One of the sessions I attended at the NCTE Convention was centered around online instruction. It was presented by and made up mostly of college professors, although there was at least one other high school teacher in the room. It was a very interesting session and spurred a couple of thoughts.
All the attendees discussed how their respective institutions were really pushing online instruction, both at the college level and – in the case of the high school teacher – at the high school level in Ohio (apparently they are considering a plan like Michigan’s requiring at least one online course to graduate from high school). The reasons were many, including teacher shortages, budget constraints, competing with other institutions, and responding to demand from students. They quoted the prediction that if current trends continue, by 2019 over half of all high school classes will be taught online.
They then talked briefly about some of the benefits to students (flexibility, convenience, choice), the challenges to faculty (tech literacy, significant planning, availability of resources and programs , tech support, high expectations from students regarding communication, evaluation of student’s work), and what must be done to embrace the future (training, funding to develop and implement tech to be used for online classes, meetings to design curriculum suited to online classes).
That was all good, but then the interesting thing (interesting at least to me) was that much of the rest of the session was spent discussing how horrible online instruction was, with quite a lot of student-bashing thrown in. Now, let me state my bias up front, I’m not convinced that totally online courses, given the technology and the pedagogical knowledge we currently have, are the best solution right now. I probably fall more into the “hybrid” camp right now, with a combination of face-to-face and online, at least pending further advances in the technology and our knowledge of how best to use it (with the caveat that this could change rapidly as the technology and our pedagogy get better).
Having said that, however, I was amazed that they spent this time complaining about what was wrong with it, when I thought a better use of the time would’ve been to talk about how we can do it better (because, I agree, from what I can see we are often doing it poorly). They all pretty much said they didn’t have a choice in this, they were being made to do this. Since these were not folks that were going to be able to change those decisions, I kept expecting we were going to shift back to, “Okay, I’m already teaching this online course (or soon will be), let’s talk about best practices” or something like that, but we never did. The overall feeling in the room was one of fear and, while some folks think fear is a healthy motivator, I think in this case it was getting in the way.
The second thought was spurred by the statement that one of their universities was pressuring them to offer a Masters in Education (getting a teaching credential) completely online. They were questioning the wisdom of giving someone a degree to teach that they might never meet in person, which I thought was a valid concern. They would still have to do student teaching, so at least there would be some chance to evaluate their people and teaching skills.
But that last piece of information is what really spurred this post. Because it got me to thinking about that possible “50% of all classes being offered online” statistic. If that statistic turns out to be true (or even close), then is it possible that face-to-face student teaching might actually be a bad thing for some teacher candidates? In other words, if a teacher is destined to teach in an online setting, then shouldn’t their student teaching also be online? Just as the idea that getting your degree completely online and not actually student teaching face-to-face seems like not the best idea for preparing a teacher to enter a face-to-face classroom, then isn’t the idea of preparing to teach online by teaching face-to-face just as bad?
I don’t know, but it makes me think that colleges of education are going to have to think long and hard about what they’re doing, and perhaps start training teachers for both environments. Obviously some of the qualities necessary to be a good teacher are the same in both settings, but some of the pedagogical techniques and the experience working with students might be very, very different. I think it’s safe to say that colleges of education have a huge task ahead of them and I’m curious if there are any teacher prep folks reading this that could perhaps comment on this. Are any programs currently having their pre-service teachers student teach (or co-teach) any online courses?
What do you think? Should teacher candidates be required to “student teach” an online course?