Help is on the way for K-12 teachers needing training and certification in virtual instruction

IU East’s School of Education to offer certificate program for 62 teachers across East Central Indiana for free with funding from GEER grant

Indiana University East’s School of Education will soon provide certification and training for virtual instruction to 62 elementary and secondary school teachers from 42 districts across East Central Indiana, and brings with it the potential to positively impact over 60,000 students.

Infographic for IU East’s School of Education and East Central Education Service Center collaboration for an Indiana Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) grant.

Teachers will be selected by their districts for the training and to earn a Graduate Certificate in Online Learning and Assessment offered by the School of Education. Districts have a number of seats based on size.

Tuition will be free for teachers to earn their graduate certificate because of a partnership between the School of Education (SoE) and the East Central Education Service Center (ECESC).

The SOE and ECESC worked together to apply for a grant from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER). The SoE received a $304,000 grant on August 19 from the GEER.

Jerry Wilde, dean of the SoE, said it is perfect timing for the grant as teachers are continuing to adapt to teaching virtually during COVID-19.

“The need for instruction on the best practices for online teaching is serious as educators across the region adjust to teaching online,” Wilde said. “We need this training now, like yesterday. Our teachers need help. This is designed to increase teachers’ skills integrating technology in a more meaningful and authentic way that will produce better results for students.”

Jamie Buffington-Adams, associate dean and associate professor of education, said the grant addresses the need for teachers to use the tools and technology available to them.

“One of the things that has been a frequent critique of schools is that we purchase hardware before we train teachers how to implement the use of it or how to integrate it into instruction effectively,” Buffington-Adams said. “This grant is a ‘train the trainer’ model that focuses on getting the training to 62 area teachers so that they have a better idea of how to teach in this virtual context, but hopefully – once we survive this pandemic – to integrate those technological tools that have been brought into the classroom in more sophisticated and complex ways that really benefit students.”

Wilde and Buffington-Adams wrote the grant in partnership with Katie Lash, the executive director/instructional program coordinator for the ECESC. She began the role July 1.

Lash contacted Wilde when the GEER grant was announced. She is familiar with the SoE as an alumna, completing her Master of Science in Education at IU East, and she serves on the SoE’s Board of Advisors. She has also been an adjunct lecturer for the SoE.

As a former teacher and principal, Lash understands the needs teachers have in this new virtual teaching environment.

“When the GEER grant was announced, I already knew schools were asking for support in online instruction,” Lash said. “In my role we often provide professional development on a variety of topics but when I reached out to Jerry I was envisioning something that was not only professional development but could be very practically useful for our schools. He was absolutely on board with figuring out how we might make this work in a short time as the grant application was due quickly. The faculty at IU East have always impressed me with their willingness to innovate.”

Certification is about more than apps

Teachers in the certification program will go beyond learning about the different technologies, applications and hardware to move beyond replicating a face-to-face lesson plan to one catered to the virtual learning environment.

IU East faculty as a whole have taught online for more than a decade.

“It’s a way of thinking about using technology in a more effective and engaging way,” Wilde said. “Virtual teaching isn’t just putting up an overhead or showing a YouTube video. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if we don’t get past that we’re missing an incredible opportunity.”

Buffington-Adams said the certification focuses on designing solid assessment processes and cycles for a virtual environment and how to integrate technology into the process. The program will not focus specifically on devices or applications because between the districts, and within school districts, there are many different tools in use ranging from iPads to Chromebooks to Netbooks as well as a variety of software integrations.

The idea is to push past a substitution model of technology – for example, taking students to a computer lab to type a handwritten paper – to a model of leveraging technology that creates learning opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

“Students can get an authentic experience using technology in the ways that we do in a digitally connected world,” Buffington-Adams said.

Since March when districts moved class all-online due to COVID-19 there has been an adjustment and learning curve to virtual lessons. Teachers are transiting lesson plans made for a traditional classroom to a virtual space. For families, the hybrid and online options mean balancing work and school. Other obstacles include access to internet services, connection issues, and learning the software or applications to complete assignments. It also means adjusting to each individual teachers approach to virtual learning and keeping track of assignments, Zoom meetings and announcements daily.

“Teachers are really being asked to do something entirely different than even what university faculty have been called to do since March,” Buffington-Adams said.” The teachers I have spoken with aren’t just taking a face-to-face teaching model and now reimaging it for online, they’re still teaching face-to-face and they’re teaching online simultaneously.”

Teaching virtually is not the same as teaching in class. Before teachers developed one plan for in-class instruction, now they need at least two in order to include virtual learning. They also spend more time emailing with students and parents to respond to questions and communicate.

