Dordt College News

Keeping up with the times

August 17, 2011

Grad Ed program begins online educational leadership emphasis

Even though it was first advertised in March, Dordt’s new educational leadership program will begin with the hoped-for 15 students this year.

“We’ve had some people waiting in the wings, and others who enrolled when they heard the program was beginning. In the process, some teachers and practicing principals asked why we didn’t do this years ago,” says Graduate Education Director Tim Van Soelen.

Dordt's graduate education program is moving from an on-campus program to one that is offered primarily online. New technology makes virtual classrooms an effective tool for group and individual learning.Many practicing teachers who consider going back to school to train for an administrative degree find it difficult to uproot their families for several weeks—or leave them behind—while they enroll in a graduate program. Even if they would prefer to get a degree from a Christian institution, they most often enroll at a nearby institution because it’s more economical and less disruptive to family life.

Dordt’s new emphasis offers a “nearby” Christian option for Midwest teachers, and its online format makes it a good choice for students across the country and even around the world.

“We’ve seen graduates of our Curriculum and Instruction emphasis go back into their schools and fill leadership roles. They bring expertise in experiential learning, student-oriented instruction, and cooperative ways of teaching and learning, and they enhance the learning process through the use of technology,” says Van Soelen.

“But to be ‘the’ academic school leader in accredited schools, a teacher needs an administrative degree in educational leadership,” he adds. “We’re at the point where we can offer both.” Dordt’s education faculty includes three professors who have served as school administrators and have done research on issues related to administrative leadership. The leadership program will prepare students for high school, middle school, elementary, or special education leadership positions.

The new emphasis will begin with a set of Core courses that it shares with students in the Curriculum and Instruction emphasis. In addition to core courses in educational psychology, issues in education, and research, Educational Leadership students will continue with a program of courses largely outlined by the Iowa Department of Education, since the program leads to state licensure. As with undergraduate degrees, the Iowa certification is readily transferable to other states.

Dordt’s program will prepare Christian teachers for positions as principals in either Christian or public schools. Four of the new students are public school teachers; eight are Christian school teachers.

“Principals lead differently based on their worldview and their philosophy of education,” says Van Soelen.

“We want to train leaders to be transformational leaders—to see the whole child, to partner with the community, to teach discipleship and citizenship, to lead ‘light house’ schools in the world of education.”

One strength of Dordt’s program is the amount of field experience it requires. Each person enrolled in the program will spend a minimum of 400 hours working in schools and with mentors. Each student will conduct critical observations and action research in three different school settings (PK-8, 9-12, and special education). They’ll shadow principals and be assigned specific projects by them. They’ll also be required to get involved with a school’s community.

Educational Leadership courses will begin to be offered online this fall, although those who wish to begin this summer could take Core courses, several of which are offered on campus and others online.

“Online instruction has come a long way in five years,” says Van Soelen. It does require a shift in thinking, and you always lose something if you don’t have face-to-face interaction, but today’s technology allows professors to replicate that in many ways.  Van Soelen knows that part of the richness of graduate learning is being able to share the experience that all members of the class “bring to the table.”

“We need to capture that,” he says, adding, “Teaching at the graduate level can be flat out fun because there’s a different level of wisdom and understanding.”

Online instruction also offers advantages other than geographic convenience. Presentations can be streamed that take advantage of the expertise of guest speakers and good teachers from around North America.

“And more responsibility rests on the learner to interact with the material and offer creative results,” says Van Soelen. Research shows that students develop better writing skills and a deeper understanding and use of online data bases for their own research and learning when they take online courses.

“Today’s technology makes this an exciting and viable option,” says Van Soelen. “There is a great need for good principals today—especially in Christian schools.” He and his colleagues are preparing to help fill that need.

Online Opportunity

Dordt’s new Educational Leadership program was consciously designed as an online educational opportunity. Students will enroll in cohorts, all moving through the two-year program together. They’ll use resources such as Skype and Camtasia, cited as the premier screencasting tool by the industry, for live weekly group conversations and interactive presentations. Chat rooms will also be used so that classmates can share what they are learning, ask questions, and offer opinions and suggestions.


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