Penn State Evolves Online Teaching Certificate Program

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

Pennsylvania State University is considering changes to its online teaching certificate program after seeing a surge in popularity in the program among graduate students.

Originally launched last September, the University hoped to enroll about 30 students in its free, noncredit certificate program that promised to help further their online teaching skills. In the end, 350 students became interested, causing the school to look into making changes to its professional development to better reflect the added interest.

Laurence Boggess, director of faculty development for the World Campus, said graduate students are beginning to consider the ability to teach online as a core skill they will need upon entry into the job market.

"These graduate students who are about to go off and be the professors of the future, they get it," Boggess said in an interview. "They understand that they're going to be teaching online at some point, and they understand that online education — for better or worse — is not going anywhere. … They want to be sure that if they're going to be competitive in the job market and get that assistant professor job, and if they're going to be asked to teach online, that they can do it competently."

The World Campus currently offers a separate comprehensive, five-course certificate program they call the Certificate for Online Teaching. The program discusses a variety of topics, including accessibility, learning management systems and community building.

Meanwhile, the new program, called the Graduate Student Online Teaching Certificate, details what future instructors can expect to find in the virtual classroom through a faster-paced four or five week-long course called the Essentials of Online Teaching and Learning. Participants will be asked to complete a number of activities designed to simulate what it will be like to truly teach in a virtual environment, such as showing that they can effectively record videos, write welcome letters, and help to settle disputes that may arise on a discussion forum through assignments. The tasks can mostly be completed on their own time in addition to a 75-minute webinar.

The school filled 14 sections last fall with a total of 350 students, causing World Campus to reconsider the structuring of the Certificate for Online Teaching program. Boggess said it is likely that the new program will replace the original, perhaps as early as next year. When that happens it will become the core class, with electives built around it based on input from students, writes Carl Straumsheim for Inside Higher Ed.

Last year's pilot program attracted students from all disciplines. Boggess noted how surprised he was at the interest shown by postdoctoral fellows and those who may never teach but are interested in boosting their qualifications by completing courses in online instruction. Only about 60 of the 350 students that graduated last year were set to teach online this academic year.

Boggess said the University is essentially preparing students to teach in other areas, which he said showed the school's commitment to graduate education.

"This is investing in the whole future of higher ed," Boggess said. "We're paying it forward. If that can be replicated, that just lifts all boats and all online programs and all universities."

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