UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators in kindergarten through 12th grade settings across the country have had to adapt their classrooms and curriculum for online instruction.
Educators say earning a credential through Penn State World Campus helped them prepare for this transition and become better online teachers.
The Postbaccalaureate Certificate in Teaching and Learning Online in K–12 Settings is offered online through Penn State World Campus and the Penn State College of Education. The 15-credit certificate can help teachers, supervisors, and administrators expand their knowledge of the terminology, technology, and methods that drive institutional decisions about online course design and delivery for a K–12 audience.
These skills have been especially relevant since teachers have had to continue teaching online and in person, or with a combination of instruction methods, in the months after the pandemic started.
“This program allowed me to learn how to design, manage, and evaluate online learning environments,” said Courtney Lonsinger, a fourth-grade teacher in Tyrone, Pennsylvania, who completed the certificate in spring 2019. “When schools shut down last spring, I was never frightened or afraid of online teaching — I felt that I embraced it because of this program.
“This program has given me the knowledge and confidence to be successful educating my students from within my classroom and at home.”
Penny Ward, a Penn State Extension 4-H Youth Development educator who teaches STEM programming to K–12 students, adult volunteers, and educators across Pennsylvania, completed the program in fall 2020. She said the confidence she gained to successfully understand when and how to introduce new technologies in her classroom has been remarkable.
“A pivotal moment for me was when I realized that new technology isn’t scary,” said Ward. “There were so many powerful teaching and learning tools presented through this program which constantly drive me to consider different ways I can provide opportunities to youth and other educators.”
Rob Brown, a high school physics teacher in New Jersey who also completed the program in fall 2020, said the most important lesson he learned was how to use technology to increase student engagement.
“Rather than reusing the same assignments and learning tasks each year, it is important to assess how each particular student learns best and find new ways to incorporate the proper technology for student success,” said Brown. “As educators, we should be consistently researching new learning tools and evaluating their value.”
Joshua Kirby, the program coordinator and an assistant professor, said the value of the certificate program is that skilled online educators create access and opportunities for students who otherwise wouldn’t have them.
“The pandemic has made online teaching, what was previously thought to be an unlikely or unwise means of K–12 instructional delivery, become a new normal for teachers, students, and families alike. Thousands of teachers have been forced to learn entirely new skill sets,” said Kirby.
“The certificate speaks to the potential for expanding how we deliver education to and serve a K–12 environment. It creates the opportunity to deliver instruction according to different learning needs or preferences and allows students to have additional ways to understand the curriculum.”
The 15-credit program consists of five courses. Two of the courses provide the foundation for understanding how to approach instructional design and the funding, policy, school choice, accountability, and program quality of online K–12 education. The next two courses give students a hands-on experience developing content and resources for providing online instruction to a K–12 audience. The final course is a supervised field experience in online instruction in which students must demonstrate their skill in developing and facilitating online instruction.
The courses are designed and taught by faculty who not only have first-hand experience teaching and designing online learning in K–12 environments but are conducting research in the field.
“Our courses have students explore, design, and integrate new technologies that we’re continuously learning about,” said Kirby. “We have a constant influx of what’s happening across the industry of online learning."
Kirby said the program explores technologies that support learner engagement, visualization and multi-modal learning, content management, and scaffolding learner self-discovery.
Ward, Lonsinger, and Brown said they felt prepared for the transition and were able to support their colleagues when the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to quickly move their classrooms online in spring 2020.
“The certificate program provided me with many tools that I implement regularly now with our hybrid learning schedule,” said Brown. “I am also able to assist other teachers who have not engaged in such a certificate program.”
For students certified to teach in Pennsylvania, the courses in this certificate meet the requirements of the Pennsylvania Department of Education Online Instruction Endorsement, which can be added to one’s Pennsylvania-issued teaching credentials upon successful completion of the certificate.
Certificate credits can also be applied to the Master of Education in Learning, Design, and Technology program that is also offered online through Penn State World Campus and the Penn State College of Education. Students must apply and be accepted to the master’s degree program.
Ward and Lonsinger graduated from the Master of Education program in fall 2020. Brown said his next educational goal is to pursue a Doctor of Education.
“The value of investing in education is indisputable,” said Ward. “Being able to learn from and alongside other adult learners brought about new perspective, provided an opportunity to explore a plethora of careers in education, and created a bond of friendships that will exist long after submission of my capstone project.”
Applications to the certificate program are being accepted continually, with start dates in May, August, and January.