Online USC course sees growth

Rebecca Carpenter, a 45-year-old single mother looking to go back to school to receive her teaching credentials, sought out USC’s online Master of Arts in Teaching program.

“I had been doing a lot of research on teaching and credential programs and I saw this Facebook ad for MAT@USC,” said Carpenter, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a master of fine arts from the University of Texas at Austin. “I started researching this program and what’s really strange is that it’s perfect for me.”

MAT@USC is an online teaching program offered by the Rossier School of Education. The program, which began in June 2009, provides a fully online experience with interactive lectures and videos to replicate the traditional classroom experience.

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During the first year, MAT@USC enrolled 144 students, of which 82  graduated in June.

This year’s class consists of 1,000 students, a huge increase from the previous year, said Director of Operations Erika Klein. Yet, the program does not yet know why the numbers increased so rapidly.

The appeal of MAT@USC is in its flexibility for nontraditional students who hold full-time jobs or have families to care for, Klein said.

“We also have people in the military who, because of their situation … have to move around,” Klein said. “With our program, they don’t have to stop their education.”

Carpenter said the versatility of the program was part of the reason she chose it over others.

“I couldn’t afford to not be working. If I’d had to go to USC every day or four days a week or whatever, plus do my observations, there’s no way I could’ve done it,” Carpenter said. “It’s just not realistic for real people’s lives.”

MAT@USC alumna Haley DeMaria of Annapolis, Md., said that when her husband had to work in London for three months, she didn’t have to make the decision between school and family.

“I could have that fun with my family during the day and not have to put my educational goals on hold,” DeMaria, who typically worked on her classes at night, said.

Other perks of the program, Klein said, include its staggered start dates and its particular attention to teaching in low-income, urban settings.

“By going online, we’re producing more and addressing the needs of students across the country. We have students in Alaska, Hawaii, New York,” Klein said. Students enrolled in the program currently live in 46 states.

MAT@USC students have the opportunity to exchange ideas and connect with other teachers nationwide looking to receive their masters of arts in teaching degree, which appeals to many students, DeMaria said.

“I loved hearing about educational issues from my cohort, my colleagues, all over the country,” DeMaria said. “So many of our issues in schools were the same but had a different … spin to them.”

The experience of getting to know one another is almost completely online, Klein said. The classrooms are video chat rooms with feeds of each student and the professor side by side on a grid.

“It’s a live feed,” Klein said. “Everyone jokes that it’s like The Brady Bunch.”

Though the program is online, the quality of the instruction is the same, she said.

“We pay very close attention to who we hire,” Klein said. “We don’t just hire Joe from across the street. This program is composed of USC faculty, developed by USC faculty, overseen by USC faculty.”

MAT@USC is also expanding, Klein said. They faculty already established Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, a program for teachers who want to teach English, and on Sept. 13 they launched an international program.

“One thing I always remember our dean saying is that this is not your grandmother’s school of education,” Klein said. “We want people to be agents of change.”

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