CWU News

CWU School of Education Embracing the Online Teaching Model this Fall

The Central Washington University School of Education (SOE) has faced its share of challenges since classes were moved entirely online last spring. But, like other departments at the university, the SOE has been working hard to chart a realistic path for the short- and long-term future.

This fall, the department has embraced the online-only instruction model for its teacher candidates, updating its approach to provide students with an assortment of in-demand skills that they can add to their teaching repertoires when they enter the workforce.

“Our thinking was that if our students could become proficient as online educators, that would really benefit them in their careers,” said Tim Lawless, an assistant professor of elementary education. “So, we decided to help them become better at delivering online instruction. Having these skills in their toolbox will help them as professionals because there are so many possibilities.”

Aside from learning to teach remotely, Lawless said the teacher candidates will eventually use the skills they develop this year to help K-12 students who either need more guidance or who are seeking accelerated learning opportunities. 

With the demand for remote learning options on the rise, the SOE faculty decided to spend most of the fall term preparing their students to become online educators. Once the teacher candidates learn how to deliver instruction on virtual platforms like Zoom, Google Classroom, and Blackboard Ultra — and have ample practice teaching their peers — they hope to log some real-world experience with the Ellensburg School District, and perhaps others, later this fall.

“Some time in October, we hope our teacher candidates will be teaching actual Ellensburg students using online platforms,” said Yukari Amos, chair of the Education, Development, Teaching, and Learning department (pictured above, center). “We also hope to have more opportunities at our centers in Wenatchee, Yakima, Des Moines, and Pierce County because we want to make sure everyone across the state has the same experience in their practicum courses.”

Amos and Lawless are cautiously optimistic about their chances of partnering with a number of school districts in Washington this fall and in 2021. However, they also recognize that districts around the state are facing unprecedented challenges of their own.

“We have no expectation that the school districts will embrace our plans during fall quarter, but we want them to know we’re here to support what they are doing,” Lawless said.

“We’re hoping to gradually sell them on the idea because we think this kind of partnership could benefit them and us,” Amos added.

Despite an uncertain future, Amos said most of the CWU teacher candidates have responded well to the curriculum changes. She and colleagues Tracy Wise, Tina Clark, and Faith Peterson spent the summer encouraging current and incoming students to continue with the program. The outreach effort was so successful that SOE enrollment is up about 10% over last year.

“Our consistent advising may have contributed to our high enrollment numbers,” Amos said. “But we have done a lot of positive things to help our students succeed, and we think that also helped them decide to stay at CWU.” 

Personal Touch Helps Set CWU Apart

Senior Tristan Inocencio is one student who decided to continue with the program despite the current challenges. 

The elementary education major said, most of all, he appreciates the one-on-one attention he has received since coming to Ellensburg last fall. He credits his professors — Lawless and Keith Salyer, in particular — and his academic advisor (Wise) for instilling in him the confidence he will need as he begins his professional career. 

“What has made this experience amazing for me are the professors,” said Inocencio, who earned his associate’s degree before transferring to CWU last fall. “They’re always so positive and uplifting, and that has carried me through some tough times. Whenever I need to talk to someone, they are there for me. That has meant a lot.”

Inocencio said he hopes to teach fourth or fifth grade near his hometown of Spanaway because he would like to give back to the community in a way that wasn’t always available to him when he was a youth.

“When I was that age, I was always looking for someone I could relate with, but I didn’t have that with most of my teachers,” said Inocencio, a Filipino-American who speaks five languages (English, Spanish, Japanese, and two dialects of Tagalog). “I want to be a mentor for kids and help them in a specific area, like language. Most of all, I just want to give back.”

Working with professors like Lawless, Salyer, and Amos has helped Inocencio realize that he can influence the lives of young people through education. He said his experiences in the CWU School of Education over the past year have given him a new purpose in life.

“I have gone through a lot of difficult times, and CWU has helped me realize what I want to become,” he said. “Without this department and these professors, I may not have been motivated to get through this. Now, I’m that much closer to having a fresh start with my career. I’m very grateful for what CWU has done for me.”

Inocencio added that he’s been pleasantly surprised by how well the SOE has responded to the shift to remote learning. Whether it’s putting together a revised curriculum to train future online teachers or partnering with the Ellensburg School District to find real-world teaching opportunities, the department has adapted well on the fly.

“The education department tackled COVID head-on and they had a backup plan in place before they even needed one,” he said. “I think they’ve done an amazing job.”

Lawless and Amos also believe the department has done the best it could have under the circumstances. This fall, they’re continuing to prove why CWU has been so successful at training the educators of tomorrow.

“We feel bad that we can’t do face-to-face instruction this fall, but we also don’t want our students to fall behind on their teacher training,” said Lawless, who has shifted to a synchronous teaching model (real time lectures) this fall after trying asynchronous (recorded) in the spring. 

“Whether they get to teach real students this year, or just their peers, we have sent the message that they are going to move on,” he added. “We are becoming more invested in the online model, and I think our students see the value in that.”

Media contact: David Leder, Department of Public Affairs,, 509-963-1518.