Coursera Teaches Teachers Anywhere, Anytime

Coursera Teaches Teachers Anywhere, Anytime


Pair MOOC provider, Coursera, with teacher training experts at the New Teacher Center, and you get a different breed of professional development--one where teachers choose and there are options for everyone. This is in stark contrast to the one-size-fits-all trainings typically mandated by districts.

Coursera began its foray into the teacher professional development world last May when it launched new partnerships with the likes of John Hopkins University School of Education, Relay Graduate School, and the New Teacher Center.

Now after the first three teacher PD courses have wrapped up, EdSurge takes a look at what happened, who showed up, and what teacher PD really looks like when it gets MOOC’ed.

New Teacher Center

The New Teacher Center (NTC), 25 year old organization that specializes in training new teachers, kicked off its first Coursera MOOC in August with “First Year Teaching - Success from the Start.” The course focused on skills and strategies a teacher needs to set up their class routines, relationships, and procedures from day one. But new teachers weren't the only ones who showed up. Experienced teachers, like Nancy Bynum, also joined in to brush up on their skills.

While NTC is no stranger to online learning--it brings 11 years of expertise in mentoring teachers online--many adjustments were made to adapt to the Coursera ecosystem. For NTC’s Lynn Kepp (Senior VP of Professional Services and an instructor for the MOOC), the shift from a mentor-based model to a massive online community was a big one. Without enough instructors to personally coach and mentor each of the 16,000 students who signed up, Kepp explained that they had to focus on getting teachers to interact with each other for guidance and mentoring, rather than with an expert teacher. The course also focused on the practical application of the skills rather than on theoretical discussions.

Instead of providing direct mentorship, the NTC course asked teachers to create new lessons and activities for their classes through the online forum. Then teachers were asked to review three different lessons submitted by other participants. For participant Bynum, a veteran teacher from Rodgers, Minnesota with over 30 years of classroom experience, the forum was the most valuable part of the course. "I got to collaborate with people who are new to the classroom and who are coming in with so many new ideas I can use," says Bynum.

While the large group forums ended up as an alternative to the mentor-coach relationship, the large international audience, typical of most Coursera courses, caused concern for Kepp. How would the way U.S. teachers design classes and lesson plans translate for a teacher in Syria or China? What Kepp found was that “while the context was different, the things we created were quite universal.” Students even commented on benefiting from the international perspective, in developing their own classroom plans.

By the end of the summer, here’s how NTC’s course enrollment rolled out:  

  • 16,000 people signed up for the course

  • 26% completed the course (4,185 people)

  • 411 participants identified themselves as K12 teachers in the US

Next Stop: The Next Gen PD

The typical range for Coursera enrollment falls somewhere between 30k-60k and less than 10% completes. MOMA and Commonwealth Education Trust also hosted teacher professional development courses this summer. MOMA's course, ‘Art and Inquiry: Museum Teaching Strategies For Your Classroom’ had close to 17,000 enroll with 60% reporting that they were teachers.

Coursera has a total of 36 PD courses, 16 of which will run between September through December 2013. As Coursera continues to move deeper and deeper into the teacher professional development landscape, they hope to see school districts and teachers take advantage of the free content available through their platform. While in-person mentoring and coaching is invaluable to teacher development, Julia Stiglitz, Director of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships at Coursera, sees the new course offerings as an opportunity for schools to “maximize the benefits of both online and in person training.”

Bynum explains, "I've been so babied by the Coursera course. It is really engaging for an extended period of time, versus the one-day workshop wonder with no follow-up or interaction after the fact. That's hard to take." It also helped that she was able to take the course at her leisure, at times even from the beach on her summer vacation.

As teachers begin to engage in online professional development that truly match their interests, and at their own leisure, the next big question is to see whether schools will offer salary step credit for these courses. Currently, some districts and states are awarding credit hours; however, this is not happening everywhere. We hope districts will be able to keep up as the possibilities for PD expand.

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