Teacher Preparation Programs Need to Step Up

Teacher Preparation

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, teacher preparation programs across the nation have been forced to scramble at breakneck speed to shift all their traditional face-to-face coursework to online learning platforms. That includes education methods courses, early field experiences, and even the culminating student teaching clinical experience. Problems are already starting to emerge. 

Teacher Preparation Varies from State to State

Each state’s department of education determines what is and isn’t acceptable practice during COVID-19. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) continues to work with state legislators to address clinical practice and other teacher licensure requirements during this challenging time; their website provides links to state departments of education that have revised their guidelines. In addition, AACTE maintains a repository of current research, best practice articles, and webinars for teacher preparation program staff. 

Some states have been more definitive than others when it comes to guidance for teacher preparation programs. For example, Missouri’s Governor Mike Parson waived the requirements of remaining culminating clinical experiences and internships for the spring 2020 semester. That means student teaching has been taken off the table. He also waived qualifying scores on exit exams, which includes the Performance Assessment (MEES or MPEA) and Content Assessment (MOCA) for candidates currently enrolled in a culminating student teaching or internship experience.

This means Missouri candidates in their last semester won’t have to complete student teaching and they won’t have to pass their culminating exit examinations required for state licensure. Upon graduation, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will simply issue teaching certificates to program completers based on the institution’s recommendation. 

California’s Commission on Teaching Credentialing (CTC), on the other hand, is holding the line on teacher licensing requirements in its state and provided specific guidance regarding clinical practice for pre-service teachers:

 

Teacher Preparation

 

A Real-Life Example: What Absolutely Must Be Avoided 

Someone recently sent me a video clip of an elementary education major who is now taking an education methods course online. Her professor assigned her to write a lesson plan and then teach it at home. She then had to record the lesson and submit the video for grading. Bless her heart—this young teacher candidate did her very best and I would award her an “A” for effort, but her “students” were her stuffed animals. She taught the lesson in her bedroom and was trying to teach those critters fractions. She broke them up into small groups and gave them a worksheet.

As she “circulated” around the room, she stopped beside each one and asked them questions or offered words of praise. Our teacher candidate then transitioned back to whole group work after her “students” had completed their worksheet. Shen then continued to demonstrate, question, redirect thinking, and conclude the lesson. Just before turning off the camera, I heard a quiet voice say to herself with a nervous laugh, “I’ve never felt so awkward.” 

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I sat in horror as I thought: What a poor way this is to train our future teachers. We know this is a crisis situation and colleges had to scramble quickly to move things online, but come on. Just imagine how ill-prepared this candidate may be for her student teaching. My heart breaks for her and for all those other young teacher candidates out there.

It’s Time to Step Up Your Game, Teacher Preparation Programs. 

While it’s still early, some institutions are already signaling that they may stay the course (pun intended) and put all their offerings online again in the fall 2020 semester. Teacher preparation program staff should be working diligently to make sure their candidates receive a quality educational experience in fall 2020 and beyond, despite COVID-19. That includes methods courses, field experiences, and even student teaching. Here’s how: 

Tap Into Your Partner Network 

Many P-12 schools are also teaching their students online right now and most educator preparation providers have formalized partnership agreements with at least one school district, and in some cases, multiple districts. This allows teacher candidates to complete their field experiences and student teaching in those schools. Why not allow teacher candidates to complete their field experiences or methods lessons online with “real” students? While it may not be ideal, this would be far better than “teaching” stuffed animals. 

Build New Partnerships

There are lots of K-12 online schools right now. Many are accredited and authorized to operate in multiple states. Teacher preparation program staff should consider partnering with some of those virtual elementary and secondary schools. If set up correctly, it could be a win-win. Teacher candidates could complete their field experiences with live students regardless of where they live. Practicing teachers could potentially become new graduate students enrolled in a master’s degree program. The teacher preparation program could offer virtual professional development webinars or online conferences. The possibilities are endless. 

It’s time to think outside the box because we don’t know what the future will hold. It just, however, can’t include teaching fractions to stuffed animals. 

 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education.  A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                     

 

 

Top Graphic Credit: dillydallyfarmingdale.com

Online Learning: The Future of Higher Education

online learning and higher education

Bloomberg reports that 2.4 million undergraduate college students took all their coursework online last fall–a mere 15% of the total number of students pursuing a baccalaureate degree at the time. Another 3.6 million took at least one online course in addition to taking classes on campus in a traditional face-to-face learning environment. That figure doubled in approximately two weeks. 

