How Online Teaching Degrees Work
Are you considering an online teaching degree program? If so, you may have a lot of questions and concerns about the overall educational experience of how online teaching degrees work. Because online learning is relatively new and has grown so fast, there are a number of common misconceptions that most people have, but that’s why we’re answering the top questions people are asking.
Common Misconceptions About Online Degrees
When it comes to being in a classroom environment, many people assume that online education degrees don’t involve physical classroom time, but student teaching is an important—and mandatory—requirement for online teaching programs that offer a pathway to initial licensure. Aspiring teachers can benefit from the convenience of taking coursework online, but they can still gain hands-on student teaching experience at a local school.
Another misconception is that online learning is a solitary experience, but many programs are designed to plug you into a dynamic community, where you can regularly interact with peers and professors in a variety of familiar formats from discussion boards to social media to face-to-face video conferencing and more.
It’s important to note that online teaching degrees are available with a variety of focus areas at all levels—including associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees—and just like campus-based degrees, these will all have distinct requirements. Each program will give you a different experience overall, depending on its design. Researching a program’s curriculum, support services, student experience, and career outcomes is always an important step when considering a degree program. But earning a teaching degree online is a viable, worthwhile option. You just need to identify and choose a program that meets your specific needs and goals.
Find Answers to Your Questions About Online Teaching Degrees
Want to better understand what to expect from online education? Read the frequently asked questions below to demystify the experience and learn what an online teaching degree might really entail.
How do online classes work?
Your experience in online classes will vary depending on the program. However, most online classes are conducted through virtual classrooms known as learning management systems (or LMS), where you can communicate with students and professors, view the syllabus, access course materials, complete assignments, track your lessons, and view grades—all from the comfort of your home, no commute required.
The flexibility and convenience of online classes can help remove some of the barriers that keep people from enrolling in higher education programs and can be especially helpful for working professionals, people with family commitments or disabilities, military personnel, and those who frequently travel or live far away from a university.
Will I get to interact with other students?
You will likely have multiple opportunities to engage with other students, both formally and informally. For example, through the LMS, you may participate regularly in online discussion boards. A professor may pose a question to the class and ask you to share your opinion and comment on other people’s answers as well. You may also connect with students through social media, phone, email, video chat, or wiki (a website that allows for collaborative editing, which comes in handy for group projects).
In addition, some online classes allow you to engage in real-time face-to-face discussions through video-conferencing. You may also be encouraged to use the LMS for group meetings, study sessions or online events where you can collaborate with your peers and build deeper relationships.
Check to see whether the program provides a mobile app that you can access with a phone or tablet so you don’t have to lug a laptop around or be near a desktop to log in. An app can allow you to easily check in throughout the day. Depending on the app, you may be able to view updates, review course materials, take notes and complete assignments, upload photos, and communicate with classmates even when you’re busy on the go.
Will I have access to the professor?
A common way to contact a professor is through email or by sending messages via the LMS. Professors may also offer virtual office hours with the opportunity to video conference at set times to help you get your questions answered and learn more about a subject.
Some professors may have an active presence on social media, allowing you to view shared articles, news and updates on websites like LinkedIn or Twitter.
In addition to virtual connections, some programs offer occasional on-campus events where you can meet your professors and peers in person and participate in hands-on learning activities and workshops.
How do assignments work with online classes?
Many online classes have self-paced, or asynchronous, coursework that allows you to complete assignments and meet deadlines on your own schedule. Depending on the online education degree program, your assignments may include:
- Reading material
- Video presentations
- Recorded lectures
- Research papers
- Reflective essays
- Proctored exams
- Discussion forums
- Group projects
- Interactive quizzes or tests
Do online teaching degrees require student teaching?
Student teaching is designed to help you apply what you learn in your teaching program to a real-world setting, and it’s an essential component of online teaching degree programs. Due to state requirements, accredited online education degrees with a pathway to licensure almost always require student teaching, which takes place in person.
Although student-teaching requirements for an initial teaching certification vary by state, it usually lasts a few months. For a bachelor’s degree, aspiring teachers are usually required to complete one semester of student teaching in person. Master’s programs for first-time teachers may require student teaching, an on-campus residency, practicum experience, or summer student-teaching term. If you are already a teacher and you enroll in a master’s program, you may be able to fulfill the field experience requirements in your current role.
Can I do my student teaching online?
You cannot complete your student teaching online. However, you may begin the field experience component of your education by watching videos of teaching, and you may even practice some aspects of teaching virtually, but eventually you will need to transition to a real-world setting by observing a classroom in person and practicing at a local school. This can give you the best of both worlds—the convenience of an online program plus the experiential knowledge of hands-on learning.
Will I get to choose where I do my student teaching?
Students are often placed in schools close to their homes. Your advisor may already have partnerships with schools in your area that fit the requirements of the program, but if not, you may have to take the initiative and make arrangements. Volunteering in classrooms is a great way to build a rapport with a school you may wish to teach at for your practicum.
How will I find student teaching opportunities?
You may have to call local school districts to ask about student teaching opportunities. Once you find an available school, reach out to your advisor to ensure the opportunity aligns with your degree program. The good news is that schools are often in need of student teachers, so it should not be too challenging to find one.
Will employers respect my online degree?
Similar to the way online dating has changed over the years and lost its stigma, online education has also become much more popular and is now the new normal for an increasing number of people. Enrollment in online courses continues to increase at a faster pace. More than 6.3 million students in the U.S. took at least one online course in the fall of 2016—a 5.6 percent increase from the previous year, according to federal data from more than 4,700 colleges and universities†.
The growing presence of online programs and people’s growing familiarity with the format is helping to remove hesitations that employers may have once had. The reputation of the institution that provided the teaching degree is what matters most to many employers, and with widely recognized schools such as Harvard, Georgetown University, Yale, NYU, Vanderbilt, Baylor, and USC offering online degree programs, the perception of online higher education has been elevated as a whole in many people’s eyes.
In public schools, online teaching degrees are so common that many employers may not give them a second thought. People in charge of hiring decisions may have taken online courses themselves and understand how rigorous they can be.
Although there may be some lingering naysayers, many employers will recognize the reputation of a college or university, whatever the mode of instruction. In fact, on your resume and transcript, your degree may look exactly the same as someone who attended an on-campus program. Employers may only see the program name or school name.
Don’t forget that, at the end of the day, schools and employers are looking for appropriate experience, leadership skills and devotion to the field, which can be achieved at any accredited school. So, take the time to investigate the program’s accreditation to make sure it will lead to the licensure and certification you need for your career path of choice.