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U.Va. Partners with Coursera on Early Childhood Education Course

The Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia is joining a team of other institutions in partnering with Coursera, a leading provider of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, to offer a free online course for educators.

The Curry School’s six-week course, to be available in mid-October, will focus on early childhood education.

For several years, expanding access to preschool has taken on national interest, rising to the top of policymakers’ agendas after President Obama’s State of the Union Address in January. In his speech, Obama articulated the need for accessible, effective early childhood education: “I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America.”

“The faculty and researchers at the Curry School of Education are national leaders in improving the quality and effectiveness of preschool education,” said Robert Pianta, dean of the school and founder of its Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, or CASTL.

Faculty and researchers at CASTL already are partnering with the nation’s Head Start program and early childhood education programs in Minnesota, Florida, California, Georgia, Oklahoma, Illinois and Arizona. With these partnerships, the Curry School has expanded nationally its proven methods of improving the interactions between early childhood teachers and their students.

Data shows that as teachers improve their interactions with children, children’s learning and development improve as well, Pianta said.

Recognizing that finding accessible and effective methods for supporting early childhood teachers is fundamental to the success of many early childhood initiatives, members of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Planning and Evaluation team recently met with CASTL’s senior leadership to discuss their work. 

“Teachers are among the most important assets for supporting the next generation, and peer support and ongoing professional development can be crucial factors in teacher retention and successful educational outcomes,” Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller said. ”The Curry School of Education has had a major impact on teachers over the years, and we believe that opening the institution’s resources up to educators everywhere will have a profound impact on education on a global scale.”

Pianta added, “The launching of this free, online course is simply the next wave of effort to innovate and scale our proven-effective methods for early childhood workforce development, allowing us to make good on Obama’s promise to expand high-quality preschool.”

Faculty and researchers who will be teaching the MOOC, “Effective Classroom Interactions: Supporting Young Children’s Development,” are already exploring how to measure the success of an online course for practitioners of early childhood education.

Bridget Hamre, associate director of CASTL, and her team are nearing the end of a three-year grant from the Department of Education to develop and test an online course that helped early childhood teachers across the country engage in more effective interactions with their young students.

“This MOOC is a great opportunity,” said Hamre, principal investigator for the Department of Education grant. “For maximum impact on students, our mode of delivering the content must be proven effective, not just the content of the course. This grant has allowed us to build and test online coursework for early childhood practitioners. The partnership with Coursera offers us a unique opportunity to see how this might work at large scale.”

The Curry School joins six other leading schools of education in this partnership with Coursera, including the College of Education, University of Washington; Johns Hopkins School of Education; Peabody School of Education and Human Development, Vanderbilt University; University of California, Irvine Extension; Match Education’s Sposato School of Education; and Relay Graduate School of Education.

Additionally joining Coursera’s network of partners are educational institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Commonwealth Education Trust, Exploratorium, Match Education, Museum of Modern Art and New Teacher Center.

To date, the University of Virginia has offered six MOOCs ranging in topics from business to world history to physics, with three more, including this one, scheduled for this fall.

“The MOOC experiment at U.Va. has been immensely successful, reaching out to an enrolled audience of 400,000 individuals around the world,” said Kristin Palmer, U.Va.’s program director for online learning environments. “Working with Coursera has initiated great conversations across Grounds for faculty, students and administration.”

For information about the Curry School of Education’s work in early childhood education, click here.

For information about Coursera, click here.

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