Online PD courses

I’m looking for professional development (PD) opportunities. I have a master’s degree, but as part of my PD plan, I’d like to earn additional graduate credits. In my current situation, commuting in the evenings or on weekends to a university is not possible. I’m thinking of trying an online course for the first time. What do I need to know or think about?
—Marti, California

Online and offsite learning is increasingly common, and it’s helpful for classroom teachers to have this experience themselves. Here are some things I’ve learned from being both a student and instructor in online experiences:

  • Identify your learning goals. Do you want to develop deeper science content knowledge in your subject area? Expand your knowledge of other subjects? Acquire more classroom strategies?
  • Match the course with your goals as you read course descriptions. As you look at university websites, you’ll see many offer online opportunities for credit. Museums and science centers also offer courses, which often can be taken for graduate credits through a partnership with a university. Find out your school or district online PD requirements. As you consider a provider, determine if the coursework and credits will be acceptable and if the institution is an approved one. (The NSTA Learning Center has a list of universities and programs that offer courses, too.)
  • Consider your own learning preferences and schedule as you read course descriptions. In synchronous courses, the instructor and students log in at the same time and  follow an established calendar of classes. The instructor often lectures or lead discussions while displaying PowerPoint slides, websites, visuals, or other documents. Students have the opportunity to ask questions or take quizzes with immediate feedback. Depending on the platform used, you can also interact with other students in real time via chat or messaging options. In this type of course, you need to set aside a specific time in your schedule to “attend” the class. In asynchronous courses, the instructor posts materials, tests, study guides, videos, podcasts, reading lists, and assignments that can be accessed any time. Usually there is a timeframe for completing assignments. The instructor checks in periodically to answer questions or provide feedback. This would be similar to an independent study course. As a student you have more flexibility with an asynchronous course; a synchronous one is more scheduled and provides opportunities for more interaction. Many courses are a combination of the two formats, incorporating “live” instruction with subsequent opportunities to participate via collaborative documents, wikis, or chats.

  • Be sure you have the appropriate technology. At a minimum, you’ll need a computer and an Internet connection (the faster the better for synchronous courses or ones that use a lot of videos). Some course platforms require a microphone and camera for your audio and video input. If written assignments are required, you’ll need to upload them electronically (it’s typically the same as attaching a file to an e-mail). Most institutions have a “check-up” module to help you determine if you have what you need. They also should have a technician on duty to assist you.
  • Develop a timetable that works for you. With an asynchronous course, it’s easy to put things off. I found it helpful to schedule time for the coursework and stick to the schedule (late night worked best for me). I know teachers who do the course work after school hours when things are quiet and before they go home to other responsibilities. If you do work at home, set aside a time and a place where you can work undisturbed.

If you’d like to try online learning before you invest in credit courses, NSTA has free opportunities via the Learning Center:

  • Web Seminars are 90-minute synchronous experiences on a variety of topics. There are several scheduled each month.
  • Science Objects are two-hour online interactive content modules on a variety of topics. These are completed asynchronously.




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