with a message board concept for a professional development setting.
Question from Mitru Ciarlante, Trainer, NCVC:
How does an online/distance trainer keep professional development training interactive and accommodate a variety of learning styles & education principles?
An online trainer accommodates a variety of learning styles and education principles through the design of the online professional development experience. The tools that can be used in design of the professional development because of the wealth of possibilities on the Internet are almost limitless.
Communication opportunities about the content of the professional development, the particular situation of the participants, and reflection on the application of new knowledge can keep the training interactive by using the tools of chat rooms, discussion board, and emails. While some of this may be asynchronous, interspersing synchronous chats with participants and the trainer may be another tool. Some of what you can do depends on the technology available. However, you will find that personalities can come out and contribute to the interactivity.
In summary, the primary two factors are curriculum design and communication.
Question from Jan Smith, Program Developer, University of Ga, Center for Continuing Education:
What is your opinion of the blended delivery format; i.e., face to face for some sessions and online for other sessions in same course?
My opinion relates to meeting the needs of the audience. Our experience with blending would be for an entire degree program. Face to face only meets the needs for some adult learners (Walden has such a specialization in Elementary Reading and Literacy for K-5 classrooms), some adult learners excell with only online courses (this same specialization is offered in the online platform with great success), and the blended format works for others. Our doctoral programs in the College of Education are blended with online courses, individual mentoring, and face to face residencies. Adult learners should be encouraged to make an informed decision based on their own needs.
Comment from Dawn Crawford, CRM, Thinkronize:
(Comment) As far as hiring teachers with online earned graduate degrees - as part of the highly qualified teacher requirements many states now are trying to meet, where the degree was earned (online or not) is irrelevant :o)
Question from Ian Mills Head of Professional Development, Wesley College Melbourne AUS:
In your experience how positive has the reaction been from those teachers involved in online programs and do they see this as effective Professional Development?
We have found a tremendously positive reaction from teachers involved in the online professional development, including in the program I direct at EDC, EdTech Leaders Online. Survey data shows that when courses are well-designed and implemented, participants rate them highly, find them as satisfactory and enjoyable experiences, and report that they impact both content knowledge and pedagogy.
In the two small EdTech Leaders Online studies, we found that over 90% rated the courses highly on a number of factors, including: that they benefited from and enjoyed learning online; that they would be interested in online learning in the future; that the courses increased their understanding of how to use technology to support the curriculum; that they used things they learned in the online courses in their classrooms; that they increased collaboration with their colleagues, etc. Other programs, such as the Florida Online Reading program conducted similar surveys with their teachers which showed similar results.
In general, teachers like the flexibility of time and space which online learning affords, and the opportunity to interact with instructors and colleagues not limited by the local area in which they live. As demands on teachers time and lives increase, coupled with the expectations for ongoing professinal development to maintain teaching credentials required by NCLB, I expect online learning will continue to increase in popularity. -Barbara
Question from Cathy White, Program Consultant, Kentucky Deparment of Education:
How do we move online professional development to the next level so that it doesn’t mirror sit and get or classroom lecture style of teaching?
You ask an important question, because it’s easy to think there’s a shortcut to developing effective online content. Effective online curriculum design has to take into account the OPPORTUNITIES and the CHALLENGES of the online environment, and move beyond talking heads/videos or splashy multimedia that is really just the sit and get style you describe. Course content has to be learner centered, and developed with engaging, activities, where participants can interact with the content and their fellow course participants. This is a complex process, and requires rethinking and restructuring content and presentation so that it is appropriate for the environment and the delivery model. -Barbara
Question from Maureen O’Brien, Business Development, Pearson Education:
What are the top 5 elements of a successful online professional development program?
