Spartan supports remote educators globally with free program
By Lauren Knapp
When learning suddenly went totally online in spring 2020, experts in the MSU College of Education immediately started providing resources to help both K-12 educators and faculty. (Read more COVID-19 stories: Meet the COVID Crew | On the Front Lines)
UPDATE 08/24/21: The Mini-MOOC and complementary materials are now award-winning! In March 2021, scholars from the Master of Arts in Educational Technology (MAET) program received the President’s Award from the Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning (MACUL). The annual honor recognizes those who have made outstanding contributions by using technology to enhance teaching and learning. In September 2021, the scholars will receive an Effective Practice Award from the Online Learning Consortium. The annual honor celebrates those who help make education more accessible. In particular, Team MAET will be recognized for both the Mini-MOOC, described below, and the associated blog series, which provide, according to an OLC media release, “building blocks and critical lenses … to create equitable and accessible learning possible during the sudden shift to remote instruction due to COVID-19.”
Twitter was busy in March 2020.
As U.S. schools transitioned to online learning during the novel coronavirus pandemic, Candace Robertson read about companies and platforms sharing free tools for educators. She saw the worry and stress from teachers facing these changes—and teachers tapping into the abundant, supposedly helpful resources at their disposal.
“Imagine being a teacher who has never taught online seeing a list of 150 tools to use for online teaching,” she said. “How do you even begin to sort through that? How do you know what’s best for you, for your students?”
And then, she had an idea that, like the pandemic gripping the world, would have profound ripple effects.
LEARNING OVER TOOLS
COVID-19 had already been on the minds of the scholars from the Master of Arts in Educational Technology (MAET) team. For months prior, many schools in Europe and Asia had already gone remote. The program’s students and alumni reached out to MAET for guidance with ideas and resources. So as U.S. schools began closing, and as free subscriptions and resources were being shared on social media, Robertson, MAET’s assistant director of student support and outreach, knew she needed to help.
“Educators needed a space that emphasized learning over tools, where educators could create and learn from other people,” she explained. “While Twitter was one place this was happening, there needed to be a more robust space where deeper exploration and sharing could take place.”
Robertson and others from MAET, including Liz Owens Boltz and Brittany Dillman, started brainstorming how their expertise could help teachers. International teachers were already sharing posts on the program’s blog about their experiences, but the MSU team wanted to dive deeper into essential topics teachers would need to know to put the best remote teaching practices into action.
It would become the Mini-MOOC on Remote Teaching.
The massively open online course (MOOC) was, from the very beginning, free to all educators of all backgrounds and all technology levels.
The program, among other topics, included MSU expertise on:
- Norms, foundations, trauma-informed teaching
- Teacher and student well-being, creating routines
- Basic accessibility practices for text and media
- Assessment, feedback and evaluation
Robertson mapped the curriculum and designed the unit flow. Boltz, Dillman and Robertson divided the program sections and built them collaboratively. Their main focus: Making the program easy to use, understand and unpack.
[The Mini-MOOC] is fabulous and a lifesaver! More teachers need to take it and expand their views during distance learning … It was needed before the pandemic, and this course is essential during and after the pandemic to reach all children.High School Educator/Mini-MOOC Participant
“In the big push to move learning online, it was more important than ever to keep issues of equity and access in mind,” said Boltz, co-director of MAET. “The experience provides a space to explore different strategies to support teachers adjusting to a new teaching and learning context.”
The course was launched on March 30, 2020 and, shortly after, was approved to be used for professional development by the Michigan Department of Education, allowing a maximum of 16 State Continuing Education Clock Hours (SCHECHs) for educators.
“What started as an idea to fill a need became a way to honor the time of educators and their professional learning,” Robertson said.
A LEADER IN ALL CONTEXTS
A former teacher, Robertson focuses on how technology theory, research and practice can be used to enhance education. She graduated from MAET in 2012, and began teaching for the program in 2013. Currently, as MAET’s assistant director, she serves as an advisor and coordinates the online, hybrid and overseas versions of the program.
In addition, Robertson has served as an instructor for the MSU-Wipro STEM & Leadership Teaching Fellowship, which supported Chicago Public School teachers and leaders in creating “transformative, innovative and multimodal instructional experiences for students.”
Her efforts have been award-winning: Team MAET was behind the Best Fully Online Course at MSU in 2018, Applying Educational Technology to Practice (CEP 812), according to the AT&T Faculty and Staff Award Competition in Instructional Technology. In 2020, Creativity in K-12 Computing Education (CEP 833), which Robertson co-created with fellow 2012 MAET alumnus Bill Marsland, was given the same honor.
So it was no surprise that Robertson, ever the educator and innovator, led the development of the Mini-MOOC—nor is it surprising that she has taken the same approach in her personal life.
