The Role of Online Teaching in Michigan Teacher Preparation Programs

Written By:
Kristen DeBruler, Michigan Virtual

Suggested Citation

DeBruler, K. (2018). The role of online teaching in Michigan teacher preparation programs. Lansing, MI: Michigan Virtual University. Retrieved from https://mvlri.org/research/publications/the-role-of-online-teaching-in-michigan-teacher-preparation-programs/

This report details how online K-12 teaching is represented in college level teacher preparation programs in Michigan through a case study methodology grounded in the TPACK framework. Teacher preparation program websites and syllabi were the primary data sources; overall online teaching specifically was not prevalent among required course topics.

Executive Summary

Online learning enrollments are growing in Michigan year over year, and part of meeting the student demand for high quality online courses is training and certifying Michigan teachers with the requisite skills and knowledge to design online learning experiences and facilitate learning online. Michigan has invested heavily in preparing students for the 21st century through the 2006 online learning experience requirement, the adoption of the Michigan Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (MI-InTASC) Model Core Teaching Standards, and the release of the Michigan Roadmap: Transforming Education Through Technology whitepaper, both of which advocate for preparing students with the skills necessary to be successful in the future, in part through the thoughtful integration of technology throughout the curriculum. Part of preparing students to be successful in the future includes learning online or in blended classrooms. It is unclear, however, the extent to which Michigan’s teacher preparation colleges and universities have responded to the demand for high quality online and blended teachers. This study, through a case study methodology, investigates the degree to which teacher preparation programs have incorporated online and blended learning content into their required professional sequence of courses for teacher candidates. Overall, programs seem to have embraced the need for teacher candidates to learn skills and knowledge related to educational technology; however, online and blended learning specifically still remain largely absent from most preparation program curricula.

Introduction

In 2012, Kennedy and Archambault identified how teacher preparation programs address K-12 online learning through field experiences. They found that only 1.3% of programs offered field experiences in K-12 online schools. A follow-up study published in 2016 found that in the five years since the original study, the percent of institutions offering online K-12 field experiences grew to only 4.1%. The researchers attribute the limited growth to targeted partnerships between teacher preparation and K-12 online programs (Archambualt et al., 2016).

While an entirely online field experience may have only limited attraction or utility, primarily for those pre-service teachers who intend to teach exclusively online following certification, K-12 education has been slowly integrating more online and blended learning options over the past several years (Taie & Goldring, 2017). This evolution is creating an educational landscape in which the ability to teach effectively online (either fully online or through blended classroom arrangements) is no longer reserved for the highly motivated “technology savvy” teachers but required of all K-12 teachers.

In Michigan specifically, over 81,000 students accounted for over 318,000 part-time online enrollments in the 2016-17 school year (Freidhoff, 2018). These enrollments were not from cyber charter schools or the Michigan Virtual School who maintain their own teaching staffs but rather from local districts, who often tap local teachers to teach online or contract out the teaching through national third party providers (who in turn supply Michigan certified teachers). There is a pressing need nationally, and within Michigan as well, to prepare pre-service teachers to be familiar, even in a limited capacity, with how to teach effectively online. While most pre-service teachers may not identify online teaching as their first choice in career, or even be aware of it as an option, it is likely that over the course of teachers’ careers they will encounter situations in which they are expected to teach online or in a blended capacity. When iEducators (newly certified, first time online teachers) at Michigan Virtual were surveyed, many indicated that they applied for and accepted a fully online teaching position out of necessity having never considered online teaching in their teacher preparation programs (DeBruler, 2016). Given this reality, teacher preparation programs have a responsibility to prepare their students to be aware of online and blended instructional methods, to become effective teachers in any context, and to compete for job openings that require such skills.

According to the MDE, a teacher preparation program is comprised of multiple, interdependent components that prepare candidates for certification to demonstrate proficiencies defined in several aligned sets of standards.

  1. The Michigan Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (MI-InTASC) Model Core Teaching Standards, adopted by the State Board of Education in 2013, define the theoretical and practical knowledge, skills, and dispositions that all entry-level teachers should possess upon completion of an approved teacher preparation program.
  2. The Michigan Certification Standards for the Preparation of All Elementary and Secondary Teachers in Reading Instruction specify the expected knowledge and skills in the areas of reading that all teachers at the elementary and secondary levels should possess upon entry to the profession, regardless of content area specialization.
  3. Michigan-specific content standards define the central concepts, tools of inquiry, and structures of the specific discipline(s) in which teacher candidates seek endorsement, as well as pedagogical applications of that disciplinary knowledge.

