Online courses build teachers' skills

Up to 30 offerings provided by Balto. Co. school system

August 16, 2004|By Aparna Balakrishnan | Aparna Balakrishnan,SUN STAFF

Jackie Lunz was looking for a way to take courses to help hone her teaching skills while continuing to teach third-grade at Baltimore County's Carroll Manor Elementary School. But making it to evening classes presented a challenge when she had to grade papers and prepare lesson plans for the next day.

So she turned to the county school system's growing online course program.

More and more, Baltimore County public school teachers are taking advantage of a program designed to provide a convenient way for them to take professional development courses.

The program, which began in 2001 with 100 students, now has more than 700, said Barbara Dezmon, assistant to the superintendent for equity and assurance. The school system has also tripled the number of classes. It offers up to 30 free, year-round online courses that can help teachers get graduate school credits and gain and maintain their certification, she said.

"When you have 8,000 teachers and 1,000 staff, there has to be a way to take courses to the people," she said. "We're thinking about service and convenience when we offer these courses."

Dezmon said that without the online program - which offers courses, with instructors, five times a year - teachers might be limited to courses offered two or three times a year at universities or at county schools.

CaseNEX, a Charlottesville, Va., education company, has joined with the Baltimore and Howard County school systems to offer courses to teachers.

The Baltimore County schools are paying CaseNEX $99,000 this school year. Dezmon said she knows of no other county in the state that offers as many free courses to its teachers.

Upon completion of the online courses, teachers can obtain graduate-level credits from Hampton University in Virginia, she said.

The eight-week courses cover topics such as special education, reading and literacy, gifted and talented teaching, school administration and classroom and behavior management. Several are targeted to new teacher training.

CaseNEX Chief Executive Officer Marsha Gartland said the courses are designed to give teachers practical knowledge to help deal with issues that might come up in their classes.

"Teachers need a framework to work within. That's what we're giving them," she said.

Brendan Gieron, a Baltimore County teacher who has been a course instructor for the past two years, said the courses ask teachers how they would react to situations in the classroom.

Most of the 25 instructors who have taught the online courses are employed by the county school system and receive additional training from the county schools and CaseNEX.

Lunz, the Carroll Manor Elementary teacher, has taken four courses.

"You can really have a good, ongoing connection with instructors and other teachers," she said. "I've learned a lot just through dialogue with them."

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