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Distance learning: deaf education collaboration model.


There is a critical shortage of teachers in California. During the 1999-00 school year, the US Department of Education reported approximately 2500 teachers of deaf and hard of hearing were needed. In 1999, the majority of teachers serving deaf and hard of hearing students in the rural northern California areas were not credentialed in the area of Deaf Education. Some of the reasons included the following: the long distance to a university that offered the credential, limitations of employers regarding release time to travel to school and high costs of commuting. Teachers are now able to obtain a low incidence teaching credential through distance learning while receiving the support of administration collaboration and consulting across university campuses.

Background: Teacher Shortages in Low Incidence Disabilities

There exists in California a critical shortage of teachers (300,000 are needed in the next decade, according to the California Department of Education). This shortage exists nationally. During the 1999-00 school year, the US Department of Education reported approximately 2500 teachers of deaf and hard of hearing (D/HH) were needed. It has been estimated that by 2005, the U.S. will need additional 267,000 teachers for special education students, or approximately 24,000 for D/HH students. Teaching special education has demonstrated to have the 11th highest growth rate among careers in this country (Passell, 1995). According to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialling (CTC) in 1997, the number of students in special education is increasing while the number of teachers being credentialled to teach these students is either leveling off or decreasing, depending on the area of disability. In 1997, The Commission on Teacher Credentialling adopted a new model of professional preparation for special educators in an effort to reduce the teacher shortage. One of the reasons for the new model of teacher preparation included the decision of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing to no longer require to complete a multiple or single subject credential prior to entry into a specialized credential programs such as deaf education or learning disabilities. There were three years of pre-service professional preparation prior to becoming a special education teacher before this new model went into effect.

The Need for Distance Learning

Distance education used to be fairly simple to define. Keegan (1986) defined distance learning as the semi-permanent separation of teacher and learner, the use of technical media and the provision of two-way communication. Interest in distance education in teacher education has grown enormously in the past 30 years due to the teacher shortage gap across the United States (Shrum, 2002). Distance education for preservice teachers is accessible for those who cannot attend weekly lectures or seminars for reasons of geography, health, employment, or complicated lifestyles. Most of these individuals are already teaching in the classroom and lack the professional preparation needed to retain their employment. One of the challenges for distance learning is few current or future teachers have experienced learning with or from computers (Carlson & Gooden, 1999). While today's teachers are expected to access, utilize and implement technology to meet the changing needs of their students, distance learning provides one of the opportunities for preservice teachers to develop their own skills, visions for, or ideas about, meaningful technology use (Ertmer, Conklin, & Lewandowski, 2003).

Larwood (2003) surveyed a group of 30 distance learners who were enrolled in the Deaf Education Program at San Jose State University in San Jose California. The most common technology used by the distance learners was word processing, electronic bulletin boards and email. In the same study, distance learners had the least amount of skill using: data bases spreadsheets, online library resources and accessing class WebPages, which are crucial for distance learning. The results of this study now provide an important opportunity to redesign required courses to include technology skill building in all required assignments.

A New Way of Preparing Teachers of the Deaf

In 1999, an in-depth study by Larwood revealed that the majority of teachers serving deaf and hard of hearing students in the rural northern California areas was not credentialed in the area of Deaf Education. Some of the reasons included:

* long distances to universities that offered the low incidence credential.

* limitations of employers regarding release time to travel to school.

* high costs of commuting over 500 miles to attend class.

* limited access to online learning.

* outdated hardware necessary to study and complete coursework requirements.

As a result of this study, distance learning became a necessary alternative for preparing teachers of the deaf in addition to the regular on-campus program at San Jose State University in 1999. The combination of distance learning and technology now includes student contact through electronic mail, coordinating coursework with two California State University campuses electronically, and web-based instruction resulting in providing highly competent, fully credentialed teachers of the deaf in rural and remote areas of northern California.