Alongside the standards in 2017, the MDE released the Michigan Roadmap: Transforming Education Through Technology (MDE, 2017). The whitepaper details a comprehensive technology plan for both students and teachers to transform learning by using existing systems to create deeper and more personalized learning for all students. The road map lays out five goals in line with the aim of creating deeper and more personalized learning for all students.

  • Goal One Learning: Learners will have engaging and empowering learning experiences in both formal and informal settings in order to learn the skills necessary to become global citizens successful in the workplace and society.
  • Goal Two Teaching: Educators will be supported in understanding the skills necessary for students to become global citizens successful in the workplace and society and in using instructional technology as an accelerator for student learning.
  • Goal Three Assessment: Learners and educators will use technology to productively measure competency and provide meaningful feedback to support the personalization of learning for all students.
  • Goal Four Leadership: Educational leaders will create transformational, equitable, technology-rich environments supporting a vision for personalized learning.
  • Goal Five Infrastructure: Learners and educators will have access to a robust, secure, and comprehensive infrastructure to support everywhere, all-the-time learning.

The roadmap clearly lays out a vision of teachers who are highly skilled in using digital instructional technology to deepen and personalize learning in goal two above; the strategies within speak directly to supporting teachers in using instructional technology. While the roadmap asserts that higher education institutions are partners in this collaboration, teacher preparation is not explicitly mentioned in the roadmap. It is not unreasonable, however, to suggest that preparing teachers to use digital technology, even minimally during their teacher preparation and pre-service, allows teachers to be effective in their first year and builds on that knowledge base throughout their practice.

This assertion is reflected in the adoption in 2013 of the MI-InTASC (Council of Chief State School Officers, 2011) (component two of the three required components that prepare teachers for certification) which classifies technology as a cross-disciplinary skill, one that teachers must learn and practice regularly in their classroom across curriculum, not just as a standalone exercise. Further, while there is no “digital technology” standard, the InTASC Standards assert that teachers, “make content knowledge accessible to learners by using multiple means of communication, including digital media and information technology.” The InTASC standards also have several areas where they highlight development and progression in teachers’ skills and knowledge using digital technology through experience and professional learning. This further supports the argument for basic foundational knowledge of digital and instructional technology during teacher preparation programs and at the pre-service level and a deeper more refined knowledge through professional learning opportunities during their careers.

Currently, the MDE credit hour requirements for certification are based on the idea that prospective teachers need to know the content of what they are going to teach as well as teaching methods, or pedagogy (component three of three required components that prepare teachers for certification). These two realms of knowledge, pedagogy and content, make up the pedagogical content knowledge framework—a foundational framework in teacher preparation for over 30 years (Shulman, 1987). However, with the emergence and widespread adoption of digital technology, Shulman’s framework was updated by Koehler and Mishra (2006) to include technology alongside pedagogy and content. The new Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) framework asserts that teachers must also possess knowledge of the technology with which they teach (digital or otherwise). This framework does not simply suggest that a teacher know how to operate a technology such as Google Drive or SoundCloud, but rather that a teacher knows how to effectively integrate technology to enhance pedagogy and effectively convey content.

The TPACK framework has had an overwhelmingly positive response and been immensely popular since being published, resonating with teacher preparation institutions and teachers alike. There have been numerous research studies assessing the effectiveness of different models of developing TPACK in teachers that have found both success and challenges with different models and methods for developing TPACK (Harris, Mishra, Koehler, 2009; Harris & Hofer, 2011, Koehler & Mishra, 2005a; Koehler & Mishra, 2005b; Niess, van Zee & Gillow-Wiles, 2010). Intricacies of the different models aside, what the presence of the models and the vast amount of research on them and on TPACK as a whole suggest is that the process of going from possessing content and pedagogical knowledge (and the overlap between), taught extensively in teacher preparation, to possessing content, pedagogical, and technological knowledge (and the overlap between) is an intentional and deliberate one. One that must be taught, modeled, practiced, and refined throughout pre-service and in-service teaching. Learning to teach effectively with digital and instructional technology cannot happen simply through exposure to technology (i.e. using Microsoft word to write undergraduate papers and using Moodle for required course readings); rather, pre-service teachers must be instructed on how to integrate technology and the theories surrounding technology integration in contextual and meaningful ways to be able to successfully use it to deepen and personalize student learning. What TPACK ultimately tells us is that the assumption that knowing technology (i.e. how to use Facebook or Google Docs) is the same as being able to teach with technology is a faulty one.

