The Technology Source, September/October 2001
http://horizon.unc.edu/TS/default.asp?show=article&id=898

States and districts across the country recognize that training current teachers in the effective use of technology must be an immediate priority. North Carolina has developed two programs that are designed to help teachers master computers and related technology and develop in-class programs that use these resources. The format of the programs and the lessons learned are applicable nationwide.

The first program, known as LEARN NC, was developed to help teachers obtain a basic level of competency with computers. Created and implemented by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Education (UNC-ED), LEARN NC is offered primarily through direct training programs that are provided on a regular basis to each of the state’s 117 school districts.

The newer and more ambitious program, also developed by UNC-ED, is known as COLT, for Carolina On-Line Teaching. COLT assists teachers who have obtained basic skills to create computer-oriented programs for their students.

COLT has been designed to avoid some of the problems experienced in other states’ online professional development programs, namely inadequate focus on actual classroom impact, work that is too hard or too easy for many teachers, and poor feedback loops for teachers.

COLT consists of five courses, to be taken in a particular order that builds students’ skills. Furthermore, students cannot go online and study the material at random times. Instead, they progress through the courses with their classmates and develop a strong rapport with colleagues and their instructor.

Teachers are assigned projects that relate directly to their classroom experiences. Regular contact with colleagues and instructors through eMail, streaming video, and sound provide a strong support system for students.

Despite positive feedback after the first year, COLT administrators have identified some problems they will seek to fix.

First, some students initially had difficulty with new software and learning systems that formed the framework of the program; more training will be provided in the future. Second, coordinating group projects outside of the designated online instruction time has proven to be difficult. Third, the courses required a great deal of work, and numerous students dropped out during the semester.

These problems will be addressed by lengthening the course from five weeks to seven, without increasing the curriculum. Finally, students wanted even more eMail and real-time discussion with their instructors than had been anticipated, so more instructors may be hired in the future.