Here’s a list of 5 key elements:
1. Well trained, and carefully selected online instructors and course developers 2. Aligned to and connected with local goals and needs 3. Connected with other existing professional development programs 4. Carefully planned implementation strategy, where issues such as publicity, credits, incentives, etc. are addressed in advance 5. Readily available technology support, and accessible technology resources (i.e. computers, Internet access, etc.) for participants
Question from Heather Grinager, Policy Associate, National Conference of State Legislatures:
Are you aware of any innovative or comprehensive state legislation that has encouraged/supported/required online professional development? Which states are doing a good job of offering online PD to teachers?
A number of states are acknowledging the online professional development can meet the NCLB HOUSSE requirements for highly qualified teachers. Some states, such as Massachusetts are developing policy statements or recommendations regarding online PDMA has recommended criteria for distance learning in online courses for students, teachers, and in online professional development. We’ve also been working with a number of states, particularly in the SREB (Southern Regional Education Board) region to establish state wide online professional development programs. This work will expand through the new E-Learning for Educators? grant, funded by the US Department of Education ?Ready to Teach? program, which will establish state leadership teams in nine states, composed of the state department of education and a public television station, to build state level online professional development programs. This project is being led by Alabama Public Television, and EDC (EdTech Leaders Online) will be providing the capacity building training.
Question from Angela Dion, Distance Learning Coordinator online courses K-12:
When looking for online PD, what is the main thing teachers are looking for? Price, credit options, subject matter, time frame offered?
Probably all of the above!! It’s the same for non-online professional development. If you want a ranking, I would hope it would be subject matter, credit options, time frame offered, and price. While this might be my rankings, it would differ for others.
Question from Maureen O’Brien, Business Development, Pearson Education:
What percentage of your students would you say are working in their chosen profession and are using online PD to advance their skills in their current field?
Probably close to 100% of our students taking teacher education courses or degree programs online are doing so to advance their skills to support the students in their classrooms.
Question from Mark Knapp, Health Ed. teacher Soquel High School, Santa Cruz City Schools:
Within the Masters in Ed. program, how much of a relationship will there be with other students in the program? Will I be able to ask other students comments or questions that I may have? Will we ever be put into groups for specific projects which is always helpful by giving each other encouragement?
In the M.S. in Education program at Walden University, students are in learning cohorts of approximately 16 students in an online classroom. You will be expected to interact with each other weekly related to course content and have a student lounge tool and email for interactions of a more informal nature.
You will absolutely be able to ask questions of your colleagues. An exciting part is that you and your colleagues may be from multiple states and different types of communities. It’s a major contribution to broadening your horizons.
There are definitely group projects in a number of our specializations and collaboration possibilities in an action research course as well. Our faculty is committed to building a “community of learners” in our online classrooms.
Question from Jo Smith, Director of Research, University of Central Florida, College of Education:
What scientifically-based research studies have been conducted that provide insight into “what works” or best practices in online teacher professional development?
As mentioned earlier, EDC and Boston College are conducting an experimental research project entitled Optimizing the Impact of Online Professional Development for K-12 Teachers, funded by the National Science Foundation. The research is examining how different types of interactions available during a course, different types of instructor supports, and different schedules/methods for course implementation, affect participant satisfaction, knowledge acquisition, and changes in teaching practices. So far, pre-course to post-course comparisons have shown significant increases in participants content and pedagogical knowledge from several different models . The data also shows that courses with interactions with instructors and/or peers yield better learning results than self-paced courses with minimal interactions. -Barbara
Question from John Teichman, Intel(r) Innovation in Education PM:
How do you forsee the role of the web in supporting Teacher Professional Development moving forward? Will online TPD provide more convenience, flexibility and be a viable alternative to FTF TPD? Thanks.
Web-based teacher professional development will continue to grow and improve as new technologies are developed to make content more interactive, more accessible and more engaging. As access to high-speed Internet connections becomes universal in teachers homes and workplaces, more teachers will be able to access the courses and resources they need, on a schedule that works best for them. For some, online professional development not only offers a viable alternative, it might be the only alternative. We hear from lots of teachers with small children or who live in rural areas, or who have other constraints, that they find online learning provides just the convenience and flexibility they need to pursue their learning goals.
