Educational Technology Graduate Certificate Brings More Teachers to Online Environment

May 5, 2022  |  by Heidi Wells, Global Campus

Maximus, Lillian and Joseph Alderman
(Photo submitted)

Maximus, Lillian and Joseph Alderman take a selfie at the World Series last year.

The University of Arkansas educational technology program received $195,000 from the Arkansas Department of Education to pay for 20 students to complete a graduate certificate offered through a K-12 online teaching academy. The state has renewed the funding for a second year.

Derrick Mears, clinical associate professor who coordinates the educational technology program, says, because the graduate certificate was created several years ago in advance of the Arkansas Department of Education creating a new licensure program for K-12 online teaching, students didn't know what the certificate was for.

Lillian Alderman knew what it was for. An early adopter of online education as a teacher, she has seen her son, Maximus, who has a medical condition that would have disrupted an in-person education, thrive as a student in the Arkansas Virtual Academy, and she oversees the virtual education program at Mountain Pine School District.

"He couldn't leave the house for six weeks, but he started classes the next day after getting home from the hospital. Online education is easier to work around life's inconsistencies."

Lillian Alderman says of her son after he underwent heart surgery

But, her husband, Joseph Alderman, also a teacher at Mountain Pine, was initially reluctant to get on the online education bandwagon. It was partly the experience of their son, now a sixth-grader, that changed his mind.

Joseph says their son was able to excel in an online learning situation. Joseph began to see how that learning environment could benefit his students at Mountain Pine.

"The curriculum was open to suit his needs," Joseph says. "I found that interesting and it impressed me. I became interested in being able to provide that at a public school."

Learning online allows more easily for differentiation, serving the needs of students who learn at different rates and by different styles, as well as allowing more individualized progress in general, the Aldermans agree.

"Our son is more involved in activities outside the classroom because he has more time," Lillian says.

"He's a grade ahead in core content," Joseph says, "and you don't have to move grade levels to do that. Students can advance at their own rate if they are not being challenged."


Pandemic Creates Changes in Education

Lillian Alderman
Lillian Alderman poses with two of the cheerleaders she coaches.

The Mountain Pine School District where the Aldermans teach and coach is about 12 miles northwest of Hot Springs. Both earned bachelor's degrees from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock; Lillian also earned a master's degree in counselor education from UALR. In addition to overseeing virtual education in the district, she is the cheer coach.

"With the pandemic came changes in what I was doing," Lillian says. "I was looking for different avenues, looking at licensure plans, and I saw the U of A Online Teaching Academy on the Arkansas Department of Education website. It was perfect for both of us.

"From 2015-2020, I worked for Mountain Pine as the online learning coordinator, and I loved it," she continues. "It was interesting to me and when the pandemic hit, I changed to a different role. It became even more important to sharpen my skills."

Joseph has been the district's EAST facilitator for six years. EAST is education accelerated by service and technology, according to the EAST Initiative website. EAST inspires change and transforms schools and communities by empowering people with technology, by encouraging critical thinking and creative problem-solving, and by engaging them in positive, real-world experiences, the website says. EAST advocates lifelong learning and community service. Through EAST, participants become positive agents of change to improve the world around them.

Joseph also works as the head baseball coach and offensive coordinator for the football team. The Mountain Pine district moved to online instruction after the pandemic began to affect the state and changed later to a hybrid structure of some online and some in-person instruction.

Joseph Alderman
Joseph Alderman coaches baseball at Mountain Pine School District.

"EAST is project-based and self-guided," Joseph explains. "The kids are doing their own things. I'm the facilitator, encouraging them along. We've built wood duck boxes for the Corps of Engineers and organized Veterans Day programs. When the pandemic hit, I had zero idea of how to do this. I refer to EAST as controlled chaos. You've got 30 kids in a room all doing something different. I'm the manager while also teaching them how to use software."

Joseph soon came to understand his wife's enthusiasm for online instruction and agreed doing the educational technology graduate certificate was a good idea for him, too. But, he initially dreaded the program because of how busy the couple are and thought they would be doing a lot of research and writing academic papers. He recalls that's how Lillian's master's degree in counseling was structured.

