Click onto the recently expanded Neag Online Programs home page, and proof of the Neag School of Education’s commitment to finding new and innovative ways to prepare the next generation of educators and leaders is clear. The Neag School has doubled the number of online professional development programs it offers to include 12-credit graduate certificates in School Law and Gifted Education and Talent Development, as well as a 12-credit graduate certificate in Leadership and Diversity Management in Sport.
It’s also revised its 12-credit Postsecondary Disabilities Services graduate certificate program, which in recent months has led to inquiries from potential students living as far away as way as California, Texas, Louisiana, Nevada and India.
Coupled with the Neag School’s existing two-summers Educational Technology and three-summers Gifted and Talented Education online master’s degrees, these programs represent two of the of five online master’s degrees and four of the eleven online graduate certificates offered by UConn overall.
“Finding ways to meet emerging needs and providing ways for educators who want to further their professional learning, but can’t come to campus, is part of the Neag School’s overall mission,” said Director of Neag Online Programs Jae-Eun Joo, EdD.
It’s also part of the Neag School’s recently released “Our Time: UConn’s Path to Excellence” strategic plan, which outlines how the school can and will become a state, national and global leader in how teachers are taught, as well as how educational policies and teaching methods are developed and implemented.
Online classes that eliminate geographic or transportation barriers and allow busy professionals a flexible schedule are a significant part of that.
“Online courses and programs turn obstacles into opportunities,” Joo continued, “and make it possible for people who might not otherwise be able to learn from the Neag School’s outstanding faculty, or earn a UConn degree, to do so.”
Discussion boards, blogs and other online learning tools also provide students and faculty members with the ability to have extended and deeper dialogues, capture thoughts, allow ideas to grow over time, and share information in a way that can’t happen in a traditional classroom.
Submitting work online also allows a student to assemble a portfolio of work that they can save and, if desired, share with others. The fact that discussions take place in writing, and that students have the opportunity to read and respond to each others’ ideas, also means that more thought and consider is put into responses, leading to greater leaning. Plus, recent developments in synchronous virtual conference tools such as Skype and FaceTime offer free and easy access to the teacher and fellow students.
Indeed, studies prove that online students tend to be more engaged, Joo said.
“Sit in a traditional classroom with 15-20 other students, and there’s no way to involve everyone in an in-depth conversation. But online, when properly designed and facilitated, it can happen, and it’s not just faculty-to-student conversations, but peer-to-peer. Our faculty routinely tell us that online classes give students the opportunity to delve into issues they’d never have time to explore in the classroom because of the strict time schedule. But online, the conversation is always there.”
The added plus of online documentation and sharing is it allows data to be captured for faculty doing research and connects educators with each other, creating opportunities for networking and ongoing support.
Expanding opportunities for K-12 educators to share ideas and learn from each other is also part of the Neag School’s mission. Agreeing with the need for greater professional collaboration is Connecticut’s State Department of Education, which recently contracted the Neag School to develop a series of online modules for teacher professional development on the new CT Educator Evaluation System, which will be piloted this fall.
It’s a huge opportunity, Joo said, as well as one that well-illustrates what collaboration can achieve. Although her title is “director” of Neag Online Programs, she by no means works alone.
Close collaboration with the eCampus, which provides the central gateway for all online courses and programs at UConn, has been critical in conceptualizing and developing the three new online certificate programs with Neag faculty members. The 13-member Neag Online Learning Committee—consisting of Neag faculty, staff members and eCampus leadership—has aso worked together to develop the upcoming Neag Online Teaching Readiness Survey to assess individual faculty members’ familiarity with online teaching and to collect their particular needs for Neag faculty development.
“The Neag Online Committee worked last year to support the growth of the Neag School’s online offerings, and also to explore additional ways that online strategies can support progress toward the goals in the new strategic plan,” said Professor Jonathan Plucker, PhD, chair of the Committee. “In addition, the Committee has worked to help Neag capitalize on a range of external relationships, with groups such as eCampus and the Connecticut State Department of Education, to collaborate on new programs and initiatives.”
Central to Neag’s online program offerings is the Neag Online Programs website, which in addition to providing students with detailed course descriptions and admissions and registration information, provides Neag faculty with a listing of enrichment seminars, such as how to incorporate iPad and Twitter into teaching. It also provides information about the online course and program development process that eCampus leads.
“One of the key projects this coming year is to collect and analyze data from some of our online classes to better understand how students learn online, and then use that information to refine the online courses we offer. It will be also great to continue our partnership with the CT State Department of Education to expand the Neag’s reach to the K-12 educators by leveraging online learning opportunities. My role is to both help educators of all levels see the big picture about online learning and then walk them through the steps of making their quality online teaching as effective and innovative as possible, to meet their learners’ needs and expectations. To achieve this, the shared vision and ongoing collaboration is vital.”