Professional Development :: Ohio

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AN ONLINE COURSE OF ACTION

Limited funds forced Ohio to look beyond conventional methods of professional development.What it came up with was an eLearning program that offers opportunities for every educator.

An Online Course of Action IN 2003, the Governor’s Commission onTeaching Success, a diverse group of Ohio educatorsand business leaders, issued a report titled“Achieving More: Quality Teaching, SchoolLeadership, Student Success.” In the report, thecommission called for “funding of professionaldevelopment that increases teachers’ and principals’understanding of how technology can beused in learning and that gives them the technologyskills they need to help their students reachtheir academic goals.”

It was a welcome proposition, but classroom technology integration is only one of the many important issues competing for limited professional development resources in the state. Given this demand, and the time constraints and scheduling difficulties that restrict the ability of educators to hone their skills, Ohio committed to looking beyond traditional professional development methods and in 2004 began developing an eLearning program through eTech Ohio, a state agency dedicated to technology-enhanced learning (see “About eTech Ohio”). The program targets the state’s teachers, administrators, and school technology staff, offering them diverse and relevant professional development courses that are in accord with the state’s academic content standards and are designed to support the use of educational technologies.

“A well-crafted online course is definitely not easier—it is simply more convenient and provides the learnerwith opportunities to learn beyond what the face-to-faceclassroom can offer.”
—Roberta Stagge, Middletown City Schools

Today the program offers 85 different online courses to educators throughout the state. Whether assisting Ohio teachers in increasing their subject-matter competencies or providing administrator training in school management and data-driven decision making, the courses have something for every educator. Many course offerings are focused on very specific academic areas. One of the most popular is a five-week course in classroom management that takes a fresh look at how students are learning differently in the digital age. Participants are encouraged to examine opportunities and challenges that are frequently encountered when creating and managing a technology-based classroom environment.

Another particularly promising course is geared for school administrators: Leadership for Ohio’s Schools. It focuses on developing standards-based educational leadership and establishing a school culture that is supportive of a learning community. Superintendents and principals are asked to explore personal as well as shared values, visions, and goals. The administrators must actively put the lessons learned in the course into action in their interactions with their staff, using quality tools and data to collaboratively develop the culture necessary to make their vision and goals a reality.

COMPLYING WITH NCLB

WHILE STILL fairly new, eTech Ohio’s eLearning program has already paid major dividends as thestate works to craft a strategic response to the No Child LeftBehind Act. The bill mandated that all teachers be “highlyqualified” by the end of the 2005-2006 school year. A highlyqualified teacher is one who has:

  • at least a bachelor’s degree
  • full state licensure
  • demonstrated competency in each subject taught

Ohio educators found that working to fulfill this mandate, especially the subject-competency component, was a massive task, especially for special education instructors. The state’s teacher education programs for special ed had traditionally focused on preparing candidates to be experts in the subject area and had generally not focused their curriculum on the core academic courses.

As a result, most new special education teachers were not highly qualified to teach any of the core subject areas upon graduation. This necessitated an unprecedented level of professional development for teachers to get up to speed on those subjects. In response, eTech Ohio’s eLearning program developed content-specific courses. Through these courses, hundreds of Ohio educators were able to meet the “highly qualified” teacher requirement of No Child Left Behind.

Multiple Benefits

The need to find more efficient and effective methods for offering professional development has been apparent to the state’s educators for quite some time. Many of them acknowledge the need for technology integration, but district leaders have struggled to make it happen. The eLearning program seems to be the solution. In Ohio’s experience, the approach bears multiple benefits:

