Innovative program celebrates 10 years of online education

September 27, 2010

In the summer of 1997 Belinda Lazarus, professor in UM-Dearborn's School of Education, had an idea that changed the face of education at the University.

After participating in an online course about developing online education programs, Lazarus developed a format based on principles of effective instruction still used today. She began assessing student interest, testing course structure and offering initial courses and was met with overwhelming demand and positive response. Working with Kim Killu, associate professor in the School of Education, the online Master of Education in Special Education Inclusion Specialist certificate program was introduced in 2000.

The online program, the first of its kind in the country, does not offer teacher certification therefore bypassing the various states' certification requirements and allowing the School of Education to reach students worldwide.

"In 2000 we were looking for innovative ways to take existing courses and programs and combine them to develop programs that would appeal to new audiences," said Lazarus, who also serves as coordinator of the program. "This cutting edge certificate program continues to provide highly-desirable information to students around the world, that they may not otherwise have access to."
The program requires 10, three-credit hour courses and is for professionals who wish to learn how to identify, teach and manage students with disabilities in the general education and community settings.

Since 2000, more than 500 students in 25 countries including Columbia, Japan, Indonesia, British Columbia, Lebanon, Venezuela, India, Turkey, Korea, Norway and 42 states have earned the degree.

Students are interested in the program for a variety of reasons. Nour Alqassab from Saudi Arabia graduated from the program in 2005 and found its flexible nature to fit nicely into his work and personal life. While not currently working in special education the program appeals to a variety of professionals, with Alqassab saying it "gave me an in-depth view about special education and helped me to apply it in the general sense."

Lazarus and Killu continue to work hard to ensure that students in the Special Education Inclusion Specialist certificate program don't feel isolated although they don't meet in person. Many students still feel a connection to UM-Dearborn and often come to campus for the first time for their graduation ceremony.

Laurie Halvorson Cairns of Victoria, British Columbia, graduated in 2004 and was one of those students saying that graduation was almost a "surreal experience." "Despite having met neither the professors or the students, we had built bonds. It is amazing how much of one's personality shines through via choice of topics and turns of phrases. Those graduates who attended the graduation ceremony met for dinner and we had plenty to talk about."

Cairns, who serves as vice-principal of École Doncaster Elementary school in Victoria, originally chose the program hoping to become an effective support and advocate for her own children and other students with learning disabilities. "The online program allowed me to move from coast to coast and from country to country all while completing the stimulating coursework. The things I learned in the program have helped me in my work to make life easier for children and families with special needs