Faculty Spotlight — Curriculum and Instruction Program Stays the Course, Despite COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic forced numerous industries to adapt or collapse, with education being one of the hardest hit. Worldwide, educators returned from the 2019 holiday season, welcoming students back to class and ready to deliver on the last half of the school year’s curriculum.

But the new year had different plans for them as 2020 became a year unlike any educators had experienced before.

Fortunately, for the University of Cincinnati Online educators who work with almost 6,500 students enrolled full- or part-time in online programs, teaching was somewhat “business as usual,” even with the pandemic playing out.

Master’s Program Leader Shares Her Perspectives

 

Anna Fricano DeJarnette is the Associate Professor of Math Education and the Program Coordinator of UC Online’s Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction degree. She witnessed the impact on these “teachers-now-students” because most were employed full-time while they worked toward their master’s degree.

“Last February, teachers immediately went from whatever ‘normal’ meant to them to teaching in the middle of a global pandemic,” Anna says. “Suddenly, everything was different, and the impact on their students, the students’ parents and the teachers’ personal lives — including their pursuit of this degree — was huge.”

At work, teachers were forced to balance how much education they did with how much they supported students’ emerging emotional needs. Classes quickly transitioned to online learning, with everyone unprepared for the new environment. “Teachers had to make it happen and figure out everything along the way — helping kids log on, getting them their schedules, communicating in new ways with parents and much more,” Anna says.

For the teachers enrolled in UC Online’s program, their learning experience didn’t change much. The program, nationally recognized as one of the top five best online Master in Curriculum and Instruction Degree programs*, is fully available online and has been for years.

“Our courses didn’t change, but our students’ lives sure did,” says Anna. “We recognized they were living in a state of upheaval and honored that in our coursework and expectations of them.”

When the pandemic first hit, Anna remembers that many of the program’s students continued with their courses, finishing out the spring semester. Others took a break and came back later in the year. Anna found it interesting to see that some of the program’s newest students cited the pandemic as their reason for starting the program. “They had left their teaching jobs and wanted to take time to pursue their master’s. All of them felt comfortable studying online with us, given everything that was going on,” she says.

Online MEd in Curriculum and Instruction Degree

The Master of Education (MEd) in Curriculum and Instruction program was in existence before Anna came to the University of Cincinnati in 2014. Since then, she’s seen it evolve. In her still-new role as the program’s coordinator, Anna is closely involved in the students’ learning experience and the quality of their education.

Eighty-two students are enrolled in the spring 2021 semester. Anna says the typical mix of students includes two types. One is a K–12 licensed teacher who already earned their teaching license and wants a master’s degree. The other is someone who works in an informal education setting, such as in a science museum or state park.

UC Online’s program welcomes a few international students each year, but the majority are from the US with the heaviest concentration from the Cincinnati metropolitan area and the state. Most students complete their degree in two years.

“One of the things we’re proud of is the meaningful learning experience we created for our students,” Anna says. “We situate a lot of our coursework within the teachers’ practices, so it’s relevant to what they do in their classrooms. This way, they’re better able to make the connection between the more theoretical ideas and research findings and their real-life experience as an educator.”

Anna DeJarnette is the Program Coordinator for the Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction online degree.

Get to Know Anna DeJarnette

Anna earned her Ph.D. in mathematics education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2014. She joined the University of Cincinnati in 2014 and became the Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction program coordinator in 2020.

Outside of work, Anna is an avid runner who enjoys Cincinnati’s many parks and even its hilly terrain. She enjoys sharing her love of the outdoors with her husband and two children.

Anna likes to cook and catch up on a favorite book, whenever she can find those spare moments, and she typically reads fiction since reading nonfiction is part of her day job.

Capstone Projects Connect to the Classroom

Anna considers the program’s capstone project, the culminating experience that completes the master’s degree, to be unique. Students get the opportunity to create new curriculum for their classrooms or a project that requires students to do extensive research, collect data and document their findings.

One student, a high school physics teacher, wanted to develop curriculum that could boost his students’ literacy and writing skills. For his capstone project, he created a unit for his Advanced Placement Physics class that included writing prompts. This gave his physics students a new way to express their ideas in a written piece.

Anna says the teacher had an opportunity to try out the unit while he was still in the UC Online program — and that she and the student co-authored an article about the project that they recently submitted for review to a nationally recognized journal for science teachers.

Learning and Life Lessons from the Pandemic

The pandemic’s impact is still being felt across the world and in untold thousands of classrooms where teachers continue to prioritize content and effectively deliver it online to their students. Anna hopes that the teachers in UC Online’s master’s program take what they learned to be essential and carry those priorities into future classrooms. “We often talk about how curriculum can feel a mile wide and an inch deep, at times,” Anna says. “One of the things we’ve had to do, especially with the pandemic, is to figure out the content that engages our students.”

When asked what advice Anna would give her students, she says it’s to be true to their vision. “It can be hard for teachers to do this. If they reflect on what they learn here and what they know about their students, then blend that knowledge with their own desires for teaching, that’s success.”

It’s evident Anna has a heart for teachers in the program. She knows they’re still dealing with the pandemic while managing other influences from their states, school districts and students’ parents. “Now more than ever,” Anna says, “it’s important to maintain one’s stance toward teaching, be willing to refine it when needed, and know what’s important to hold on to.”

What these educators learn from their master’s program studies, coupled with their ongoing classroom experiences as teachers, will shape the face of education tomorrow in their respective schools and cities. UC Online’s faculty and staff are betting on their success.

For more information about the online Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction degree program and its instruction from award-winning faculty, contact us today.

*7th Best Online Master in Curriculum and Instruction Degree (2020, TheBestSchools.org)

< Return to the Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction program page.

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