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Help Has Arrived for Teacher Certification.

GENERALLY speaking, on a national level, 50 percent of Head Start teachers are required to have an early childhood-related degree by 2003. Individual states have imposed other deadlines and requirements. Raising the bar for early childhood educators translates to better pre-kindergarten education. It also presented many teachers with a dilemma: How in the world can I possibly squeeze college courses into my hectic life?

In response to these educational needs, the University of Cincinnati College of Education, College of Evening and Continuing Education, and University College partnered with RISE Learning Solutions Inc. to develop an associate's degree in early childhood education, the Early Childhood Learning Community (ECLC).

RISE is an Ohio-based nonprofit agency committed to developing and delivering quality training to early childhood teachers. The concerted efforts of these partners are delivering this early childhood program both by video and Internet-based methods; students are never required to be on campus. Geographically, about 60 percent of our students are from Ohio; the remainder is sprinkled throughout the country. As our national marketing efforts become more comprehensive, we are noticing a growing number of students from other

states.

One student, Sherry, represents a population that has been forced into the limelight since the Head Start Reauthorization Act of 1998. Sherry is pleased with the help the center has provided.

"I think that this type of learning is the greatest thing that's happened to a college education," Sherry said. "Like a lot of the ladies taking these courses, I have to have my associate's by 2003. I didn't know how I was going to accomplish this with working full time and taking care of a house, a teen-ager, and a disabled husband. This is working out where I can do it on my own time in my own home."

The degree includes a course work for a complete associate's degree, including English, math, sociology, and psychology, as well as early childhood content courses. Lectures for each course are pre-recorded on video and ECLC students access the lectures through their Echostar satellite dishes, or by purchasing the video set. Interactions with other students and each instructor are done through the Internet and the portal licensed by the University, Blackboard. Existing university faculty taped the lectures and often serves as the instructors for the online portion of the course. In addition, all registrations, orientations, purchasing of books, and other student-related activities are transacted at a distance, with a significant infrastructure of support personnel.

At the beginning, the most obvious and urgent task was interfacing with other university departments and their expectations of interacting with students, face-to-face. The financial aid office required students to come to campus and sign the promissory note in person. Registered students were eligible for special software discounts, but only if they showed their student ID and signed a release, again in person. The bookstore accepted phone and Web orders, but was not staffed to ship out those books during the hectic first week of class. We met with each department consistently, but quickly realized that we were not only trying to change policy, we were changing a prevalent culture.

Our research on the Head Start population indicated early that most of our students would face steep learning curves in manipulating the technology of distance education. Lectures on video were accessible and familiar; they continue to be an efficient and effective manner to deliver course content.

But since most of our students had never owned an e-mail address before, we quickly became experts in the variety of e-mail addresses available, which sites allow attachments and which do not, different Internet browsers, and how to walk students through this entire process.

Dependence on computers, e-mail, and the Internet also meant reliance upon written communication. ECLC students were expected to write reflection papers, post to discussion boards, and generally translate their content understanding to a written format. For ECLC students with recent academic experience, this was not an issue. The majority of our students, however, were not recent graduates, nor did they have many opportunities during their daily duties to express themselves in writing. These issues were not different from the challenges their campus-based peers experienced; however, the campus-based cohorts had the advantage of oral participation, body cues, and other indicators of understanding and comprehension.

In spite of being assimilated into a college culture and a technology culture, these Head Start teachers have been resilient and dedicated. Their discussion boards are full of encouraging comments to one another, peers that they've never met face-to-face. "Veterans" of distance education mentor the "rookies" with advice on inexpensive Internet connections, technology support, and other insights. Whether they're across the country or across the city, ECLC students are dedicated to the success of their peers.

Another student summarizes her experiences with typical enthusiasm:

"I love this way of learning because I am a family childcare provider. The technology allows me to work at home as well as attend college. Last quarter was my first experience but, it certainly will not be my last."

DR. LISA HOLSTROM DIRECTOR EARLY CHILDHOOD LEARNING COMMUNITY UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI
COPYRIGHT 2001 Autumn Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:HOLSTROM, LISA
Publication:Community College Week
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 15, 2001
Words:846
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