When Online Learning Works. (Going the Distance)

Article excerpt

In Ohio, California and other sites all over the nation, teacher education programs are incorporating new technologies and more flexible methods to meet participants' needs. Distance education programs are available in a number of academic fields using a variety of media, including television, videotape and the Internet. Distance education maybe delivered in "real time" (such as through online class sessions) and synchronously (students cover material at the same time). Or, students may use videotapes, computers or even traditional print materials to work on lessons at their own pace. With the advent of the Internet and World Wide Web, the number and diversity of programs has surged. Roughly nine percent of the nation's faculty at two- and four-year colleges said they taught at least one for-credit course either through a formal "distance education" program or through another method besides face-to-face communication, according to a recent survey done for the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. In career and technical education, more and more certification and graduate programs are using distance education. Two articles follow on Internet-based teacher education programs at the Ohio State University and California State University at San Bernardino.

A person seeking a vocational education teaching credential in California now has the option of completing all coursework online. In a unique program through California State University-San Bernardino (CSUSB), becoming a career and technical educator can be done entirely via computer--in the process turning out Internet-savvy instructors who are able to easily weave technology into their classroom instruction.

While Web-based courses are not new, CSUSB has the first teacher-credentialing program in California to offer an online option for all required coursework. The program is geared toward individuals who have already developed expertise in their subject area and are ready to develop appropriate teaching skills and methods for the classroom.

Dr. Ron Pendleton, coordinator of the Career and Technical Education Program for the university's College of Education, developed the online coursework for the program, which is delivered to students on campus via the university's "smart classrooms" or to distance learning students at any location via the Internet.

Students in the online courses must create their own Web sites--and then instead of turning in assignments, they post their class work on their sites. Pendleton, who is also the College of Education's Webmaster, visits the online pages to check the work.

The program offers six teacher credentialing courses involving 40 hours of instruction. Students in both the traditional in-class option and the Web-based online option subscribe to a Web-based E-TEXT in which all course assignments are described and examples are given. The E-TEXT also includes related background information for all assignments and links to additional related materials.

In both traditional and distance learning options, students are required to prepare written assignments related to lesson planning and various aspects of the educational process. Also, they must present actual lessons to be videotaped--allowing them to see how they appear when teaching.

Distance learning students post their videos on their Web sites as Quicktime movies, or else mail the videos to the instructor on VHS tape. Students receive both peer and instructor feedback and must meet specific measurable criteria for all assignments.

While Pendleton says he believes that the traditional in-class option provides the best learning experience--he qualifies that statement by saying that is "as long as class size is kept small and class activities are interactive. …