Still, I like to look at online professional development as a complement to face to face professional development ?not as a replacement. It’s ideal when online professional development is well integrated into a comprehensive program which both types of learning opportunities. -Barbara
Question from Deborah Coltun, Education Specialist, LAUSD:
LAUSD does not provide pre-approval for non-District sponsored professional development credit. Is there any way to ascertain if salary credit will be allowed? Or a way to support such credit with on-line professional development? I’ve found most to be very valuable.
LAUSD has been very supportive of online professional development. We (EdTech Leaders Online at EDC) have worked closely with the district to provide online professional development training and workshops, with district credit being available, since the start of our collaboration in the fall 2000. Here’s the link to the webpage with information: http://www.lausd.k12.ca.us/lausd/offices/opd/ . I would talk to your district administrators about what you want to do and see what kind of documentation you will have to provide to receive credit. -Barbara
Question from Edna Ranck, EC Researcher, Westover Consultants:
Has anyone compared the academic level of coursework between online and traditional programs?
One example is Lesley University, which offers an online Master’s degree in K-8 science education program, developed in collaboration with TERC. It is comparable in content and goals to a traditional on-campus Master’s program for science teachers. Research showed better learning results for the online students in understanding the inquiry process and classroom applications of this method. Results also showed that teachers and students spent more time in the online course spent than in the face-to-face version.
We are involved in a 3-year research study funded by the National Science Foundation, as mentioned earlier, that will include a comparison of on online and face-to-face online professional development course.-Barbara
Question from Garnett Arnold, Student, University of Oklahoma:
Are there any reputable organizations that treat an on-line degree seriously?
There are more and more online degrees being offered, and many are offered through traditional universities. Degrees earned online are being accepted widely, if the institution is accedited and reputable. Walden and Pepperdine University are examples of highly regarded online degree programs. Western Governor’s University (WGU) is another example that is a fully online, competency based university, offering bachelors and master’s degrees. It was founded by the governors of 19 western states, is supported by them, and its programs are growing and accepted throughout the region and beyond. -Barbara
Question from Brenda Tucker, Indian Creek Middle:
Does an online program offer a student the same education as a traditional college program? How do the students and teacher interact?
Having worked in both bricks and mortar and online teacher education programs, I believe an online program can offer a student the same education as what you have labeled a traditional program. In fact, I have seen examples of students having more opportunities in an online program because their colleagues and faculty are dispersed geographically, may come from different types of communities, and have access to the good resources of the Internet. But the outcomes of education, whether traditional or online, have a great deal to do with the student, his/her goals and whether they are totally immersed in the opportunities available in either type of program.
In an online program, students interact by using a tool found in the platform (the online learning environment, eCollege in Walden’s case) called a Discussion Board. The interaction is frequent and ongoing throughout a course. There are also other electronic tools such as chat rooms, and email. Our Walden faculty also use the telephone if necessary.
Question from Greg Huysman Math Teacher Bellflower Middle school:
Attaining a Master’s Degree in Middle School Mathematics through Walden University. Once that is attained, will I be able to teach full-time at a community college? I am fully credentialed in the state of California and have been teaching full-time now for ten years.
My response to your question cannot be definitive since we would have to examine a job posting of the community college where you want to be employed. You would certainly have a master’s degree from a regionally accredited institution, but I think the issue would be what type of coursework the community college would want you to have.
Question from Lisa Blanton, Teacher, Gaffney Village School,:
Are the online classes at Walden University transferable to South Carolina Education Department for teacher certification or continuing education for recertification? Thank you.
Walden has education students from all 50 states so that I am unable to answer your specific question about South Carolina. However, we do have a letter on file in regard to this from each state that can be forwarded to you by our Enrollment Advisers. Please call and request this information at 888-627-1153. Thanks for your interest in Walden online courses.
Question from Brett Helm, Director of Professional Development, The Bill of Rights Institute:
How does pedagogical instruction translate in the online environment? The give and take of discussion seems intrinsic to effective instuction in this case.
