LAWRENCE – The University of Kansas will offer its No. 1 nationally rated special education graduate program online, becoming the highest-ranked program in the nation offered fully online. KU is partnering with Everspring, an educational, technology, design and services firm on the groundbreaking program, which will allow working professionals to further their education, advance their careers and make new innovations in the field of special education without requiring their presence on campus.
KU’s School of Education, which has the U.S. News & World Report No. 1-rated public special education graduate program, is making special education the first of 15 degrees and certificates it will offer online in the next three years. The university will offer the expertise of its faculty members and course material, and Everspring will provide the technical expertise to deliver it to learners via innovative technological methods.
“We’re proud to partner with Everspring to make our outstanding special education programs available to a wider base of education professionals,” said Rick Ginsberg, dean of the School of Education. “Our faculty members are among the most productive and knowledgeable in the nation, and we all look forward to the opportunity to help more educators improve their knowledge base and skill sets and go on to be leaders in education throughout the nation.”
The online program’s launch comes at a time when demand for special education teachers is growing and the societal need for such an online program is clear. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 48 states and the District of Columbia identified special education teaching and at least one of the related service provider categories as an official shortage area for the 2011-12 school year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor has reported that special education teaching jobs will grow by 17 percent by 2018, while traditional teaching jobs will grow by 13 percent.
Students in the program will take part in 11 three-credit-hour courses that typically last eight weeks. Everspring and KU are designing the program, technology and support so the online student will have an engaging and successful experience. For example, Everspring will provide, among other things, a mobile app that integrates the student’s academic work and social experience. Through the app students will have access to the KU Connect online community, which will help manage coursework, build relationships with classmates, interact with faculty and connect to the broader KU community. The courses will also be interspersed with practica and a capstone project that provides students a chance to apply what they learn in a real world setting.
Everspring will provide key support, including enrollment management, onboarding, instructional design services, student success coaching, technology support, online student services, mobile access, marketing, recruitment and oversight of the Learning Management system.
“KU is building on a strong education tradition and launching a bold online learning initiative,” said Jeff Conlon, founder and CEO of Everspring. “Offering one of its premier programs online, where there exists a clear societal need, is a powerful statement about both the future of technology-enabled learning at KU and the imperative the university faces in expanding its educational mission. This program will attract new types of students to KU, those who embrace the flexibility, support and rigor of an KU education, online, to advance their careers and serve their communities.”
The online program, designed to be completed in approximately two years, will work primarily with individuals already working in the education field. Educators and administrators looking to advance in their careers, improve their knowledge and become leaders in special education research will be the ideal candidates. Simultaneously, the program will take KU faculty members’ research to new audiences, broadening the reach and impact of their scholarship.
“Our students go on to teach all over the country, but many cannot come back to campus full-time to further their education,” said Elizabeth Kozleski, special education department chair. “Educators who enroll in the program will learn to help meet the educational needs of students with learning and behavioral disabilities based on research-based strategies, instructional interventions and family collaborations to provide students with special needs the absolute best possible education.”
Kozleski, who was awarded the UNESCO Chair in Inclusive International Research in 2005 and received the TED-Merrill award for her leadership in special education teacher education in 2011, is just one of the nationally acclaimed faculty members students in the program will work with. Department faculty lead nearly $70 million in state, federal and foundation grant awards that support research, teacher education and professional development. They are second nationally in the number of special education journal articles published and have authored dozens of books, served in leadership positions in national organizations and received recognition from numerous groups, such as the Council for Exceptional Children, dedicated to improving the lives of children with special needs.
Graduates of KU’s special education graduate program typically go on to work as co-teachers, consultants and special educators who collaborate with classroom teachers to adapt content and design classroom conditions to meet the educational needs of students with high incidence disabilities.