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Online schooling presents extra challenges for USF education majors

With schools delivering remote instruction, education major students had to adapt to the new learning environment as well as fulfill their graduation requirements. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic made online learning the primary method of education across all grade levels, education majors are finding ways to keep on track for graduation while teaching at the same time.

Students obtaining an education degree must complete major requirements to graduate, and some are unable to fulfill them or are having difficulties adapting to the learning environments.

One graduation requirement for those receiving bachelor’s degrees in education is they must complete a semester-long teaching internship.

Usually, the internship is done at schools near campus, in which students pursuing an education degree enter classrooms and become the teachers.

With schools going online to work around COVID-19, students majoring in education have had to adapt to the new style of learning doubly in the sense they would be finishing their undergraduate career online and teaching other students via internet platforms.

Ashley Levine, a spring 2020 graduate with a degree in special education, is interning as a teacher for fifth-graders with varying learning abilities.

Levine said the shift to online classrooms was challenging for her students to adapt to and understand, but it was also a new form of educating students for her and her fellow colleagues to learn about.

“Our mentor teachers have never experienced anything like this either so it has taken a lot of cooperation and teamwork to make that switch,” Levine said. “The biggest change is the teaching online and just trying to create an online curriculum for our students.”

Besides adapting to the online learning environment, Levine is presented with the challenge of not being able to host the entire class in one call due to that being too overwhelming for her students.

“We are doing one-on-one meetings with students, so it can be at their pace,” Levine said. “It takes more time but it is more beneficial for the kids.”

Melissa Gooden-Davis, on track to graduate in December, shares similar feelings about working online while also juggling her home life.

Gooden-Davis is getting a bachelor’s degree in general studies with a concentration in educational foundations. An education-based concentration does not require an internship, though she said she has enough on her hands at the moment.

She is a working state employee who went back to school and is also the mother and homeschool teacher of two middle school children.

“Things are more overwhelming,” Gooden-Davis said. “I’m supposed to be glued to my computer for nine hours, but I am also homeschooling my kids who have different things they need to do.”

However, she still needs to have time and online resources for her two children to do their schoolwork with her assistence.

“It feels like you don’t have enough hours in a day, and you can’t get things done staying in one place all day.”

Gooden-Davis said this situation has made it hard on everyone in her household to stay focused on the tasks at hand. The structure of how online learning is meant to be for her children is not conducive to working parents like her.

“All the parents have to learn the online system and then teach their kid how to use it,” Gooden-Davis said. “Unless a parent doesn’t work and isn’t a student there is no way to have structured learning time for six to seven hours each day. It just doesn’t work that way.”

This situation has revealed technological inequities among students.

“Children need to have devices that work, bandwidth and time they can have on the computer,” Laura Sabella, director of field and clinical education at USF, said. “Our interning students are struggling because the children are struggling with online learning. Our students have picked themselves up and found innovative ways to connect with their kids.”

USF faculty at the College of Education have also been impacted by the move to remote instruction. 

Sabella said her meetings with others in her field are strictly online. However, she said that being separated has only made them stronger.

Sabella’s role at USF includes helping students like Levine fulfill their internship requirement for education degrees and keeping in contact with colleges across the state to stay on top of new and developing learning practices.

“I am in communication with all universities in Florida, and we all are trying to figure this all out together,” Sabella said. “We are all going through the exact same thing and we all have the same questions.”

Sabella said each university is wondering what learning for education majors will look like going forward and what is happening at the state level. Her main concern regards the Florida Teacher Certification Exams all education students need to take that cannot be administered online.

“A challenging impact has been our [education] students have not been able to sit for their certification exams, and we cannot change that part of their teacher certification program,” she said.

Levine said she completed this test before enforced social distancing practices caused the testing center to close.

However, many of her fellow students were unable to complete the mandatory exams that cannot be taken anywhere but in the testing centers.

Gooden-Davis is one of those students. She said she has no information currently on when they will be able to be administered.

“I don’t know any time in the foreseeable future when I can take those tests,” Gooden-Davis said.

Sabella is also in communication with the Florida Department of Education to sort out the certification test issues.

“What the state is allowing is for our students to go ahead and graduate without taking the exams,” Sabella said. “Their transcripts will not have a stamp of the state approval program. Instead, they will have a temporary certificate so they can take full-time teaching positions in the fall until they can take the tests. Then the state will allow them to get a permit certificate without having to pay an extra fee.”

Sabella said the state will not charge students for their certification exam.

“The fees for the test can be up to $150, and until July 31 the fees are waived if a student schedules their testing day by July 31,” Sabella said. “They have up to one year to take their certification exams as long as they are registered.”

This is true for all Florida Teacher Certification Exams, according to Sabella.

Sabella said she hopes that everyone will be able to see the resilience of teachers, students, parents, faculty and schoolchildren as the world faces educational challenges. She continues to conduct meetings with colleagues to strengthen the success of the education program at USF.

She recognizes that the online world of teaching is expanding as educators become more innovative and knowledgeable.

 “There is a rainbow at the end of all this,” Sabella said.