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Effective Online Teacher Preparation: Lessons Learned
Unformatted Document Text:  Effective Online Teacher Preparation: Lessons Learned Section I: Content A. Statement of the Issue: Historically, preparing future public school teachers has included some combination of academic and methods courses taken from experienced professors in a classroom setting combined with field experiences in K-12 schools. Although teacher preparation programs have varied in content and procedures, the modes of delivery have remained remarkably unchanged since the first normal school was opened in 1839. A teacher preparation program meant attending a college or university for several years, regardless of the inconvenience of leaving home and community to temporarily relocate to the site of the university. Over the past decade, however, the emergence of viable technology to support online learning has created opportunities for people to take a wide variety of college courses without leaving home. The Sloan Consortium (2003) indicates that during the 2002-2003 academic year, some 81% of all universities offered at least one online course or blended course (combining both face-to-face and online instruction), with 97% of public institutions offering such courses. In addition, this same study shows 49% of public institutions offering online degree programs where all or most of the coursework is completed online. Taking the next step to developing high quality online teacher preparation programs, as opposed to offering a few online courses, presents challenges that teacher preparation educators will need to address. Since developing an online teacher preparation program is so new, however, there are few models and little direction. Developing quality and student-friendly online teacher education programs is particularly important to states with large rural populations that are challenged to educate a sufficient number of “highly qualified” teachers, according to the mandate of No Child Left Behind (AASA online, 1999). Collins (1999) argues that low salaries combined with geographical, social, and professional isolation make it difficult for rural schools to attract and retain qualified teachers. Research on rural education indicates that pre-service teachers who already have ties to rural communities are more likely to want to teach in rural schools (Collins, 1999; Reeves, 2003). Ideally, then, teacher preparation programs should encourage and/or recruit and retain students from rural areas to become teachers. Many traditional-aged students, however, want to become teachers so that they can move away from their rural roots, applying for teaching positions in more populated areas. A more promising pool of preservice teachers is adults who live in rural areas and whose lives are deeply connected to their communities, many of whom are paraeducators. Those very community ties, however, make it difficult for these adults to leave their families, jobs, and communities to attend a university that may be hundreds of miles from their homes. An online teacher preparation program allows them to stay in their local communities while preparing to teach in their local schools. This paper traces one university’s journey in developing an online teacher preparation program geared to prospective teachers living in rural areas. The current program combines four semesters of online courses with two 5-week campus summer sessions for undergraduate elementary pre-service teachers. We identify the assumptions we made when we began the first cohort, the structure of the program, and the ensuing problems and needs that we had not anticipated. We identify six major areas that lead to an effective program that meets the needs of our students in isolated rural areas. These include: • University infrastructure (admissions, financial aid, registration, advising, prerequisites) • Fieldwork (the importance of connecting theory to live experiences throughout the program) • Advising/Mentoring

Authors: Dell, Cindy., Hobbs, Sharon. and Miller, Kenneth.
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Effective Online Teacher Preparation: Lessons Learned
Section I: Content
A. Statement of the Issue:
Historically, preparing future public school teachers has included some combination of
academic and methods courses taken from experienced professors in a classroom setting
combined with field experiences in K-12 schools. Although teacher preparation programs have
varied in content and procedures, the modes of delivery have remained remarkably unchanged
since the first normal school was opened in 1839. A teacher preparation program meant
attending a college or university for several years, regardless of the inconvenience of leaving
home and community to temporarily relocate to the site of the university. Over the past decade,
however, the emergence of viable technology to support online learning has created
opportunities for people to take a wide variety of college courses without leaving home. The
Sloan Consortium (2003) indicates that during the 2002-2003 academic year, some 81% of all
universities offered at least one online course or blended course (combining both face-to-face
and online instruction), with 97% of public institutions offering such courses. In addition, this
same study shows 49% of public institutions offering online degree programs where all or most
of the coursework is completed online. Taking the next step to developing high quality online
teacher preparation programs, as opposed to offering a few online courses, presents challenges
that teacher preparation educators will need to address. Since developing an online teacher
preparation program is so new, however, there are few models and little direction.
Developing quality and student-friendly online teacher education programs is particularly
important to states with large rural populations that are challenged to educate a sufficient
number of “highly qualified” teachers, according to the mandate of No Child Left Behind (AASA
online, 1999). Collins (1999) argues that low salaries combined with geographical, social, and
professional isolation make it difficult for rural schools to attract and retain qualified teachers.
Research on rural education indicates that pre-service teachers who already have ties to rural
communities are more likely to want to teach in rural schools (Collins, 1999; Reeves, 2003).
Ideally, then, teacher preparation programs should encourage and/or recruit and retain students
from rural areas to become teachers. Many traditional-aged students, however, want to
become teachers so that they can move away from their rural roots, applying for teaching
positions in more populated areas. A more promising pool of preservice teachers is adults who
live in rural areas and whose lives are deeply connected to their communities, many of whom
are paraeducators. Those very community ties, however, make it difficult for these adults to
leave their families, jobs, and communities to attend a university that may be hundreds of miles
from their homes. An online teacher preparation program allows them to stay in their local
communities while preparing to teach in their local schools.
This paper traces one university’s journey in developing an online teacher preparation program
geared to prospective teachers living in rural areas. The current program combines four
semesters of online courses with two 5-week campus summer sessions for undergraduate
elementary pre-service teachers. We identify the assumptions we made when we began the
first cohort, the structure of the program, and the ensuing problems and needs that we had not
anticipated. We identify six major areas that lead to an effective program that meets the needs
of our students in isolated rural areas. These include:
University infrastructure (admissions, financial aid, registration, advising, prerequisites)
Fieldwork (the importance of connecting theory to live experiences throughout the
program)
Advising/Mentoring


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