Will massive open online courses revolutionize professional development?
By Greg Thompson
Almost every teacher knows how it feels to slog through mandatory professional development. All too often, irrelevant workshops are an inevitable fact of life in the one-size-fits-all world of teacher training.
As a former fourth-grade teacher, Julia Stiglitz has suffered through dull courses. And while she can’t cure the boredom of teachers who must endure subpar PD, she hopes to transform the voluntary side of PD through so-called massive open online courses (MOOCs).
“Sitting through PD that is not related to something you need to work on can be very frustrating,” says Stiglitz, director of business development and strategic partnerships for Coursera. “One of the best aspects of online PD is the ability for teachers to get information that is relevant to them–and from really strong organizations that know their content and how to deliver it.”
Some of those “really strong” universities include Johns Hopkins (MD) and Vanderbilt (TN), and the list is growing. With the help of these institutions, Coursera began offering its own approach to PD in May, so the curriculum is still very much in development. A course operations specialist with the company works directly with the university ed school partners to develop content.
According to Stiglitz, the role of the Coursera course operations specialist is to make sure partners understand how to leverage the technology to achieve the objective, and to share emerging best practices. As a relatively new job in the MOOC world, the course operations specialist is essentially a jack-of-all-trades who must know the ins and outs of the web platform and work “deep in the trenches with instructors” to teach staff to produce video lectures and other course content.
“We have about 35 teacher PD courses now coming from a mix of some of the top education schools, which are our current partners,” says Stiglitz. “We’ve started having conversations with school districts, and we are eager to see how districts can take advantage of our PD content–but these are just preliminary conversations at this point.”
A New Phenomenon
Stiglitz describes the entire MOOC for PD phenomenon as still “very new,” with the first teacher PD courses just finishing in late August. One, an “Art and Inquiry” class, was taught in partnership with New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
[ Full article available at THE Journal: http://thejournal.com/articles/2013/11/18/these-moocs-will-make-you-reconsider-everything-about-pd.aspx ]