"Instead, this was almost like taking my own class in EAST," he says. "It was creative and fun with a lot of hands-on work. I had to create a website early on. My kids know how to do it, but we just touched on it. I made them do the exact same assignment (as in the educational technology course). When I told them what was going on, they got excited to do college-level work."

"Eighty percent of it is applied learning," Lillian says. "You learn the background, why we're doing it this way, then you go create it and immediately apply it in the classroom."

Teaching online requires more planning, but students can watch the lessons as often as they want, deepening their knowledge, the couple says.

"That's huge for mastery," Joseph says. "Differentiation is so much easier on the virtual side. If a kid is ready to move on, they can. If a kid needs more time, they can do that, too."

Lillian describes a more controlled environment online because students can chat with the instructor and other students without being loud and disruptive as sometimes happens in a classroom.

For Lillian, the situation was not that different; she went from working in a room with children learning online from a remote instructor to working online with the students at home and she is the remote instructor.


Pivoting From In-Person to Online Education

Derrick Mears
Derrick Mears

In March of 2021, Mears learned about the availability of a grant program from the Arkansas Department of Education for the creation of K-12 online teaching academies around the state. Several months had passed since many schools switched to remote learning to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Experiences varied greatly for teachers and students, depending on the level of expertise among school districts for delivering online learning.

The University of Arkansas and four other universities in the state put online teaching academies into place quickly (between March and July, a fast turnaround in academia) with the grant money. Teachers from all over the state enrolled in the U of A's academy.

"When I get ready to teach an online course in the fall, I build it in January," Mears explains. "What happened in 2020 was districts were asking K-12 teachers to do that over the course of a weekend. In some situations, people were flying blind and trying to figure out how to adapt quickly without knowing if the strategies they were using would be effective.

"They were given access to various types of technology-based tools they might not have had access to before but were still struggling with how to effectively use them to deliver content," Mears continues. "For example, teachers who were working face to face with students were suddenly trying to discover a way to effectively deliver content entirely online to K-2 level students who were not able to read complex directions by using graphics and media."

Teachers did an amazing job of piecing together what they could to deliver instruction to their students, but many also came to realize that having more knowledge about emerging technologies was needed, Mears says.

Virtual schools were growing before the pandemic, Mears says, and in 2019, approximately 320,000 students in the United States responded to a survey that they were studying fully online.


Graduate Certificate Leads to Arkansas Licensure in Online Teaching

Certified, practicing teachers in Arkansas public schools can earn Arkansas licensure in online teaching for grades K-12 through completion of the graduate certificate and passing the Arkansas state licensure exam.

A grant Mears obtained through the Arkansas Department of Education has boosted enrollment in not only the Graduate Certificate in K-12 Online Teaching but the educational technology master's degree as well.

"It's a big plus that the graduate certificate leads to teacher licensure. And now the master's degree can lead to licensure as well."

Derrick Mears, clinical associate professor of educational technology

And, people who earn the graduate certificate can apply those 15 credit hours toward the master's degree in educational technology or an educational specialist degree in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in educational technology. A Ph.D. leading to licensure is also now an option.

"So, we now have more options for students at any level to continue their education," Mears says.

"I would tell other teachers they should do it," Joseph says. "Online teaching is not going to go away, and it doesn't need to go away. It seems so much better for the student because of the opportunities teachers can provide to meet their needs."

Photo of Heidi Wells

Heidi Wells

Content Strategist

Heidi Wells is the content strategist for the Global Campus at the University of Arkansas and editor of The Online Learner. Her writing spans more than 30 years as a communicator at the U of A and a reporter and editor at Arkansas newspapers. Wells earned two degrees from the U of A: a master's in 2013 and a bachelor's in 1988.

Wells can be reached at or 479-575-7239.

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Graduate Certificate in K-12 Online Teaching

The number of K-12 online courses is on the rise, and so is the demand for teachers who can thrive in this online environment. Teaching online can be very different than in traditional face-to-face settings.

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