The University Record, September 11, 2000

Dearborn offers online master’s in special education

By Jennifer Sroka
U-M-Dearborn

Educators who want to earn a master’s degree in special education inclusion can do so with the privacy and convenience of a home computer thanks to a new online program offered by U-M-Dearborn’s School of Education.

The master of education in special education degree with inclusion specialist certificate is a 30-semester-hour program that teaches educators to identify, instruct and manage students with disabilities in the general education classroom. Beginning this fall, teachers will be able to earn the degree exclusively via Internet courses, Web site activities, and online assignments and discussions.

“Regular educators across the nation are struggling to include students with disabilities in mainstream settings,” says Belinda Lazarus, associate professor of education and program coordinator. “They cite a lack of training as the number one obstacle to successful inclusion. Many educators are busy with career and family obligations and do not have time to come to campus for courses. Online courses offer a convenient way for these educators to learn how to serve students with disabilities.”

The online program parallels traditional campus courses in many ways. Students participate in discussions with their instructor and peers, as well as complete assignments and take exams as an assessment of the skills and concepts being learned, Lazarus explains. For instance, all assignments are completed and submitted using online forms. Within seconds, students receive the answers so they can evaluate their own work immediately, she says. The online courses will cost the same as classes taken on the Dearborn campus.

Yet unlike conventional campus programs, the online curriculum offers the convenience of completing all course work from any location with Internet access—including home, work or school computers—at any time of the day or night. “Students appreciate the convenience of the asynchronous environment,” Lazarus says. “They repeatedly express that they learn more in the online courses because they can work at their own pace. Also, because of the external links to quality Web sites for each topic, students feel they can continue to learn after the course is over by repeatedly visiting these sites.”

An estimated 25–30 students will begin the online degree program this fall. While the majority of students are Michigan residents, the convenience and accessibility of Internet access will allow out-of-state educators to easily enroll in the program as well. All students, including out-of-state residents, will pay the in-state tuition rate for the online courses.

“We just admitted a student from Hawaii,” Lazarus says. “As the program grows nationwide, students will be able to learn from and with classmates from across the nation.”

Yet, she admits the program isn’t for everyone. “Some people want and need face-to-face interaction with classmates and the instructor. Also, the asynchronous nature of the courses means that students have to exercise the self-management skills needed to complete assignments and participate in the discussions.”