PBS TeacherLine offers a collection of for-credit and noncredit courses. (Credits are awarded through a partnership with a dozen universities.) Most courses are graduate level, with the for-credit courses lasting for six weeks or ten weeks. Most teachers take the for-credit courses as Continuing Education Units or to complete their teaching certification.
The for-credit courses focus on pedagogical and teaching strategies within several central realms: Instructional Technology, Reading/Language Arts, Math, Social Studies/History, STEM, Science, and general Instructional Strategies, which include topics like Curriculum Mapping and Assessment/Evaluation. The self-paced, noncredit courses, on the other hand, are only content-based. They serve more as refreshers for teachers, and place more of an emphasis on smaller units of PD.
Primary Users: Teachers (K-12, all subjects)
Cost: Facilitated courses are $265 for a one-hour/one-credit course,
$295 for a two-credit course, and $345 for a three-credit course. Self-paced
courses are $49. If teachers chose to take higher credit (more than
three-credit) courses, they then pay the partnered university directly.
Skill Development: Mostly pedagogical and teaching strategies,
though some integrate content knowledge. The shorter, self-paced courses solely
deliver content knowledge.
On-Brand Use: Use online courses to learn pedagogical strategies for a
variety of subjects (ELA, math, science, history) and adjunct topics
(instructional technology, leadership, teaching for multiple intelligences).
Off-Brand Use: Teachers looking to brush up on information can choose to
take the shorter, self-paced courses.
Deal breakers: There are no specific offerings for
administrators. Also, not all courses are offered year-round.
- Types of Schools Using It: Originally, inner city Title 1 schools were the primary users; the platform was originally designed for them, based on the specifics of the funding grant issued to PBS. Rural schools also make up a large percentage of users. However, PBS Teacher Line reports that they have users in a variety of districts and school settings.
PBS TeacherLine provides teachers with graduate-level, high-quality, and rigorous professional development. Long courses are rigorous, asynchronous, and often inquiry-based, where individuals work as part of a team to solve problems or complete projects. Courses start out as instructional; the content builds over the weeks, culminating with projects. Oftentimes, these projects can provide takeaways for a teacher’s further use, i.e. a collection of lesson plans.
Although participants may take a class with people from all over the US, the number of participants in a single course is capped. This results in intimate, yet high-feedback, high-participation courses.
How does it work?
Longer, For-Credit Courses
PBS TeacherLine offers 30-hour and 45-hour for-credit courses. Courses are composed of lessons on content, online discussion boards, and submitted work that is graded by an instructor Courses are moderated by a single facilitator and capped at 30 participants, to ensure as much one-on-one virtual feedback (from the facilitator) as possible.
In a sense, the design of these courses mirrors that of a Professional Learning Community. While the facilitator does provide grading, the other participants are responsible for the majority of back-and-forth dialogue about concepts learned in the course.
In the first week, participants are given a rubric on how they’ll be graded along with a description of their assignments Facilitators provide feedback within a gradebook throughout the course. The online gradebook is integrated into a course management platform. The final course grade is calculated based on the predetermined weight of each assignment. Facilitators also provide feedback on the assignments within the grade book.
Content media includes a mix of articles 3- to 5-minute long videos (typically 5-6 per course focused on best practices), interactive media, and audio clips. Additionally, teachers can take part in a discussion board within the course. Assignments can be journals, papers, discussions on boards, and/or a final project.
Teachers have access to the course materials for up to one month after the course ends.
Shorter, Noncredit Courses
Shorter, noncredit courses are only three hours long and do not have an online facilitators. They are completely self-guided. Upon completing the course, participants can continue to see the course materials for up to a year.
The course consists of video and instructional strategies, but lacks the peer-to-peer connection of the larger courses elements of the for-credit courses.
How is it used?
The longer courses, which teachers usually take as part of group, help teachers develop skills while earning credit (such as Continuing Education or graduate studies credits). Teachers take the self-directed shorter courses to brush up on skills (but do not earn credit for this.)
Participants log in a couple of times a week. Coursework launches consistently on Wednesdays. Usually, participants will complete a combination of reading articles, watching instructional videos, completing an assignment like a reflective paper, and contributing posts to a discussion board.
The duration of sessions varies. For-credit online courses last either six weeks (30 hours) or ten weeks (45 hours). Noncredit self-paced courses typically last 3 hours, School districts and/or individual teachers seeking teaching credits sign up for seats. Each seat supports one individual.
Who’s Using It?
Originally, inner city Title 1 schools were the primary users; the platform was designed for them, based on the specifics of the funding grant issued to PBS. Rural schools also tend to gravitate towards use of the product. However, PBS TeacherLine reports that it has users in a variety of districts and school settings. Primary marketing channels are through local stations’ outreach efforts, email, and social media
TeacherLine had over 3,000 paid enrollments for the long courses in 2012. Fall term is the slowest term for facilitated course enrollments with winter and spring seeing the highest enrollments. Individual teachers can enroll in self-paced courses at any time; their enrollment trends are similar. There are no wait lists. PBS opens enough sections to accommodate all enrollees.
