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Preparing Future Teachers for Rural Schools: The Role of Online Cohorts
Unformatted Document Text:  classes, experienced increased transfer of learning across classes, and reported an increase in reflectivity. Most of these prospective teachers plan to look for employment in their own rural communities. B. Literature Review:The past ten years have seen an explosion in books, journals, articles, and web sites addressing distance education and online learning. Most universities now offer at least some of their courses via the Internet. Research in publications such as the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, the American Journal of Distance Education, or the Online Journal of Distance learning Administration has centered on the technological and administrative challenges of developing online courses in higher education. Knowing how to develop and deliver an online class effectively is certainly important, but the challenges of online course delivery are multiplied when the aim is to offer a coherent program of study online rather than simply offering a selection of open-enrollment courses. To take teacher education preparation to prospective teachers living in areas unserved by a local college or university requires attention to the needs of students who may be isolated from others sharing their interests and/or who may have been out of school for some years and lack confidence in their ability to do well in their studies. Creating a cohort of students who take courses together, sharing their learning and experiences, maximizes the likelihood that these online students will gain the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to become qualified teachers; pairing the academic coursework with structured field experiences each semester in their local community schools increases the likelihood that these new teachers will teach in a rural school. Applying the literature on learning communities to the planning and implementation of an online teacher education program shifts the focus from technological issues to relational and epistemological ones. Learners who develop meaningful relationships, knowledge, and practices through mutual engagement may be called a community of practice or, more simply, a learning community (Wenger, 1998). Wenger explains that in a community of practice, “people are engaged in actions whose meanings they negotiate with one another” (Wenger, 1998, p. 73). This process of ongoing negotiation of meaning, in turn, creates mutual accountability among participants. Learners bring what they know to the learning community and influence others reciprocally. They achieve their identity in the community by the way they participate. They build a shared knowledge about problems, events, methodology, etc. Palloff and Pratt (2003) maintain that “collaboration forms the foundation of a learning community online – it brings students together to support the learning of each member of the group while promoting creativity and critical thinking” (xi). The teacher and the learners work collaboratively to achieve goals and learn new materials and ideas. It is through this process that online cohort learners may develop self-efficacy and self-regulation strategies. Learners make judgments about their likelihood to succeed based on their beliefs about their abilities. (Bandura, 1997, Driscoll, 2005). Success and encouragement though the learning process further develops self-efficacy and continued motivation. As the learner experiences success, self efficacy and self-regulation are maintained (Bandura, 1997). So it is with a cohort of online learners. Lapan (2000, as cited in Driscoll, 2005) maintains that self regulated learners use their knowledge to guide them in the implementation of the implementation of self-regulatory strategies, and metacognitive knowledge to know the conditions and contexts for when these strategies should be used. As they receive encouragement from the learning community and experience success with online learning, they become more self-regulated, and 2

Authors: Dell, Cindy. and Hobbs, Sharon.
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classes, experienced increased transfer of learning across classes, and reported an
increase in reflectivity. Most of these prospective teachers plan to look for employment
in their own rural communities.
B. Literature Review:
The past ten years have seen an explosion in books, journals, articles, and web sites
addressing distance education and online learning. Most universities now offer at least
some of their courses via the Internet. Research in publications such as the Journal of
Asynchronous Learning Networks
, the American Journal of Distance Education, or the
Online Journal of Distance learning Administration has centered on the technological
and administrative challenges of developing online courses in higher education.
Knowing how to develop and deliver an online class effectively is certainly important, but
the challenges of online course delivery are multiplied when the aim is to offer a
coherent program of study online rather than simply offering a selection of open-
enrollment courses. To take teacher education preparation to prospective teachers
living in areas unserved by a local college or university requires attention to the needs of
students who may be isolated from others sharing their interests and/or who may have
been out of school for some years and lack confidence in their ability to do well in their
studies. Creating a cohort of students who take courses together, sharing their learning
and experiences, maximizes the likelihood that these online students will gain the
knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to become qualified teachers; pairing the
academic coursework with structured field experiences each semester in their local
community schools increases the likelihood that these new teachers will teach in a rural
school. Applying the literature on learning communities to the planning and
implementation of an online teacher education program shifts the focus from
technological issues to relational and epistemological ones.
Learners who develop meaningful relationships, knowledge, and practices through
mutual engagement may be called a community of practice or, more simply, a learning
community (Wenger, 1998). Wenger explains that in a community of practice, “people
are engaged in actions whose meanings they negotiate with one another” (Wenger,
1998, p. 73). This process of ongoing negotiation of meaning, in turn, creates mutual
accountability among participants. Learners bring what they know to the learning
community and influence others reciprocally. They achieve their identity in the
community by the way they participate. They build a shared knowledge about problems,
events, methodology, etc. Palloff and Pratt (2003) maintain that “collaboration forms the
foundation of a learning community online – it brings students together to support the
learning of each member of the group while promoting creativity and critical thinking” (xi).
The teacher and the learners work collaboratively to achieve goals and learn new
materials and ideas.
It is through this process that online cohort learners may develop self-efficacy and self-
regulation strategies. Learners make judgments about their likelihood to succeed based
on their beliefs about their abilities. (Bandura, 1997, Driscoll, 2005). Success and
encouragement though the learning process further develops self-efficacy and continued
motivation. As the learner experiences success, self efficacy and self-regulation are
maintained (Bandura, 1997). So it is with a cohort of online learners. Lapan (2000, as
cited in Driscoll, 2005) maintains that self regulated learners use their knowledge to
guide them in the implementation of the implementation of self-regulatory strategies, and
metacognitive knowledge to know the conditions and contexts for when these strategies
should be used. As they receive encouragement from the learning community and
experience success with online learning, they become more self-regulated, and
2


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