06/03/2011 06:40 pm ET | Updated Aug 03, 2011

Training Teachers Online? MAT@USC Program Gives It A Shot

Originally published on, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.

By Robyn Gee

University of Southern California (USC) is set to become, “the country's largest not-for-profit teacher prep program by 2013,” according to The Atlantic. All due to their online Masters of Arts in Teaching program - MAT@USC. USC now graduates 1500 teachers, many of whom attend classes via video chat.

According to Margo Pensavalle, Professor of Clinical Education at the Rossier School of Education at USC, and a member of the faculty for the MAT@USC program, insists that the program is really top notch. “We didn’t want to be like DeVry - this is USC and we wanted to do a really good job... The syllabi for the courses are identical and the faculty are identical [to the on-campus courses],” she said.

“There’s really no difference. You do make relationships with your students... it’s like having a real classroom. You’re looking at their faces,” Pensavalle added.

Once getting accepted to the program, students don’t have to be in Los Angeles to attend class. They can join the group from all over the country.

So how does it work?

When Pensavalle enters the program on her computer, she starts a live session. The students on her roster enter the live session, similar to a chat room set-up. The list of students shows up on the left. Below, there is a text chat where students can contribute to the conversation by typing comments. Students’ faces show up in the center. “Picture the Brady Bunch,” said Pensavalle.

There is a space for presentation materials where she can post an agenda and her Power Point slides. On the right, she can upload files to share with her students. If a student wants to say something, or ask a question, a figure with a raised-hand shows up next to their name. Pensavalle said you can also have breakout sessions during a class. The program can randomize the small groups, or the professor can make the small groups. There’s even a place for coursework where students post their assignments when they are finished.

Students must still do field work throughout the program, and they complete a year of student-teaching in their place of residence. The application process to MAT@USC is identical to applying for USC’s on-campus teacher credential program.

Pensavalle thinks that the students who get their masters through the online program might use technology differently when they have classrooms of their own. “These students have to be technologically savvy. We use a lot of video - they send us a teaching video, a planning video, and a reflection video,” she said.

And sure - she admits that it is sometimes harder to teach from behind a screen. “It takes a different kind of energy to keep things going, in the classroom you can distribute that energy. Bu these are graduate students, so they want to be there,” said Pensavalle.

The question bouncing around the country in terms of education reform is teacher quality - how do we make sure that our teachers can prepare our kids to do great things? Not teacher quantity. USC can churn out a whole lot more teachers, but where does that leave the quality of teachers in the U.S.?

One question that lingers is whether the people who enroll in the online program will be 100 percent as committed - by default - to perfecting their craft, as those who come to in-person seminars. Will they feel just as eager to impress the classmates and professors they’ve never met, and therefore go the extra mile? No one can argue with USC’s reputation and rigor, but the results of the program remain to be seen.

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