I think pedagogical instruction translates nicely to the online environment. One of my concerns six years ago coming to Walden was whether I could do everything in an online classroom that I had done in my previous classrooms at a bricks and mortar institution. I have found that I can plus having more tools at my disposal.
You are correct about discussion. Its depth and breadth can be phenomenal and everyone is an equal participant...faculty and students. We are all colleagues engaging in discourse about a particular topic for the good of each other, our learning, and, most importantly, the success of our K-12 students.
Question from Heather Keyt, Science Teacher, Prairie Valley High:
How can I quickly tell the difference between high-quality and low-quality online professional development?
Good question-not an easy answer, and there may not be a quick solution! There are a number of factors that impact the quality. First of all, you want to look at the content. Is it well-designed? aligned to standards, with clear goals, with readings and activities that support those goals, with appropriate uses of accessible technologies, etc.? It’s also important to check who designed the content.What are their credentials, their content background,instructional design background? How often is the couse updated? Another important factor to investigate is the delivery and instructional method. A course is only as good as the teaching, and you want to know if the instructor is trained to teach effectively in the online environment, that there are opportunities for feedback and interaction with the instructor (and with other participants) etc.
Question from Janice Capezzuto, Work Study Coordinator, Cleveland Municipal School District:
Do educators really develop the same degree of technical knowledge and skills from taking online courses as they do through traditional university courses?
There is some evidence from research comparing in online and face-to-face courses in reading, in science, and in literature, that there is either no significant difference whether the course was delivered online or face-to-face.In fact, research showed there was better results in the online course in some areas. I don’t know of any studies of courses specifically focused on technical knowledge and skills, but we have seen in the EdTech Leaders Online project a definite increase in teacher?s technical skills as a result of participating in an online course, no matter what the subject area of the course. Many school districts are finding this to be a great benefit of online learning. It can be a terrific way to impact technology literacy goals for teachers and administrators. -Barbara
Question from Pam Breedlove, Professional Development Specialist, Wilson County Schools:
What advice do you have for school systems interested in setting up in-house online professional development workshops?
This is an excellent approach in working with school districts and state departments of education across the country, we are finding the capacity-building approach to be very popular. There is a lot of planning that goes into the process, but some of the important considerations we work with educational organizations to consider include: assess your local needs and decide what goals the professional development program will serve; connect the online professional development program with other ongoing, face-to-face professional development programs; carefully select who you want to train as online instructors and online course developers; utilize a team approach to sustain and manage the program; develop incentives (credits or other opportunities) for participation in the online workshops; develop a strategy to market and publicize the online workshops and involve appropriate stakeholders; plan to provide technical support to those participants who need it; include face-to-face meetings where possible and appropriate; and utilize learning community approaches to build teacher collaboration and foster learning. -Barbara
Question from Dr. Charles L. Mitsakos, Chair, Division of Education, Rivier College, Nashua, NH:
How does one assure that the person doing the coursework online is actually the individual who is enrolled in the program?
Although I cannot address how it might work elsewhere, at Walden University we are working with adult learners who have professional and personal goals to pursue an advanced degree using the online environment. Students and faculty are in constant contact although it’s either in written format or by voice. Should written responses change in style, faculty will investigate by making a telephone call using the student’s official database information.
We have a Student Code of Responsibilities and should the Code be violated, we practice zero tolerance.
Question from Pam Breedlove, Professional Development Specialist, Wilson County Schools:
We are just beginning to explore the possibility of developing and offering online professional development activities to our staff members. We have partnered with another agency to offer a couple of courses, but I would like to find out more about how to develop and offer our own workshops. Can you give me any advice on where to begin?
Congrats and good luck with your plans! It will be important to address a number of important issues, including: evaluating what courses you want to develop, how long you want them to be, will they be credit-bearing, how much multi-media is appropriate to the learning goals (and the budget); do you want to develop the courses using develop teams or individual developers, how soon do you want to run the courses, etc. These are examples of the questions we talk through with other organizations as they begin the course design training with us.-Barbara
Question from ron hochmuth, principal Alexandria csd:
Have we approached the point of sensory overload? Which product or service is viable or the best quality amongst the 100’s of choices in the online staff development arena?
