As distance education grows, Northern continues to pave the way

Student studying near laptop

ABERDEEN, S.D. – Fifteen years ago when Christian Pirlet was earning his bachelor’s degree from Northern State University, only one distance learning presentation was part of his studies.

Today, however, e-learning is his job.

“Several years ago, students would’ve scoffed at the idea of participating in a remote learning or distance teaching experience,” said Pirlet, who teaches e-learning coursework as assistant professor of educational technology at NSU. “But obviously the last couple years, it’s been a wake-up call.”

As distance education becomes increasingly common, Northern continues to pave the way through more than just the Center for Statewide E-learning. All students pursuing an undergraduate teaching degree are required to take two educational technology courses, and education majors enter a 4+1 accelerated master’s program where they earn both their undergraduate degree in education (whether elementary, special, or secondary education) and their M.S.Ed. in Instructional Design in E-Learning in just 5 years. The accelerated master’s program gives undergraduates opportunity to intern with the E-learning Center so students gain experience from master e-learning teachers in how to facilitate classes and coursework, Pirlet said. Male professor wearing bowtie

Northern’s master’s degree in Instructional Design in E-Learning is also open to teachers already working in the classroom, as all courses are available online.

Pirlet said the number of undergraduate students interested in e-learning is growing. They value technology, but want to use it effectively and not just have it as a filler.

“It’s not just you go on Zoom and do a lecture or post something on Google Classroom,” he said. “It’s how to effectively communicate with learners, regardless of age or your students’ locations.”

Rural Student Teaching Program

E-learning is also a way for Northern to support rural school districts.

The Rural Student Teaching Program in the Millicent Atkins School of Education places Northern teacher candidates in rural South Dakota communities and school districts that otherwise might not be able to host student teachers, said Abby Exner, Northern’s director of field experiences. Female professor with glasses

The program awards students a stipend, available through state funding, to offset some of the costs of being placed in rural communities, such as housing or transportation. Any rural district at least 40 miles outside of Aberdeen qualifies. Supervisors then use technology such as Zoom or Panopto to oversee teacher candidates, Exner said.

Last year, 10 students participated in school districts in Wolsey, Milbank, Gettysburg, Eureka, Florence, Newell, Waverly, Leola, Bowdle, Langford and Huron. Northern is on track to have another 10 students participate in spring 2022, adding districts in Hamlin County (Hayti), Gregory and Hoven.

Along with providing a rural district with a student teacher, Exner said the program also benefits students by allowing them to become immersed in a small community and its culture.

“Diversifying their placements is another advantage to students for participating in the program,” she said.

Plus, she said, it’s an opportunity for employment; more than 60 percent of students who participated in the Rural Student Teaching Program last year got employed in their district.

Student Perspective Young woman portrait

Rachel Secker was placed in the Eureka School District through the Rural Student Teaching Program in fall 2020. She now teaches at Eureka Elementary school as the Special Education teacher. 

“My experience was great. I learned so much and it helped me become a better teacher,” Secker said. “I had to be out of my comfort zone and at first it was a challenge for me, but it has really made me grow as an individual. I got to experience and be a part of some amazing opportunities. I loved that the classes were not huge and that I got to really know my students and build those relationships with them.”

Secker said Northern really helped prepare her for her teaching career.

“Northern was amazing,” she said. “I would highly encourage everyone to check out Northern to study education. Going into my student teaching I felt scared, but as I got into my experience, I realized how well Northern prepared me for my career.”

About Northern State University

Northern State University is a student-centered institution that provides an outstanding educational experience, preparing students through the liberal arts and professional education for their future endeavors. A regional university, Northern offers rigorous academics; diverse civic, social and cultural opportunities; and a commitment to building an inclusive environment for all points of view. Northern also offers a broad-based athletics program, sponsoring 15 NCAA Division II intercollegiate varsity sports that compete in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (NSIC). The university strives to enrich the community through partnerships such as its Educational Impact Campaign, which opened a new South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired; new athletic and recreation fields; and an on-campus regional sports complex. With the $55 million campaign, NSU has been the recipient of more than $150 million in privately funded building projects and scholarships within a decade. To learn more, visit NSU Admissions.

Pictured at right, top to bottom: Pirlet, Exner, Secker