Priya Anand enrolled in Penn State’s Graduate Student Online Teaching Certificate program to find out what to expect when she taught online. The skills she learned turned out to be helpful for teaching face to face as well.
“I could definitely feel that my overall teaching skills are improving,” said Anand, who is working on her dissertation in cybersecurity.
More than 1,000 Penn State graduate students have enrolled in the free five-week certificate program since it was first offered in 2015. Many are finding it is making them better teachers – on- and off-line.
The certificate program provides formal training in teaching in general -- such as learning and assessment and best instructional practices -- as well as specific preparation for teaching online, said Laurence Boggess, director of online faculty development for Penn State World Campus, which offers the program.
“Many will need that skill in their future work, and the certificate from Penn State World Campus gives them a competitive edge in the job market,” he said.
Many graduate students have no experience with online learning and no idea how to move beyond lectures and reading assignments to more interactive learning, Boggess said.
“We feel like we are helping to raise the bar of online teaching for the next generation.”
-- Laurence Boggess, director of online faculty development for Penn State World Campus
The certificate program is offered each spring and fall semester.
Anand has taught face-to-face classes for several semesters at Penn State Altoona, but had never taken or taught an online class before she took the certificate course in 2017. Anand said the course made her feel prepared to teach online, which she did for the first time this summer, and she expects the certificate to be helpful when she looks for a teaching job.
“The future at many universities is online,” she said.
The program covered topics including time management, initiating and monitoring discussions, and dealing with different populations of students such as adult learners and military students. Students also got familiar with Zoom, a video conferencing tool that allows teachers to see the screens of students they are interacting with, as well as record the sessions.
That allayed one of her biggest concerns about teaching online, Anand said.
“I had this fear — how am I going to interact with students? I can’t say, meet me at the end of class,” she said. "Video conferencing “gives you the feeling of sitting next to them in the same room.”
When Anand taught IST140 online this summer and again this fall, she scheduled regular office hours on Zoom, and she plans to offer online office hours for residential students in the future, too.
“I put my headphones on and the students come and ping me,” she said. “For them it’s so easy.”
She also plans to use video tutorials with her face-to-face classes as well as online courses, leaving more time for discussion in class.
Rachel Bacon, who is working on her dissertation in sociology, also said she was able to use the skills she learned in the certificate class – such as handling group projects, resolving conflicts and using online discussions to get the class involved -- in her face-to-face teaching.
Bacon said she is going on the job market this year and has seen openings that ask about experience with online teaching. “I think it is an asset to have,” she said.
Fatah Arman, who is getting a doctorate in workforce education and development in the College of Education, said what he learned in the certificate program is “absolutely invaluable.”
Arman is a teaching assistant for two online courses and two face-to-face courses. He said what he learned in the course was just as useful for his face-to-face courses as his online courses, and has made him much more confident as a teacher.
“I’m so grateful to Penn State for providing this to us at no cost,” he said.