Evolution of the Deaf Education Alternative Program

San Jose State University (SJSU) is one of only two northern California State Universities that offer the Education Specialist Credential: Deaf/Hard of Hearing Level I & II. For the past 48 years, SJSU has served and prepared teachers of the deaf who primarily resided in the southern San Francisco Bay region. According to the California Department of Education special education pupil count data in 1999, educational programs were serving 6243 hard of hearing and 4539 deaf students in California. Of these 10,782 students, roughly 10 percent were enrolled in the two state residential schools: the California School for the Deaf, Fremont (CSDF), which serves northern California, and the California School for the Deaf, Riverside (CSDR), serving southern California. The remaining 90 percent of the students were served in local programs. All programs report problems finding qualified teachers. School districts have now moved to the alternative of hiring persons with emergency permits. The individual must enroll in a credential program while working in the special education classroom with little or no experience. The shortage has continued to grow at an alarming rate; hence, the development of the Distance Learning Program at SJSU.

For the past five years, SJSU has offered the Education Specialist Credential: Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program to individuals who live in rural northern California. The SJSU Distance Learning Deaf Education Program is now the largest low incidence credential program in the state of California--with 21 teachers enrolled. These 21 teachers might otherwise have faced great difficulty in obtaining the appropriate credentials due to the remote location of where they reside and work.

Student Population

The Deaf Education Program has grown over 400% since 2001 which includes both regular and distance learning students. The combined number of distance and regular graduate students enrolled in 2002-2003 was 58 students in Level I and 28 students in Level II. The anticipated enrollment for the 2003-2004 academic year will be well over 100 students. Sixty percent of the program's graduate students live in distant areas such as Sacramento, Redding and Lake Tahoe, California. As of 2003, only 40 percent of the program's students live in San Francisco Bay Area. Over 30 percent of the current students drive up to six hours to SJSU for classes. The program has a federal grant, which provides funding for travel expenses for all students who are from outlying areas. Recently, the distance learning program has accepted two students who commute by plane from Nevada and Southern California.

Educational Partnerships

The SJSU program presently has 21 Educational Program Partnerships throughout rural Northern California from as far south as Monterey County up to the southern Oregon border due to a three- year search to support and identify teachers who needed credentials in deaf education. The first goal of a five-year grant from the Federal Office of Special Education Programs is an aggressive recruitment program of undergraduates at SJSU and ten community colleges in the San Francisco Bay area as well at community colleges located in the rural areas east and north of the Sacramento area to develop a large pool of interested preservice teacher candidates. The second goal is the development and institutionalization of long-term collaborative partnerships at six northern California State Universities that do not offer the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Credential to date. These partnerships include Chico State University and Sacramento State University.

The partnership with CSU Chico is in its third year. Students who live within reasonable driving distance from this campus take certain required elementary and special education classes that have been approved by the SJSU Deaf Education Program Director to ensure alignment with the SJSU Program. In 2003, ten SJSU graduate students completed some of their courses at CSU Chico. The second partnership is with Sacramento State University which offers several courses in American Sign Language and Deaf Culture in addition to elementary and special education core classes. Presently, there is a cohort of 12 students who reside in the outlying areas around Sacramento who are in the process of completing several of the SJSU Deaf Education requirements at the CSU Sacramento campus.

Population Served

The teachers who complete the Education Specialist: Deaf/Hard of Hearing Credential are qualified to teach special day classes for deaf and hard of hearing students from birth to 22 years of age. Students are recruited from local school districts to the California State School for the Deaf to SELPA (Special Education Local Planning Agency) Directors from rural northern California such as Redding, Shasta and the Yosemite area. The age range of children served requires that the Level I and H Program covers principles of instruction from infancy through the transition process of young adults into the post-secondary system (Birth-22 years). Teachers also serve deaf-blind students and multihandicapped deaf students. Teachers with the Education Specialist Credential: Deaf/Hard of Hearing may teach students who attend class full time in general education, act as a resource teacher for deaf students and/or be employed by the California State Schools for the Deaf. Some teachers work as itinerant teachers of the deaf, travelling to multiple school sites on a weekly basis. Currently, the SJSU program is working with two teachers who commute up to 5 hours to one rural school which may have only one deaf or hard of hearing child. Several graduates now serve as the sole expert on deafness for entire regions and are given the added responsibility of overseeing and evaluating the work of educational sign language interpreters who work with the child/ren on a daily basis in hearing classrooms. The demographics of the student population served vary from 48 percent Latino in the Bay area to 50 percent Punjabi and Asian American in more northern areas of California. The teachers who leave the program are faced with the challenge of serving children who come from varied linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