The argument that most of the over 66,000 Michigan teachers (MDE, 2017) will never teach fully online courses is a valid one, but it is much harder to argue that those teachers will never teach with digital technology in blended/hybrid settings or teach supplemental courses online, especially as both the InTASC and Michigan Roadmap for Transforming Education through Technology explicitly expect teachers to do so. And teaching standards aside, as demonstrated by the iEducators above, pre-service teachers may not be actively seeking out fully online teaching positions, but they are a real, viable career option, and as such there is a responsibility to prepare teachers, even in a limited capacity, to teach online.

The purpose of this study was to assess the degree to which Michigan teacher preparation programs are addressing online and blended teaching in their teacher certification course work and curriculum. The research questions are as follows:

  1. How many teacher preparation programs have an educational technology course as part of their required curriculum for teacher certification?
  2. How many teacher preparation programs offer courses in educational technology but do not require it for teacher certification?
  3. How many of the required educational technology courses address online or blended teaching?
    1. How, if at all, is online or blended teaching featured in the courses?
    2. What specific standards regarding online and blended teaching does the course address?
  4. Do any teacher preparation institutions offer courses exclusively in online or blended teaching as part of their required curriculum?

Methods

This research follows an exploratory case study methodology, an empirical inquiry that investigates a phenomenon within its context through multiple sources of evidence (Yin, 1984). In this study each teacher preparation program and associated course are a case. According to Tellis (1997), case study research must be carefully designed in order to (1) demonstrate that it is a viable method to obtain data, (2) that it is appropriate to the research questions, (3) that it follows social science procedures and conventions, (4) that data are properly achieved, and (5) that the methodology is linked to a theoretical framework. In this study, case study methodology was a viable source of data collection in which data was collected over multiple iterations to ensure 100% participation in order to speak to Michigan teacher preparation programs as a whole. Additionally, the research questions were carefully designed to be answerable through case study research. These questions do not seek to make evaluative judgments about the preparedness or quality of the courses, only to report on obtainable facts regarding the courses. All data obtained through websites, emails, and phone calls was achieved and clearly documented in this report. Finally this study is guided by the TPACK framework (discussed previously), which asserts that for effective teaching with technology, teachers must know not only the content, the pedagogy, and the technology but have mastered the overlap between the areas as well.

To answer the first research question — “How many teacher preparation programs have an educational technology course as part of their required curriculum for teacher certification?” — approved teacher preparation programs were identified through the MDE website. Thirty-one programs were identified as currently operating a teacher preparation program leading to Michigan teacher certification. One program listed on the MDE website no longer offered a teacher certification program, bringing the list to 30 approved teacher preparation programs in Michigan.

Data collection for this first question followed three phases. First, websites for each program were identified and examined to identify required course work for teacher certification; 13 teacher preparation institutions had this information easily accessible on their websites. For the remaining 18 programs, this information was not easily found on their website. These programs were contacted via email through either a program contact (identified on the website) or through a general college/university inquiry form. Required course lists were collected from all 30colleges/universities. Required course lists were then reviewed to determine if there was any sort of required educational technology course. Eight programs did not have an educational technology or online or blended course in their required course lists. These programs were not contacted further.

If an educational technology course was identified, the associated program was contacted via email or phone to request the course syllabus. Course syllabi were requested to determine how much of the course, if at all, was devoted to online and blended teaching and what standards were specifically addressed. While a syllabus is not a perfect representation of what happens in a particular course, it does offer insight into that course and was the best proxy for determining to what degree and in what way online and/or blended teaching was addressed. Twenty-two programs were identified as having a required educational technology course and were contacted with a syllabus request. Full details of this process by college and university can be found in Table 1. Of these 22 programs:

