April Adams – Academic Chair for Kaplan University School of Education
April Adams currently sits as the Academic Chair for Kaplan University’s School of Education. She holds both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from the University of West Florida as well as a Ph.D. from Capella University. Dr. Adams is an expert in the administration of online curriculum and distance education and has built that expertise over a 24 year career in both education and instructional design.
How it Started
Tell us a little about your career path and how you arrived at Kaplan?
I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher. I started my teaching career in 1992 as a middle school computer literacy teacher before the Internet was readily accessible in the schools. Internet access was still dialup at the time. I was fortunate enough to have a phone line in my office. To introduce my students to the World Wide Web, I brought my own computer from home and using a very long telephone cord, connected to the Internet and introduced my students to AOL for the first time in 1994.
Shortly after starting this position, I was asked by a group of teachers to conduct an in-service workshop on how to use computers effectively in the classroom. Since no curriculum existed, I had to design professional development at a very early stage in my career.
It was around that time the school received a new principal and he was a delegator. He delegated basically everything to do with technology to me, gave me a budget, and said, “Go handle it.” I was also appointed as chairman of a technology committee and charged with writing a technology plan. But I didn’t know really what I was doing, so I found a local university that offered a Master of Instructional Technology and Design degree, and started in.
I was given a release so I only had 2 classes a day, but my full-time job was, what would be called today, the Technology Coordinator for the district. Nowadays, a school district will have many technology coordinators, but when I was coming up, there wasn’t even a position for that. Now it’s a standard position.
Basically I was overseeing and teaching technology for the schools and doing professional development while at the same time working on my master’s.
Schools were being updated around the country to handle computer networks. Our school won a large grant to have our school retrofitted and my job responsibilities started to shift. I began team-teaching on a limited basis, so I could handle all things retrofit, keep technology running in the school and deliver professional development to teachers. Today, this position is known as a Technology Coordinator.
I began training our teachers, and as a result of that, and of word getting around the district, I was hired by the district technology specialist to be one of two technology trainers for the school district. But I didn’t know really what I was doing, so I found a local university that offered a Master of Instructional Technology and Design degree, and started in.
I was given a release so I only had 2 classes a day, but my full-time job was, what would be called today, the Technology Coordinator for the school. Nowadays, a school district will have many technology coordinators, but when I was coming through the system, there were very few positions and usually meant the principal had to give up a teaching position.
I moved from the middle school to the district office as one of two technology trainers. We trained everyone in the school district, from the superintendent to the bus drivers, on how to use technology. I taught teachers how to integrate technology into their curriculum, and support staff how to use Microsoft applications.
During this position, my boss had won a grant, and part of that grant required that someone design an online professional development component. Since I had completed my masters focusing on instructional design and distance learning, developed online training courses for our district and we delivered them throughout the State of Florida. While I was in that position I was recruited by my instructors from a local state university to come work for them to design their online degree programs in the School of Education.
I worked for this university for 10 years and then moved to Kaplan in 2010 when I was hired as an adjunct professor . Shortly thereafter, I applied for the chair position and I’ve been in this position for 6 years.
What is your position at Kaplan and how do you come up with the programs you offer?
Kaplan is known for their test prep, but there are many facets to Kaplan. We also have graduate and undergraduate education programs. My official title is Academic Chair, and I oversee all of the graduate programs in the School of Education. Most programs are 100% online. We do have two programs with internships so our candidates do student teaching within their local schools; and we have candidates who intern in student affairs offices at local colleges and universities.
How a university comes up with the programs that they are going to offer really depends upon market and needs analysis. Somewhere along the line, before I came to Kaplan, it was decided that there was a need for the School of Education and the programs we offer.
In the last two years, market analysis demonstrated a need for alternative certification routes for career changers who want to teach. So we have developed a post-bachelor’s program, where if you already have a bachelor’s degree and want to go in to teaching you can come to Kaplan and complete an alternative certificate. We are currently approved to offer licensures to students in the states of Iowa, Florida, and Oregon and anticipated rolling out the program in late 2016.
Kaplan serves many students in remote areas that cannot attend schools due to family commitments and long commutes. Our student population is primarily working adults who have other life commitments like children and aging parents.
What drives the market for Distance Education?
