The New Frontier: A Case Study in Applying Instructional Design for Distance Teacher Education

Article excerpt

Like a scene from a Wild West land grab, would-be pioneers in the wilderness of online learning are surging forward with thoughts awash with optimism, trepidation, and a profound sense of staking a claim in this new educational environment. Even for those who live and breathe this new medium, there have been a myriad of successes, failures, and truly baffling experiences. However, it is becoming clear that the educational landscape has forever changed and whatever direction this online revolution takes, it is clear that it will, in some way, affect the way all of us live and learn.

The area of teacher education is one part of this wilderness that is only beginning to show signs of some settlement. As online environments become populated with "cyber homesteaders"--teacher educators developing and teaching online courses--there is a sense of groping for guidelines, models, or at best, lists of best practices, for the design and delivery of online instruction. Although teacher educators are some of the most innovative and enthusiastic pioneers in the online learning arena, many are rolling off courses from an assembly line of boundless enthusiasm. However, few are familiar with techniques and models for the design and development of instruction. As the new scenario of the online classroom emerges, it will become necessary for teacher educators to become familiar with these principles to enhance their design of computer assisted learning environments and systems.

This article supports Nunan's (1999) call for "new forms of program delivery to be described and analyzed" (p. 52) by focusing on the development of a web-based teacher education methods course for teachers of language minority learners. It examines what challenges and difficulties teacher educators and other course developers face in the design and delivery of distance education and how some of the problems might be overcome through use of an instructional design process. The purpose is to show how the instructional design process can assist in developing a web-based distance teacher education course that suits the needs of participants while addressing the concerns of researchers and teacher educators.

THE NEED FOR DISTANCE EDUCATION AND THE INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN PROCESS

The recent and ongoing expansion of online opportunities for teacher education and training are due, in part, to calls for better teacher preparation and professional development opportunities. The National Education Goals for Teacher Education and Professional Development state that for school reform to happen teachers need (a) the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills needs to prepare students for the next century and (b) access to professional development programs for continued improvement of skills. Teacher educators must help their students understand how to provide opportunities for all learners and motivate learners to become lifelong learners. Teacher educators must also encourage their students to create new opportunities and solve new problems in their classrooms.

To help meet the National Goals, teacher educators and education courses must provide opportunities for preservice and inservice teachers to reflect on and apply theory to classroom practice and receive feedback from experienced teachers in the field; if well designed, the distance professional development and teacher education courses proliferating on the World Wide Web (WWW or Web) may provide such opportunities for inservice and preservice teachers. The benefits of offering distance courses in which there are a wide variety of learners and where communication is supported by both asynchronous and synchronous technologies include the potential for:

* more time for learners (teachers) to reflect,

* increased individual participation,

* more individualized feedback from the instructor,

* a wider range of opinions and views,

* self-paced/self-directed learning,

* team learning and collaboration, and

* resource-based rather than lecture-based learning. …