If you’re not at least 50% face-to-face, you’re no good

GoodevilI had a conversation recently with some folks from another state’s educational administration licensing board. This is the board at the state department of education that oversees educational leadership preparation programs and accredits them.

This state apparently has experienced a wave of institutions that have come in from outside the state and are offering preparation programs that are primarily or wholly online. There are concerns – from existing university preparation programs and perhaps the licensing board – that these programs are “just out to make a buck” and are known across the state as being cheap and easy ways to get principal or superintendent licensure. It’s also worth nothing that most of the traditional preparation programs in the state are not utilizing online instruction to a substantial extent and, of course, have market shares that they’re trying to preserve.

The board is wrestling with ways to ensure the rigor of its school leadership preparation programs and the quality of its newly-graduated administrators. One of the regulations being considered is the following:

No educational leadership program will be accredited unless at least 50% of its instruction is face-to-face rather than online.

I expressed some of my concerns about the proposed regulation, noting that there always will be variability and that I believed they should be separating issues regarding quality of program content from quality of program delivery. While some face-to-face programs/courses are of high quality, others are not. The same is true for online programs/courses. It is both possible and probable that some of the best programs/courses that are primarily online will be better than some of the worst programs/courses that are primarily face-to-face. The critical factor is not necessarily the online nature of the instruction but rather what happens in the instructional process, whether online, face-to-face, or some kind of hybrid model.

Any thoughts on the state licensing board’s attempts to ensure the quality of its programs and their graduates?

Image credit: Good vs Evil

18 Responses to “If you’re not at least 50% face-to-face, you’re no good”

  1. I agree that they’re looking at the wrong thing. But we have a tradition of that in education. It’s far simpler to measure screen time and seat time than to evaluate program quality. It’s like measuring teacher quality based on a 45 minute observation and a lack of parent complaints. I suppose it’s like any other system: if there are artificial criteria, someone will find a way to manipulate them.

  2. I had similar thoughts a while back regarding student teaching.

    We need to focus on both content and delivery and, perhaps more importantly, on what the participants are actually doing. I would still hesitate to commit to a purely online program at this point, but that may just be my comfort zone. But I would also hesitate to commit to any program that didn’t have an online component. I would ask the board if they have any regulations regarding that. To me, any program that doesn’t have any online component is a bigger concern then mandating a minimum face-to-face component.

  3. I just read a timely excerpt from Reiser and Dempsey’s TRENDS AND ISSUES IN INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN AND TECHNOLOGY (2nd edition), pp. 312-314:

    “We have all participated in both computer and classroom training events that were ineffective. They may present plenty of information, but not in a way that fosters learning. Conversely, we know of many courses delivered via computer or classroom that effectively support the learning objectives. The quality of the instruction is not a function of the delivery medium. Many reviews of media comparison research have consistently shown that what causes learning is not the delivery media per se but the instructional methods that are used to build the lessons.” (R.E. Clark, 1994; Mayer, 2001)

  4. It strikes me that this Board assumes there is value in face to face, simply because it is face to face. That is a dangerous assumption to make. I’m wondering what would happen if one suggested that no educational leadership program will be accredited unless at least 50% of its instruction is online rather than face-to-face. That may cause some discomfort!

  5. I wonder if they have seen the report issued by the U.S. Department of Education last August, “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning.” It is a meta-analysis of 11 years of research on online learning, primarily with adults. It looked at totally face-to-face, blended/hybrid and totally online.

    The study concluded that, “Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.” A blended approach proved to be the most effective. You can access the study at: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/opepd/ppss/reports.html

    You will need to scroll down quite a bit to the Educational Technology section.

    • Charlotte Ballard Reply July 27, 2010 at 2:58 pm

      Good response! As a student, I would favor a blended approach. Online for saving money and convenience and time management. But I enjoyed face-to-face instruction very much while getting my masters. However, while working on the doctorate, some of my classes really needed to be face-to-face in order to constantly clarify our (students’) questions, and some were a total waste of face-to-face time. I believe we have all had good and bad professors, and whether they are teaching in a classroom or online, I don’t know that it would make much difference. However, I do think online instructors and students need to be taught how to teach and learn online before they are launched into it without any preparation.

      • LaWanda Burgoyne Reply July 28, 2010 at 6:52 am

        I am currently completing my Master’s degree completely online, and I wonder at your statement that you needed “face-to-face in order to constantly clarify our (students’) questions.” Could these questions not have been dealt with in a threaded discussion? One of the most important aspects of my program is that everyone had to complete a basic introductory course to online learning at the beginning which provided that preparation you mentioned.

        My personal view is that the quality of instruction and the diversity of peer-experiences in my program, in part because we are not limited to a specific state program, has been far more valuable than that of my peers taking seat courses through local universities.

