Jennifer Bumble develops webinar series to help special educators teach online

Jennifer Bumble

Jennifer Bumble worked with the Council for Exceptional Children and its Division on Career Development and Transition to develop a webinar series called “Transition In The Cloud” to help special educators with online instruction. The webinars cover online content delivery and include expert presenters, online tools and resources, and an open forum at the end of each webinar for attendees to share their own resources. (FaceTime photo by August Jennewein)

Special education teachers face unique challenges under ordinary circumstances – much less during a pandemic that’s upended everyday life.

The move to online classes across the country due to COVID-19 has made the jobs of special educators and the families of students with disabilities even more difficult.

Jennifer Bumble, an assistant professor of special education at the University of Missouri–St. Louis whose research has focused on the transition to adulthood for students with disabilities, explained that special educators are tasked with more than academic coursework. They are also responsible for each student’s individualized education program, which focuses on areas such as behavioral health, diverse modes of communication and socialization.

“There seem to be a lot of online tools right now focused on academic instruction,” Bumble said. “It can be really tough for teachers to find online resources that address those other areas, those kinds of functional skills.”

Recognizing the need for accessible resources, she worked with the Council for Exceptional Children and its Division on Career Development and Transition to develop a webinar series called “Transition In The Cloud.” It includes six webinars for middle and high school special educators.

They cover online content delivery and include expert presenters, online tools and resources, and an open forum at the end of each webinar for attendees to share their own resources. After each is completed, the information is put into an online directory on the DCDT website.

Bumble has worked with CEC for several years, first as a student board member while she was earning her PhD and now as the publications chair for the Division on Career Development and Transition. She said the initiative aligned well with the organization’s recent goals.

“Over the last year, we’ve been focused on improving our practitioner engagement,” Bumble said. “So, we’ve had two goals for that. The first one is making sure educators have access to the research and the tools that they need to do their job well, but the second is making sure that they have a platform to share their expertise with our organization.”

The webinars were the perfect opportunity for the organization to tap into its professional network. Bumble set up meetings with her CEC colleagues, and together, the group coordinated the creation of the webinars. Two were completed in April, and one will be held every Monday in May.

“Our hope is that these webinars, because they’re weekly, can really support teachers as they move through the rest of their school year,” she said.

The first webinar, titled “Practical and Easy-to-Use Online Tools,” was an immediate success, maxing out its call capacity. The response prompted CEC to add slots for the second, “Innovative Apps for Online Instruction.”

“I think we’re finding that teachers are craving this content right now,” Bumble said. “They’re in a space where they’re at home, and even though they’re still providing instruction alongside a lot of different responsibilities, they’re able to find the time right now to engage in online learning and online webinars.”

The last four webinars are titled “Using EnvisionIT to Support Practitioners to Provide Evidence-Based Transition Online,” “Using Online Gaming to Engage Students,” “I’m Determined: Taking Self Determination Online” and “Mapping Community Resources to Improve Student Outcomes,” respectively. They each have increased capacity as well.

In addition to the webinars, Bumble is supporting special educators with the #Transition5in5 social media campaign. Each week, she and the DCDT share Twitter and Facebook posts featuring different special education teachers and their experiences transitioning to online instruction. They answer five questions about the shift and share personal tips and resources. The campaign was started with the help of a few colleagues who distributed a simple Google form to their peers.

“It’s something that stems from my own experience as an educator,” Bumble said of the campaign. “I know that when I was teaching, and I was facing challenges, I depended heavily on the guidance and advice of my colleagues. So, I think a lot of times we undervalue the expertise special educators have. They problem solve, and they adapt to new challenges and environments. It’s where they thrive. It’s what they’re doing every day in the classroom. Teachers know what works.”

Bumble and her DCDT publications committee also partnered with the National Technical Assistance Center for Transition to keep its monthly blog updated and will be hosting two webinars on June 4 and June 6 as part of a research study, “Virtual Community Resource Mapping: Innovative Strategies for Supporting Transition Outcomes.” Those interested can email bumblej@umsl.edu for more information.

Despite the extraordinary circumstances, special educators might be better prepared than anyone – in Bumble’s opinion.

“I don’t think there’s anything educators can’t handle,” she said. “This is where special educators thrive. They’re constantly learning to work in new environments with new students, and I think they’re going to emerge out of this experience with a new arsenal of tools to support student learning.”

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