There are many different types of programs, with many different types of goals. I don’t think there’s a one size fits all? method of evaulation, though there’s a growing convergence on some of the key criteria. Evaluation tools often address: design, use of technology, assessment, content, alighment to standards, level of interaction, ease of use, etc. Of course, to know which is the best, depends on what the learner wants. One recommendation I make to people looking for online courses or programs, is to ask to see the content. If an organization or course provider is unwilling to let you inside the course and see what you are getting, then perhaps that’s a way to narrow down your set of choices. -Barbara
Question from Donald C. Gorski Jr., Teacher, District 89 Maywood/Melrose Park, Il.:
Will I be able to work your whole program on my eMac?
Walden students can use either the Windows environment or Mac environment for their programs. I checked the Walden website (www.waldenu.edu) and found this notation in the Mac column: Mac OS 8 or higher with Open Transport version 1.1.2 or higher. Hope that helps.
Question from Elinor Teele, WIDE World Editor, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA:
We find that one of the the best parts of our online coursework is teacher interaction and the way they take the knowledge they learn from the course and others and use it in the classroom. Is “job-embedded” learning a trend in online learning? Are people making an effort to include it in their courses?
We have found job-embedded and classroom based is very important, and a key principle of effective professional development in general. We place a big emphasis on this, and all of our courses and workshops are project-based, with a classroom/practical project required as a final, culminating assignment. Often, participants get together face to face where possible, to share their classroom projects, or student work, and it further pushes participants to complete and implement their projects.
Question from Nisha Harinath, Program Manager, National Recognition and Scholarships, The College Board:
What are some incentives, besides continuing education credits, that an organization can offer, so that educators will take advantage of online resources? In other words, how can we up the number of teachers that download and use our material?
What are some incentives, besides continuing education credits, that an organization can offer, so that educators will take advantage of online resources? In other words, how can we up the number of teachers that download and use our material?
This might seem ridiculous, but the quality of the content should be one incentive?i.e. the intrinsic value of the learning but we all know that is often not enough, and the time educators put into their professional development, so they are more effective in their jobs, needs to be recognized. We’ve found that almost any incentive that recognizes this works! Some organizations provide books, or small technology tools, such as thumb drives, as an incentive for completing a learning activity. In other cases, a presentation to other teachers, administrators, parents, school board members, other stakeholders, is a successful way to encourage teachers to participate. I’d love to collect other ideas from all of you out there ? we’ve heard such a range from our participants, including one high poverty district that provided new printer ribbons to schools with teachers who completed professional development. That was all they could afford, but the teachers appreciated the recognition. Of course, credits remain extremely important, because of the recertification requirements under NCLB.
Question from Francie Christopher, GRA, U of Kansas:
Is there evidence that online professional development is more effective than traditional in-service workshops for secondary teachers?
We have anecdotal evidence from many of our participants, about how much they prefer online learning to the traditional, district based face to face sessions. We’ve worked successfully with many secondary teachers, who have found the opportunity for extended online discussion with other teachers in their content areas to be invaluable. Of course, online learning is not for everyone, and we’ve found some interesting differences in the interactions in online courses for secondary and elementary teachers, but there’s certainly a base of support for online learning among secondary teachers in multiple subject areas.
Question from Deanna Stecker, Early Literacy Specialist, National Center for Learning Disabilities:
What do we know about how early educators use online professional development opportunities? Is it an effective way to reach those who are working in remote locations or non-traditional settings?