At this point, the only district fully integrating TeacherLine is LA Unified School District. PBS provides LAUSD with a course list each term, which the district integrates into its existing PD page.
Content, Content, Content….
To create the course content, PBS TeacherLine partnered with developers from three major institutions: Annenberg Learner, the Concord Consortium, and WGBH Teachers’ Domain. At least a dozen partner universities offer course credit for those who successfully complete TeacherLine courses.
Upon completing the course, teachers will have either 1) completed graduate-level courses that push mostly pedagogical and teaching strategies (though some do so while integrating content knowledge), or 2) have gained content knowledge from the shorter, self-paced courses.
Course topics cover all grade levels, and range from more general instructional strategies (such as “Digital Lesson Planning for Different Learning Styles”) to subject-specific courses (such as “Teaching with Primary Sources from the Library of Congress” for social studies teachers). PBS TeacherLine also offers two K-12 leadership courses, “Promoting Positive Behavior in Schools” and “Professional Learning for Peer Observers.”
To create the courses, PBS TeacherLine has partnered with content developers from three major institutions: Annenberg Learner, the Concord Consortium, and WGBH Teachers’ Domain. Annenberg Learning has provided the multimedia resources to help teachers increase their expertise in the subject they teach. Concord Consortium contributed math offerings with its “Seeing Math” courses. WGBH Teachers’ Domain contributed a special collection of PD courses in Physical, Life, and Earth Sciences.
Other course material is developed by PBS TeacherLine’s internal staff, and updated based on the organizations ability to raise grant money for new content creation. The course catalogue contains about 45 facilitated courses, and 21 self paced courses.
PBS reps describe the course facilitators as the "secret sauce.". Facilitators read 60-80 page handbooks about strategies for teaching content to prep for giving their courses. The facilitator’s guide provides a comprehensive orientation to the online course. It includes information on the material covered in each course session, as well as advice on providing feedback to learners on their coursework, and suggestions for how and when to communicate to learners about coursework and deadlines.
To become a facilitator, candidates must have taught before, must have a graduate degree in the subject they are teaching, must have taken PBS online instruction courses before (“Mastering the Skills of Online Teaching” and “Adjusting (or Dusting) Your Facilitator Hat”), and get mentored when they’re going to teach the program.
Training and Integrating
PBS TeacherLine is a professional development tool to be used by teachers on their own time and at their own discretion.
PBS TeacherLine does not offer an API plug in that will integrate its content with another site. But it does provide a “remote catalog” that organizations can use o list PBS courses on their website, with a line of HTML to insert on their page which in turn displays the courses that are open for enrollment.
Assessment and Data
Several research studies support the effectiveness or “promise” of PBS TeacherLine. One study in the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks writes that, “Findings reveal promising practices for preparing and supporting any online faculty, whether in K-12 or higher education, and suggest outcomes that may be appropriate for characterizing the effectiveness of these efforts.” In the study, approximately 110 of PBS TeacherLine’s online instructors participated, and course participants were asked to give feedback on their quality.
On a 1 (needs improvement) to 3 (excellent) scale, participants who completed the courses rated their instructors as an averaged 2.9 for course climate and community building, 2.8 for instruction, 2.8 for interaction and discussion facilitation, and 2.8 for course organization. Additionally, 94.5% of learners said that they could immediately apply what they learned during a TeacherLine course in their own professional practice.
The main landmine relates to time. For-credit courses are offered during four semesters throughout the year: Fall, Winter, Spring, and early Summer. And many courses are only offered for a few of those semesters. Only two courses (Teaching Phonemic Awareness and Phonics, and Teaching Phonics and Spelling for Beginners and Transitional Readers) are available during all four seasons. As a result, online access to course materials is not available at the drop of a hat.
All courses are browser-based and available on any browser as a result.
Facilitated courses are $265 for a one-hour/one-credit course, $295 for a two-credit course, and $345 for a three-credit course. Self-paced courses are $49. If teachers chose to take higher credit (more than three-credit) courses, they pay the partnered university directly.
Teachers can gain continued education unit credit for completion of the longer courses, and work their way towards a full certification or graduate degree offered by one of PBS TeacherLine’s 12 partner universities. The price range varies according to each university's preference; oftentimes, the price is the same as PBS charges plus the additional graduate credit fees that any TeacherLine learning would pay if they need graduate credits. However, not all graduate credits count toward Master Degree programs.
Many colleges offer their own online graduate-level courses related to CEUs and certification. PBS Teacher Line competes mostly with these programs. Coursera could be a potential competitor in the future, but currently does not offer any graduate degree credit.
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