The success of the chartered teacher programme at Glasgow University to date has hinged upon its being holistic and integrated and upon the quality of its delivery.
Up to 70 teachers have completed at least the first core module in the MEd programme, which includes both face-to-face tuitiondiscussion and online tuitiondiscussion. The students are drawn from nine local authorities in the west but, as the online delivery of the course expands, the university hopes to attract students from across the country.
"Most modules will be available in both face-to-face and online delivery by 2006-07 and students can then choose between face-to-face, online or a mixture of both," says programme leader Margery McMahon.
However, even the online course will have a face-to-face element, with each module preceded by a meeting and later at least one further tutor meeting to help students prepare for their final assessment.
Dr McMahon believes the main strengths of the university's programme are the quality of its provision and the level of support offered to the students.
"We want the programme to be a very positive learning experience and what we have seen so far suggests there is a real commitment to success from everyone involved, the developers, deliverers and students."
The university's partners include North Lanarkshire and East Ayrshire councils, the Scottish Catholic Education Services and the European Union Masters in Inclusive Education.
"Developing the new infrastructures and delivering the programme has been thoroughly interesting and innovative," says Dr McMahon.
"Beyond our four core modules we are offering optional modules on areas such as dealing with disaffected young people, ethnic diversity, emotional intelligence and literacy, mentoring, creativity and religious and moral education. In developing these, we will draw on our strengths," she says.
Being a research-led institution, the university is perfectly attuned to developing the students' own action research skills, she says.
"The students are engaged with ongoing research and we have an established progressive research culture here which dovetails with the action research students have to undertake in the programme. The teachers develop their own practice to the benefit of their pupils," she says.
Eric Belton, a programme tutor and former primary headteacher, says: "The commitment is extremely high among students. There is empathy among all the teachers across all the sectors.
"This was apparent from day one but it has grown even more. They support each other naturally and strongly, whether face to face or through our online discussion forum."
For now, each module involves 20-30 hours of face-to-face learning. Adding further teaching and learning input, students can expect to work 150 hours on each. While that is a serious commitment for anyone working full-time, very few teachers have dropped out. Those who have, have all had personal or family reasons unrelated to workload.
About 400 teachers from across Scotland have now completed their first chartered teacher module entirely online through Paisley University's school of education.
Most of those who completed it by January have already gone on to other modules. That's a high retention rate, says the university's associate dean of education, Tom Hamilton.
"We have students from every local authority in Scotland as well as a teacher in Southampton who is coming back to Scotland to teach.
"The sheer size of the roll - 350 students taking the one module at the same time - was a challenge and we see it as a great success," he says.
All online chartered teacher programmes have to be developed and delivered through partnerships, usually with a local authority. What makes Paisley University's programme unusual is its partnership with not only two local authorities (Argyll and Bute and South Ayrshire) but also with Learning and Teaching Scotland and the Educational Institute of Scotland.
"Working in conjunction with the EIS is good for the development of the programme and for recruiting teachers to it. It also broadens the role of the EIS in education," says Mr Hamilton.
The course is delivered by university staff, local authority personnel and EIS representatives.
"Paisley is unique in its partnership with both the EIS and LT Scotland.
The latter sees the programme as a way of disseminating information to teachers and keeping them abreast of its work.
"We want to take our partnership working through into the other national CPD standard for school leadership, the 'son of the Scottish Qualification for Headship', which will be launched in September 2005. We will go into this with all our existing partners and hopefully others too," says Mr Hamilton.
The only face-to-face meetings were of group representatives at the end of the semesters for the purposes of quality assurance evaluation.
The students felt that the online collaboration had been a good experience and worked well. One reason for this may have been that they were often in cross-sector groups, so that students were learning from each other as well as from staff.
"Our own staff feel very positive about the interaction with different kinds of groups, so tutors benefited as well," says Mr Hamilton.
"The students came across broader ideas through the hundreds of online journals and texts our Blackboard and Athens software provides, as well as a spread of ideas from tutors and fellow students. The students are in many ways their own biggest resource," says Mr Hamilton.
"The chartered teacher programme makes people think about their practice and that should become the norm. When you've got people who are enquiring and critical, it's good for education. All teachers should be ready and able to discuss policy," he says.
An exclusively online programme not only means that a geographically isolated student has equal access with everyone else but also that all students are improving their ICT skills as a matter of course.
There were some technical blips, but no major access problems and Paisley University is keen to take forward more option modules to widen the spectrum of what is available to teachers, such as health promotion, personal development, bilingual learning and subject development.
"I think in fact that our greatest challenge proved to be our greatest strength: establishing an online learning community which works well to everyone's benefit," says Mr Hamilton.
Glasgow University will hold an open evening for the MEd chartered teacher programme in the St Andrew's building on June 9, 5.30-7.30pm