An Analysis of Online Professional Development and Outcomes for Students With Disabilities

Feb. 20, 2009

Source: Teacher Education and Special Education, Vol. 32 No. I, (February 2009), p. 83-96.

Professional development (PD) experiences for special education teachers are designed to facilitate teacher learning and the implementation of evidence-based practices. PD should also make a positive impact on the K-12 students with disabilities that are in participating teachers' classrooms. In this study, the author examines the outcomes of the use of a project-based online PD approach with in-service teachers of students with disabilities. In particular, the study focuses on the effects of the PD on K-12 students with disabilities in the participating teachers' classrooms.

Research Question

The following research question was used to guide the study:
To what extent does the participation of special education teachers in project-based online PD experience affect (a) K- 12 students with disabilities' classroom performance and (b) teachers' instructional practices related to PD?


4 in-service special education teachers participated in the project-based PD experience and agreed to participate in the current study. Each of the teachers was working full-time in a special education teaching position with only a provisional licensure in special education.
All teachers were completing the project for graduate credit as part of a program of studies leading to full licensure in special education and a graduate degree in special education. 3 of the 4 participants were 1 st-year teachers who had recently completed an undergraduate degree in elementary education.

Student participants were all K-12 students identified with disabilities by their school district. Student participants were selected by the teacher participants as part of the PD project. 3 of the 4 students were male; 2 students were in 6th grade, 1 was in 7th grade and 1 was in 3rd grade.


The findings from the qualitative study indicate that each of the four student participants improved in the area of performance that was targeted by the teachers' PD. The analysis suggests that this approach to PD positively affects participating teachers' instructional practices and the performance of K-12 students with disabilities.

Updated: May. 13, 2009