TeachUP policy experimentation: making online training for teachers more effective

Teachers face an increasing number of challenges in their daily work in the classroom. They therefore need more training opportunities that relate to their daily practice and that they can combine flexibly with their busy teaching schedules.

From classic top-down instructors, teachers are now becoming learning designers and facilitators. The role of pupils changes, too. From receivers of knowledge, they are increasingly becoming active learners in the classroom. Additionally, the COVID-19 crisis, where many teachers have been required to teach online for the first time, showed that they need a lot more support and training than is often available.

Training teachers to their changing role

Education systems cannot cope with the significant number of teachers that need to be trained in the new competences associated to their changing role. Online courses like Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) may be a potential solution helping to overcome this challenge and has been attracting the attention of policy makers for several years. Yet, evidence shows that only 36% of teachers across OECD countries have undertaken online training (OECD, 2019), and completion rates in such courses tend to be low. Research also finds that schedule conflicts and participation costs are two important obstacles to Continuing Professional Development (CPD) participation (TALIS, 2018).

The TeachUP project is a policy experimentation coming to its end in August 2020 that aimed to support policy makers, teacher trainers, training providers and other teacher training stakeholders in finding ways to scale up effectively and efficiently online teacher training. The project tested a possible solution: a set of personalised support emails with additional tips and guidance, only sent to course participants that were likely to need support.

The impact of was tested in field trials involving over 4,000 randomly sampled teachers and student teachers divided in a test and a control group. The field trials were run in 10 countries between October 2018 and May 2019. It turned out the personalised support offer increased the likelihood of enrolled teachers completing an online course by 10%. This is a promising finding to harness the potential of online courses for teacher training.

Recommendations from the TeachUP policy experimentation

Three key recommendations for teacher education and policy making emerge from the TeachUP research results. The full list of recommendations can be found in the report on personalised support.

     1. Send out personalised messages: Personalising messages is likely to have played an important role on course participation. So, finding means to generate messages that include information about the participants' profile and progress is likely to achieve positive results with regard to participation and completion.
     2. Reach out to latecomers: The TeachUP results show that contacting those who have not yet started a course can have a significant positive impact on course completion. Accordingly, finding a mechanism to reach out to those failing to start a course is worthwhile.
     3. Reach out to newcomers: Research indicates that previous experience of online learning is a determining factor in non-completion, and this was confirmed for teachers and student teachers in the TeachUP experimentation. Reaching out to learners new to online learning therefore promises high returns regarding participation and completion.

Peer vs. expert assessment

Using experts to assess the learning outcomes of participants is hardly compatible with the scale of MOOCs. This means that new ways to assess learning, that are feasible, reliable, and well valued by participants, are needed. Therefore, the TeachUP policy experimentation investigated whether peer assessment could provide an appropriate alternative to expert assessment. Even though more research is needed, it turned out that peer assessment is a potentially viable approach to assess learning achievements in scalable online courses. The TeachUP findings support policy moves to increase the provision of online teacher professional development with evidence that peer assessment can be both viable and cost-effective and they provide evidence on how to design peer assessment in online courses.

Finally, the Teach-UP outputs provide interesting insights for policy makers, teacher trainers, course providers, and anyone interested in finding ways to scale up effectively and efficiently online teacher training. Feel free to share your own projects and initiatives, your plans, involving teachers in online courses, the support you offer them, and your approach of assessment. Tell us more us at teachup@eun.org and using the #TeachUP_eu hashtag on social media.