Online professional development is effective for educators of all grade levels and subject areas. We’ve worked with early childhood educators in the Milwaukee Public Schools, to develop and facilitate an online course to train pre-school educators on developing emerging literacy skills in their students. Online professional development is also a particularly effective way to reach teachers in remote locations or non-traditional settings. We’ve worked with lots of rural school districts and consortia, in Louisiana, Virginia, Alabama, South Carolina, etc. to provide consistent and successful online professional development opportunities across large geographic areas, where it was difficult to get teachers together easily. One of the first projects I worked with at EDC, was to provide online professional development for a consortium of 5 rural parishes (districts) in northern Louisiana who were participating in a Technology Innovation Challenge Grant. It was a tremendous benefit to be able to connect teachers across the large geographic area covered by the grant in online workshops. For example, in some smaller school districts, there may only have been one high school math teacher participating. With online professional development, math teachers across the consortium were able to learn and collaborate together. It’s also been helpful in non-traditional settings, such as community technology centers, where we’ve worked with teams to provide online workshops for staff in multiple locations and across states.
Question from Rosalind LaRocque, AFT:
What is the difference between online professional development and Independant Study?
That’s a great question! There are many different models of online professional development, and some self-paced models are similar to Independent Study. In a self-paced model, there may be a series of online lessons, with resources and course materials available online, that a learner can progress through at their own pace, similar to Independent study. At the end of the lessons, there may be an assessment, which could be an online test that is evaluated either by a human or a computer, or a project that is submitted to a live instructor. There are self-paced models with lots of feedback from an instructor, or self-paced models where there is no live instructor and all materials are graded and assessed electronically.
There are other models of online professional development, such as a learning community model, where participants interact with each other and the instructor on a regular basis, and facilitated discussions are a focus of the course. This is the model we use in EdTech Leaders Online, where there are a series of asynchronous online discussions, facilitated by a trained online instructor. Participants are expected to actively participate in the online discussion several times each week, posting an initial response to a well-crafted discussion prompt, and then coming back several times during a session (usually week-long) to read and respond to the postings of their colleagues. This model can also include synchronous or live discussions via chats, teleconferences, etc. This model, which usually involves cohorts of learners participating in a course as a group, moving through the course content on a schedule, is very different from an independent study or self-paced model.They both can serve important learning goals, depending on the needs and requirements of the learner and the content.
Question from Mary Beth Cunat, Director Principal Prep & Dev Chicago Public:
I’ve noticed that even some of the better PD modules tend to deal with content pretty superficially. How might a web-based interface help push for deeper thinking?
Perhaps because the field is relatively new, we’ve all seen examples of online content that could be better designed, or include deeper, more challenging content. Still, it’s important to recognize that there will be the same range of quality of online courses and teaching in the online environment as there is in the face-to-face environment the environment or interface won’t determine whether the content is good ? it depends on the skills and expertise of the course developer and instructor. Nevertheless, there may be important ways we can utilize the online environment to make particularly rich learning experiences. For example, teaching on the web enables new opportunities to provide robust, interactive materials that students can explore and manipulate, which can support deep thinking and inquiry based approaches. This can be particularly important in math or science classrooms, but also in other subject areas.
Question from portals for teachers:
These seem to be popping up as an alternative to P.D., but I’m concerned about the lack of real-time feedback and reflections on what is being learned. Without someone to discuss and clarify, what does that say for the quality of the learning that is actually taking place?
I have some similar questions about portals as a form of PD for the same reasons. Of course, different formats can serve different learning goals, and for some things, informal, less structured learning opportunities are fine. For other things, such as trying to impact teachers? pedagogical approaches or understanding of content knowledge, more structured environments and courses may be more effective, for the reasons you state. As you say, instructor feedback is an important part of the learning process.
Question from Andrew Tate, Research Associate, UNC-Chapel Hill:
It’s been suggested that one problem with using online technologies for professional development (or in any teaching and learning environment)is that instructors often try to use the same pedagogies that worked well in a face-to-face setting, in online instruction. And when they do, it often doesn’t work, suggesting online learning may require its own, unique set of instructional practices. Do you agree, and if so, how do those who plan to do online PD develop these new pedagogies?
This is a great question, and a very important one with impact on the future of online professional development.