  • Nine programs replied and shared the requested syllabus.
  • Four programs replied and chose not to share the syllabus; however, they did provide details regarding the course in their email responses.
  • Nine programs did not respond to either the initial communication or the follow-up. (Programs were contacted a minimum of two times.)
Table 1. Educational Technology Course Title and Details by College and University
College / University Educational Technology Course Title Required (Yes/No) Participated in Study (Yes/No) Online or Blended Content (OL/BL)
Adrian College TED 350 Instructional Technology Yes No
Albion College
Alma College EDC 370 Instructional and Assistive Technology Yes No
Andrews University EDTE 476 Methods for Integrating Instructional Technology Yes No
Aquinas College EN 130 Educational Technology Basics Yes No
Baker College EDU 3460 Integrating Technology into 21st Century Learning Yes Yes OL
Calvin College
Central Michigan University EDU 290 Technology in Education Yes No
Concordia University EDU 203 Educational Technology Yes Yes
Cornerstone University EDU 262 Educational Technology Yes No
Eastern Michigan University LTEC 330 Instructional Applications of Media and Technology Yes Yes* OL
Ferris State University EDUC 540 Educational Technology Classroom No
Grand Valley State University EDT 370 Technology in Education Yes Yes OL, BL
Hope College EDUC 453 Computers and Technology: Special Education No
Lake Superior State University EDUC 350 Integrating Tech Learning Yes No
Madonna University EDU 3460 Instructional Media Yes Yes* BL
Michigan State University CEP 416 Teaching and Learning with Technology No
Michigan Technological University ED 3100 Instructional Technology Yes Yes
Northern Michigan University ED 483 Educational Media Technology Yes Yes*
Oakland University DLL 4197 Digital Technologies in the Secondary Classroom Yes Yes OL
Rochester College EDU 2263 Media and Technology Yes Yes OL
Saginaw Valley State University TEMS 303 Technology for Mid/Sec Student Achievement No
Siena Heights University EDU 321 Technology for Educators Yes Yes BL
Spring Arbor University EDU 360 Integrating Technology in Education Yes No
University of Detroit Mercy EDU 4590 Instructional Technology Yes No
University of Michigan Ann Arbor EDUC 446 Teaching with Digital Technologies Yes Yes OL
University of Michigan Dearborn EDT 211 Designing Tech-Based Learning Solutions Yes Yes OL, BL
University of Michigan Flint EDT 401 Using Technology in Education No
Wayne State University TED 6020 Computer Applications in Teaching Yes Yes*
Western Michigan University EDT 5410 Foundations of Instructional Technology No
*Shared course details via email

Results

For clarity, the results of the case study will be presented sequentially by research question followed by a summary discussion.

How many teacher preparation programs have an educational technology course as part of their required curriculum for teacher certification?

Twenty-two teacher preparation programs had an educational technology course as part of their required curriculum. Unsurprisingly, all of these courses were instructional technology or educational technology focused rather than focused exclusively on online or blended teaching. These courses ranged from teaching basic computer skills, word processing, and focusing on specific technology and web tools such as Microsoft Office, iMovie, and SMART boards. Encouragingly, however, many of the courses seemed to use the ISTE standards to focus on broader issues around technology such as digital literacy and knowledge of technology systems and transfer to new systems (ISTE, n.d.a).

The programs that were grounded by nationally recognized standards often mapped their course activities onto the associated standard or sub-standard. Seven colleges/universities used the ISTE Standards for Educators (International Society for Technology in Education, n.d.a) or Students (International Society for Technology in Education, n.d.b), while an additional two programs used the Michigan Educational Technology Standards (MDE, n.d.) which are aligned with the ISTE standards and simply re-branded for Michigan. Four programs also aligned their educational technology courses with the MI-InTASC standards, pulling themes from there as well as other technology focused standards. One program grounded the course in the Professional Standards for Michigan Teachers (MDE, 2008).

Only one program referenced the iNACOL Standards for Quality Online Teaching (International Association for K-12 Online Learning, 2011). While the iNACOL standards are broadly accepted in the field of K-12 online education, it is likely that given their focus exclusively on K-12, these standards are not well known in higher education. Additionally, the ISTE standards speak more to the broader educational technology courses required by the colleges/universities, whereas the iNACOL standards are focused only on online teaching. These may be a good resource to use in conjunction with the ISTE standards when discussing K-12 online teaching. More will be shared about this below under research question three.

How many teacher preparation programs offer courses in educational technology but do not require it for teacher certification?

Of the eight teacher preparation programs that did not have a required educational technology course, six offered at least one optional educational technology course. Two programs did not appear to offer courses on educational technology. This was based on a search of the program website and course catalog (for the most recently available year/term); thus, there is a possibility that there may be a course that was simply overlooked.

How many of the required educational technology courses address online or blended teaching? How if at all is online or blended teaching featured in the courses, and what specific standards regarding online and blended teaching does the course address?

Nine of the programs addressed online and/or blended teaching in some capacity in the required educational technology course and to varying degrees, as evidenced in their syllabus. There was a great deal of variety in how courses addressed online and/or blended teaching. For some, it was in the form of a guest speaker from an online provider. In the case of two of the programs, it was covered through the required course readings but not practiced or refined through an assignment. Course readings related to online and/or blended instruction typically took one of three forms: historical overview/current trends in online and blended learning, resources (i.e. “learning on the web”, “teaching students with disabilities online”), and peer reviewed research on educational technology tools or online and/or blended learning practices.

In the middle of the spectrum was the development of a “technology rich learning environment” and exploring online applications to support instruction, curriculum, and assessment within the environment. Three programs required their students to create web-based units or “online classrooms” to house online resources, learning activities, and assessments.

