Creating a Web-based Learning Technologies Degree for K-12 Teachers*
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Like many of its counterparts worldwide, the Western Australian Department of Education is striving to meet prescribed student-computer ratios and outfit schools with hardware, software, networks, and infrastructure as part of an expensive government funding initiative [http://www.eddept.wa.edu.au/centoff/t2000/index.html]. But Western Australia has a land area greater than that east of the Mississippi in the USA, and its population is only 1.8 million, making it a challenging locale for timely, appropriate, and accessible professional development for teachers, especially those in remote, "Outback" areas.
Following the announcement of the government funding initiative, several learning technologies professionals expressed concern that a "boxes and wires" approach (where funds are spent on hardware, networks, and software rather than on in-service training) was likely to fail if teachers did not receive adequate professional development. This concern is especially valid in remote areas, where access to professional development is inadequate or even non-existent.
In cooperation with the Western Australian Department of Education, we of the National Key Center for School Science and Mathematics at Curtin University of Technology established a Learning Technologies postgraduate program in June of 1999. Currently, 300 K-12 teachers and several teacher-librarians and principals are enrolled in this part-time program, which is taught entirely via the Web and CD-ROMs. An additional 500-1,000 teachers are expected to enroll in 2000.
Development and Purpose of the Learning Technologies Program
We chose to create a new postgraduate degree that would:
The Education Department funded and provided laptops for 100 teachers who began the program in June of 1999. Between July and January, an additional 200 teachers joined who were self-funded or funded by independent or Catholic schools. The independent and Catholic schools associations in Western Australia will fund an additional 400 teachers beginning in July of 2000, and the Education Department hopes to fund 1,000 more teachers to complete the program over the next four years.
The purpose of the Learning Technologies program is to get all participants "up to speed" as competent, confident, and professional users of personal computing hardware, software, and networks. This program will encourage them to use these tools to:
An overriding concern in creating and delivering the courses has been to meet the needs of teachers with diverse backgrounds, IT skills, and teaching responsibilities. A twelfth-grade physics teacher, a junior high social studies teacher, and a pre-primary teacher clearly have different needs, as do an experienced Internet surfer and a novice. Quite simply, we needed a program which allowed teachers to start at different times, proceed at different rates, study what suited them when it suited them, and study materials relevant to the grade levels and subjects they teach. Traditional in-service professional development or university courses, which are paper-based and linear, have little hope of meeting such needs. Modular, interactive, non-linear multimedia courses, available on the Web and on CD-ROM, can (Such courses also can be presented on a university campus if desired, but that would not meet the needs of remote teachers in Australia. See Turoff 2000: http://horizon.unc.edu/horizon/online/html/8/1/default.asp).
Successful completion of the courses leads to an award of Graduate Certificate in Learning Technologies from Curtin University of Technology. Alternatively, the credits earned may be applied towards a Postgraduate Diploma, Masters, or Professional Doctorate.
Structure of the Program
The Learning Technologies program includes three one-semester part-time subjects. The first two subjects provide:
Detailed information on each subject is available at: http://www.curtin.edu.au/curtin/dept/smec/gc
The elective streams include:
(Sample teaching materials on a (multi-platform) CD-ROM are available from the author: S.Kessell@smec.curtin.edu.au.)
Concurrent with their studies of core modules, students complete on-line tutorials appropriate to their own needs; learn effective Internet search and evaluation strategies; locate, evaluate, and use specific resources appropriate to their own teaching; read relevant publications on using IT in the classroom (primarily on-line); and most importantly, apply what they are learning to their own school settings.
Formal assessment is continuous and includes a personal portfolio, a written review of multimedia teaching materials, a simple web site, a written report ("How I am going to use this in my classroom"), and ongoing participation (email, bulletin boards, chat, hypertext logging). There is no written examination.
The third and final subject involves each teacher's applying acquired skills, concepts, and methodologies in his/her own classroom over two terms. This component allows support for teachers as they design, implement, and evaluate IT, multimedia, and the Internet in their own workspaces, encouraging them to find out what does and doesn't work and what can be done better.
In order to help teachers further with the important task of applying skills to the classroom, each teacher explores one of the following technology-related educational research areas via a Web and CD-ROM module:
In addition to receiving personal accounts on the course website and all course materials on CD-ROMs, all teachers also receive:
Construction of the Course: Pedagogical and Technical Issues
As noted above, networked multimedia allows us to offer a flexible course that suits the needs of a very diverse audience. In fact, some students have referred to the offerings as a smorgasbord. On the other hand, we must ensure that all students cover core material adequately.
