The Student Perspective on Maryland's Associate of Arts in Teaching Degree

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This dissertation study investigated the student perspective on Maryland’s Early Childhood Education/Special Education Associate of Arts in Teaching (AAT) degree: the factors that affected their experience, especially with the transfer process, and whether their experiences differed by institution. Using a conceptual framework of social constructionism, viewpoints were gathered through focus groups and individual interviews of 18 community college students in their final semester before transferring to a Maryland university to complete their BA and teaching certification. In addition to focus groups and student interviews, this investigation included interviews with program coordinators, discussions with state administrators, observations of state meetings, and a review of program and state/local policy documents.

This study made contributions around issues of diversity, the Praxis Core Exam, online courses in ECE, and as the first study of the student perspective across multiple two-year institutions. It reports that participants had positive feedback about their teacher education programs but agreed on the need for more practical experience, especially regarding special education content. A clear concern about online coursework in ECE was also expressed. Factors affecting the student experience included misadvising and confusion around transfer that continued after moving to university programs. Administrators and faculty also acknowledged a number of challenges associated with advising, programming and implementation. Students highlighted differences between institutions but noted that most issues could be resolved through better communication, collaboration, and coordination.

This analysis of the student perspective provides a clearer picture of the obstacles and advancements experienced by preservice teachers pursuing an AAT in ECE/SpEd. Since student voices were largely absent from the research on the AAT, this study is useful to two-year programs working to improve retention and transfer, as well as universities working to support transfer students. More research is needed on internet-based classes in teacher education as well as proactive advising (a preemptive approach to working with students). Further investigation of individual programs, coordination, mandatory advising, and mentor programs is also warranted. Given the complexity of the transfer process, especially in EC programs, further research is needed beyond Maryland on the student experience and on potential solutions offered here.