I agree that there’s poor results when instructors simply take face-to-face courses and strategies and try to use them in the online environment, without paying attention to the specific opportunities, challenges and differences that exist there. We offer our training of online instructors and online course designers online. This ensures that participants experience online learning first as learners if they are going to teach or design in the online environment. It’s important to recognize that the pace of interaction in an online course is slower than in a face to face course, and course developers and instructors need to adjust their teaching and course design methods accordingly. For example, discussion in an online course can be spread over days or weeks, not just occur in a one to two hour class meeting. This allows for increased reflection, and for full participation by all learners, and can therefore be rich or richer than in a traditional classroom. However, to achieve that result requires carefully designed discussion questions to prompt discussion, and a well-trained facilitator to engage and guide participants in the discussion, and to keep it going.
Online courses also have to be designed so they are accessible to learners with varied configurations of technology, and with varied learning styles and needs. Designers need to understand the specific pedagogical approaches that enables flexibility and variation in how users access and interact with the content. When done well, it can be an advantage over face-to-face teaching in offering multiple modes and methods of engagement for learners with varying learning needs and styles.
Another area where new pedagogical approaches are needed is in assessment, where strategies need to be adjusted and refined for the online environment. Specifc approaches are needed to document and assess time on learning and quality of participation. Online instructors and designers need an understanding of how and where students learn in an online course. For example, its not enough to simply require participation in an online discussion; if the instructor does not define what quality participation is, then quantity but not quality may be the result.
We and others have found that a “learning community model” of an online course is an effective approach for teacher professional development. In this model, online course sessions can provide participants with online readings and activities that stimulate individual learning, followed by a carefully crafted discussion prompt that builds on the readings and activities, and generates lots of peer-to-peer interaction, faciliated by a well-trained onlnie instructor. This rich interaction can then become the focus of where much of the learning actually occurs. -Barbara
Question from Gloria Bragg, Coordinator of Dev. Ed., Vernon College:
Is there some effective online training for developmental reading, writing, and math instructors available, and can someone point me to it?
There are number of sources of online courses in developmental reading, writing and mathematics. We have some online workshops in these areas in the EdTech Leaders Online program. There are lots of other sources, including Teacherline (via PBS)and through colleges and universities. -Barbara
Question from Dr. Barbara Weschke, Chairperson of Literacy Specializations, Walden University:
How can we work to dispel the myth that brick-and-mortar educational is the best form of education, to that of online learning is a viable alternative?
In the field of teacher education, many bricks and mortar programs are being criticized about the quality of their programs in preparing teachers for K-12 classrooms. The same could happen for online institutions. Those of us in online institutions are working to ensure that this type of program is not an alternative but “THE CHOICE.”
I think there are risks in making a blanket assumption that one is “better” than another. In other responses I’ve indicated that the needs of the individual student must be considered in making a choice. As prospective students realize at least two things, I think a potential student will be able to concentrate on his/her programmatic needs coupled with learning style.
First, bricks and mortar AND online institutions are both held to the same high standards to become regionally accredited by one of the six regional accrediting bodies. Those of us at accredited online institutions believe that the accrediting bodies such as the North Central Association and the Higher Learning Commission are the best protectors of quality education practices.
I think my second point would be to talk to faculty at an institution about Program Standards and Outcomes. Has the program been designed to focus on what teachers who teach reading are expected to know and be able to do according to their own professional associations? Are there expectations for specific results at the end of each program. How are those results measured?
Entering any course or degree program is an important decision whether it is at a bricks and mortar or an online institution. It is an obligation to ask these questions.
Any quality higher learning institution will openly discuss these two issues. As online education grows and we provide such information through research and evidence about results, the line will blur between whether a program is in one type of institution or another or delivered in a classroom with four walls or a classroom in cyberspace.
Question from Bob Frangione, Graduate Student:
What are the advantages/disadvantages of an online masters degree program as compared to the traditional, on campus programs? Who accredits national programs and do all states accept this accreditation?