Online Learning: 300 and Counting

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, college and university presidents across the United States have been scrambling to provide alternatives to traditional coursework. Currently, almost 300 higher education institutions have either shut their doors entirely or have transitioned to a distance learning format. That’s impacting nearly 4 million students. What’s more, the number could certainly go higher.

While many have resisted distance education for the past two decades, university administrators are transitioning to online learning at lightning speed for two reasons (1) so students can continue to meet degree requirements and (2) so they won’t have to refund tuition and fees, thereby placing their institutions in dire straits financially. 

Higher Education Teetering on the Edge

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, many higher education institutions were already struggling financially. Small, liberal arts colleges have been particularly hard hit due to a combination of factors such as (1) an increased emphasis on workforce development in STEM areas, (2) a strong national economy, and (3) lackluster state funding

USA Today reports that Moody’s credit agency recently downgraded its 2020 outlook for higher education from “stable” to “negative.” Even prior to COVID-19 30% of all public and private institutions were already operating in the red, and now this. Nicht gut. 

Fortunately, higher education institutions aren’t alone. The USDOE, regional accrediting bodies, and state departments of education have essentially granted carte blanche to colleges and universities. That’s helpful in the short term, but it can’t be a long-term strategy. 

Higher education institutions should start planning their future now. 

Is higher education in the United States as we know it a thing of the past? Are colleges and universities doomed for failure? No. While it’s true that higher education leaders need to focus on getting students through this semester in the short-term, they also need to be eyeing a long-term strategy for the future. 

Experts can continue to have their ideological differences regarding traditional face-to-face vs. online instruction, but today it’s a moot point. The fact is we are where we are, and we need to be pragmatic. In all reality, this won’t be the last time we are faced with a regional, national, or global crisis. Administrators need to get through this crisis, but they also need to think through a different lens moving forward. 

Online Learning: Not Just a Strategy of Last Resort 

Traditional higher education doesn’t have to end. Not by a long shot. However, college administrators need to avoid making rapid-fire decisions out of desperation. 

Revisit short-term and long-term strategic goals. 

If you don’t have a clear plan for dealing with crisis situations like the one we’re going through now, build one. If you don’t already have an innovative programming committee, create one. Being proactive rather than reactive is the better approach any day of the week. 

Create a thought leader sandbox. 

Every institution has a least one “out of the box” thinker–one who tends to speak up in meetings and challenges administrative decisions. Deans and department chairs often view these faculty or staff members as a pain in the neck. However, despite them coming across as negative or challenging every decision, those are the very people who should be tapped to lead a sandbox for thought leaders. They are the creative thinkers, and they should be tasked with building their institution for the future. 

Hire distance learning experts who understand and believe in quality. 

Let’s face it: Many institutions simply haven’t properly funded their distance learning departments. In some cases, a single person serves as the entire online learning staff. He or she creates the course shells, trains faculty, serves as Helpdesk support, and more. Moreover, those individuals may or may not even be trained in distance learning andragogy–they simply have strong technical skills to get things set up behind the scenes. That’s just not good enough. 

During this time of crisis, institutions are creating online course shells feverishly en masse, and most faculty have never taught an online course and are trying to teach themselves how to use online learning tools such as Zoom, Blackboard, and VoiceThread

An Opportunity for Higher Education Institutions

As strange as it may sound, this is actually a time of great opportunity for higher education institutions. College and university presidents should look at online learning as a way to build for the future. 

For example, from this point forward each semester staff should automatically create an online course shell for every traditional face-to-face course. Moreover, those staff should populate the shells with current syllabi and learning resources. Professional development in effective online teaching techniques should be offered for all faculty every semester.  The nonprofit organization Quality Matters is an excellent resource institutions can use to train faculty and ensure online course quality. 

For those institutions still on the fence about distance education, administrators could consider adopting a hybrid model whereby courses are offered as a mix of both face-to-face and online instruction. Then, if a crisis should occur, it would be simple to transition courses to an exclusively online model. 

