Training anytime, anywhere
- By Heather Harreld
- Jan 07, 2001
Pennsylvania has just rolled out an online professional development system
to enable its more than 100,000 teachers to take classes and post their
coursework on the Web.
The multimedia program, which developers say is the first of its kind
in the country, will enable teachers to earn credit online toward 180 hours
of mandatory continuing education training that they must take every five
Teachers will be taught through preprogrammed online courses and then
asked to create and post a lesson plan using material from the course. The
new online courses, which are optional and free, will be offered as an alternative
to traditional classroom courses, said Michael Toth, co-president of the
National Center for the Profession of Teaching Inc., Indiana, Pa., which
was hired by the commonwealth to create the program.
"It's on demand," Toth said. "It allows them to take it anytime they
want to. Most of the time they're coming in in the evening hours after they've
put their children to bed. Before...you had to find a fixed time...and
then you had to commute to a college. It was much more difficult for people."
The new online courses are different from other online courses — which
are primarily text-based — because they focus on engaging the teachers through
multimedia features, such as narration and real-life examples of the teaching
techniques being used in the classroom, Toth said.
"A lot of people complain about taking online courses that are text-based
because they're hard to go through," he said. "In ours, there is voice narration...a
digital mentor walking you through the course. It's closer to watching TV
than reading. If you go to a full multimedia [presentation]...it brings
people through the process. It engages the learner. We get better learning."
To begin taking a course, the teacher logs on to www.ncpt.com and registers
to create a professional development account. This account logs the time
that will be applied toward the required hours of training. Teachers receive
a user name and password to log in for additional work. The courses, even
though they're multimedia, are designed to work on connections as slow as
28.8 kilobits/sec, Toth said.
"They can go online today, take it to the classroom tomorrow, and it
impacts students," he said.
The course includes navigation tools that enable users to repeat and
review screens. The resume feature enables teachers to log off and come
back to the same screen when they return to the course. There are also recommended
stop times to develop and implement lesson plans.
The table of contents enables teachers to review items as many times
as they need to. The system monitors how long they are logged on and matches
their times with an average amount of time it took a test group to complete
the course, Toth said.
The system also provides online help; teachers can submit e-mail queries
and receive a response within 24 hours. After teachers complete a course,
details of the credit hours are transmitted from the system to databases
at Pennsylvania's Education Department.
There are now two courses available, one that is focused on reading
and another that focuses on using technology in the classroom. As part of
the technology course, teachers are taught how to use graphic organizers
— diagrams that represent ideas and concepts — in the classroom and encourage
students how to use them independently.
The online course presents five organizers along with concrete examples
and applications, including hands-on activities, classroom simulations and
a study guide for teachers.
Dina McGee, a remedial reading teacher with the Everett Area School
District in Everett, Pa., said she has used the diagrams from the online
graphical organizers course to help get her students — in grades ranging
from kindergarten to third grade — to hone their reading comprehension skills.
"We use organizers...to help the kids write things down or get their
thoughts together to understand what they're reading," she said. "They
really have to know those skills to be able to write well and take the tests."
Each course presents the content, and then requires the teacher to prepare
a lesson plan using the strategies they've learned and try it in their classroom.
Next, they complete self- assessments to discuss what did or did not work
in the classroom. The courses are designed so that the content can be applied
across all subject areas, Toth said.
"I only entered one lesson plan on the Web site, but have used the strategies
many times in my classroom because the strategies were easy to use for all
disciplines and curriculums," said Caryn Penrose, family and consumer science
teacher at Indiana Junior High School in Indiana, Pa.
To finish the course, teachers will share the lesson plan with their
peers by posting it to an online database. The posted lesson plans will
be anonymous to ensure teachers' privacy. Once in the database, the plans
will be a resource for other educators. Those who use them may submit comments
with their suggestions and adaptations.
"I think it's really going to work, that teachers will be able to share
their opinions and say what worked and what didn't work," said Barb Beals,
a course evaluator with the Titusville Area School District, Pa. "That will
be so helpful."
The courses were designed to combine required curriculum standards with
innovative teaching techniques, Toth said. Developers made a conscious effort
to avoid the "ivory tower" syndrome of producing theory-based content that
has little proven value to a practicing teacher, he said. All of the courses
have been developed with input from practicing "master educators" recognized
as content experts, he said.
Meshing the state educational standards with the content of the course
will prove valuable to teachers, Penrose said.
"They can actually even look at what standards their students seem to
be weak in and say, "OK, here's how I can build that up,' " Penrose said.
"The standards for the state...come down [on the screen], and teachers can
see that using the technique will help with that standard. It's done in
a subtle enough way that they're doing both at the same time. They also
are not going to be so frightened of the term "standard.' "
Harreld is a freelance writer based in Cary, N.C.