Personnel preparation programs in special education at the preservice and inservice levels have made extensive use of distance education program models to offer teacher education and staff development to rural schools. While distance education technology, such as interactive video and the Internet, are used to deliver content coursework, the supervision of practica at a distance can be challenging. The University of Kentucky and West Virginia University, early users of distance education and current implementers of programs that use online or interactive video delivery, have developed practicum models for providing supervision to prospective and practicing special education personnel in rural areas. This article describes three different models across four programs of supporting practica at a distance now in operation at these institutions, discussing formats used for coordinating the experience and interacting with students and on-site supervisors.
In an effort to address the critical shortages of special educators and related services specialists, teacher educators have employed various models of technology-mediated distance education to make both preservice and inservice preparation programs more accessible to prospective and practicing personnel. A national study of distance education programs in special education (Ludlow & Brannan, 2001, dated 1999) revealed that they have been especially prevalent in low incidence disabilities, including moderate/severe/multiple disabilities and early intervention/early childhood special education. These data also showed distance delivery models have focused almost exclusively on preparing personnel in the most rural states.
A variety of technologies are available for delivering distance education programs (Moore & Anderson, 2003). While early programs experimented with satellite delivery (e.g., Collins, 1997), these delivery technologies are being replaced as states develop telelinking networks (e.g., Crisham-Brown & Collins, 2002) and as online technologies become more accessible to students. For example, a recent survey focusing on low incidence programs (Ludlow, Conner & Schechter, 2005) identified 10 of 28 distance education programs that were offered entirely online. This documents the rapid growth of online personnel preparation programs in special education in the last few years. Today, the continuum of delivery options may rely on one type of technology or may use a hybrid model in which Internet courses are combined with courses offered through other types of technology.
Improvements in Internet access to rural areas and faculty skills in utilizing new technologies have resulted in growing use of online instruction to prepare special educators and related services specialists. A review of the professional literature shows that post-baccalaureate certification and graduate degrees are now available entirely online at East Carolina University (Steinweg, Davis, & Thompson, 2005), University of Northern Colorado (Ferrell, Persichitte, Lowell, & Roberts, 2001), and West Virginia University (Ludlow, 2003). Professional development programs for practicing personnel also have made use of online delivery at Indiana University (Rodes, Knapczyk, Chapman, & Chung, 1999), West Virginia University (Ludlow, Foshay, Brannan, Duff, & Dcnnison, 2002), Utah State University (Forbush & Morgan, 2004), and the University of Washington (Stowitschek & Cuest, 2006).
In spite of the development of distance education systems, such as telelinking networks, and the increase in online delivery, many personnel preparation programs have restricted their service area because of the need to provide oversight and supervision or clinical experiences by faculty supervisors. Clinical experiences, such as early field experiences, practica, student teaching, internships, and induction activities, present greater challenges in distance education programs because they require direct observation of student or professional performance, as well as opportunities for communication between university-based faculty supervisors and site-based cooperating practitioners and practicum students. …