New program prepares educators for blended learning

Upon completing the course, educators should be well versed in designing, presenting, and assessing lessons in both an online and a blended learning environment.

Many brick-and-mortar schools want to incorporate more online instruction—but how should teachers prepare for the newly popular blended classroom? An update to a national certification program for educators promises to help them teach in a blended learning environment.

Leading Edge Certification (LEC)—an alliance of education agencies, nonprofit organizations, and universities—has updated its educational technology course, now renamed the Online and Blended Teacher Certification program.

In a shift from its previous focus solely on online learning, the eight- to 10-week course—which debuted last year—now includes both online and blended learning topics in each of its eight modules. Upon completion of the course, which follows iNACOL’s national standards for high-quality online teaching, educators should be well versed in designing, presenting, and assessing lessons in both an online and a blended learning environment.

Mike Lawrence, founding chair of LEC, said school leaders have expressed a strong preference for blended learning over pure online learning, according to preliminary results of the California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) e-Learning census administered this spring.

“Traditional schools want to take advantage of existing facilities. [Moving to blended learning] is a much easier step than, ‘What, I’m never going to meet these kids?’” said Lawrence.

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Each module of the course, usually covered in one week, requires educators to read a digital textbook, which includes embedded quizzes and other formative assessments. Educators prepare one or two assignments based on their reading: If the lesson was on accessibility, for example, one assignment might be to create a sample of accessible content.

Throughout the week, instructors post probing questions on the course discussion board, provide feedback on assignments, and hold virtual office hours on a platform such as Skype or Google Hangouts.

At the end of the instructional week, educators submit a longer, culminating project that goes in their digital portfolio. For the accessibility unit, students might create their own ADA-compliant videos complete with headings and captions.

After eight weeks of instruction, participants submit to their instructors a final portfolio and reflection based on the webpage-creator Google Sites. If the portfolio meets the program’s standards, the instructor awards the educator LEC certification.

LEC previewed the new course curriculum at the annual Computer-Using Educators (CUE) conference March 15-17. The program designers gave instructors of the original curriculum a period to review and make recommendations about the new content, and then revised the course in time for an early April launch, said Greg Ottinger, chairman of LEC’s Online and Blended Certification Committee.

About 150 teachers have taken the original version of the course and become LEC-certified as online instructors. “It was time to fill in the gaps and add in pieces that didn’t make it into the first version” of the course, Ottinger said.

One example of a new piece in the revised curriculum is accessibility—responses from district and classroom leaders to the original curriculum revealed a need for further information about how to make lessons ADA-compliant, Ottinger said.

The original certification focused strictly on online learning, and LEC planned to have one course for online instruction and a second course for blended instruction. But after course designers realized not enough of a gap existed between the two to warrant a second program, they instead “stripped down [and] reconstructed” the original course to address blended learning concerns, he said.

Several boot camps hosted by LEC and its core members trained about 50 instructors to teach the curriculum. By the end of the summer, the course will have certified close to 300 educators.

Educators interested in the certification course can choose which of the core LEC alliance member organizations to take it from: Alameda County Office of Education, California Technology Assistance Project, CUE, Contra Costa County Office of Education, Lesley University, Orange County Department of Education, San Diego County Office of Education, Santa Clara County Office of Education, or the Technology Information Center for Administrative Leadership (TICAL).

Each of the core alliance members offers a version of the course, with some slight differences in format and presentation. For example, most but not all alliance members offer a face-to-face kickoff session at the beginning of the course.

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“The basic curriculum is 100-percent the same, but each alliance member may facilitate the course slightly differently depending on the different tools [they have],” said Ottinger, who characterized these differences as “peripheral.”

Many districts are leaping into online education without properly training staff to make the switch from traditional to digital learning—and LEC helps make school leaders aware of the need for professional development, said Rowland Baker, director of TICAL.

At $450 to $500 for the Online and Blended Teacher course, the certificate program is a lower-cost alternative to a multicourse, university-taught program and can be a good option for experienced teachers who already have completed their graduate work, said Lawrence.

LEC on June 26 also announced the launch of another course, Leading Edge Administrator Certification, which aims to familiarize school and district leaders with educational technology and its needs and challenges. The alliance plans to introduce general ed-tech courses for classroom teachers, librarians, and professional developers within the next two years.

Through a Creative Commons license, all LEC curriculum materials are available for downloading free of charge. But completing the formal certification process can provide a resume boost and help teachers in their job-hunting, Lawrence said.

Lawrence also noted that upon certification, students become part of the LEC Ning—a social network just for LEC graduates—so “you come out automatically connected to a community that can answer those questions.”

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