“Districts have come up with schedules that are understandably trying to serve the communities that they’re embedded in, but they are schedules that are really reliant on teachers doing two to three times the amount of work they would normally do,” Buffington-Adams said. “Preparing for the virtual environment is radically different than preparing for the face-to-face environment, and when you’re doing both simultaneously, of course your workload becomes heftier. I think that’s one of the major obstacles is that we don’t have a good model.”

Other factors are figuring into the challenges of virtual learning as well, some of which districts and families cannot control.

“The grant has multiple components to it and one of those was targeting the fact that communities don’t have the infrastructure to even get students connected for virtual learning. Locally, the numbers are about 25 percent of our kids who do not have Wi-Fi at home and that’s an issue,” Buffington-Adams said.

Emotional labor is another impact on teachers, Buffington-Adams added. Teachers are invested in their students and want the best for them at school and at home.

“I don’t know any teachers who don’t care about their students, so when they see their students can’t connect to the class or connect online, they worry,” she said. “This is a concern for teachers and whether this is a problem for them to solve or not, they care about their kids. They want them connected, they worry where they are at and that kind of emotional labor is taxing too.”

However, there is good coming from this unprecedented time though it may be too early to tell yet just what impact virtual learning may be having right now.

“I believe virtual learning is providing us with an opportunity, a productive space to start reimagining how we do education,” Buffington-Adams said. “I think for the kids that can get connected and have the support system to do it, it’s providing them with the technology to use in ways that they wouldn’t have been asked to do this early in their school career.

The payoff is for educators to think differently about the work that they do, she added, but this is an opportunity to develop an enriched understanding and practices of what we do in schools.

Collaboration and Community Impact

The SoE and ECESC had 11 days to prepare the grant application and address any obstacles to providing the necessary training. Wilde said the school decided to go for the grant because there is a need for teachers to receive the quality training, and the benefit to area school districts and communities is too valuable.

“This initiative will allow the opportunity for 42 school districts in East Central Indiana to have teachers pursue this graduate certificate and perform leadership roles in their schools,” Lash said. “When these leaders return to their home districts and share this learning with others, this grant has the potential to offer support to over 4,500 educators with the train the trainer model and improve learning outcomes for over 67,000 students in our area.”

Wilde said teachers participating in the program will return to their districts with the knowledge and proficiency to instruct their peers and share best practices for virtual learning.

“There’s a lot of research that shows what teachers really need is the training and how to use the tools effectively. That’s where this grant comes in,” Wilde said. “We provide the training for area teachers, they take it back to their individual districts and buildings, and train their teachers.”

Teachers can also start implementing what they learn through the program into their virtual lessons right away.

The SoE, ECESC, and districts are working together to find the teachers who best fit the certification program and can return to their schools to share what they’ve learned.

“Another powerful piece of this format is that we are truly promoting collaboration with current K-12 practitioners and the higher education space,” Lash said. “The cohort as a whole will become a network of support to troubleshoot various challenges that COVID-19 has presented but also to create sustainability plans for long after the pandemic has ended.”

Collaboration is also occurring at the instructor level.

The courses will be co-taught by IU East SoE faculty and K-12 faculty.

“This is a really wonderful feature to have not just IU East faculty, but also K-12 teachers who are invested in this type of learning,” Wilde said. “We know the more we partner with our K-12 partners, the better we understand their needs and the better we are able to serve area schools.”

Partnership and collaboration were an emphasis when preparing the grant proposal to plan courses, participants and instructors, all of which required communication.

“There was a lot of time in the development of the grant were we talked about how this was going to be a true partnership so the teaching model is bringing the expertise generated in the K-12 and marrying it with the faculty expertise to present something to teachers that will be immediately applicable,” Buffington-Adams said. “Some coursework, discussion on assignments, and looking at everything they will do, teachers can take all of that straight back to their classrooms or to teach their colleagues. It offers new techniques, new ways to integrate online. Learn it and it helps you tomorrow, that’s the time and context of COVID.”

IU East’s School of Education has offered the Graduate Certificate in Online Learning and Assessment since 2013. Wilde said the certificate provides quality training for teachers, and the need for training is a growing demand.

The grant is an opportunity to provide the quality training to teachers for free while benefiting communities.

IU East is a regional campus serving over 3,500 students through 50 academic options for bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The campus is invested in the community and the region. As part of IU East’s mission, the campus is dedicated to being a strong partner in enhancing the educational, cultural, and economic development of the region it serves through community and civic engagement.

Wilde said the SoE is following the campus mission to invest in the region.

“That is the fundamental of every regional campus is to give back to our community. And for the School of Education to be able to provide this kind of training to help hundreds of teachers is a wonderful opportunity for all of us,” Wilde said.

For more information about the School of Education, visit iue.edu/education.