Democratizing Access to Online Teacher Professional Development
Photo Credit: Romualdo Mabuan
Why Canvas Network?
The American English (AE) E-Teacher Program, a virtual exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (DOS/ECA), Office of English Language Programs with funding from the U.S. government and implemented by FHI 360, needed a platform for its massive open online courses (MOOCs) and chose Canvas Network. The program was already using the Canvas LMS to deliver online professional development courses to non-native English speaking teachers nominated by U.S. Embassies. The familiar platform allowed the program and its partners to easily transition content developed for the 8-week professional development program to a 5-module format appropriate for a massive, worldwide audience. Other factors considered were ease of registration, lack of certificate paywalls, compatibility with low-bandwidth approaches, and digital badge integration. Compatibility with open licensing was also important, as the DOS/ECA Office of English Language Programs is committed to advancing the Open Educational Resource (OER) movement through Creative Commons licensing.
What is special about AE E-Teacher MOOCs?
Over the past year and a half, the program has offered several Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) MOOCs on topics ranging from Integrating Critical Thinking Skills to Professional Development for Teacher Trainers. FHI 360 partners with institutions such as Iowa State University of Science and Technology, Arizona State University, George Mason University, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and World Learning, Inc. to provide grants funded by the U.S. Department of State to develop MOOC content. Our technical experts work closely with partners to ensure that standards related to content, accessibility, and open licensing are applied. As a result, each course is not only a high quality educational tool but also accessible to learners in low-bandwidth areas. Specific features include:
- Downloadable module content packets; these allow learners with infrequent internet access to read through content and prepare assignments offline.
- Auto-graded assignments; learners receive real-time feedback, and instructors can more easily manage a large volume of learners.
- Creative Commons licensing; all AE E-Teacher MOOCs are fully open educational resources.
The program has access to a worldwide audience of learners through Regional English Language Offices at U.S. Embassies and Department of State social media channels. Learners from over 100 countries have enrolled in AE E-Teacher MOOCs, with a combined enrollment of over 85,000 in the past five courses.
Retaining Learners in High Enrollment Courses
High enrollment numbers are one thing, but retaining and engaging learners has historically been the challenge of MOOCs. A hallmark of the program’s approach is the use of facilitators, selected from a pool of successful alumni. The facilitators help to moderate discussions and answer questions, fostering a sense of community. So far, 120 alumni facilitators from 58 different countries have helped to moderate the MOOCs. The active learner and pass rate statistics above indicate that the program’s approaches are successfully supporting the needs of the target audience, far surpassing the average rates for MOOC completion (around 10%).
MOOC camps also contribute to high completion rates. MOOC camps are opportunities for learners to engage with each other through facilitated, face-to-face discussions around MOOC content. Some camps are sponsored through U.S. Embassies, but many are organized independently by learners who want to contribute to professional development within their local community. MOOC camps are very popular in the Philippines, Pakistan and Cambodia, among other countries. For the past two MOOCs, a third of survey respondents reported that participating in a MOOC camp helped them complete a course. The program supports camps by hosting a group in the AE E-Teacher community of practice and sharing course materials before MOOCs start.
Partnership for Impact
While some have argued that MOOCs have failed to democratize higher education, the extraordinarily high engagement and completion rates of AE E-Teacher MOOCs indicates there is strong global demand for professional development targeted to educators, particularly those associated with English language teaching and learning. FHI 360’s approach to working with academic content providers to deliver low-bandwidth friendly professional development opportunities on behalf of the U.S. Department of State, and in partnership with Canvas Network, illustrates the impact that can be achieved when the goals and objectives of funders, implementers, content developers, and platform providers align around a commitment to supporting educators and making content freely and openly available. To learn more about our experience using Canvas Network, our approach to MOOC design and delivery, and partnership opportunities, feel free to reach out to us, visit the AE E-Teacher website, or contact the U.S. Department of State’s, Bureau of Educational Affairs, Office of English Language Programs.
AE E-Teacher Project Manager at FHI 360
Learning Platforms Technical Officer at FHI 360
Canvas Network is committed to helping educators worldwide thrive, excel, and grow. In an effort to achieve this, they will be aligning their online course offerings to meet the different professional development (PD) needs of educators beginning in 2019. Currently, Canvas Network has PD courses--from blended-learning models to learning how to gamify your online instruction. In the coming months, this library will continue to grow and extend to better serve the individual needs of educators worldwide. Not only will Canvas Network have an ever-growing library of PD courses, they will also offer courses that will help Canvas schools receive additional tips, tricks, and ideas as they implement their instance of Canvas. These Canvas-specific courses will help educators deepen their knowledge and love for Canvas and all of its capacities.