Laura Rand used to call herself a brick-and-mortar classroom teacher. The Florence, South Carolina, primary school teacher always thought that the only way to teach was face-to-face, in front of a class.
She certainly never expected she’d be the student in an online class, that is, until her employer enrolled her in an online graduate class through EDC’s EdTech Leaders Online (ETLO).
What she discovered was unbeatable.
“I found out that the quality of learning through discussion forums and group activities was just as good as what I learned in the classroom,” she says.
Rand then took her experiences a step further and designed an online training course of her own through ETLO for other online learning skeptics. Called Children of Poverty: The Implications for Teaching and Learning, the graduate-level class instructs South Carolina teachers on the needs of students living in poverty.
Only then did she realize that for many it came down to taking a class online or no class at all.
“ETLO taught me that online courses offer flexibility and affordability for working professionals, especially moms and dads,” says Rand. “This world is so fast-paced. Who has time with kids and a full-time job to go to class for one or two nights a week?”
ETLO is an online, capacity-building program for schools, states, and universities nationwide that provides graduate-level training for educators to facilitate and design online courses. ETLO’s catalog has over 60 courses for all grades and most subject areas. ETLO is also the core online professional development partner for the Department of Education’s e-Learning for Educators program.
“We help people figure out how online learning programs can meet individual needs,” says Barbara Treacy, director of ETLO. “When ETLO began in 2000, EDC was experimenting with different models of online learning. I didn’t know it would grow to be the national program it is today.”
The program now helps to provide expertise and resources for online training at the proposal development stage for any EDC work, not only across the country, but within the organization itself.
“For many projects at EDC that have developed an online course, ETLO’s catalog is a place for those courses to live on, even after a project is completed,” says Bob Spielvogel, EDC vice president and chief technology officer.
A tapestry of resources
EDC didn’t always have ETLO to support the development of online courses and training.
The roots of online learning at EDC date back to 1993, before ETLO existed, with the inception of the National Science Foundation’s State Systemic Initiatives programs, which provided states with online technical assistance through discussion forums and file exchange.
At that time, several projects at EDC banded together to mount a dedicated bulletin board system called First Class, which hosted various discussions used to support professional development and build online communities. One project was called the National Center to Improve Practice, another Atlas Communities. Also in the mix was the Math Learning Forums project, which used shared videotapes and an online discussion board to facilitate dialogue with middle school math teachers.
By the 2000s, the interest in online courses was high at EDC, and senior leaders were exploring numerous options. The Center for Online Professional Education was created with ETLO as its signature project.
ETLO’s catalog is a tapestry of course designs from all over EDC. Some, like Ford PAS (which links classroom learning to the real world), were created when the project staff were trained through ETLO. Other courses were developed by EDC project staff with the help of ETLO—among them, the Postsecondary Access for Latino Middle-Grades Students (PALMS), which aims to increase the number of Latino students who pursue a postsecondary education.
These courses can be found alongside those designed by ETLO staff as well as by teachers from around the country—including Rand.
“Since my online course Children of Poverty, I’ve developed three more,” says Rand, who now works to train teachers online through eLearning South Carolina Professional Development, part of the state’s Department of Education. “You’d be hard-pressed to get me back into a conventional classroom on a daily basis.”
Originally published on April 14, 2010