September/October 2001 // Faculty and Staff Development
Professional Development for Teaching Online
by Wallace Hannum
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: Wallace Hannum "Professional Development for Teaching Online" The Technology Source, September/October 2001. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

In recent years, elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools have acquired computers and Internet connections (Becker, 1999), and teachers and administrators have been trained in the basics of technology use. However, the mere inclusion of technology in schools is not sufficient (Coley, Crandler, & Engel, 1999). What matters is how technology is used to enhance student learning (Merisotis & Phipps, 1999). Proper use of technology in schools will require additional professional development aimed at creating teachers who fully integrate technology into their instructional programs. This will help education participate more fully in the online revolution that is rapidly altering almost every other aspect of society.

While computer technology offers much promise for education, achieving this potential requires teachers who are skilled in its use. According to a recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics, 99% of all full-time teachers now have access to technology in their schools, and two-thirds of these report using technology for classroom instruction. Still, two-thirds of the teachers surveyed also indicate that they are not well prepared to use computer and Internet technology in the classroom (Smerdon et al., 2000).

Addressing the Need for Professional Development: LEARN NC and the COLT Program

In North Carolina, teachers have been trained in technology use through mandated professional development activities. LEARN NC, a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education, is a statewide network of educators using the power of the Internet to improve K-12 education in North Carolina. LEARN NC has traveled to all 117 school systems in North Carolina to offer hands-on training to more than 30,000 teachers. We have made great inroads in arranging access to technology in schools and preparing teachers in basic technology use. The next step, however, is to help teachers move beyond the basics of technology use into teaching online. To this end, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education, in conjunction with its LEARN NC program, has created a program for K-12 teachers to achieve advanced competencies in Internet-based online teaching methodologies and technologies. This program is called Carolina On-Line Teachers (COLT). The first group of teachers to participate in the COLT program started in June 2000, and the second group will begin in June 2001. The participants will move through the COLT program in a cohort group. The emphasis is not just on the technology itself but rather on teaching in an online environment, since it is effective teaching that matters (Yelland, 1999; Lyman, 1998). The principal benefit of this program will be enhanced educational experiences for K-12 students and increased learning gains resulting from improved online learning opportunities. The quality of instruction matters greatly in terms of student learning outcomes; by preparing teachers to create online courses that have higher instructional quality, the COLT program will influence their students' achievement.

The COLT program's goal is to prepare a cadre of lead teachers to provide effective instruction in the 21st-century virtual classroom, thereby ensuring a quality learning environment for K-12 students. Kearsley and Shneiderman (1998) have shown that engaging students in learning improves their achievement. For this reason the program of study places a premium on relevant, practical application of Internet technology as a tool for engaging students in learning. Participants in the COLT program explore the full potential of this emerging technology for education. Upon completion of the program, teachers will have developed effective courses (or segments of courses) that incorporate appropriate uses of technology for online delivery. The courses developed during a practicum in the COLT program will then be hosted by LEARN NC, which has acquired a statewide license for Lotus LearningSpace and will continue to support courses created by COLT participants. Such support will encourage all participants to develop and teach online courses, for their own schools and others, after they complete the program. Virtual teaching skills acquired at LEARN NC may also lead to future revenue opportunities for these teachers, in that the network serves as more than an educational portal: It is also a publication source for teacher-developed products. Standards for effective online courses are also being established by the COLT program, and these standards will be applied as a quality control review for online courses offered by LEARN NC.

Organization and Goals

The five courses in the COLT program and instructional goals for each course are shown in Table 1. The program can be completed in 18 months, either entirely through the UNC School of Education or with the option to take appropriate courses at other universities.

During the COLT program, participants gain an awareness of online teaching skills, techniques, and curriculum design from a student's perspective. Throughout the program, COLT instructors model appropriate technology use, employing the very same strategies that participants will use in their own courses. This type of instruction-by-example has been shown to be an important aspect of successful professional development (Sherman, 1998; Rodenburg, 1999). Each course is taught via interactive online learning techniques using Lotus LearningSpace, as course Web sites lead participants through learning activities designed to achieve course objectives. Discussion forums and streaming media are used to engage participants through collaboration and multimedia. Once each semester, participants and COLT faculty meet for an all-day session to review progress and work on group projects. Participants also take part in a week-long session in which they have extensive hands-on practice with various technological tools and models for the development of online course materials. This session prepares them for the final course of the program: a practicum that requires participants to develop their own online course.

