A Dissertation Summary

Andrew Christian

Dr. Molly Cummings Carney, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a PhD at Boston College, wrote her dissertation, Preparing Teachers For Tomorrow: A Case Study of TEACH-NOW Graduate School of Education which was recently made available at https://dlib.bc.edu/islandora/object/bc-ir:108575

From the dissertation abstract, Dr. Cummings Carney summarizes this study as:

Intended to be descriptive and interpretive, this qualitative case study sought to understand the phenomenon of teacher preparation at TEACH-NOW from the perspectives of its participants. Based on qualitative analysis of multiple sources of evidence, the main argument of this dissertation is that TEACH-NOW operated at the nexus of a complex tension between the push to be innovative and the pull to be legitimate. Findings suggest that TEACH-NOW skillfully navigated that tension by establishing tight coherence around three key indicators of innovation (business model, technology, program structure) and by achieving major accepted markers of credibility within the larger teacher education organizational field.

Dr. Cummings Carney’s investigation found that the creators of the TEACH-NOW program sought “coherence” in their innovative response to the reality of a globalized education market and the ever-growing prevalence of technology (102). TEACH-NOW achieved this through intentional design that “diverge[d] from other teacher preparation pathways,” and “provide[d] a scalable, individualized, low cost, efficient, as needed basis option to teacher candidates” (103). The purposeful integration of technology and the reimaging of the education process from a semester based model to a modular and sequential one, where virtual, synchronous classes fostered collaboration worked in sync with the opportunities and demands of a diverse, globally-sourced, education marketplace, moving into spaces traditional institutions had not (122, 126, 128, 158, 110). The program’s “problem-based learning” method gave this diverse student population the opportunity to adapt the lessons to their own unique circumstances (135). As Dr. Cummings Carney quotes one TEACH-NOW administrator as saying, TEACH-NOW’s program was always “intended to be a solution” to “prepare tomorrow's teachers, [f]or tomorrow's students, for tomorrow's learning world” (104).

As Dr. Cummings Carney shows, TEACH-NOW’s leaders also worked to create cohesiveness between the program’s standards of academic content and its institutional conduct in order to ensure a firm perception of legitimacy (160). The learning content in the TEACH-NOW program was designed to be universally applicable to all contexts and universally adaptable to any environment (165). Activities were designed for students to put their newly acquired knowledge to use, immediately (174). This lent credibility to the efficacy of the program because, as Dr. Cummings Carney quotes one graduate, TEACH-NOW’s candidates could “[see] that what [they were] doing was actually working better for [their] students” (177). This approach was introduced from the beginning of the program, such that by the time clinical placements started, TEACH-NOW candidates had already practiced, not just learned, the skills they would be utilizing in their classrooms (179). This adaptable, useful content was paired with “professional” credibility through accreditation with the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) (194). While the accreditation itself signaled legitimacy, Dr. Cummings Carney also found that the rigor of the process further enhanced the quality of the programming (198). Dr. Cummings Carney notes, that these two markers of legitimacy were “sustained…and strengthened” through the employment of “master educators” that were “committed to its mission,” thereby establishing a cohesive theme to TEACH-NOW’s offerings (199).

From the perspective of the students engaged in TEACH-NOW’s program, a simple, yet powerful question presented itself in Dr. Cummings Carney’s research: why did students choose this type of teacher preparation program, especially over traditional alternatives (229-230)? Dr. Cummings Carney argues that the design and outcomes of the TEACH-NOW program provided candidates the opportunity to “self-manage” their learning process according to their “needs, preferences, and circumstances” (157), making it worthwhile (148). This is not to say that the innovative nature of the program did not bring its own difficulties. Candidates were challenged by the pace and streamlined format and had to adjust to the ambiguities of a digital space (143, 147, 155). Yet, despite these difficulties, 92.7% of candidates gave the program a mark of excellent or very good (157). Indeed, Dr. Cummings Carney found that the innovative aspects of the TEACH-NOW program measurably enhanced candidates’ preparation for real-world classrooms (146, 246-247). The ability to enroll in an efficient, technologically sophisticated, and autonomous program (142, 145, 152) that “adapt[ed] to the needs, preferences, and schedules” of students (127) and provided useful, practice-based preparation, along with stellar program support (211, 218), lead candidates to conclude, as Dr. Cummings Carney does, that the TEACH-NOW program is “an innovative yet legitimate alternative to ‘traditional’ models of learning to teach” (226).

Dr. Cummings Carney’s investigation represents a critical resource to enhance our understanding of the “phenomenon” of non-traditional teacher preparation programs (17). Emerging from her comprehensive and detailed work is an equally key question for debate within the field as a whole—a question of control. Who gets to control the notions of what is real and what is legitimate in the educational space (242)? For TEACH-NOW, in order to embrace the evolving, technology-infused, globalized reality of teacher preparation and future classrooms, a teacher preparation program must ultimately cede that control to the teachers-to-be themselves (238-239). At Teach-Now, rather than administer conclusions, the place of the teacher preparation program is to provide the rigorous process and encouraging support for these future teachers to determine the meaning, purpose, and utility of their own work, within their own context (240-241).

Access the full dissertation Preparing Teachers For Tomorrow: A Case Study of TEACH-NOW Graduate School of Education by Dr. Molly Cummings Carney through Boston College at https://dlib.bc.edu/islandora/object/bc-ir:108575.