Professional Development for the 21st Century

On first glance, the power of our membership with the Global Online Academy comes with our ability to offer rigorous, interesting, and dynamic courses taught by independent school teachers and taken by academically driven students from around the world. Perhaps an even more significant benefit of our relationship with GOA is the quality of their professional development offeringsPD Courses GOA.

I believe deeply in the power of professional development. Our jobs as educators are simply too challenging to do on our own, and it is imperative that we stay current in our field. The courses our teachers can take will not only open them up to the world of online learning, but it will expand their toolkit, as they work with students in a rapidly changing landscape.

When I think of the dauntingly vast set of resources on the internet, I imagine the course, “Creating and Curating Content,” would be of immense help to teachers. Whenever I interview teachers, I ask them, “How do you stay current?” The course, “Creating a Personal Learning Network to Strengthen Your Practice,” is a great place to learn how to harness the expertise of educators from around the world.  They have courses that seem specific (“Making Videos and Screencasts”) and others that are have broader strategy in mind (“Coaching Innovation”).

These courses, open to all of our teachers, will empower our already talented faculty to connect with students in new ways. And even though they are designed to support online learning, it is obvious to me they are also extremely relevant for teaching in traditional settings.

Why is online learning important?

I do not feel the need to pit online learning against “bricks and mortar” learning. And for us at EA, it does need to be an either/or situation. It is my hope that all of our courses are academically rigorous, interesting, and inspiring-no matter the format. It does seem to me the field of online learning is becoming increasingly relevant and that we have a responsibility to gain some experience.

Consider these three statistics from the Sloan Consortium study.

  • Over 7.1 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2012 term, an increase of 411,000 students over the previous year.
  • Thirty-three percent of higher education students now take at least one course online.
  • Ninety percent of academic leaders believe that it is likely or very likely that a majority of all higher education students will be taking at least one online course in five year’s time.

If our students have not already experienced online learning, it seems obvious they will soon. As a part of our college preparatory mentality, we need to be helping students develop the skills needed to succeed and thrive in this learning environment. Taking an online course is not easy. It takes persistence and diligence. I like the idea that EA will be there to help challenge and nurture our students side by side, as they enter this new world.

Our involvement with GOA also reflects our belief in diversity and our belief in the value of a global education. I cannot imagine how exciting the conversations are in the course, “9/11 in a Global Context.” This course looks interesting even if it was just filled with students from the Main Line, but imagine taking this class with kids from Jordan, China, and Indonesia. Here is the course description:

September 11, 2001 was a tragic day that changed the world in profound ways. In this course students will explore the causes of 9/11, the events of the day itself, and its aftermath locally, nationally, and around the world. In place of a standard chronological framework, students instead will view these events through a series of separate lenses. Each lens will represent a different way to view the attacks and will allow students to understand 9/11 as an event with complex and interrelated causes and outcomes. Using a variety of technologies and activities, students will work individually and with peers to evaluate each lens. They will then explore the post-9/11 world and conclude the course by planning their own 9/11 memorial.

We are simply not going to abandon that which makes us strong. You will always see the power of a first class liberal arts education at Episcopal. We will always be a school that fosters meaningful relationships and critical thinking with inspiring teachers. Our world continues to change quickly, and we want our students to be prepared to lead.

GOA courses are taught by the teacher sitting next to you

The world on online learning can be daunting, and I have serious concerns about the quality of some of the educational experiences we have seen from some of the privately owned content providers. I think the quality in the field of online education in general will improve over time, but as companies seek profits in this sector, we need to be cautious about how we move forward with online learning.

Academic rigor, quality student-teacher interaction, and a challenging and nurturing learning environment are all hallmarks of an EA education, and that is why our partnership with the Global Online Academy (GOA) is a perfect fit. In this white paper, Online Independent Schools: Defining a New Generation of Excellence, Michael Nachbar, the Director of GOA and his colleague Brad Rathgeber discuss a new model for online learning, “one that is more reflective of independent schools.”

I like the idea that the classes are small and that they require high teacher-student and student-student interaction. Most importantly, I support the focus on high cognitive demand.

The mission of GOA is compelling:

The mission of the Global Online Academy is to replicate in online classrooms the intellectually rigorous programs and excellent teaching that are hallmarks of its member schools; to foster new and effective ways, through best practices in online education, for students to learn; and to promote students’ global awareness and understanding by creating truly diverse, worldwide, online schoolroom communities.

Several of our teachers were on a conference call with GOA talking with Michael Nachbar about GOA when he said, “Our courses are taught by the teacher sitting next to you.” His point was that the same quality you expect from your colleagues at Episcopal is what we expect at GOA. We began to picture teachers who were creative, inspiring, rigorous, meaningful, talented, and caring and what their classes would look like in an online format. Our excitement grew, and as we formally introduce online learning to our students, GOA seems like a great place to begin.