May 15 2007

Learning at Your Fingertips

Delaware enhances its teachers' professional development with a Web-based program.

By Wayne Hartschuh

Imagine a professional development program that boosts teachers' content knowledge, improves their teaching practices, increases their students' achievements -- and teachers can access it at any time and any place. The program, called e-Learning for Educators Delaware, uses a Web-based model to provide effective professional development throughout the state.

Funded by a federal grant, e-Learning Delaware is a multi-state collaboration among nine state education agencies and associated public broadcasting stations. Partners include the Delaware Center for Educational Technology, the Delaware Department of Education, and the local area PBS radio and television station, WHYY.

Planning for Change

In February 2006, the Delaware educational leadership team met to develop a new program at the e-Learning for Educators Leadership Academy. Startup included planning a statewide, online professional development initiative, developing marketing materials, recruiting and training online course facilitators, developing incentives for educators and recruiting them to participate in and implement online courses. The last step ensures that teachers apply their newly acquired technology skills in their classrooms.

The leadership team defined three guiding principles: Lead a course, take a course and develop a course.

To become qualified to lead a course, facilitators take a 10-week training course delivered online. Participants experience the online classroom as learners and gain hands-on experience. In the first year in 2006, 25 educators attended the course and 10 are expected to attend this year.

To take a course, teachers participate in a skills and knowledge professional development cluster that spans nine months. DelawareÍs model involves a series of three courses and a minimum of 90 hours of activities that include classroom implementation. Each course lasts from 25 to 30 hours for six weeks. Upon completion, teachers receive a 2 percent pay raise on the state portion of their salary for five years. Delaware uses online courses developed by the Education Development Center based in Newton, Mass.

In October 2006, 24 Delaware educators took a 10-week course to learn how to develop an online course. Currently, the state is creating six courses to address professional development needs related to the recommended teaching curriculum in Delaware public schools.

Hard Work Pays Off

In July 2006, State education officials hoped to get 80 teachers to participate in the "Addressing Student Needs With Technology" cluster. E-mails were sent to two teacher mailing lists, and within one week, more than 150 registrations were received. To date, every cluster that has been offered has been filled to capacity.

In any online learning situation, facilitators wonder how many participants will complete the course, let alone complete the first cluster's three online courses in the nine-month timeframe. Participants in the first cluster who finished the coursework in December 2006 reflect an 88 percent completion rate.

These online activities are excellent vehicles for teachers to continue their professional development on a schedule that fits their needs. For more information on e-Learning Delaware, contact, or visit the Web site at

Wayne Hartschuh,Ph.D., is executive director of the Delaware Center for Educational Technology. He leads the state's professional development efforts for educators.