It is hard to determine the advantages/disadvantages of an online master’s degree program for YOU. Since we would want to support your success, I would provide the following information from the Walden website...(www.waldenu.edu)
Is Distance Learning Right for You?
To be successful in a distance-learning environment, you need to be self-directed, well-organized, and comfortable with basic computer applications, including Internet browsers, word processors, and email. To ensure that your transition to Walden’s online learning environment is smooth, you’ll participate in orientation activities and have the continued support of staff who are dedicated to helping you with the virtual classroom. You also need to dedicate time to your program. Students report that they spend 15 to 20 hours a week per course on readings, assignments, research projects, and online discussions. However, Walden’s flexible distance-learning formats allow you to choose what blocks of time you set aside for your studies.
Distance learning is not an isolated experience. At Walden, you’ll interact with a diverse community of adult learners who exchange ideas and perspectives. In online courses, all students are required to participate in each discussion. In some programs, you’ll even meet face-to-face with students and faculty.
Determining whether distance learning is right for you is a personal choice that requires thoughtful consideration.
...Although this may be a false assumption, since you’ve identified yourself as a “graduate” student, I will take the chance to assume that your undergraduate work was at a bricks and mortar institution. Perhaps you can make a comparison between that and what I’ve shared above.
Although Walden University has students in all 50 states and 30-40 countries, it is regionally accredited based on the location of its Academic Offices in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There are six regional accrediting bodies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education in the United States which ensure that the institutions accredited are focused on achievement and committed to maintaining high academic standards.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association. This the the accrediting body that accredits traditional colleges and universities such as the University of Minnesota, Michigan State, and other colleges and universities in the north central region of the country.
As a regionally accredited academic institution, Walden credits are accepted and reviewed on par with those earned by students at brick and mortar universities. However, the second part of this question: "...do all states accept this accreditation?”, I would caution that “all” and “for what” would temper any response.
Question from Chana German, Executive Coordinator, Lookstein.org, The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education:
I run many different types of online PD progams including live chats (like this one) and also live presentations (using multi-way VoIP and whiteboard on a conferencing platfrom). I have not found any conclusive evidence that online PD is as pedagogically effective as face-to-face PD. Are there any studies that you are aware of that answer this question one way or the other?
There definitely needs to be more research on online learning! Most of the research I know about is based on online courses and programs in higher education, looking at data from tests and grades. For example, Phillips and Merisotis (Institute of Higher Education Policy, 1999) conducted research which showed no significant differences between student learning in face-to-face and online courses. Another study by Russell (North Carolina State University, 1999) found that students who take online versions of courses are as satisfied as students who take face to face versions. There are other studies, such as research at Lesley Univeristy, which compares an online and face-to-face science education course. Reseach showed increased learning in the online version.
The Center for Online Professional Education at EDC where I work is currently involved in a 3-year study with Boston College, funded by the National Science Foundation on “Optimizing the Impact of Online Professional Development for K-12 teachers”. Different types of interactions are being compared, such as the types and levels of instructor supports, for impact on teacher content knowledge, pedagogical beliefs, and professional practice. Prelimnary results demonstrate that all modes of online learning studied showed impact. Further research will include comparison with face-to-face delivery modes as well.
We are also excited to be a key player new 5 year “E-Learning for Educators” project in collaboration with nine states, led by Alabama Public Television and funded by the US Department of Education’s Ready to Teach program. This project will involve significant capacity building online professional development training by EdTech Leaders Online (http://edtechleaders.org) with significant experimental research being conducted on teacher impact and student achievement. -Barbara
Question from Jennie Dautermann, SUNY Teaching,Learning&Technology:
What barriers do you see to enrolling faculty in the online offerings in professional development?
One barrier is fear of the technology. We often encourage organizations to offer a face-to-face kick-off, where possible, for their online courses, to help participants get used to the technology. This is usually a simple process and enables participants to see that you do not need alot of technology skills to participate.-Barbara
Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Thank you for all your thoughtful questions and comments. And a special thanks to our guests for addressing your questions.
This chat is now over.
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