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Customer Curiosity: PBS TeacherLine Online Courses

August 3, 2011

When you are a teacher, you never stop going to school.  You teach, and you have to take more classes to maintain your certification.  In Maine, you begin with a two year provisional license, and you need to earn 90 credit hour points to get your professional five year license.  After that, you are on a five-year plan, gaining 90 credit hours every five years.  Now, five years to get 90 points isn’t as hard as it sounds.  A typical class is usually worth 45 credit hours… so one class is worth half.  Because I just got my five year license and do not know where B and I will end up, I am trying to get all of my credits done this year before a possible move… just to make sure I am fully accredited in at least one state.

When looking for classes, I had two rules:  1. the course needed to be close to me during the summer and 2. it needed to be as cheap as possible because my school district will only pay for classes if you teach for them for the next two consecutive years, which is something that’s a giant question mark.  I googled some options and browsed.  PBS TeacherLine online classes came up, and having heard nothing but positives things about PBS contributions to the intellectual material of our country (seriously, who didn’t grow up on Sesame Street?), I decided to do some serious browsing.  I found a coupon through their Facebook page, found a Literacy class that would help me with my teaching, and signed up.

The class began on June 20 and lasted until this week.  It was split into six sessions, and the work for each session was due on Tuesday at midnight.  There was a lot of reading, online journal writing, discussions with the other educators taking the course from around the country, and a handful of smaller projects.  The final project is a bit bigger and takes a lot more time to get through.  In short, it’s basically a class without the in-room face time.  I have heard a lot of people complain about how they never succeeded in online courses because of the elf-discipline needed, but I think putting the due dates at the end of each week helped keep people on track.

The content of my class was something I had wanted to look into for a while.  I teach Literacy to ninth graders, but having never taken a specific Literacy instruction course, I felt like I was poking around in a dark closet.  This course answered a lot of my questions and gave me a great background on how literacy within children is actually developed.  When you teach secondary education, they basically tell you “kids will already have the reading basics.”  Well, what do you do if they don’t?  This class dove into the real ways of helping students of all ages develop their phonemic blending, pacing, comprehension, and vocabulary.  It was enlightening, the projects and writing were not overly difficult, and the readings were mostly helpful and on track with my goals.  My only serious complaint was that while this course was described as for grades K-8, it mainly focused on K-3.  Not all that helpful for me as a secondary education teacher (grades 5-12).

But with the helpful comes in the incredibly UNhelpful.  Capital UN.  Unfortunately, the unhelpful part was the facilitator.  While I will not name her directly, if you are interested in taking any of these courses, contact me and I will give you who it is so you can avoid her.  When you sign up for classes, you don’t have a choice in the facilitator, but once you have taken one course, you can gain access to a list of which classes the facilitator has done.  I will definitely be avoiding this woman in the future.  After the first week, I viewed my grades, anxious to see what her standards were and how she graded using the rubrics provided online.  Next to my journal entries, I found a note that read “I can’t find two of your journal entries.  Please resubmit.”  Wait, what?  I had turned in all four within three days of each other.  They were all labeled with the title and prompt.  I thought maybe my computer hadn’t linked them correctly, so I privately emailed the facilitator (I refuse to call her a teacher because she certainly didn’t TEACH anything) to send her extra copies and ask which ones were missing.  Two days later, she finally got back to me, stating “If you read my emails to the class more carefully, you would know I don’t take work through email.  Also, if I told you which ones you were missing, I would be giving you an unfair advantage that most of your other classmates don’t need.  I am being more than generous by telling you that you were missing prompts as it is.”  WHOA.  Seriously?  You would talk to someone who is trying to be a good student like that?!  I emailed her back to reassure her that I was just trying to get my work to her correctly and that I wasn’t asking for special favors.  I work hard for the grades I earn, and I do not expect special treatment.

The snottiness continued, not only for me but for my classmates as well.  One poor woman was taking a three-week road trip across the country with her family and is seven months pregnant, and she just did not understand one term as clearly as she would have liked.  She emailed the “help” forum for our class, an open forum anyone can read and respond to.  The facilitator wrote back and said, “Have you tried reading the course materials?”  Oh my word, seriously?  Of course she read it!  She said she read it in her post and she just needs clarification!  Good lord, woman!  The student wrote back again, stating that she had read and watched everything but needed help.  The facilitator took it to a new low.  She wrote, “Well, since you don’t seem to have read the material and just don’t get it, let’s look at it on a basic level.  Multi = many, dimensional = ways of looking at it.  Does that make it clearer?”  I wanted to lose it for this woman!  I sent a private email to this classmate and tried to help her out as best as I could because I had been in her shoes (just not the road trip and pregnant shoes).

At the same time, I wrote a help post about not being able to find a journal prompt.  The facilitator told me to “read the website.”  Gee, thanks.  Super helpful.  Other classmates chimed in on how they couldn’t find it either.  The facilitator didn’t respond for half a week.  When she did, she showed a screen shot that had nothing to do with the questioned journal entry and wrote, “I really hope that people like E are not just trying to wing it by using the course checklist to do assignments.” Yep, she called me out and charged me with just winging assignments.  If I am winging assignments, I am doing a FABULOUS job.  My lowest grade, which is only because the facilitator can’t seem to read bold text, is an 88.  The rest are 100s and one 94.  It’s also not okay to supply an assignment checklist and then reprimand students for using it as a resource.  Needless to say, this woman has single-handedly brought this class down.

In short, I would recommend PBS courses, but not with this woman.  If she facilitates a class, run.  Very fast.  Very far away.

Rating: ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ (for class)

❤ ❤ ❤ ❤  (for facilitator)

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