Online learning disrupts teacher ed

Online learning is disrupting teacher education, writes Meredith Liu, a visiting fellow at Innosight Institute, on Education Next.

The four largest education schools, in terms of bachelor’s and postbachelor’s degrees granted in 2011, were online programs, including the University of Phoenix (5,976) and Walden University (4,878), reports the U.S. Education Department.

University of Southern California’s online master’s — MAT@USC — uses interactive, web-based lectures and classes of 15 students.

  Similar to a webinar, students sign into a live session hosted by the professor. All class participants are visible to each other via individual video feeds and can signal to the professor when they want to speak. . . . Each class is archived in a video library for later review on the student’s computer or mobile device. The program facilitates learning outside of class through online study groups and a customized social-networking platform for students and faculty.

USC arranges for teacher candidates to complete 20 weeks of in-classroom training in their own communities. Student teachers can record and upload their lessons to USC faculty and classmates for feedback.

From 2008 to 2010, USC expanded from 100 to 2,200 degree candidates thanks to the online program, even though MAT@USC charges $40,000 for the 13-month program, the same as the on-campus price tag.

Western Governors University (WGU), a nonprofit, fully online university, offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. Because WGU measures competency rather than credits, students can move quickly to a degree. The average student earns a bachelor’s degree in two and a half years.

The assessment for each competency uses multiple formats, including traditional testing, portfolio assignments, and observations. As many students have significant professional experience, they can skip some course content altogether and proceed directly to the assessment. For example, a career engineer switching into teaching does not need to suffer through introductory science and math courses to become a physics teacher.

Students complete their demonstration teaching near where they live.

WGU charges $2,890 for a six-month term during which students can take as many courses as they want.

WGU education graduates have “slightly higher rates of certification and employment than those attending comparison schools,” Liu writes. Still, it’s too soon to say whether online-trained teachers are as good as traditionally trained teachers.

By lowering opportunity costs — would-be teachers don’t have to quit their jobs and move to campus — online programs open up the profession to a wide range of people, notes Liu.

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