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Phoenix Forward

Teachers prepare for education’s next frontier: online learning

Teachers preparing for technology

From the pioneers’ one-room schoolhouses to today’s sprawling campuses, the K-12 classroom hasn’t changed much over the past 200 years: four walls, desks and chairs, students and teachers. Then the iPod® generation registered for kindergarten.

Today, school districts are embracing online learning — even at the grade-school level. “We’re in the midst of a new frontier in education,” says Meredith Curley, dean of the University of Phoenix College of Education.

A growing number of states now mandate that K-12 online courses be made available to students, and 40 states currently allow some students to take all their courses online. Advocates say that online public education can help reduce classroom overcrowding and balance school districts’ budgets. Recent studies also show that there may be particular benefits to online learning, such as spending more time on-task and retaining more information. It’s becoming more important as a method of college prep, too, because students are highly likely to take online courses in college.

We're in the midst of a new frontier in education.

To help educators become more comfortable in this online environment, the University now offers six K-12 Online Teaching courses. “Even the most experienced, or technologically savvy teachers may not feel confident in their ability to meet the needs of the virtual classroom,” Curley says.

Dallas Harris, dean of the University’s College Extension, agrees. “Little guidance has been provided on how to measure and evaluate quality teaching and student learning outcomes in the online classroom.” Harris says. “But standards do exist to lead this charge.” Last October, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a leading nonprofit organization in the field, published an updated set of guidelines for high-quality online teaching.

“These standards speak to the importance of continually updating academic knowledge and skills, including the online teacher’s own experience as an online student,” Harris says. “So it only makes sense that University of Phoenix, a pioneer in online higher education, would offer online teaching courses.”

The University’s K­­-12 Online Teaching courses familiarize educators with various technology options. They also cover common issues, such as tailoring instruction to meet student needs, creating student assessments, managing the online classroom and maintaining organization and discipline within in a virtual setting.

Other learning opportunities for educators are emerging as well, Harris notes. New professional journals focus specifically on online teaching and learning, and established education journals cover the topic more frequently. At the Virtual School Symposium, the largest annual conference devoted to K-12 online education, instructors and administrators gather for workshops and research presentations about online learning.

Curley encourages these efforts: “Ongoing education and support for online teachers is a must. This phenomenon is going to become more and more mainstream. Teachers need to know that there are opportunities for collaboration, communication and skill-building within this emerging field.”


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