More than a dozen colleges and universities have launched online teacher-preparation programs in the past few years, and these programs are starting to earn respect from education officials across the country.

Online training is an efficient way to offer courses to time-strapped adults who are switching careers and busy teachers who are seeking graduate education degrees. Since many states link pay raises to graduate degrees, teachers are eager to test online educational programs.

However, the hands-on experience that is part of standard teacher-training programs is missing from these online programs, skeptics say. Online programs try to address this issue by requiring students to complete internships or student teaching for a semester or more.

Education leaders seem to agree that standards eventually must be developed to ensure that teachers have effective real-world communication skills–something that can be assessed fairly well in traditional, in-person training programs.

An American Federation of Teachers study, released in January 2001 and titled “Distance Education: Guidelines for Good Practice” (http://www.aft.org/higher_ed/downloadable/distance.pdf), is a first step toward establishing such guidelines. The study found that professors who led online training courses in 1999-2000 generally were pleased with their students’ performance. The professors said their online students matched the performance of traditional students. They credited this to the flexibility of online education, immediate feedback through eMail, and the ability to repeat subject sections easily.

Leaders of online courses say they are using numerous techniques to enhance the educational process, according to the study:

o eMail;

o Chat rooms for professors, special visitors, and students;

o Online journals;

o Extensive links for more information; and

o Subject-specific bulletin boards for peers to share information.