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Faculty colloquium: Are all teachers created equally?

When hiring first-year teachers, do principals prefer classroom training over online-training?

Assistant Professor of Elementary Education Karin Brown posed the question at Lyon College’s second Faculty Colloquium on Oct. 4, sharing her research on online teacher education programs versus traditional campus-based programs.

Brown got the idea for the research project while teaching at Ozarka College. 

“We had an agreement with Arkansas Tech University (ATU), and some of the students were getting degrees online,” she said. “I had a few tell me near graduation that principals wouldn’t hire them straight out of college with a degree from an online school.”

“They advised them to work somewhere else for a year and come back. It made me wonder how many principals feel that way.”

Since she was teaching about 30 students a year through an online program, Brown felt she needed to find out if online education impacted a first-year teacher’s hireability.

“We don’t want to put students out in the classroom if principals aren’t confident they have what it takes to teach.”

Brown chose the topic for her dissertation and designed the research questions to determine if there is a significant difference in Arkansas principals’ perceptions of first-year teachers graduating from online teacher education programs versus first-year teachers graduating from traditional campus-based programs.

She submitted a survey to all 1,061 K-12 principals in Arkansas, and 230 responded. The survey asked principals three questions: 1. Do they believe the skills and abilities of teachers from online education programs are the same as teachers from campus-based programs? 2. Do they believe online education programs make a teacher hireable? And 3. Does their knowledge and experience with online education programs contribute to their perceptions.

Brown studied six dimensions of the respondents: age, gender, region, years of experience, number of students enrolled at their school, and percentage on free and reduced lunches.

She also queried the principals about whether they felt online programs served as a valuable way to combat the teacher shortage problem facing Arkansas. Brown discovered the biggest difference in responses came from the age of the principal surveyed. 

“When it came to equality and integrity, principals in their 50s were more inclined to feel that the programs are the same. Principals in their 30s did not think so. I found that interesting,” she said.

“It was the same with preparation for teaching social skills and meeting the needs of diverse students. Principals in their 50s thought teachers from online programs would be just as good, but principals in their 30s did not agree.”

Most principals said they would ultimately hire whichever candidate was the best fit, Brown said.

“They were more concerned with finding someone who loves children and will be part of the team.”

She also found that principals with 6-10 years of experience had more knowledge and experience with online education programs than principals with 20 or more years of experience.

“There was also a significant difference based on the population of students at their school. Principals from schools with 0-251 students had more knowledge of online programs.”

“I wondered if that could possibly be because those schools are usually rural, so online education is something you have to know about.”

Brown was surprised there wasn’t a bigger difference between the perception of teachers from online programs and campus-based programs. She said it seemed that principals who had more experience with online education themselves were less concerned about hiring teachers from online programs.

“Of the 230 I surveyed, 135 principals said they would hire equally. Of the 12 I interviewed in person, nine said they found online programs credible as long as they are from an accredited school,” she concluded.