Length of the Distance Learning Program

Teachers who live more than three hours away are able to complete the program in the same time frame as on-campus students. The option of going to two California State Universities while completing the SJSU Deaf Education Program results from coordination and communication initiated by the SJSU Deaf Education Program Director. Teachers complete the Level I Program in 3-5 semesters depending on the sign language competency. Level II can be completed in 2-3 semesters.

Program Planning

Individuals who wish to complete the program leading to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing teaching credential at SJSU, but who reside outside the San Francisco Bay Area, meet with the Program Director to review transcripts and develop a program plan. During this meeting, (live or online) the Program Director and Intern determine what courses must be taken at SJSU and what courses can be taken at CSUs closer to the applicant's home or work. When distance students register for required Deaf Education courses at SJSU, they are required to attend the first class meeting and one class a month thereafter, contingent upon satisfactory performance. The intern and the instructor work out an attendance and performance contact. If work is less than satisfactory, the course instructor may require more class attendance.

Contacts with School Administrators

The SJSU program director meets with every educational program administrator who has hired an intern teacher of the deaf in the SJSU Program. The SJSU Director provides the administrator with the credential program requirements, explains how these requirements will impact the teacher's work schedule and schedules release time needed to complete the program. Every school administrator has given support in releasing teachers to take classes and complete any needed credential requirements. Frequent personal contacts (live or online) with each educational administrator has been crucial, as many are not clear about the Level I and II requirements. These ongoing contacts are two-fold: 1) the SJSU Program Director becomes familiar with the school programs, services, unique needs and demands the new teacher will face 2) the school administrators learn the program requirements and skills the teachers will be mastering, hence becoming a stronger support for the teacher throughout the program. These partnerships ensure that the SJSU student feels a strong sense of support throughout his/her course of study.

Since the onset of the Distance Learning Program, it has been found that school administrators' knowledge of the new credential requirements has varied due to the enormous responsibilities placed upon their own job. Administrators often feel relief as they are provided support and specific information about each teacher that is in the program. The role of the school administrator has varied from educational agency due to the size of the district or county. Many times the new teacher is not clear as to who they actually answer to because the program they serve might be run by a county while the classroom is located on a school district site. Administrators have expressed appreciation in knowing how much release time is needed for the teacher to complete the program well in advance. The SJSU Program Director often helps locate substitute teachers if at all possible. In some cases, graduate students in the SJSU program who live nearby and are not working, are happy to substitute as they gain some much needed classroom experience while working with children who are deaf.

The SJSU Program Director regularly attends regional SELPA meetings, county office of education meetings, and conferences with school superintendents and program specialists. This consistent and ongoing communication is key to the success of this innovative program. As a result of the ongoing coordination provided to educational agencies, program administrators now contact the SJSU Deaf Education Program to recruit a new teacher or to offer support to a new teacher hired. The SJSU Program Director also meets with teachers and staff at school sites for regular weekly meetings as a means of keeping the program visible and in the minds of professionals who may hire a teacher of the deaf.

