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New partnership, new online focus for student teachers

By Celeste Bott
Capital News Service

LANSING — The University of Detroit Mercy is partnering with the Michigan Virtual University to help UDM education students learn to teach online.

Both undergraduate and graduate students can enroll this summer in Advanced Instructional Tech-nology/Teaching in the Virtual Environment. The program, which resembles a student-teaching experience, is an introductory course focused on online instruction.

Students will help teach a variety of subjects to high school students in virtual classrooms through the Michigan Virtual University.

They will shadow online teachers at MVU, while attending lecture-style classes at UDM. In lectures, students will study how to present content through Web sites and computer programs and how to best communicate with their students through e-mail or online forums.

MVU is a private, nonprofit school whose curriculum is taught entirely online. It offers both K-12 and higher education programs.

Jamey Fitzpatrick, MVU’s president, said there’s a growing need for teachers who can work in blended environments — both face-to-face and online.

“Increasingly, individuals pursuing a career in the teaching profession will need a practical understanding of instructional strategies for online learning,” she said.

The course is open to teachers who are already certified but lack experience in a virtual classroom. Full-time educators receive a 60 percent discount on tuition.

Lorri MacDonald, chair of the department of education at UDM, said the partnership is a win-win arrangement.

“Teachers from the virtual school win by gaining experience in mentoring candidates,” MacDonald said. “UDM teacher candidates win by gaining experience in teaching with the latest technology. And Michigan students benefit by learning from 21st century-skilled teachers in their classrooms.”

MacDonald is a former online instructor from the Michigan Virtual School, the K-12 division of MVU.

The partnership began when UDM students shadowed MVU online instructors for six weeks last fall.

The upcoming summer course will provide a similar shadowing opportunity to all UDM education students.

MacDonald said she hopes the “sit and get” misconception about online learning will change, adding that such a learning environment benefits teachers and students alike.

“Online learning has changed my teaching practice in my face-to-face classroom,” MacDonald said. “I have become more creative by encouraging students to build on their own prior knowledge rather than relying on ‘pearls of wisdom’ dropped during lectures.”

Another benefit of online teaching is that it provides an easier way to personalize education.

Students enrolled in the online teaching course, for example, will learn theoretical principles with peers in a classroom, but can practice specialized techniques for the curriculum they’ll eventually teach.

Michael Flanagan, the superintendent of public instruction, said better technology can help students learn based on individual needs.

“Advances in technology are making it possible to extend an individualized instructional approach to all students, allowing every child in Michigan to learn in the manner that will best help him or her reach their full potential,” Flanagan said.

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