Today we continue our 2019 WOW Award series. The WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) Awards honor member institutions and organizations that develop technology-based solutions to challenging educational needs.
As we mentioned earlier this week, we have three outstanding award winning initiatives this year: the Colorado Department of Higher Education’s OER Council, Granite State College, and Rio Salado College.
Today we are excited to learn more about Granite State College’s Distance-Based Teacher Preparation program. What a great use of distance education to provide access to teacher education, especially for rural areas.
Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,
Lindsey Downs, WCET
The Challenge – The K-12 Teacher Shortage in New Hampshire
The State of New Hampshire identifies K-12 certification areas each year that are considered ‘critical shortage areas’ because there are not sufficient teachers available to meet demand. The list is extensive – 37 different endorsements were eligible for Alternative 4 certification in 2017-20186. Two-thirds of the state’s land area is rural, and its 40% rural population is twice that of the U.S. It is bordered by two of the most rural states in the nation, with three times the percentage of rural population, Maine and Vermont. New Hampshire has one of the oldest teacher populations, with more than one-quarter in the 55+ age category.
Traditional post-secondary education pathways are not an option for individuals who are working full- or part-time, and who are not available for synchronous course offerings at specific locations. Additionally, teacher candidates often lack flexibility in being able to accommodate field-based clinical requirements and accumulate sufficient hours for qualification for certification. As a result, many potential teacher candidates have opted for alternative pathways to certification, eschewing post-secondary programs for reasons of lack of flexibility and accommodation.
Granite State College’s Solution
Granite State College’s (GSC) teacher preparation programs address the serious need for qualified educators in critical shortage areas by providing programs that meet the needs of students pursuing non-traditional pathways to teacher certification and a distance-based course modality. We offer a 100% online course of study and job-embedded student teaching opportunities for those employed in schools, aimed at meeting the needs of a larger group of potential educators.
Our distance-based course delivery serves the needs of non-traditional students for whom location-based traditional programs are not an option due to employment or distance. The goal of our work was to create a valid form of instruction in which students can engage in quality on line experiences that were rigorous, relevant, current, affordable, and accessible. Equally important was the goal of creating online experiences that resulted in content and pedagogy test rates and placement numbers that equal or exceed those of traditional location-based programs.
Implementing Our Teacher Preparation Programs
Our innovation and creativity come from the utilization of technology to bridge the instructional gap in distance-based teacher preparation. Content knowledge is delivered through online course shells utilizing the Moodle learning management system (LMS), leveraging Open Educational Resources (OER) whenever possible, with a goal of becoming completely OER by 2021. The online courses are supplemented with clinical oversight by GSC faculty across all program levels, with embedded clinical experiences at introductory, intermediate, and advanced levels.
While most of our field experiences are monitored directly by faculty in a face-to-face format, our observations of field-based clinical experiences is supported by the use of technology to capture video or to provide synchronous remote-based observation opportunities for our teacher candidates in geographic areas beyond the catchment areas of our faculty. These remote observations are predominately conducted in rural areas, providing educator pathways for rural educators that might not otherwise have viable options for pursuing certification.
Our faculty are proficient in all technology being utilized for remote observation (including iOS devices, Android platform devices, any other video capture devices, and SWIVL remote conferencing technology). They are available to assist students in utilizing technology in remote locations requiring distance-based observations. We facilitate synchronous meeting between students, faculty, and staff utilizing Zoom remote conferencing software. We also provide numerous tools for open pedagogy (including Hypothesis, Social Media, FlipGrid, blogging platforms, and Google portfolios) and to create content for purposes of marketing themselves as educators.
Granite State College program completers have exceeded the New Hampshire average pass rate consistently since 2012-13. Approximately 97% of our students are currently placed in school districts as educators. While we lack sufficient infrastructure within the State to monitor K-12 student achievement data as it applies to our alumni, we thrive on the connection our programs have afforded us with many school districts, and in turn welcome anecdotal data on student performance that we can use as a means of further improving our programs.
Less tangible, but equally important, is the impact an online teacher preparation program has on the candidates themselves in habits of mind. Teacher candidates become more open to and familiar with the uses of technology in their classrooms. The field-based component of our program requires students to conduct regular ongoing reflective analysis of the impact of their teacher candidate lesson delivery on K-12 student achievement, as well as regular feedback from faculty. Our technology use in the field provides teacher candidates with extensive opportunities to review and reflect on observation data in K-12 classroom settings. We have employed principles of universal design in the creation of our course materials and resources, ensuring there are no issues with accessibility for our students. This in turn helps our students understand the principles of universal design for their classrooms.
The inclusion of embedded clinical experiences at the introductory, intermediate, and advanced levels allows students to practice as they are learning, well before their culminating teaching experiences. Teacher candidates learn the value of open education resources and open pedagogy both in their professional practice and in their classrooms. Beyond the didactic and clinical materials, they learn the value of professional networks and of privacy concerns as they negotiate how to properly use recording technology within the constraints of district and state privacy laws. The opportunity to capture and analyze video presents a powerful reflective tool throughout the program as well as in the final performance assessment of teacher candidates.
However, just as online education once struggled to be recognized as quality higher education, the use of technology-enhanced field observations in teacher preparation is slowly gaining acceptance. Granite State College’s pass rates and placement rates, as well as program approval by the New Hampshire Department of Education and accreditation of our technology-enhanced programs by TEAC attest to the success of our model. With our focus on program offerings in critical shortage areas, we are meeting a specific State need for educators.
Considerations When Implementing Similar Programs
The model has potential to work elsewhere, with some cautions. Utilizing technology as the cornerstone of a program assumes that the model will work universally for students, provided there is adequate technology training support provided to both faculty and students. This, unfortunately, is not the case. Asynchronous online course participation combined with field-based application requires students to be self-directed, self-motivated, and able to navigate the plethora of resources that are necessary for covering all topics of instruction pertaining to NH professional education standards. This support requires a multi-tiered faculty oversight approach which in turn requires specific training and leadership support on an ongoing basis. Technology utilization should be secondary to achieving learning outcomes, but technology proficiency of teacher candidates can become an issue impeding learning.
Future Plans and Sustaining our Programs
For our programs to be sustained, there is a necessary investment required in continuous improvement of our programs. Continuous improvement is supported by our structure of Lead Faculty, who are responsible for overseeing courses associated with individual certification areas as well as technology and open education resources associated with their respective programs. Field Placement Faculty are responsible for implementing field-based technology solutions and oversee field-based interactions with our students. It is imperative for each group to meet regularly to continue to collectively refine our course and technology resources, as well as to identify new potential technologies in which we should be investing for the sake of remaining viable in adequately preparing our teacher candidates for the technology needs of the K-12 classroom. Faculty training is regularly undertaken to ensure not only that there is proficiency but also consistency. Our faculty engage in regular analysis and norming exercise of associated rubrics and course policies and practices in order to ensure we are providing consistent high-quality education opportunities for our students.
Granite State College wishes to offer its sincerest thanks to WCET for recognition of our efforts in the areas of distance-based education, technology-facilitated observations, and open educational resources. We are truly honored to receive the WOW award and hope that our work might benefit others who are engaging in similar efforts to support teacher candidates, for the sake of positively impacting K-12 systems across the nation.
Dean of the School of Education
Granite State College