  6. I did my teacher certification at a local college and I chose to do it completely online(there was the option for either). I have children at home and it was the best option for me. However, I did take the first class face-to-face. What I found was a wide variety of people–from young students and people changing careers who had never been in the classroom to many of us who had a lot of classroom experience. I listened to a lot of bad presentations and basic questions and was frustrated. Online, I could get directly to the work at hand. I found I learned the most from the instructors who participated in the online discussions, provided constructive feedback and challenged me. In other words, they had those qualities that any teacher, face-to-face or online should have. The danger with online instruction is that it is easy to just post the syllabus, grade the papers and leave it at that. Quality is what counts, regardless of the medium. One last note: we also need to hold the students responsible in an online situation. Too many students try to log on, do their required two posts on the last day possible and leave. They gained nothing and added nothing of value to the conversation. Again, you would have that sort of problem face-to-face, also.

  7. The most obvious practical issue is simple. If my state won’t license me as a principal because my certification is from Cyberspace U, how do they prevent me from getting that same license in a neighboring state and just claiming reciprocity? West Virginia might decide not to recognize a program, but if my classes get me certified in Kentucky (or Maryland), does it matter? Won’t 25 bucks and a properly filled out form still get my out-of-state certification recognized in almost any other state?

  8. I agree that having experience/exposure to learning in online spaces must no longer be optional, but cringe when the only criteria is percentage of time. How about this stipulation:

    “No educational [leadership] program will be accredited unless there is ample evidence of cultural relevancy, excellence, diversity of learning spaces, and digital information literacy/fluency.”

  9. I’m a proponent of online learning and have taken a number of e-courses, but I have to concede that teacher preparation may not lend itself to a *completely* web-based format. I think that being in a brick-and-mortar classroom is a more important part of teacher prep than it may be in other fields. After all, this is the setting in which most of us will end up teaching, right?

  10. I am agreeing with Karl and Rebecca. I wouldn’t want to endorse a program that was either all online or all f3f. I am teaching my first online course this semester and I find it rigorous. I am also taking a course on Online Teaching. The online teaching world has great potential for developing valuable critical thinking in our field. Getting back to Rebecca’s comment – we need be exposed to enough effective f2f teaching to practice it in the field.

  11. This sort of thinking is inconsistent with reality and is part of what needs to change. I’m a student in Educational Leadership at St. Bonventure University in New York State. I’m working toward and MSED in Ed. Leadership. St. Bonaventure is a traditional university but its Educational Leadership program is offered in hybrid which is 3 face-to-face sessions and the rest of the course being offered on-line with Moodle, readings, assignments and facilitated class discussions within the context of Moodle.

    In a day and age of increased energy costs requiring students and particularly working mothers and fathers to attend classes 50% of the time is really nonsense. I’ve taken some of my courses face to face and I do enjoy it but I’ve also seen the Moodle format work really well and quite possibly offering a more reflective opportunity as students have more time to reflect on answers rather than being confined to the traditional 90 or 120 minute format.

  12. My online degree from UBC (MET) was 100% online and based on comparison with my colleagues who did face to face educational Masters degree programs, it was a far superior experience than what most of them were offered. I think the 50% requirement is a cheap way of not having to actually check out each program and set up a proper accreditation process.

  13. When the licensing board questions quality of online programs, it makes me think they are concerned with individual learner accountability. Face to face will not cure that – it doesn’t now. However, I think there is tremendous value in meeting in groups and having them hold you accountable and challenge you on your ideas, which you can also do on-line. Strike two. John shared research where blended was most effective. Is that because it’s what WE are most comfortable with at this point?

  14. Why stop here? Let’s start advocating that all TV shows be delivered at least 50% face-to-face. How about all newspapers shift to a 50% delivery face-to-face?

    Why is that a ridiculous notion in other fields and not in education?

  15. If the argument goes that mandating quality through delivery model (ie requiring face-to-face instruction) is a bad idea, it is surprising that a number of comments suggest that it is still OK to mandate quality through delivery when that mandate is online instruction (ie requiring a portion of coursework to be completed online).

  16. When I took my most recent degree, it was 100% face to face – very traditional. On the other hand, much of our collaborative work was digital. That was because WE chose to work that way, not all did. The two benefits that I saw was the dedication that my colleagues and I had to arrange our lives a bit to make this happen. The scheduling was flexible and so were we. Another huge plus for at least some f2f was the need to interact socially. As an administrator I have had some highly knowledgeable instructors that have not had the ability to relate to others and have therefore failed to deliver learning opportunities that could be used by the learners due to interpersonal shortcomings. I believe that f2f helps build or at least identify that capacity. Although some of the f2f learning was technology infused, it was not integrated as a program, which would have enhanced the overall experience.

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