The making of America’s best online graduate education program

By JASON ARNOLD Director of E-learning, Technology & Creative Services (ETC) UF College of Education The UF College of Education has always strived to offer the most innovative and student-centered […]


January 9, 2017



Director of E-learning, Technology & Creative Services (ETC)
UF College of Education

The UF College of Education has always strived to offer the most innovative and student-centered online graduate degree programs in the country. If we’re not there yet, we at least appear to be closing in on our goal.

On Jan. 10, 2017, the College’s overall online master’s level education program was ranked No. 1 in the nation by U.S. News and World Report for the second year in a row. The rankings are based on several factors including course design for student engagement, availability of student services and technology support, quality of faculty credentials and training, and reputation among our peers.

Our goal is simply to offer the best student experience using research-proven best practices in web-based learning and teaching.

Our faculty and e-learning team collaborate to create engaging learning experiences that include student-led discussions, theory-to-practice application, problem-solving approaches to learning, flexibility for students, and engaging video-based teaching strategies. Online pedagogy requires a commitment to explicit instruction with a strong instructor presence, and our program stands out as having great depth of student-instructor interaction.

The trust that our instructional design team has built with faculty is a leading factor in improving course design through student engagement.

We build off the strengths of our faculty. Our instructional designers work intimately with UF faculty to learn their styles of delivery so we can match our instructional design with their individual style of teaching. There’s no one way to present a course online just like there is no one way to present a face-to-face course.”

We experiment to create new best practices and learning experiences in online education . . .

Domenic Durante, an ETC instructional design and learning support coordinator, and Professor Nancy Fichtman Dana, who teaches in both the online master’s program in teacher leadership and the professional education doctorate in curriculum and instruction, have received accolades for a faculty training presentation they give on the innovative “jigsaw” method of teaching.

The jigsaw technique is a cooperative learning strategy used in both online and face-to-face instruction: Teachers arrange students in mixed groups and break assignments or problems into pieces, one for each group member. Each student receives resources to complete only his or her part. Through the shared insights of its members, the group assembles the pieces of information to complete the (jigsaw) “puzzle.” The final outcome may be a final report or presentation on a given topic, or a solution to a problem. It’s a class activity that makes students dependent on each other to succeed.

Learning Video Production

We include professional videos in our online courses with synchronous observation video software. The videos feature teacher observation and preservice mentoring, UF graduates modeling best teaching practices within our online courses, expert and practitioner interviews and case studies woven through online discussions.

What we learn from redesigning courses in one area informs our work in new online initiatives. One such example is a new graduate certificate course for teaching reading to students with dyslexia. The course, led by special education Professor Holly Lane, is rich with hundreds of professionally produced video demonstrations of targeted teaching strategies designed to improve the reading skills of affected students. The videos were captured over two summers during a UF-hosted summer reading program that Lane directs for struggling readers in elementary grades.

The online certificate course, one of the first of its type, assigns students responsibility for their own learning experience, while empowering faculty to integrate new technologies in their course designs.

The development of effective online learning is ever evolving: Our e-learning team, informed by the latest online research, continues to develop and test new teaching and learning techniques that will engage and support our students all over the world. No matter what technology is used, we want to meet the needs of our students and challenge ourselves to continuously improve.