Starting this summer, Converse College students can earn their master’s degree in gifted education without leaving the comforts of their homes.
The school will begin offering the degree as an online graduate program, with an aim at attracting teachers from the farthest reaches of the state. It will be the third program to be offered online by Converse, which first launched an online degree program in February 2012.
Sarah Hunt-Barron, director of gifted education at Converse, said the program is aimed at more than just those seeking a degree. Through the program, teachers seeking to teach gifted education classes can obtain their state-required endorsement by taking two courses online, become certified, or receive their recertification.
Even teachers who don’t work with gifted students can benefit, Hunt-Barron said, as the courses help teachers to promote higher-level thinking and creativity and allow them to better tailor instructions to individual students. “You get better teachers across the board,” she said.
Converse is the only South Carolina college to offer a graduate program in gifted education, Hunt-Barron said, and teachers from around the state travel to the school for the courses. Previous efforts in the program’s 30-year-old history have been aimed at making it more accessible, she said. Those have included summer and weekend classes and partnerships with school districts. Hunt-Barron said the move to an online program was a natural progression. “It was just a good fit,” she said. “It’s much more accessible. We want teachers to have this opportunity.”
“The travel issue is just so huge,” she added.
Kathy Good, dean of the school of education and graduate studies, agreed. “If you’re within driving distance of Converse, that’s great,” she said. “But what if you’d have to drive long distances and you have a family? This is going to make it really helpful to people.”
The online courses will work much like traditional classrooms, said David McCurry, director of distance education at Converse, with 15 to 20 students per teacher, active online discussions, group participation and class-wide chats. No special software is required, McCurry said. “But there’s no limitations on physical space,” he said. “There’s no limit to anybody in the state.”
Currently, about 40 students are pursing the master’s in gifted education degree, officials said, but more than 1,500 people have taken at least one course in the gifted education program since 2009.
The first online courses will be held in June, Hunt-Barron said. They will also be offered in the upcoming fall and spring semesters. The courses cost about $400 per credit hour and registration is already open. In addition to the gifted education program, Converse also offers online programs for education specialist in administration and leadership and educational specialist in literacy.
McCurry said the online courses have helped to attract students from as far away as Texas. “There are simply students we would not have otherwise,” he said. “In theory, we can now reach across the globe.”
Good said the college is taking a measured approach to expanding its online offerings. She said not all courses are appropriate for online and added that there were many regulatory hoops to jump through for online courses to be accredited. But, Good said, the college plans to expand its online offerings in the future.
“You have to think differently,” she said. “It’s going to be something of the future. We have to embrace it.”
This article was written by Drew Brooks of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal