Lisa Dawley, Boise State, responded to an October 6 story about states adding certification for online learning and a hallway chat at iNACOL’s VSS2010. She makes a case below for certification and school of ed training. The Digital Learning Council is likely to recommend path-speicific performance-based certification after demonstrated on-the-job success. I appreciate that Lisa and BSU have been online learning leaders.
In the case of Idaho, we’ve been working as a team with the state, online schools, and universities for over three years to have our online teaching standards approved (last spring), and the endorsement (this coming spring). It’s been a long, laborious process, not rushed at all, based on research and trying to reach consensus among involved players. I’m proud of the way our process has played out in Idaho.
I think standards and certifications are critical for teachers in any area of specialization, including online teaching. We know from our four year research agenda, “Going Virtual!,” that while many of the larger virtual school programs have highly evolved professional development programs, such as Connections Academy and Florida Virtual School, many other online teachers across the country aren’t prepared to work with kids in a virtual or blended learning environment. Some never receive any training. This year’s survey showed us that 25% of brand new online teachers reported they received no training as new teachers on the job. This percent drops to 12% by year 3. I wouldn’t want my child to be the guinea pig in an online classroom with a teacher who has no training, would you? So what is the accountability process if not certification and/or endorsement? Or if the certification process is opened to schools (and I’m ok with that), I’m assuming they’ll be held to the same level of accreditation standards that we must maintain with the U.S. Dept of Education, our State Dept. of Education, and NCATE? And if not, why not?
While COEs are becoming the ugly step-child of education, the part of my job that feels the most laborious, at times, is dealing with accreditation at the state, national, and professional levels. Everyone wants schools to be accountable, yet that process does slow things down, both in universities and in public schools. There is a fine tension between too much accountability, and leaving room for innovation and a responsive educational experience. While the federal government’s response has been more testing and accountability to the situation, I feel this response has only aggravated our educational system, frustrated teachers and kids, and created a nation of really good test-takers.
While many are ready to throw out Colleges of Education and replace them with schools that have corporate interests, I’m an advocate of working together to leverage the best of all involved parties to make education happen effectively and efficiently. If they are wiling to evolve, COEs can play a wonderful role in providing foundational knowledge in areas such as cyberlearning, cyberpsychology, action research (studying and improving your own teaching), and all that that entails. K-12 schools do a wonderful job of providing a contextualized teacher education that is pragmatic and applicable to a particular school environment. Why not leverage both opportunities during a teacher’s education? For example, why waste K-12 school tax dollars training online teachers about cyberpsychology issues such as bullying, flaming, and griefing, when those might be covered during sophmore year at the university? And why have the university try to teach methods when those may be best learned in the school setting?
Susan Patrick and I recently contributed to a national report called “Redefining Teacher Education for Digital Age Learners,” available at http://www.redefineteachered.org. I would encourage your readers to review the report, and understand the new directions for teacher education that are being advocated by representatives of this report, including iNACOL, NCATE, ATE, ISTE, and SETDA, among others. Learning teams that incorporate expertise from schools, university, industry, parents, business, students, and others are the wave of the future. Social media and networking technologies can help us achieve this goal.
I am an advocate for change, especially in Colleges of Education, as well as in the current accreditation and accountability processes that bog down the entire system. But COEs do have a very critical role to play in the research of emerging practice and technologies, and assisting others in questioning and evaluating their own practice. Rather than frame COEs as the black sheep in order to shift toward models that appear to be supported by corporate interests, how can we all learn to show respect for each other’s areas of specialties, and leverage those specializations in the best interest of kids? I’m a COE faculty member and have been teaching online for over 15 years. I think I still have something valuable to contribute to the conversation.