Community Advisory Board meetings are held each fall and spring along with three other Education Specialist Credential Programs from San Jose State University. Included at these meetings are local Bay Area administrators and potential teacher mentors who would be supporting new teachers completing the program. Administrators share concerns and feedback from the field and release mentor teachers to attend these meetings for formal training as a support provider with new Level I teachers. The mentorships are crucial components for distance learning interns, as professional isolation is the common cause of teacher attrition in deaf education (Larwood, 1999). Mentors are within driving distance of new Level I teachers working in rural areas and use electronic communication as an alternative to keep in touch and problem solve daily issues.

Support for Teachers

The Deaf Education Program provides mentors for any teacher who applies to the program who is employed as a teacher of the deaf. Teachers who are graduates of the Deaf Education program and have taught more than five years are eligible to become mentors for new teachers. The Program Director works closely with teacher's employers to assign a mentor who is already working in the same program or a person who works in a similar job capacity in an adjacent county or state. If a mentor cannot be found locally, a 'cybermentor' is assigned. Mentors for distance learners must have the unique understanding of the challenges of understanding and supporting new teachers of the deaf who educate a child who is deaf in remote towns in rural areas. In contrast, the regular on-campus students are hired in urban programs where mentors are easily accessible and work in the same program and often at the same school site.

At the conclusion of the Level I program, a Professional Induction Plan (PIP) is developed with the SJSU Program Director, the employer, and the teacher. The PIP outlines what the teacher must do to complete the requirements for the Professional Clear Credential as well as identify the ways in which the teacher will be supported. During the PIP meeting, a mentor is assigned (it is often the same person who has been working with the teacher since the beginning of the Program) to work with the teacher for the first year of teaching on the Preliminary Credential. The SJSU Deaf Education Program provides mentor training and stipends as an incentive to maintain a high caliber of mentors for new students. Professional compatibility is important in matching a mentor with a new teacher.


SJSU is the only Deaf Education Credential Program in California with such a large geographical service area. What makes SJSU unique is the high level of personal contact between program director, teacher, school site/program administrator, and mentors. This labor-intensive aspect of the program has had a significant impact on reducing teacher burnout and attrition during the first five years of entering the teaching profession.

This alternative innovative form of distance teacher education has evolved rapidly over the past five years. The majority of the students enrolled in the SJSU Deaf Education Program are distance learners. Access to high quality training is essential and is even more the case when a teacher wishes to teach a child with low incidence disabilities. With the growing number of students expressing interest in distance learning, the programs will allow teachers to get the training they need.


California Commission on Teacher Credentialing; Handbook for Postsecondary Institutions and Accreditation Reviewers. (1996). Standards of Quality and Effectiveness for Education Specialist Credential Programs and Clinical Rehabilitative Services Credential Programs. Special Education Advisory Panel: Author.

Carlson, R. D., Gooden, J. S. (1999, March). Mentoring preservice teachers for technology skill acquisition. Paper presented at the 10th annual meeting of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education, San Antonio, TX. (ERIC Reproduction Document Service No. 432 280).

Ertmer, P. A., Conklin, D., & Lewandowski, J. (2003). Increasing Preservice Teachers' Capacity for Technology Integration through the Use of Electronic Models. Teacher Education Quarterly v. 30 no. 1, p. 95-112.

Larwood, Lou, Y., (2003). Technology in Low Incidence Teacher Education: How are we doing? A research study to be published in summer 2004 in Technology in Special Education.

Larwood, Lou, Y., (1999). Learning from Teachers of the Deaf. San Diego, A Research Paper presented at the American College of Educators of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Passell, P. (1995, September 5). Job advice for 2005: don't be a farmer, play one on TV. New York Times, p. F9.

Schrum, L. (2002). Oh, What Wonders You Will See: Distance Education Past, Present, and Future. Learning and Leading with Technology v. 30 no. 3 (November 2002) p. 6-9, 20-1.

Lou Larwood, San Jose State University, CA

Larwood is an assistant professor of special education specializing in deaf education. The University of Southern California awarded her a doctorate in education. Her teaching-research agenda includes new teacher induction, policy and program development in teacher education/deaf education.
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Author:Larwood, Lou
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Sep 22, 2003
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