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USM launches fully online Master's in Literacy Education degree program

When Jenna Cross began looking at TESOL graduate programs four years ago, she knew what she wanted: Faculty who would prepare her well to teach English to speakers of other languages. A program she could do while still working full time as a first-grade teacher in Yarmouth. And if she didn’t have to commute to class, that would be great.

She found it all in USM’s Master of Science in Education in TESOL.

USM's online TESOL graduate program has been super awesome,” said Jenna Cross ’21, who teaches first grade at William H. Rowe School in Yarmouth. “Pursuing your degree online gives you a lot of options, flexibility in your scheduling. If you have a lot of commitments or kids or just a full-time job, it allows you the opportunity to do the work when you do have time.”

Cross was among the first students to join USM’s TESOL graduate program after it went fully online in 2017. Since then, the traditional 15-week courses have been replaced with accelerated seven-week courses that start six times a year rather than three, allowing Cross and other students even more flexibility and the chance to finish their degree faster.

TESOL’s turn online has been so successful for students that USM is now following with one of its oldest graduate programs: Master of Science in Education in Literacy Education.

Like TESOL, the 53-year-old M.S.Ed. in Literacy Education is popular with teachers who want the skills and education that come from a specialized graduate degree but who also have to juggle a full-time teaching job and other commitments.

A photo of Andrea Stairs-Davenport“We said, ‘We can prevent people from having to drive an hour to class.’ I can’t tell you how many people. We’ve had people commute down from Turner, from over in eastern New Hampshire,” said Andrea Stairs-Davenport, professor of literacy, language, and culture and associate dean of USM's School of Education and Human Development (pictured at right). “We just thought, you know what, we can do better than this. We can really reach more people. There’s no other public college or university in the system that offers this program fully online.”

The M.S.Ed. in Literacy Education will start by offering two online courses this fall and two in spring of 2022. All will be seven-week courses.

After that, courses will be offered online only. Even the practicum, the program’s capstone, may have an online option. And like TESOL, students will be able to sign up for classes six times a year, rolling admissions that allow people to enter the program or take classes when most convenient for them.

Classes will be asynchronous, which means students don’t have to attend class at a set time. That kind of flexibility has already proven a big benefit for TESOL students like Cross.

“You can even do it ahead of time. For me, I feel like I need to do it on the weekends because the weeks are so busy,” Cross said.

Because student interaction and a sense of community are important, the program will also follow TESOL’s lead when it comes to keeping people connected, with faculty office hours, social media integration, and group projects. And it will explore new ways to connect people outside of class, with in-person or live virtual events.

An online program isn't a lonely program.

“Now with Google Drive and all that, even group projects are so easy because you can all work on them at the same time,” Cross said. “I would say it’s almost easier than in real life because in real life you have to coordinate and everyone has to meet up.”