Satellite Distance Learning: Collaboration Meets Demands of Special Education Teachers

Article excerpt

Responding to a request for increased teacher training in special education by the West Virginia Department of Education, a consortium state project developed by special education faculty of the state's three graduate institutions of higher education was funded in January 1988. Previously these faculties had worked together on a study of special education teacher certification alternatives that culminated in a report to a joint meeting of the West Virginia Board of Regents and the West Virginia Board of Education. This report identified a common core of courses for graduate special education teacher certification in the areas of learning disabilities, behavior disorders and mild mental impairments.

The core was developed to facilitate coursework for special education teachers on permit, to assist in standardizing the certification process across the state, and to discourage students from "shopping around" for the perceived easiest track towards special education certification. The report also concluded that a multi-categorical certification would be a less-desirable alternative than implementing a common certification core with nine additional hours required for each endorsement.

By agreement with the West Virginia Department of Education, this common core became the basis for the learning disability, behavior disorder and mild mental retardation program refiling in 1990. The three courses constituting the core are Introduction to Exceptional Children and Adults, General Special Education Programming, and Educational Assessment for Exceptional Children and Adults.

Outgrowth

A natural outgrowth during development of the core concept was to use the state's existing satellite communication system. The three graduate institutions developed a grant proposal to request funds from the West Virginia Department of Education to deliver the common core courses by satellite across the entire state. At the time of the proposal, it was estimated that approximately 1,000 practicing special education teachers in West Virginia were doing so without proper certification.(1) Similar situations have been reported in other states, particularly in rural areas.(2,3) Due to the geographically difficult terrain of West Virginia and the limited number of graduate institutions in the state, the three college faculties felt that offering coursework through satellite delivery was a very viable approach. Milheim notes the use of satellites is still quite new in terms of education but is becoming recognized for its ability to provide instruction to learners at great distances from their institutions.(4)

Satellite Delivery in Phases

The consortium agreed to develop and deliver the three core courses in a three-phase process. Phase I included creating or refining course syllabi acceptable to each of the institutions, training staff and developing materials. Phase I was concluded in the summer of 1989, with teaching teams established, training workshops completed and instructional materials prepared. All courses had been reconceptualized for distance delivery and included on-site teaching activities as well as presentation outlines. During this phase, it was also determined that over 150 satellite dishes were currently in operation throughout the school systems in West Virginia. For an area to participate, they would only need a satellite dish, telephone facilities and a facilitator.

Beginning in the fall of 1989, Phase II required the delivery of the first two courses. First selected for presentation by the satellite system was the basic introduction course, Survey of Exceptional Children and Adults. It was decided that its high-content nature lent itself more naturally to the media of television. A total of 81 students enrolled at 14 sites. For this course the site facilitators' major responsibility was readying the site location and proctoring exams. Faculty workshops were held twice during the semester, where tape samples were evaluated and teaching improvement strategies developed. …