Beginning this fall, students working towards a master's degree in general education will never have to be in the same room with a professor.
A joint effort between the UB Graduate School of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences has formed a new distance-learning program, allowing students to complete coursework via online resources and teleconference rooms set up in various locations around western New York.
While UB has offered classes in a similar format before, the new degree will mark the first time that students can complete an entire degree program through distance learning.
Participants can attend classes in one of three locations: Jamestown High School in Chautauqua County, Cuba-Rushford High School in Cattaraugus, and Niagara Academy in Niagara County. Ten students will be at each location, while the instructor will hold class here on campus. Each participating school has a special teleconference room with large screen monitors, video cameras, microphones and speakers that allow the students to interact with the instructor in a nearly seamless fashion.
"If you sneeze, the professor says 'God-bless you,'" said Christine Chelus, GSE director of new media projects.
The new program aims to target those teachers in western New York that need to obtain certification but do not have sufficient time around their teaching jobs to commute to school. The degree is being marketed specifically toward teachers for grades K-8 and special-education teachers, although teachers working with grades 9-12 are welcome to join the program.
After completing a bachelor's program in New York, teaching candidates receive a provisional certification, after which they must obtain a master's degree, teach for two years, and pass the New York State Content Specialist Test and the New York State Assessment of Teaching Skills/Performance within five years.
Chelus is confident the new teaching method will not negatively affect the quality of the education or the teachers it produces. The program will use the same acceptance criteria as the standard master's program, as well as the same course requirements and curriculum.
"The new challenge isn't in getting the ideas across," said Professor James Collins of the department of learning and instruction, who, along with fellow department member Douglas Clements, will administer the teleconference classes this fall. "The challenge is in keeping their interest. A boring lecture is twice as boring on television."
"It's about providing access for more students, not replacing the resources from students on campus," said Chelus. "It enriches the experience by bringing together people from different areas of the state into one classroom environment."
To complete the program, students will attend two classes per semester for a total of five semesters - 10 classes and 30 credit hours overall. Classes will include topics such as "Curriculum and Standards" and "Integrating Technology in Education" as well as topics the students will teach pupils, such as social studies, mathematics and English.
Five of the classes will come from the GSE and five from the CAS. In addition, the students will be required to complete a final project over the course of the program.
"My objective is to put the technology into the hands of my students, not just in my hands," said Collins, who was one of the first people involved with the program and already has two teleconference courses under his belt. Collins hopes to bring the new technology back into his regular classes and incorporate more videos into his instruction.
"Distance learning makes you wonder how can I make this more interesting, so we're not just talking," said Collins. "We need to have more of an interactive discussion, and not just a video-delivered lecture."
If the program is successful, SUNY Binghamton and other schools have expressed interest in creating similar programs of their own.