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Free online teaching course prepares hundreds of local educators for virtual learning this fall

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Boise State education technology professor Brett Shelton had the idea to offer a free Intro to Online Teaching course over the summer to local kindergarten through 12th grade teachers to help them improve their online teaching skills.

What Shelton envisioned as a course to help a handful of educators grew into something so much bigger.

“The response to the course was overwhelming,” said Shelton. His class sign-up for 50 educators had a waiting list of 100 more in a single day. Shelton pledged to not turn away a single teacher who needed help, calling the experiment “an extremely successful and worthwhile endeavor.”

In total, 367 teachers enrolled in the summer 2020 Intro to Online Teaching class, housed in the College of Education with support from Extended Studies.

Shelton notes that he could not have done the work of teaching hundreds of educators alone – Patrick Lowenthal, an associate professor of education technology, and Mary Ann Parlin provided assistance with grading and with conducting Zoom meetings.

“Their contributions should also be applauded and recognized,” Shelton said.

“Between this class and my experience this spring, I have tremendous empathy for those using technology in the classroom or using technology as a classroom,” said Christopher Irwin, a high school math teacher in the Boise School District. “It is very challenging, and challenging to do well. I look forward to growing as a teacher, and I believe that I have a number of tools and ideas that I can put to immediate use.”

Almost half of the participants – 147 teachers – paid for teacher professional development credits for learning modules, the vast majority of which (134) earned a full three credits for completing course.

The Idaho State Department of Education requires Idaho teachers to earn at least six professional development credits every five years to maintain their teacher certification. Shelton noted that earning professional development credits from Boise State helped save local school districts higher PD funding costs.

“While the idea was to share our expertise, so many of these teachers found that the benefit of earning PD credits was also a blessing,” Shelton said.

While the true impact will be difficult to measure, Shelton estimates that 33,000-57,000 local students will reap the benefits of having capable and confident teachers guiding their online education this fall.

“If we extrapolate beyond this year, of course, the number grows exponentially,” he added. “A number of these teachers also told me they are already helping their colleagues build their virtual classroom, so that goes to additional immediate impact. Many are reporting that they are being recognized as online teaching resources within their schools.”

It’s undeniable that for the fall semester and beyond, the hard work taken on by Shelton and his partners in Boise State’s Extended Studies – who provided much-needed logistical support for more than 300 teachers – will have a significant impact in the Treasure Valley.

“Thank you to Boise State, Extended Studies… for offering this timely opportunity to gain the skills I need,” said Sheridan Steffler, an elementary school music teacher with the Nampa School District. “Going forward, I fully expect to use a combination of online/digital resources and traditional classroom activities. Not only will these skills help with the current viral concerns, but they have changed my teaching perspective and practice.”

“Any time I take a class, it reminds me of what it feels like to be a student. I feel silly asking what are probably obvious questions; I procrastinate; I search for shortcuts when I should just read everything thoroughly and take notes,” said Kathy Mori, an English teacher with the Boise School District. “My students do the same thing. Using these tools helps me know what pitfalls and problems are going to show up, so when it happens to one of my students, I can say, ‘Oh that happened to me too. This is what I had to do.'”