The University of Central Missouri last year created a course to help practicing and aspiring educators design their own online classes. Odin Jurkowski, a professor of educational technology and the chairman of the university’s department of career and technology education, spoke with Education Week about his institution’s efforts to prepare teachers to work in blended learning environments.
EW: What’s the greatest challenge teachers and administrators face in trying to make blended learning a seamless part of their job?
The hardest part is that schools vary so much, both from one school to another and from one district to another. Some have the technology and professional development they need; others don’t. And they’re all pulled in so many different directions that it’s really difficult to find the time for anything new.
EW: What role do teacher-prep programs play in making sure that transition happens as smoothly as possible?
So much of the focus in our classes is on online and hybrid teaching, because that’s the future we see in education. That’s why our certificate in online teaching and learning is at the core of our master’s degree program in educational technology. Our students learn so much just by going through the process. They can complete the certificate and stop there, or they can continue on for additional credit hours and get the entire degree. A lot of our tools and techniques can be utilized in face-to-face classrooms as well.
EW: How is the university encouraging teachers to use blended learning to help manage the diverse amount of skill sets and behaviors in the classroom?
We tell them that it’s really about giving students choices, about letting them have more control over their learning, which shifts the control away from the teacher. I know that makes some a little uncomfortable at first, but teachers need to adapt and evolve. A student-centered environment allows for more project-based learning. Some of our teachers already know that; they’re already pretty tech-savvy and leaders in their schools and want to continue to take things to the next level. But then we get a lot of teachers who need these courses to get to that point. We get the entire spectrum. Regardless of their experience and the areas they teach in, they learn a lot from each other. It’s pretty amazing how many different ideas they are able to share and how they all grow.
EW: How do you help teachers who didn’t grow up with blended learning become comfortable with the concept—and the expectation to keep up with rapid technological changes?
One of the points we try to stress throughout the program is the importance of lifelong learning. Everything is changing so quickly that we can’t focus only on what people need to know today, because two years from now it will be out of date. The focus really is about teaching them how to learn, how to continue their education.
EW: What should teachers keep in mind as they explore the idea of a “nimble” classroom and let students, through blended learning, progress at their own level and pace?
The kids aren’t the ones afraid of technology; they’re the ones jumping for all of this. It’s the teachers, the administrators, the people controlling the technology in the schools that are the ones most likely to hold things back. Getting super-excited teachers in the classroom and just letting them go is what we need to do.
A version of this article appeared in the January 29, 2014 edition of Education Week as Q&A: Grooming Ambassadors for Classroom Blended Learning