An assistant professor of education and colleagues at Fort Hays State University have been awarded a $476,015 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop an online professional development learning platform that will solve a continual challenge facing teachers who work in rural schools.
Dr. Brooke Moore, interim chair and assistant professor of the Advanced Education Programs department, will be the principal investigator on a three year research project that will take a successful face-to-face (in person) professional development program that trains and supports high school biology teachers and integrate it into an online format.
“We’re doing this because teachers in rural areas, particularly in Kansas, may not always have the opportunity to get high-quality, face-to-face, professional development training,” said Moore.
In the more traditional face-to-face format, teachers travel to a central location to attend a workshop and then return to their classrooms and try out the techniques covered. After an interval, the teachers gather again to share their stories of what worked and what didn’t and offer their suggestions for improvement.
“In an urban setting, this works,” said Moore, “but in rural schools there may only be one science teacher per school, teaching multiple grade levels.”
This makes it economically challenging for the teachers and for the school district to cover the costs of travel for professional development or for the professional development providers, such as FHSU, to send people to conduct the training in rural schools.
Moore will be working with Dr. Arvin Cruz, Earl Legleiter and a team directed by Dr. Andrew Feldstein, assistant provost of the Office of Teaching Innovation and Learning Technologies to develop, evaluate, and then compare the online platform with the traditional face-to-face professional development with high school science teachers.
The grant is budgeted for a three-year project. In the first year, Moore and her team will develop the online platform, adapting the “Towards High School Biology” curriculum to an innovative online learning modality.
For the second and third years, the researchers will test the online platform against a face-to-face setting. To do this, they will recruit 48 rural middle-school science teachers from Southwest Kansas who will be assigned randomly to the online or in-person professional development program.
“If it works for science,” said Moore, “it can work for any content – math, reading, history, even music.”