We have attempted to reach a balance between elective and core material in several ways:
Students' interaction with peers has been a major accomplishment of this course. This interaction has been facilitated chiefly by communication tools, synchronous and asynchronous (email, bulletin boards, and chat rooms), provided on the website. While the course features a Web-CT package [http://www.webct.com/] to organize multimedia materials, we have also used a new tool, Moodle (Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment), which was developed recently by one of our doctoral students (Dougiamas 2000: http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/confs/tlf/tlf2000/dougiamas.html). Moodle encourages interaction among students, teachers, and course materials by allowing students to interact with the website. The students add their own notes and comments, writing directly onto a web page into a form text field. Only the author sees "her" text on "her" web page; another student sees "his" text on "his" web page.
Despite the steep learning curve that many new teachers face, only nine out of 300 have dropped the course to date. As we started the program, we feared the worstthat technologically inexperienced students would find the initial learning curve to be too steep and give up. To head off this frustration, we made a concerted effort to provide detailed "Getting Started," "Setting Up the Gear," and "Troubleshooting" materials as well as a very detailed "Help" section. Our effort appears to have worked.
Our gravest concerns in presenting such a course exclusively via the Web and CD-ROMs, with no face to face contact, were student isolation, lack of discussion/exchange of ideas, lack of timely feedback, and technical quagmires (e.g., "My widget wont work and I dont know how to fix it."). But thanks to the course bulletin board, email, chat room facilities, and Moodle, nothing could be farther from the truth!
More than 8,000 bulletin board messages have been posted since June in more than 20 different fora; the teaching staff receive around seventy email and telephone messages on a typical day (The phones, email, and bulletin board are staffed Saturday and Sunday evenings and approximately 8 a.m.-midnight Monday through Friday). Most teachers report that we have been able to solve their problems in less than four hours. The vast majority report that interaction with teaching staff and other students through our course is much better than in any other mode of study that they have ever undertaken! Thus, as Turoff reported (2000: http://horizon.unc.edu/horizon/online/html/8/1/default.asp), asynchronous communication tools have facilitated significant communication and interaction amongst virtually all participating students.
Teachers participating in the course have offered a great deal of feedback via the "Feedback Forum" on the course Bulletin Board. Samples are available at http://www.curtin.edu.au/curtin/dept/smec/GC. One student, Rosemary Horton, a teacher-librarian at Trinity College in Perth, wrote a short article on the course for the Catholic Education Office of Western Australias TechTalk magazine (November 1999), reprinted in "australia.edu" magazine (Vol. 1. No. 1, 2000), available at http://www.curtin.edu.au/curtin/dept/smec/GC/trinity.html. Many more extensive and formal summative evaluations will be conducted when the first cohort completes the course.
Three Lessons Learned
First, we originally envisaged the course as taught via the Web; providing all course materials on CD-ROMs was an afterthought. We have since learned that CD-ROMs are invaluable, especially for those in remote areas where Web access is slow, unreliable, and/or expensive. Many students study primarily from the CD-ROMs and go on-line only when they need to access other websites or interact with other students and instructors.
Second, while we appreciated that developing such a course from scratch and troubleshooting the problems of 300 remote teachers would be time consuming, we did not appreciate just HOW time consuming it would be! We seriously underestimated the professional, technical, and clerical resources required. As a result, we have doubled our staff over the past few months to the full-time equivalent of two academic and two technical staff members. At these staffing levels, the program remains financially viable.
Third, we have been overwhelmed by encouragement, positive feedback, and word-of-mouth recommendations from participating teachers. Clearly, most prefer our approach to any other form of on-campus or distant study available.
At the encouragement of current students, would-be students, the Education Department, and independent schools, we are now offering a one-semester "short version" of the course. Incentives for the short version are:
We intend to introduce a similar short course aimed at college and university teachers who wish to improve their use of learning technologies by creating courses on the Web and/or CD-ROM among other skills. We suspect that there is a huge untapped audience for courses such as these in other Australian states and other nations.
I am very pleased to thank the participating teaching staff, including Jeff Watkins, Sue Trinidad, James Gwinnett, Ian Gaynor, and Grant Bell, as well as the Education Department of W.A., W.A. Catholic Education Office, W.A. Association of Independent Schools, National Key Centre Director Professor Barry Fraser, and especially the participating students, who have offered overwhelming support.
Further information on these courses is available at:
*Based in part upon a paper presented at the International Conference on Learning with Technology, Temple University, Philadelphia, 8 10 March 2000. http://l2l.org/iclt/2000/