Penn State launches new program to teach grad students to teach online

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Graduate students traditionally teach the way they were taught. But more and more they are finding themselves teaching in online classrooms, where the old rules don’t necessarily apply.

A new Graduate Student Online Teaching Certificate program is being offered to Penn State graduate students for the first time this fall with the goal of improving the quality of instruction online.

Larry Boggess, director of online faculty development for Penn State World Campus, had hoped to attract 30 students to the course. So far, more than 350 have enrolled from across Penn State’s colleges and campuses.

“There’s a hunger from grad students for this kind of specialized training,” Boggess said.

The free one-semester course, which begins in mid-September, will teach specific skills such as managing online discussions, encouraging student engagement, and helping instructors develop their online presence.

Boggess sees the program as a way to improve instruction for online students and support the next generation of online faculty, as well as a good career move for graduate students.

Instructors teaching online face challenges such as distance and asynchronicity — students completing assignments on their own schedules during the week, Boggess said.

“You have to change your teaching to fit the digital learning space,” he said. “Part of it is becoming much more aware of your communication with students and really using interactive spaces — discussion boards, letters from faculty, personal videos — all those kinds of techniques you don’t need face-to-face.”

Boggess said the program is a sign of Penn State's commitment to making its expanding online programs the best they can be. Penn State already offers an online teaching certificate for faculty and specific courses on subjects such as teaching military students online.

This will be the first professional development class for online teaching aimed specifically at graduate students, who Boggess called “the heart and soul of a land grant university.”

“There's no program like this anywhere,” he said. “There’s a need out there and we’re going to meet the need.”

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Last Updated September 02, 2015