While COLT's primary emphasis is on knowledge and skills related to online learning, the program does not ignore participants' attitudes toward educational technology. Selected readings explore issues of technology use, including educational effectiveness, ethics, and legal and social issues. Meanwhile, participants have ample opportunity to closely examine online learning as they study it. This serves to demonstrate North Carolina's technology competencies for teachers. As a result, we anticipate that teachers will begin to make more effective uses of technology in their classes in order to improve learning.

Challenges and Adjustments

Now that the program has been operating for a year, several issues have emerged. Although the teachers in the first cohort were sophisticated technology users, the LearningSpace software was new to them, and they required several days to reach a sufficient level of comfort. With this in mind, we plan more extensive initial training in LearningSpace for the second cohort. We also quickly saw the need to separate support for the course content from support for the LearningSpace software. Now, the course instructor handles all questions about content, and a technical support person fields questions about software.

We also had difficulty implementing group work assignments online. Establishing virtual groups to complete assignments jointly was difficult due to differences in schedules and work habits. In addition, some group members were frustrated with others' failure to complete work in what they perceived as a timely manner. We think these problems could be addressed if groups negotiate timelines for the steps leading to completion of group projects.

Finally, the amount of time for teachers to complete the COLT program became an issue, even with appropriately focused and highly relevant content. As we progressed through the initial year, some participants?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùall of whom were employed in full-time, often demanding positions?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùdropped out for lack of time. This year, we will address this problem by offering summer courses during a longer time period (seven weeks instead of five) and using real-time chat sessions in addition to asynchronous discussion forums. In real-time chat sessions, the participant receives immediate feedback instead of having to wait a day or more for a reply; a series of questions and responses, which would typically require several days in a discussion forum, can occur within a single chat session. We are also exploring an option for an online master's degree in conjunction with the COLT program, which may make the program more attractive and provide more incentive for completion.

Last June, as we started the COLT program, we faced the challenge of simultaneously creating and offering an online program, which proved a source of strain for the COLT faculty. Due to the demands of creating the next lessons in the course, the instructor was unable to devote full attention to interacting with participants once a course was underway. It would have been desirable to have had sufficient lead-time for course development, but this was not possible. This year, however, we added another instructor/instructional designer to the program, and we only have to revise existing courses, not create new ones. This means that faculty members can concentrate on interacting with participants rather than developing courses.


Once they have completed the program, certified Carolina On-Line Teachers will have the opportunity to offer their K-12 courses, or in-service teacher training modules, to students and teachers throughout the nation via the LEARN NC Web site. Teachers who have completed the COLT program will also be available to help their colleagues with technology use; specifically, they will have an obligation to mentor at least two colleagues who will be future program participants. This will extend the program's effect and hasten the widespread development of appropriate technology use in North Carolina. We believe that the COLT program meets the professional development challenge of preparing teachers for effective online teaching.


Becker, H. J. (1999). Internet use by teachers. Retrieved May 6, 2001, from

Coley, R., Crandler, J., & Engel, P. (1999). Computers and technology: The status of technology in U. S. schools. Princeton, NJ: ETS.

Kearsley, G., & Shneiderman, B. (1998, September/October). Engagement theory: A framework for technology-based teaching and learning. Educational Technology, 38 (5), 20-23.

Lyman, H. (1998). The promise and problems of English on-line: A primer for high school teachers. English Journal, 87 (1), 56-62.

Merisotis, J. P. & Phipps, R. A. (1999). What's the difference? Outcomes of distance vs. traditional classroom-based learning. Change, 31 (3), 12-17.

Rodenburg, D. (1999, November/December). Web-based learning: Extending the paradigm. The Technology Source. Retrieved May 6, 2001, from

Sherman, L. (1998). The promise of technology. Northwest Education, 3 (3), 2-9.

Smerdon, B., Cronen, S., Lanahan, L., Anderson, J., Iannotti, N., & Angeles, J. (2000). Teacher's tools for the 21st century: A report on teachers' use of technology. Washington, DC: National Center for Educational Statistics. Retrieved August 31, 2001, from

Yelland, N. (1999). Reconceptualising schooling with technology for the 21st century: Images and reflections. Information Technology in Childhood Education Annual, 1, 39-59.

hidden object gameskids gamesaction gamesshooter gamestime management gamesdownloadable gamesmahjongdownloadable pc gamesword games
View Related Articles >