Two programs (one of which also addressed online teaching in their course) presented blended teaching through the “flipped” learning model, where the delivery of content is “flipped” from in-class to at home. Flipped learning is where students learn the material online outside of school hours (through recorded lectures, readings, etc.) and practice the material and ask questions during school time. Neither course syllabus offered details into the specifics of the activity just that it was a “flipped classroom learning activity.” In most cases, flipped learning represents a form of blended learning; however, it is conceivable that flipped learning could be constructed in a manner that would not be considered blended. Accessing course content while physically separated from the teacher, navigating an LMS, accessing course assets online, and online teacher contact to answer questions and for problem solving are examples of attributes commonly found in blended instances. However, not all flipped learning implementations can be considered blended; it is possible that a teacher can flip her classroom and not integrate online learning assets.

Do any teacher preparation institutions include courses exclusively in online or blended teaching as part of their required curriculum?

No programs require a course in exclusively online or blended teaching as part of their required curriculum for teacher certification. However, a further search of the course catalogs (using the terms “online,“ “virtual,” “distance,” “blended,” “hybrid,” and “flipped”) for each of the 30 programs revealed that only two programs (University of Michigan-Dearborn and Aquinas College) offered optional courses on exclusively online and blended teaching intended for undergraduate teacher preparation candidates. (A handful of programs offered courses in online learning at the graduate level as part of a Certificate in Online Teaching.) The most recent full version of the catalog was searched for each institution; it is possible that a course to be offered in the coming term was not located using this method.

Discussion

A total of 22 out of 30 teacher education programs had an educational technology course as part of their required curriculum for certification; 13 of these programs participated in the study in some way. Nine of the 13 programs addressed online or blended teaching in some capacity in their required educational technology courses; of these nine courses, only three authentically approximated online teaching by asking students to design lessons and assessments within an LMS, about 25% of the study sample. While it is unlikely that teacher candidates will teach fully online, it is possible these candidates will teach one or two courses online or be expected to provide some instruction and course materials online through an LMS throughout their career. For this reason, it is somewhat discouraging that only 25% of teacher preparation programs provide this level of online and instruction.

What was encouraging, however, was that even though there were 27 programs without substantial online or blended instruction, 22 programs did require an educational technology course. Colleges and universities largely already have required educational technology courses. Hopefully, as educational technology instruction moves out of insular courses and becomes more integrated in general education and professional sequence courses, it would serve both programs and prospective teachers well to fill space in those courses with more online and blended learning content, aligning with Michigan and national teaching standards. Again, we are not advocating that programs must fully prepare prospective teachers to teach online; programs, however, do a disservice to their students by not introducing them to online teaching as a viable career option and at least introduce the concepts of online and especially blended teaching.

There may be the notion that prospective teachers simply don’t have enough room in their academic schedules to cover online and blended teaching. This is a legitimate concern. However the 22 programs with a required educational technology course already incorporated activities that could scaffold and support online teaching without directly being labeled “online teaching” content. While they certainly were not labeled as online or blended activities, tasks such as reviewing educational technology tools is an authentic practice that many online and blended teachers employ regularly when adapting face-to-face lessons online. Practices like this address a small part of online and blended teaching; woven together with intentionality, programs could provide foundational knowledge around online and blended teaching with only minor modifications to their existing educational technology courses. As demand grows at the student level for online courses, so too will the demand for teachers. Programs would do well to at least acknowledge the new realities of the teaching profession.

A final encouraging finding was this quote from a course syllabus from one of the instructors of a required educational technology course:

This course will use a number of technologies to facilitate discussion and learning. One of the course goals is to become a better independent learner of technology and technological problem solver. The tools rapidly change, which means learning about a particular product is less important than learning how to meaningfully integrate technology into your instruction. This requires practice and a ton of patience; however, it will pay off for you and your students!

We were encouraged by this sentiment because it recognizes and emphasizes the necessary shift from thinking about specific technology (i.e. how to integrate a SMARTboard) and instead focuses on learning outcomes and how to best achieve those with the tools and methods available —including online and blended. Online and blended teachers have a huge array of resources available to them, however, if they focus too heavily on the technology and not the learning, their students will suffer — precisely why a solid foundation in the pedagogy of online and blended teaching is necessary. Online and blended teaching is a viable option for many educators, and the affordances of both have the ability to provide huge payouts for students. The state of Michigan has been leading the growth of online learning at the K-12 level for over a decade. Michigan’s teacher preparation programs have an opportunity as well, one that if seized can help better serve students.

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