  • Cost. Course development takes place once, and then courses are offered statewide multiple times each year, which helps to keep fees affordable for participating educators. Current eTech Ohio virtual courses range between $35 and $80, far less expensive than those offered elsewhere.
  • Personal choice. Out of necessity, traditional professional development approaches such as in-service training must appeal to the needs of a majority of the educators in a particular school. Such a onesize- fits-all solution hinders educators from selecting the professional development opportunities that meet their particular needs and interests. The Ohio eLearning program allows for customized professional development and empowers educators to make choices they feel are most supportive of their continual improvement.
  • Exposure to online instruction. Even when an online course is not written specifically to provide professional development on integrating technology into the classroom, such as with an algebra refresher course, it still advances the goal of increasing the use of technology in the classroom. Simply conducting these courses in a virtual environment exposes the participants to new teaching techniques and methods of instruction that can be used to bring technology to life for their students. Educators have attested that collaborating with colleagues in an online threaded discussion often leads to a greater understanding of the potential for technology in the classroom.
  • Convenience plus collaboration. The program’s courses are asynchronous, so participants have the flexibility to complete the required work at opportunities convenient to them. However, this is balanced against an approach that requires collaboration, which creates the very real sense that the course is progressing in as close to real time as possible. Without such a strong emphasis on collaboration, these online courses would be no different from traditional correspondence courses.
  • A community of learners. Creating and nurturing an interactive and continuous learning culture continues to be a major positive effect of eLearning. Each course can foster a community of learners with diverse backgrounds and talents, and participants are encouraged to actively participate in online discussion forums. Evaluations completed at the end of every eLearning course reveal that these interactive opportunities make online professional development the unique and valuable training option that it is. A typical response is this from one participant: “The online discussions with colleagues were a new experience for me, and I enjoyed them. Taking an online course with teachers from across Ohio lessened the teacher isolation I sometimes feel.”

Moving Forward

To build on the successes it has enjoyed with online professional development courses, Ohio has already begun working on programs that will expand the use of virtual instruction throughout the state. For example, eTech Ohio is currently working with districts and other educational partners to develop and offer professional development that would build the capacity of individual schools to use online options. The state’s teachers have been particularly benefited by the use of eLearning. As a result, Ohio is committed to increasing the availability of online professional development.

ABOUT eTECH OHIO

A state agency devoted to supportinglearning through technology, eTechOhio developsprograms and uses best practices toserve learning organizations in acquiring,integrating, and sustaining educationaltechnology. The agency alsomanages a statewide network thatdelivers public broadcasting servicesand instructional and professionaldevelopment materials.

Some eLearning participants are initially skeptical of online education. One of the more common misconceptions, according to Roberta Stagge, coordinator of instructional technology for Ohio’s Middletown City Schools, is that an online course is less challenging than the conventional learning option. “I have taught many online courses and have found that many teachers think online courses are easier than face-to-face courses,” she says. “A well-crafted online course is definitely not easier—it is simply more convenient and provides the learner with opportunities to learn beyond what the face-toface classroom can offer.”

“Integration of technology intothe day-to-day operation of theclassroom is still in an infantstage across the state.”
—Michael Miller, Kilbourne Middle School

Other educators reserve their skepticism not for the technology, but for how effectively it will be implemented in the classroom— or if at all. Michael Miller, a technological studies teacher at Kilbourne Middle School in Worthington, OH, has been working for years to advance the use of educational technologies in his district. Over the past decade, Miller has been on the front lines, watching as the state invested more than a half-billion dollars introducing a base level of technology into state classrooms. In addition to supporting the deployment of classroom computers and other educational technologies, Ohio has also invested heavily in equipping every classroom with high-speed internet access.

But Miller says that even with this degree of commitment, “the integration of technology into the day-to-day operation of the classroom is still in an infant stage across the state,” which he attributes mostly to a lack of adequate and effective professional development for classroom teachers. However, Miller is optimistic that the eTech Ohio program can remedy this. “I have participated in the eLearning program in almost every capacity possible, including course developer, facilitator, and student,” Miller says. “I am certain that this is a program that can help bridge the gap in classroom technology integration.”

-Dan Fitzpatrick is public affairs officer with eTech Ohio.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2007 issue of THE Journal.

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