Certification Promotes Quality, Colleges Play a Role

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.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Ed Jones

Maybe it's just the examples chosen, but...Wasn't half the point of NCLB that COE's had been consumed by fads like cyberbullying and action research?
Lisa says "COEs can play a wonderful role in providing foundational knowledge" and with that we'd all agree. Where many of us ( working as much in the real world as in education) part company is in how to define foundational knowledge. Lisa says 'areas such as cyberlearning, cyberpsychology, action research.'
Students in a COE should naturally be interested in du jour fads like these, and hopefully, COE's would allow students to explore these. BUT. These shouldn't be confused with a framework of real foundational knowledge.
Bullying, for example, falls into a 4000 year understanding we've all worked out as to how a society should function. Concepts like 'justice instead of vengeance', and 'hate the sin not the sinner' leap to mind. Scientific methods are more modern, but they too have a history longer than action research (can we include Messrs. Aristotle and Socrates in this?).
Aren't these more of the lasting ideas we want teachers passing on to students? And thus mastering themselves? Bullying has changed in form since 1990, 1980, but a teacher trained in those years with the underlying societal concepts will have no problem with a few hour's PD update.
Moreover, that type of foundational learning can be so much richer today, online, as the web evolves. University students should be fascinated, for example, to learn what Islam says. Do Shia and Suni vary on these? Catholics and Mormons? Has al Sistani spoken on revenge?
Which gets back to the problem of state driven standards and traditional COE's. They're so busy with form and fad, they have no time or room for what the rest of us think of as skill and knowledge.

Lisa Dawley

Hi Tom,
Thank you for sharing my post, much appreciated. The Digital Learning Council looks like an impressive group of educators. If you are interested in including a voice from higher education, I would be glad to assist.

Lisa Dawley

Hi Ed, thank you for your comments.
Cyberpsych can cover a variety of topics unique to online learning including online disinhibition effect, or specific forms of cyberbullying such as griefing or trolling. But these terms don't mean a lot to many people so I tend to use generic terms in public blog posts.
Action research (or reflecting and analyzing your own teaching for constant improvement) these days uses great data tools such as Google Analytics, Twitter and blog analytics, data mining from learning management statistics, the ability to use social networks to share your trials and outcomes. It's a common concept and process that has evolved its form due to emergent technologies. I know many teachers who use social networking and study of their analytics as a form of professional development, and many others who want to learn how. Here’s a link to a webinar I did recently for those teachers new to establish their own personal learning network: http://edtech.na5.acrobat.com/p49627980/
>>but a teacher trained in those years with the underlying societal concepts will have no problem with a few hour’s PD update.
Yes, exactly. Unfortunately, our Going Virtual annual reports show consistently that there are some online teachers who never receive any professional development in online instruction.
Our Idaho K-12 online teaching standards are based on what we know from research, practice, the input of thousands of online teachers, administrators and teacher trainers, and organizations such as iNACOL, ISTE, and SREB. In fact, our Going Virtual! research agenda is one of the few that actually asks online teachers what they want and need. Check it out: http://edtech.boisestate.edu/goingvirtual/goingvirtual.htm
I would very much like to see national standards, and a national certification process. This is described in more detail in the report I mention in my first post. But until then, working in the current state-based system is better than nothing at all, it keeps the evolution moving forward.
To separate higher education from K-12 or private industry is a false distinction, as they are very highly inter-related. In our work, we train teachers and curriculum designers in corporations, license teacher training curriculum to schools and corporations who use and resell that training, and work directly with kids and teachers in designing learning technologies that are then taken to market to become corporations.
My personal opinion is that us vs. them arguments are based in political rhetoric, to work toward the gain of a specific interest group. I'm not sure it serves anyone's interest to overgeneralize to all COEs or all corporations or all girls or all boys. Personally, I'm interested in supporting and working with those pockets of energy (wherever they are) that want to provide high levels of access to innovative, high quality, purposeful education that motivates and engages learners with each other around the globe.

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