Joe McClung watches from the back of a classroom during a classroom walkthrough exercise at a Springdale school.
Educational Leadership Program Uses Latest Technology to Prepare Administrators
The University of Arkansas' educational leadership program has expanded its online offerings for two reasons, according to faculty.
"Our goal in developing these new learning options for future school leaders was not only to support ease of access but to also use new technology to promote a rigorous learning experience," said John Pijanowski, associate professor of educational leadership. "Students in our educational leadership distance program will be more connected than ever before with each other, faculty and educational leaders."
Pijanowski emphasized the program's potential reach to educators all over the state of Arkansas and beyond.
"As the land-grant institution of Arkansas, we recognize our responsibility to serve not only our community but the entire state," he said. "We want to help people step up to leadership roles in their schools, wherever they are, and they can take our program from the comfort of their offices and homes."
The educational leadership program in the College of Education and Health Professions offers three degrees:
Master of Education prepares students seeking administrative positions in elementary and secondary schools. The master's degree is offered online during the summer and on campus in the fall and spring. Admission is rolling throughout the year.
Educational Specialist provides professional preparation for students involved in school site administration and those who have districtwide administrative responsibility. The specialist degree is offered online, and admission is rolling throughout the year.
Doctor of Education provides professional preparation for students pursuing careers as leaders of school systems and college faculty. The doctorate is offered online using a cohort model. Admission decisions are made twice a year, in mid-March and early summer.
The doctoral degree has incorporated a new feature in which the students will gather once a semester on campus. They will meet with faculty and practitioners for a one-credit seminar that will serve as a valuable capstone for the distance experience, Pijanowski explained. Each intensive, long-weekend cohort seminar on the Fayetteville campus will focus on a theme that connects theory with practice and includes mini-lectures by scholars and practitioners in the field, facilitated discussion groups and lively debate of critical issues facing school leaders.
"The intent of the cohort weekend is to build relationships, introduce students to leaders in the field and expose them to interactive, hands-on learning experiences that lend themselves more easily to the face-to-face environment," Pijanowski said.
Joe McClung, an eighth-grade social studies teacher and cross-country coach in Fayetteville, plans to pursue a position as an educational administrator after completing the master's degree. He is also considering going on to enroll in the doctoral program now that it is offered online.
"The online approach provides a unique opportunity to students to continue pursuing their education at the University of Arkansas even if they are not able to attend school at the school's physical campus," McClung said. "The master's program was very understanding and accommodating for working professionals. To me, the most important aspect was the fact that the program provided a great resource to what great education should look like. Between my professors and my colleagues, a comfortable atmosphere was created that allowed for creativity within a professional setting."
Jeff Hagers is another local teacher interested in working as an assistant principal or other district/building leader position after finishing the master's program. He teaches high school Spanish and coordinates the International Baccalaureate program in Bentonville.
The program's scheduling of classes outside the school day was very important for him, Hagers said. He also appreciated the additional time the online classes afforded to formulate better responses to discussion topics.
"It is very conducive to those with busy lifestyles, active children and who live far from Fayetteville, and there are no parking worries," Hagers said. "Ultimately, I think the fact that the online delivery is offered is a testimony to the progressive vision of the educational leadership department. It's a great program."
Jennifer Taylor decided to pursue a doctorate because she would like to work as a professor teaching in an educational leadership and policy program. The format of the university's program helped make that possible, she said.
"With the online and blended options, as well as night-time courses, the program is designed to accommodate working teachers and administrators," Taylor said. "I also coached during my program, and my professors worked with me on independent study courses so that I could graduate on time."
Even with the online courses, features such as Elluminate Live provide a face-to-face setting that did not exist in older models of online delivery, she pointed out. The online delivery doesn't take away from the relationship between student and professor, either, Taylor said.
"Some of the best professors in the college are working in this department, and they genuinely care about the success of their students," she said. "I recommend this program to anyone looking to further their degree and who wants to make a positive change in the world of education."
Comments from other students who took online courses said the format provided for more interaction with other students than they expected and it sharpened their knowledge and comfort with several new forms of technology.
To maintain that connection with students, the program uses:
Video blogs to add a personal element to times during the semester when classes are not meeting face to face.
Elluminate Live, a software package that mimics the traditional classroom environment with live video and audio of the professor and students and a whiteboard on which the instructor can draw, present PowerPoints, spreadsheets, pictures and text. The system also provides a chat room for discussion.
Video conference office hours scheduled during weeks the classes meet online and for students who travel a long distance to attend class.
Google Docs with chat-facilitated working groups, which allows several people to view and edit one document at the same time in real time.
Screencasting that shares what the author sees on the computer screen and narration. The program uses screencasts to introduce students to online resources or for online lectures.
Audio feedback on student work embedded directly into Word documents, allowing the instructor to talk through problem areas with the student. Hearing the inflection in a professor's voice can help students accept critique, and it also allows auditory learners a way of getting feedback that may be more effective.
Podcasting of lectures and class discussions for times when students can't attend class.
Embedded video lectures and slideshows that students can watch on their own time, freeing up class time for debate and interactive exercises. Guest lectures from faculty around the country are also delivered by this method.
Twitter allows students to follow comments on campus news and happenings in the world of education.
For more information on the educational leadership programs, visit http://edle.uark.edu.