In today's cost-conscious environment, school districts are increasingly seeking innovative solutions for their professional development needs. Looking to expand teacher training without paying more for substitutes, travel and consultants, administrators are turning to online professional development.
In Texas, the state's largest Education Service Center, Region 4, provides professional development with Blackboard Learn, an online platform that delivers learning content, engages learners in a collaborative environment, and measures their performance.
Over the past five years, Texas schools have struggled to find enough qualified teachers in the areas of bilingual education, math and science. "Districts asked us to find a certification track for potential teachers who could not go back to the university," said Rene Ruiz, director of global education solutions for Region 4. "We are able to offer a program for individuals who might not be teachers to get an alternative certification to teach in these areas."
Region 4 uses the Blackboard Learn platform to deliver pre-service training to candidates around the country and internationally. The online courses are prepared by Texas educators and include video conferencing, online collaboration, discussion boards, multimedia content and testing elements designed to prepare alternative candidates for state certification.
"Blackboard gives us the capacity to build a community of learners and enables us to adapt the curriculum quickly," Ruiz said. "It truly enhances our ability to instruct."
Since 2005, more than 2,000 teachers each year have prepared for certification in Texas by completing online training delivered via Blackboard Learn. About 15 percent of those teachers are based outside the U.S.
"Blackboard has enhanced our ability to deliver training all around the world," said Ruiz. "We have created a teacher preparation program that is very meaningful to help alternative candidates move, for example, from a career as an engineer in Latin America to a teacher of math, in Spanish, in a Texas high school."
Nine hundred miles away, Blackboard Learn is also being used for professional development and certification in Albuquerque Public Schools, New Mexico's largest school district.
Amy Phipps, the director of online training for Albuquerque Public Schools, said the district started using Blackboard Learn to help teachers meet a 40-hour professional development requirement in teaching English language learners.
In early iterations, Phipps said, teachers read material and submitted a written report. More recently, Albuquerque's educators have been using the advanced capabilities offered by Blackboard Learn. "It's transitioned now to include discussion boards, blogs and wikis. It's much more interactive," she explained. All 15,000 Albuquerque district employees have fulfilled the ELL training requirement using Blackboard Learn.
Using Blackboard Learn for professional development training in Albuquerque has also increased awareness of the advantages of online training and learning and encouraged growth in online course development. For instance, Phipps said that much of the district's required human resources training—such as handling undocumented students and dealing with blood-borne pathogens—is now conducted online with Blackboard Learn.
"There is a transformation going on in teaching and learning," Phipps said. "We need to be on the same page because we are all learners together."
For more information, please visit www.blackboard.com/k12.