Empowering teachers for remote learning

Master’s degree program grows to meet pre-K-12 education needs in the COVID-19 era

| Author: Jeff Johnston

When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in March closed Michigan pre-K-12 school buildings for the rest of the academic year, schools had to develop new methods of instruction. Many faced a steep learning curve, and their remote learning efforts varied.

Faculty at Central Michigan University saw a critical need they could meet. To support teachers and school districts across the state preparing for further online and alternative learning, CMU committed to make its accelerated  Master of Arts in learning, design and technology degree program available to more educators, reducing the cost and adding summer cohorts.

The 15-month program focuses on educational technology leadership in preschool and K-12 schools. It covers topics such as online class strategies for every grade level; designing virtual projects; annotating students' digital work; finding educational resources; and creating and using blogs, webpages and other tools. Students develop creative experiences that engage their own learners in interactive tech, including apps and devices.

"COVID-19 has forced us to recognize that our education systems are not adequately prepared to seamlessly shift learning for pre-K-12 students to a virtual environment," said Betty Kirby, dean of the College of Education and Human Services. "Educators need to be prepared to deliver instruction effectively in any environment and have the technology and expertise to do so as needed."

CMU faculty reached out to educators statewide, and within a month the program had 200 enrolled teachers and a waiting list. Four 25-student cohorts began the 15-month program June 1, and another four cohorts will start in July.

Beyond the basics

By now, many people know how to set up a WebEx or Zoom meeting and share files online.

But while the technologies may be standard, teaching with them is not, said Ray Francis, MALDT program director and teacher education and professional development faculty member. To engage a class of 30 students online and create effective virtual learning activities, instructors need advanced knowledge of online curriculum development, technology and effective teaching practices.

MALDT program students will design, implement and evaluate their own online course or curriculum, becoming experts at a time when such expertise is essential.

"Teachers are struggling. They're trying to figure these things out," Francis said. "This is what we can do to help."

'A mission-driven idea'

CMU's MALDT degree is the first program in higher education to meet 100% of the International Society for Technology in Education Standards for Educators — the gold standard, as Francis puts it. Graduates of the program can apply for ISTE certification — the only competency-based certification focused on digital-age teaching practices.

In a change prompted by the pandemic, program applicants now are encouraged to sign up with a partner from the same school to enhance shared learning and collaboration. In turn, these teachers can help others in their schools create and integrate curricula for virtual and online learning.

"At CMU, we have a long history of partnering with schools and districts to help prepare teachers to meet challenges," Kirby said. "COVID-19 has only reinforced our need to help and partner with all educators as they try to quickly adapt to online and virtual education so that they can continue to educate their students."

Francis said the program may open to more students in January 2021.

"We're exploring options, and our hope is that we'll continue to offer additional cohorts as needed," he said. "It's truly a mission-driven idea."

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