Student need and demand. I’ve been working in distance education for 18 years, developing online professional development for teachers and online courses for other universities. The reason online programs and courses were being developed and offered is because the students were demanding them.
The students are saying, “If you can’t offer the programs we want online, we are going to go find a school that can.” And so the face-to-face universities have really stepped up and had to develop online programs to keep their students and offer them the programs they want.
When for-profit and even nonprofit schools began introducing full degree programs online, there was major competition for public higher learning institutes. I am a graduate of an online university. I actually worked at a regional state university where I could have attended for free; however, I wanted a degree that they did not offer, so I had to go outside of the university to obtain the degree I truly wanted to earn. I know that is the same for many of our students.
Another driver of distance education is mobility.
The U.S. has a large military population and it is really hard, especially for spouses, when they are moved from one state to another for them to transfer credits. When you attend classes online, that’s not an issue anymore. You can attend the same university from wherever you live or travel. The more mobile the society, they greater need for distance education.
How do you see the future of Distance Education?
I think the students will always drive the market for distance education, as in any industry, the customer will drive the demand for product. We are in a highly competitive market today. There are no longer just state universities and community colleges. Students aren’t just looking for degrees anymore either, they are also looking for certificates and the opportunity to apply their experience towards a degree.
I think what is going to happen is that we’re going to be adapting to the ways that students want to receive information.
For instance, nowadays students want to do everything on their phone. Designing the multimedia aspect of curriculum to display on a computer and designing for a phone are two different animals. How the information is chunked. What and how much information the student received, and how they interact with that information is different.
Let’s say you want to make a college portal accessible on an iPhone. You don’t simply want a miniaturized computer screen. When the students are trying to upload, you want the drop box to pop up right away, not have the students have to go to a separate site to upload documents.
When you are designing for military personnel in a warzone or their families on base, they may only have a certain amount of time for Internet access. This will dictate how much they can read at one time and how much they are going to be able to download. There’s much to think about when designing between mobile devices and computers.
You want activities that students can do right there on their mobile devices. Many times they won’t have time to do research and write papers, but you can take them to an interactive game that will deliver the content they need to learn. It is important to design activities they can do right there on their phones, with which they are familiar.
Learning is going to have to be, and it is already being developed, more personalized. When a student enrolls in program, their competencies are assessed and they move forward from that point.
Organizations are beginning to dabble in personalized learning. A lot of schools are already turning towards competency based projects and programs and are giving students credit for their experience.
That’s the beginning of personalized learning and it will be evolving rapidly over the next decade.
When students enroll in a program, they’ll be able to how they want to go through the program, the order of the classes, and how they want the classes to relate to their career goals.
I also think texting and social media will play a role in content delivery. In distance education, students expect their teachers to be available 24/7. They are used to sending texts and having those texts responded to immediately. Many younger students would rather text or message their instructors than personally meet with them. Having a current freshman in college, I see how she communicates with professors and advisors, and it is completely different than I experienced.
Millennial aged teachers don’t have any problem with texting and using social media either. Right now we have instructors who communicate with their students primarily through Twitter and Facebook. They have pages and profiles setup for specific classes or projects, post assignments, get feedback, answer questions, and tweet or post useful information about particular topics. This is how many younger students want to receive their information.
For Future Teachers
What advice would you give to future teachers in relation to Distance Education?
I’m not going to single out distance education. I would say that teachers in the field now, or who are going to enter the field, need to stay up to date with instructional technology. I think it is important for teachers, even if they don’t specialize in instructional technology, to keep up with technology as part of their professional development. Their students will always be ahead of them when it comes to technology gadgets and ways to communicate. We’re not going to change that fact, so we might as well at least try to join them.
If you are already a teacher, look for a master’s degree in Instructional Technology, Instructional Design, or Curriculum Development. Such programs will include learning theory and strategies associated with technology and curriculum design. Such a master’s in combination with a bachelor’s in teaching is a great marketable skill in both public education and corporate America.
Any parting words for our readers?
As educators we have to remember who our customers are—the students. Having started my career in banking and strong customer service background, I have always looked at my students as the customers. We are providing a service to them, and we have to provide them with a quality product, period. Our responsibility is to provide quality education for those students, at all grade levels. As a teacher, that means you have to train and retrain in order to position yourself to provide that quality product to your customer. That is our responsibility as educators.
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