Regardless, college leaders should work tirelessly to make sure that their faculty, staff, and students are never placed into such a stressful situation again. 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education.  A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                     

 

Top Graphic Credit: educationaltechnology.net

 

Zoom: A Useful Online Teaching Tool

Zoom for online teaching

It’s safe to say that these are challenging times for educators. Regardless of whether we teach at the P-12 level or in higher education, the COVID-19 crisis is impacting us all. Many states have shut down their schools for at least eight weeks, while some governors are announcing that face-to-face instruction will be halted for the rest of the academic year. As more and more schools move instruction online, faculty are scrambling for practical information. One suggestion is to use Zoom as an online teaching tool. 

What is Zoom? 

Educators and business owners use Zoom as a tool for online meetings, webinars, video conferencing. It brings people together quickly, either one-on-one or in groups. The groups can be both small and large. There are several pricing structures, but their basic plan is free. 

Normally, the company has a 40-minute time limit on its meetings under the free plan. However, they lifted that time limit during the COVID-19 crisis. As long as you sign up for a free account using your work email account, your meetings may be any length.

Getting Started: Zoom for Online Teaching

Zoom experts are offering free and interactive live training webinars each day. They say even faculty members who are new to distance learning can get up to speed and be able to use the tool in about an hour. 

Zoom-Produced Video Tutorials

If you need a “crash course” in learning how to use Zoom quickly, consider these YouTube videos produced by the company:

User-Produced Video Tutorials

After viewing the videos that the Zoom company has produced, you may wish to consider these user-produced learning resources. Keep in mind that these may not necessarily be educators. However, they are general population users that offer some helpful tips:

Other Options

I have used Zoom many times for webinars and video conferencing and have found it to be user-friendly and seamless. However, there are other companies that offer similar tools such as GoToMeeting and Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, and I’ve used those with success as well, both in my work as an educational consultant and in my role as an online faculty member when conducting live online class discussions with my students. Regardless of what tool you decide to use, video conferencing can be a wonderful way to bring students together during challenging times. 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, competency-based education, online teaching & learning, accreditation and quality assurance.  A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                        

 

 

Top Graphic Credit: tefl.net 

Online Class Discussions: Practical Tips

Online Class Discussions

As more and more schools move instruction online because of COVID-19 concerns, faculty are scrambling for practical information. For example, Sheri Popp offered some practical suggestions for P-12 teachers and higher education faculty who are new to the world of distance learning, including the value of online class discussions. These can be facilitated through a written discussion board format where students participate asynchronously, or faculty can provide synchronous instruction by conducting discussions in live class sessions using video conferencing tools. 

My Own Online Class Discussions

Since my online courses are set up in Blackboard, I use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra (BCU) for my weekly live class sessions. This tool allows me to hear and see my students, and we are able to engage in meaningful, substantive conversations each week. BCU also lets me add files, share my desktop, and use a virtual whiteboard to interact with my students. What’s more is that when I grant moderator status to my students, they can share their own desktop and files. That’s important because I require them to come prepared each week to our sessions with some type of visual aid–it could be a PowerPoint or Prezi presentation; it could be a simple Word document, etc. This makes the experience much more participatory.

What’s more is that my students gain valuable practice in making virtual presentations. I’ve even started appointing a different student each week to lead the online class discussions; this helps them to build their confidence and develop their leadership skills. 

Online Class Discussions: Offer Students a Choice

While I hold them accountable for the same level of performance, I don’t require all my students to participate in live online class discussions; I offer it as an option. Why? There are two reasons: (1) Not all students will have access to high-speed Internet connections that are necessary for video conferencing; and (2) some students may just prefer to complete their class discussion requirements in the traditional written form. I like it when I’m given choices in life, and my students like it as well. Having the choice of either synchronous or asynchronous instruction empowers them to make important decisions about their own learning.  

How to Evaluate Student Work in Online Class Discussions

Regardless of whether they complete their requirements in a written discussion board forum or through a live class session, I hold my students accountable for the same level of performance. I do this through an analytic rubric that contains criteria categories that are applicable to both. This approach allows for all students to be evaluated fairly and equitably. In addition to their scores on the rubric, I always provide students with substantive feedback about their work designed to point out their strengths as well as specific areas they need to focus on for improvement. 

Teaching online may feel scary at first, but it doesn’t have to be. Just as it took time to develop your skills as an effective face-to-face educator, it will also require time to hone your skills (and your confidence) as an effective online educator. But you are not alone. We’re all in this together, and there are many people who can help. Don’t be afraid to ask. 

 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, competency-based education, online teaching & learning, accreditation and quality assurance.  A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                       

 

 

Top Graphic Credit: SlideShare