Program on a Mission: What High Quality Instruction Looks Like in One Online Special Education Graduate Program
Concurrent Session 5
Teacher preparation programs are increasingly delivered using online and distance technology. A comprehensive, state University will share its approach to the development and implementation of a fully online Master of Education program in Special Education. In addition, the presenters will emphasize the planning, organization, delivery, obstacles, and successes of the first five years.
Context: Evidence related to a rise in the number of students with disabilities in inclusive settings both internationally and nationally, coupled with changing needs of the adult learner population, was the impetus for the development and implementation of the fully online Master in Education in Special Education General Curriculum at Kennesaw State University.
According to Forlin and Hopewell (2006) there is a need for all teachers to have knowledge, skills, and dispositions to meet the needs of students with disabilities. However, in order to be effective instructional facilitators of learning in the 21st Century, there must be a shift in the instructional delivery model related to meeting the needs of students with disabilities. Thus, graduate-level candidates in colleges of education distance-learning programs should have access to high-quality instruction that not only models methods that could be implemented in K12 settings, but that also provides innovative solutions to instructional dilemmas that many believe cannot be addressed in an online environment.
The Special Education Faculty, housed in the Department of Inclusive Education, are a group of educational professionals united in the mission to support and honor diverse learners and families. The department's emphasis is on diverse learners who have historically been marginalized within educational settings and who experience poor academic outcomes and often hostile educational environments. In early talks considering the move to an online environment for the program, the faculty could not help but see a parallel between online students and those K12 diverse learners. Often, teacher candidates with a desire and/or need to complete a degree program online are marginalized by traditional academia. With online programs still widely stigmatized by traditional higher education, the department's mission to create the best online masters degree program in special education became clear.
Problem: Many state universities with faculty who are traditionally trained to teach in the face to face environment face similar issues - How do we translate the best aspects of our program (or any successful program) to the online environment without loosing quality and some of the interactions that make learning so meaningful to our students?
Approach: The faculty and instructional designer decided to focus on three instructional strategies they believe are essential to special education focused teacher-learners. A successful, high-quality, and rigorous graduate SPED program should (1) deliver content through interactive lectures, (2) incorporate a framework for discussions that pushes learners out of their comfort zones and requires them to participate in student-to-student interactions that expand their experience, and (3) provide opportunities for collaborative reflection of teaching and learning that pushes candidates to see themselves and their teaching through the lens of another's experience. The team designing this program needed to find technology solutions that would not only allow them to incorporate these three essential strategies, but that would also be available or easily adaptable for candidates in the program to use with their own K12 students if they were so inclined.
Results: The result of these efforts is an innovative and technology-rich program that meets the needs of the faculty striving for educational equity and teacher-learners who desire and/or need the convenience of an online program that also provides the best possible instructional experience.