Online education courses produce the same quality teaching graduate as traditional campus-based degrees and help improve diversity within the teaching profession, a landmark new report has found.
The report by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership finds online courses for initial teacher education (ITE) have risen dramatically over the last decade, with a 12 per cent increase in the number of students studying ITE off campus between 2007 and 2016.
This compares with a two per cent increase in the number of online students in the overall higher education sector over the same period.
“The evidence suggests that off campus study may provide increased access for people who have traditionally faced barriers to participating in ITE and higher education,” the report finds.
“Given this, the availability of off campus ITE programs has the potential to contribute to increased diversity in the teaching profession.”
The report reveals that in a 2016 large scale survey of current higher education students there was no significant difference in satisfaction between on campus and off campus ITE students with regards to skills gained, the quality of teaching they experienced, resources provided by their institution and the overall quality of their education experience.
Swinburne's online education
Swinburne is Australia’s largest provider of off campus initial teacher education with 5747 enrolments in 2016. It is followed by the University of New England with 3385 enrolments and then the University of Southern Queensland with 2652 enrolments.
Swinburne’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Education and Quality), Professor Chris Pilgrim, says the university has taken an uncompromising position on the quality of the experience for online ITE students and on delivering meaningful career outcomes.
“Independent data and analysis has demonstrated that student satisfaction is actually higher for Swinburne students who study fully-online,” Professor Pilgrim says.
Backing the report’s findings that online ITE students tend to be from more diverse backgrounds, Professor Pilgrim says 82 per cent of Swinburne’s online ITE students juggle study with part-time work and family responsibilities while more than one quarter are from rural or regional areas.
“This diversity brings a richness to the collaborative online learning community providing our ITE students with an authentic and grounded learning experience, making our pre-service teachers prepared for the realities and challenges of classroom teaching in the 21st Century,” he said.
Sue Kokonis, executive director of Online Education Services, which has partnered with Swinburne for the delivery of online courses, says Swinburne students are well received when on placement or when they find a job in a school post university.
“The majority have life experience beyond a traditional school leaver which translates well into the classroom,” she says.
“As online learners, they work with a range of digital learning tools every day which allows them to bring a high degree of digital literacy into their teaching practice.”
Reaching a wide range of applicants
The report notes that online ITE providers face logistical challenges around student professional placements, particularly as almost one-third of all online ITE students study interstate.
It found those enrolled off campus were more likely to be studying part-time, female, older, from low social-economic background and from regional or remote areas.
It also found the pathway to entry for online ITE students was markedly different than on-campus students with more being admitted through VET or a TAFE qualification than secondary school.
“Thus, it appears, off campus enrolment offers ITE to a wider range of applicants,” the report says.
“Online accessibility can alleviate the geographic constraints faced by people living far away from campus.
“For aspiring teachers living in regional or remote locations and juggling work and family commitments, the rise in online ITE courses in Australia has bought higher education within reach.
“This increased access to ITE has great potential to diversify the workforce, as students enter higher education from increasingly varied pathways at varied stages of life.
“It might also assist with teacher shortages, particularly in areas of the country that are typically difficult to staff.”
View the report: The rise of online initial teacher education: what do we know?