Blair Gardner: Learning to teach, online

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I, like others at GWU, have long seen myself as a teacher. I’ve always wanted to be someone who could impart the knowledge I have gained on younger generations. The entire country is now suffering from a shortage of teachers who are qualified and rigorously trained to effect real change, especially in high-need and urban school districts, according to The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. The good news is, great teachers can be found anywhere: a physics major, a stay-at-home mom or a Wall Street trader. However, how do we ensure we are producing a new generation of high-quality teachers?

It is clearly time to consider new options for educating, training and preparing future teachers. This country needs to employ a new generation of learners, wherever they are. The teacher shortage coupled with the current economic crisis makes a great case for the possibilities of an online degree program, especially for those of us entirely new to teaching.

Our Graduate School of Education and Human Development (GSEHD) does have some comprehensive online learning programs, even some for Master’s degree students. However, it does not employ many emerging online education techniques, nor does it offer an online Master of Arts in Teaching degree which can provide students with accreditation. This is vitally important because so many aspiring teachers today received an undergraduate degree outside the field of education and, while they are well versed in the subject areas important for teaching, they have not been trained to teach.

Recently, I came across a new program from the University of Southern California called MAT@USC. Offered by the Rossier School of Education, the program is an online Master of Arts in Teaching program that not only educates new teachers – even those without an undergraduate degree in education or previous teaching experience – but also provides the tools and resources students need to achieve certification in whichever state they are teaching.

Through the use of familiar social media tools and interactive lectures using streaming video, animation and Web 2.0 technologies, MAT@USC has the potential to produce new, talented teachers. The program offers a chance to specialize in language arts, mathematics, science and history or to get a general certification in all of them to teach in elementary schools. It also includes job placement, mentorship and tuition reimbursement options for students upon graduation.

Of course, teachers learn to teach by not only watching others teach, but by teaching in a classroom. They need those practical, hands-on experiences that cannot be found on the Web. A truly innovative online Master’s program needs to also provide field-based experiences and a mentor program for all students to ensure there is a face-to-face, human, local element to the program. Students new to education must get the in-classroom experience more commonly associated with undergraduate programs, which MAT@USC provides.

Many of us are now facing decisions which will largely define our future careers and lives. We will all be searching in more detail and with greater intensity to find the most credible and effective programs which can help to achieve our goals. GW may soon fall behind. These newer and more effective programs, including the MAT@USC program, have embraced the future of technology and implemented distance learning programs that should serve as examples to all other universities which hope to compete and educate as effectively as possible. GW has a responsibility to embrace this new trend in online education as a means to more effectively replicate in-classroom experiences and offer richer, more effective and more appealing online degree programs.

The writer is a junior majoring in information technology in the School of Business.

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