In the summer of 2020, Robertson and her husband became parents for the first time.
It was a time of intense love and joy, but with their daughter facing a rare medical diagnosis in the middle of a pandemic, it was also world-spinning.
“At the beginning, we were focused on incremental knowledge,” Robertson recalled. “It was information overload. And under pressure, you can only handle so much, so scaffolding our knowledge was really important to us.”
They needed to learn medical terminology so they could better listen, ask questions and understand answers during rounds in the hospital. They were educating themselves in the moment … much like teachers and students in the transition to remote instruction and learning.
“We were thrown into this new way of living abruptly,” Robertson said. “We were novice learners under intense pressure. I thought about educators and students going through a similar experience. What are we doing to support them?”
In her MAET role, she focuses on learning through the lens of the student experience. This background helped while navigating an entirely new medical world, and provided a source of inspiration.
Now, Robertson and her husband are determined to help families, like themselves, thrust into caring for a loved one with a new medical diagnosis. With support from their daughter’s medical team, they are developing resources for parents of babies with the same diagnosis. Their goal is to create a website with complementary video series and materials to provide information families need, such as an example of a daily routine or guidelines on when to change medical equipment.
Robertson’s experience with her daughter has re-emphasized her belief about some of the key elements to keep in mind while teaching during a pandemic.
“Empathy and compassion are essential in education. They have always been important, but are even more important in the current context. Through genuine empathy, we can build an understanding of what our learners and teachers need, and use that to inspire creative learning solutions that meet their needs.”
As of early April 2021, the Mini-MOOC—co-sponsored by MSU’s Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology—has been experienced by more than 1,780 participants. They report coming from 26 states and 28 countries, including the U.S. Participants are teachers, coaches, administrators, instructional designers, professors and a variety of other educational positions.
“If each one of the participants connects with a minimum of 30 students, the Mini-MOOC will have impacted 53,580 learners,” Robertson said.
The numbers only tell part of the story.
Some individuals who have taken the Mini-MOOC on Remote Teaching have, with permission, utilized aspects of it to develop professional development at their own K-12 schools, colleges and universities.
“We feel fortunate to provide this learning experience for others,” Robertson said. “Access to good information can be hard to come by. So many organizations try to position themselves as an authority—but they’re only promoting themselves. Our team, the Mini-MOOC, has come at it from a neutral stance. We’re not connected to technology. We’re connected to good teaching and learning.”
Enroll in the Mini-MOOC today: bit.ly/MAETminiMOOC
IMPROVING EDUCATION AT MSU
The Mini-MOOC on Remote Teaching supported educators of all types, near and far. Closer to campus, Liz Owens Boltz, Candace Robertson and Brittany Dillman from the M.A. in Educational Technology (MAET) program helped establish several professional development models to improve remote teaching and learning across MSU.
“Their scholarly knowledge and applied knowledge is exceptional,” said Kristine L. Bowman, associate dean for academic and student affairs in the college. “We could not have done this without them.”
They contributed to the development of SOIREE (Spartan Online Instructional Readiness Educational Experience) and ASPIRE (Asynchronous Program for Instructional REadiness). These continuing professional development workshops for MSU faculty, led by the Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology, were in part inspired by the Mini-MOOC.
In the College of Education, they also developed the Micro-Credential in Online College Teaching, a program that served as additional support following participation in SOIREE, ASPIRE or the Mini-MOOC.
Most recently, the Digital Instruction Support Community (DISC) was launched. The goal: Assist college faculty in providing inclusive, accessible and caring instruction for all students. DISC comprises professional development, how-to guides, suggested resources and an online community. College specialists Liz Owens Boltz and Stephanie Jennings serve as director and coordinator, respectively. Along with other technology experts, they directly assist college faculty with course planning, technology recommendations and support and other personalized topics. “More than ever, learners need to feel seen, supported and valued,” said Boltz. “This is just as important online as it is on campus.”
All of the resources provided by the college are free and available for anyone who teaches in the College of Education. For completing the Mini-MOOC and the Micro-Credential offered, college faculty were given a $500 stipend for their professional development.
“Our college is relatively unique in that we established MSU’s first fully online master’s program in 2001,” Bowman continued. “We’ve been engaged in robust online education ever since. Instructors at MSU had a need for not just learning the basics about how to teach online, but also advanced skills and concepts about how to do so. Given our practical experience and scholarly expertise, the College of Education was perfectly positioned to provide both—and we did.”
Boltz, L. O., Yadav, A., Dillman, B., & Robertson, C. (2021). Transitioning to remote learning: Lessons from supporting K-12 teachers through a MOOC. British Journal of Educational Technology, 00, 1- 17