Learning Long Distance

Article excerpt

If you're interested in brushing up on teaching techniques or learning new business skills-without leaving your home-here's what you should know about distance-learning programs.

Continuing education is an ongoing priority for working teachers in a changing world. Yet not everyone has the resources to travel cross-country for specialty workshops, or the freedom to take off several years to pursue an advanced degree. In an increasingly digital society, distance-learning programs can help potential learners attain their educational goals.

We've researched the different distance-learning options available to dance instructors-and all the big questions you should ask before stepping into the virtual classroom.

What's Out There

Whether you're looking to continue your education with just one course or invest several years to earn an advanced degree, there are many suitable opportunities. For the most part, distance-learning programs share a variety of multimedia formats. With an internet-based course, you might watch lectures via an online video feed, read essays online and e-mail writing assignments to your instructor. Some programs may have mail-in components, such as written work for you to complete and send back to the instructor, or videos and DVDs to watch at home.

General courses not specifically tailored for dance teachers, like special education, child development or business management, are widely offered through university distance-learning programs nationwide. For example, Ashland University in Ohio and eTech College have partnered to provide online workshops on education-related professional development topics, such as effective communication in the 21st century, grant writing and problem-based learning. Summer online courses offered by Bowling Green State University, also in Ohio, that could be beneficial for dance educators include classroom technology for teachers, nutrition, elements of music, event promotion and the psychological aspects of exercise.

Because of the nature of distance learning, keep in mind that you aren't restricted by geography; even some institutions overseas allow Americans to enroll in their distance-learning programs. For example, London's Royal Academy of Dance, in cooperation with the University of Surrey, offers certificates in ballet studies, higher education and Benesh Movement Notation through part-time and full-time online courses.

For advanced degree programs, such as an MFA in dance or an MA in dance education, expect to supplement several semesters of online academic work with on-campus residencies that provide practical training and face time with faculty. The University of North Carolina-Greensboro, for instance, offers an MA in dance education that takes two to five years to complete and also includes a licensure program for teaching dance in public schools. During the fall and spring semesters, students need a computer with high-speed internet access and a VCR to complete coursework. They are also required to attend a six-week, on-campus session during the summer.

The University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee offers another well-respected program in which students earn an MFA in dance through online courses during the school year (usually four semesters), plus a minimum of two six-week, on-campus summer intensives. Programs like these were created with K-12 and university teachers in mind, as they often have the summers free, but need to complete courses during the academic year.

Movement-based distance learning classes are rare, but some institutions have designed ways to make them work. Known for its impressive ballroom dance program, Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, offers an undergraduate-level social dance class. This inexpensive course is taught via the internet, CD and DVD, and students must have access to someone who knows the social dances taught (fox-trot, cha cha, waltz, triple swing) and can evaluate their progress. …