The Development of Graduate Certificate in Online Teaching and Learning
Michelle Harrison, Instructional Designer and Instructor, Thompson Rivers University, Open Learning Division

The Graduate Certificate in Online Teaching and Learning (EDDL) at Thompson Rivers University (TRU), Open Learning is designed to provide K-12 teachers, post-secondary instructors and trainers, with the technical and pedagogical expertise needed to effectively use educational technology in the classroom and in online and distributed learning environments. The “Distributed Learning Standards” for K-12 in British Columbia were first developed in 2006 in response to the growth of distributed learning programs in British Columbia, and from the recognition that teachers moving to distributed learning and online environments needed to develop new skills and become aware of best practices in order to successfully make the transition from face-to-face to distributed learning environments.

In response, School District 73 approached TRU Open Learning, (formerly the British Columbia Open University) to jointly develop a professional development program for teachers at the Kamloops Open Online Learning school (@KOOL). The team at the new Open Learning division at TRU had proven expertise in developing distributed learning courses and programs. A collaborative project emerged that saw members of the Instructional Design Group (IDG) at TRU Open Learning work with colleagues from @KOOL to develop a pilot course that included both face-to-face and online learning components. The course was launched through a two-day institute called “Tech It Up” that included both K-12 and post-secondary teachers from around the province of British Columbia. Participants were then invited to participate in the pilot course, which continued throughout the fall semester. Because of the success of this pilot course and the encouragement of its participants, further collaboration was encouraged. An advisory group, including K-12 teachers, TRU faculty and administration was established to develop four more courses to create a post-baccalaureate certificate in online teaching and learning.

The initial course was titled “Introduction to Distributed Learning.” Participants explored the realm of distributed learning through discussion about learning theory and pedagogy in online environments, consideration and application of technological tools to enhance the learning environment, and examination and design of assessment strategies. The course format was an online seminar, supplemented with face-to-face meetings that modeled the development of learning communities and social learning practices. Participants were directed to readings about current issues, best practices and theories around distributed learning and were also encouraged to explore areas of their own interest that applied to their practice. When a revised version of the course was subsequently offered online through TRU’s Open Learning Division, the audience widened to include post-secondary instructors, instructional designers and other educators in addition to the K-12 teachers.

The spirit of this initial course was carried over into the development of the certificate program. To encourage a wide audience, the courses were designed for learners who were or would be teaching in an online environment or who wanted to more effectively use educational technologies in their face-to-face or blended classrooms. The overall program planning ensured that the criteria and standards identified by the International Society for Technology in Education[1], International Association for K-12 Online Learning[2], and the Standards for K-12 Distributed Learning in British Columbia[3] (2006 version, updated in 2010) were met and covered in the curriculum.

The delivery method moved from a blended version to fully online, to ensure flexible and broad access to educators from across the country. Open, accessible and widely available technological tools were chosen that could then be used within a broad context. A traditional learning management system was not adopted, as it was expected that learners would want continued access to their course materials and projects once they were no longer TRU-OL students. This also provided an opportunity to model best practices in the utilization of these tools for students’ use in their own respective contexts.

In the course, a variety of Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, wikis and others (synchronous and asynchronous) are used to organize course materials. Students are encouraged to explore and use a variety of technologies as they complete activities and projects. Each course culminates in a major project that requires learners to create a relevant, personalized teaching unit and multi-media development or plan, underpinned by the theories and tools explored in the course.

There are currently five courses in the certificate. In the initial planning, approval for the Category Five Plus designation from the British Columbia Teacher Qualification Service (TQS) for a planned 10 course (i.e., 30 credits) diploma was sought and gained from the British Columbia College of Teachers. This option isn’t currently available, but with the development of five further courses, teachers in British Columbia could attain a 5+ designation. Current students are both from the K-12 and post-secondary sectors, and are participating from all regions in Canada. The course design has been successful in integrating and building on the expertise that each of these specialists contribute and the resulting learning environment is rich and diverse. The certificate can be completed in a year and continues to provide participants with expanded instructional skills, hands-on experience using current technological tools, modeled best practices, and experience learning and sharing in a community focused online environment.