Creating and signaling value for blended teachers

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Nov 12, 2014

“So you’re predicting that 50 percent of all high school courses will be online by 2019? … That scares me! … I don’t know how we’re going to get teachers the training they need in order to make that happen.”

The comment above came from one of the attendees of the Blended Learning Strategy Workshop that my colleague, Heather Staker, presented at the annual iNACOL Symposium last Tuesday. It’s a comment that I hear often in one form or another. Successful implementation of any blended-learning model depends on giving teachers the training and support they need because the execution of blended learning ultimately rests on them. As such, many education leaders who are interested in blended learning are anxiously looking for resources to help them give their teachers that training and support.

Given the prevalence of this need across the sector, I was excited to learn during one of the iNACOL Symposium breakout sessions on Wednesday of a promising effort to address this problem. The session was on Leading Edge Certification, a set of national educator certification programs developed by an alliance of nonprofits, universities, and educational agencies called the Leading Edge Alliance. The Alliance currently offers three areas of certification—including an Online and Blended Teacher Certification—that provide educators with “a demonstrable way to show they understand how technology changes teaching and learning.”

To receive the Online and Blended Teacher Certification, educators must complete a six- to eight-week course through one of the Alliance’s partner organizations. The courses are competency-based and offered in either an online or blended-learning format. The Leading Edge Alliance has aligned the certification with the iNACOL National Standards for Quality Online Teaching, and its curriculum is available online through the Leading Edge Alliance’s website. The learning activities that teachers complete for this certification include “reading course materials, viewing videos, exploring examples, completing projects and assignments, sharing with other class participants in discussion forums, and reflecting on new learning and identifying strategies for implementation.” To learn more about the certification, check out the videos here and here.

As I see it, Leading Edge Certification has two important value proposition for the field. First, for principals, superintendents, and other school leaders looking for the right people to hire to start their blended-learning initiatives, it provides a signal for important skills, mindsets, and expertise they would likely want those people to have. Second, the coursework associated with the certification is potentially a valuable professional development option for helping school systems’ traditional educators make the transition to blended learning.

Nonetheless, in order for the certification to realize its value, it has to develop currency among school leaders. Unlike states’ teacher certifications and university-based teacher preparation programs that teachers must complete in order to receive state certification, state mandates do not create artificial demand for the Leading Edge Certifications and their associated courses. Instead, demand for these certifications will only materialize if the certifications prove to be trustworthy means for identifying and/or creating effective online educators.

My skeptical side wonders how well the certification encompasses the wide variety of potential online teaching circumstances, such as blended vs. virtual, sustaining vs. disruptive blended-learning models, synchronous vs. asynchronous instruction, teacher-created vs. standardized curriculum, and working with the many possible content and software providers. I also wonder about how well the training signaled by the certification translates into educator practices and improved student outcomes. But before I seem overly critical, it’s important to note that similar challenges exist for all forms of professional certification.

In the years ahead, I will be anxiously watching to see if Leading Edge Certification will prove to be a valuable labor market signal and form of professional development. There is certainly a strong need to be served in this area. I will also be looking forward to seeing any research studies that can measure a link between mastery of Leading Edge Certification competencies, changes in teacher practices, and changes in student outcomes. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a bright new future for the blended and online teaching profession.

Thomas’ research focuses on the changing roles of teachers in blended-learning environments and other innovative educational models. He also examines how teacher education and professional development are shifting to support the evolving needs of teachers and school systems.