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Schools of Education To Offer Free Teacher Professional Development on Coursera

Seven schools of education have banded together to work with massive open online course (MOOC) provider Coursera to offer free online professional development courses for teachers and others. Joining the seven will be other organizations that include teacher education components in their offerings.

This partnership is the first time Coursera has added courses on early childhood and K-12-level education and the first time the company has brought in non-degree granting institutions to provide curriculum. Sticking with the Coursera formula, the new courses will feature video lectures, peer forums, supplemental materials, and other interactive components. Coursera said it anticipates schools and districts possibly choosing to integrate the new content into their own professional development programs in a blended learning format.

Participants include:

UC Irvine, which already contributes to several online initiatives, including Coursera, will be tapping curriculum from its professional certificate program on virtual teaching for K-12. "We decided that we really wanted to give back to the world of education, particularly teachers in California and in the United States by taking this program and offering all of our courses free online," said Melissa Loble, associate dean of distance learning.

To kick off the course lineup, UC Irvine faculty will be reworking content from two courses to make them available on the MOOC platform. The subjects for the first two courses will be virtual education and emerging trends in technology.

The first course, said Loble, is "a gateway or foundation course that focuses on the principles in virtual education in K-12, the technologies that can assist teachers in teaching in the online world, and the laws and issues that teachers should be aware of in order to be successful in a virtual teaching environment."

The second course, she said, "will be an exploration of the free resources, tools, online learning modules, and actual content elements that teachers can use in virtual classrooms."

Those are expected to be available by this fall. An additional four courses will be added by UC Irvine at the end of summer 2014.

Eventually those courses could roll into credit offerings. As Loble explained, teachers interested in getting "practicum experience" in developing a virtual course or curricula could take the Coursera classes as a prerequisite for applying for the practicum course, which would itself generate university credits.

Bronwyn Bevan, the Exploratorium's associate director of programs, said that while the museum has been doing teacher professional development since its founding, joining the Coursera course network is a "really exciting opportunity" for "engaging with a much larger number of teachers." Previous teacher programs, she noted, have been "very hands on and in person, very community based."

The Exploratorium, which calls itself a "21st century learning laboratory," provides activities that help students learn science through experimentation. Converting those hands-on activities that are a major part of the museum's pedagogy could prove challenging. Calling the effort an "exciting experiment," Bevan acknowledged, "We haven't figured this out yet. That's the work of the next few months." She added that Coursera has developed a number of "different mechanisms that we'll be [trying] to see what will work best."

The museum expects to launch its first course on Coursera in November. The focus will be on how to integrate engineering into the middle school and high school classroom to mesh with the Next Generation Science Standards.

A second offering is planned for launch in January 2014, to provide instruction on "tinkering" in elementary and middle school classrooms. "We'll be looking at how to bring really compelling activities into the classroom," said Bevan.

All of the new courses that are part of this new professional development track are listed on Coursera's course directory under the category, "Teacher Professional Development." Additional offerings will cover the Common Core curriculum, character education, and implementing flipped and blended learning strategies.

"Teachers are among the most important assets for supporting the next generation, and peer support and ongoing professional development can be crucial factors in teacher retention and successful educational outcomes," said Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller. "At Coursera, we hope to support millions of teachers around the world in expanding their skills, networks, and knowledge, by opening up access to some of the best resources out there, free of cost."

Added Gordon Brown, United Nations special envoy for global education, "Coursera's ambitious agenda to take teacher training and professional development to scale using technology is an important and crucial innovation on the road to meeting our global education goals."

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