Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Special Education

Major Professor

James L. Paul, Ed.D.

Co-Major Professor

Michael S. Matthews, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ann Cranston-Gingras, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Elizabeth Doone, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Fred Steier, Ph.D.


In-service teachers, Exceptional student education, Teacher education, Professional development, Virtual course


Throughout the last decade (1999-2009) Florida's Bureau of Exceptional Education Student Services, in partnership with Institutions of Higher Education created the Florida Virtual ESE program to develop and deliver online professional development courses. The state also provided tuition support for teachers to participate in online professional development coursework to earn credentials necessary to be considered Highly Qualified. Online course delivery is thought to be a cost-effective approach to the provision of professional development for in-service teachers. However, there is a need to examine what it takes to create meaningful online learning experiences that facilitate the goals and objectives particular to the field of special education. Thus, this study explored the nature and qualities of the instructor's and six graduate-level exceptional student educators' experience in one Virtual ESE course entitled: Educating Students with Autism. This study utilized Portraiture Methodology because it provided a systematic framework to develop understandings of lives, pedagogy, or cultural institutions. The products from this genre of research approach are compelling, empirically grounded, and meaningful portraits (Lawrence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997). Data collection for this study included: semi-structured interviews, classroom observations, document reviews, and analysis of artistic and photographic data. These data documented different aspects of each individual's experience in the online course and the relation of the course to her teaching practice. Portraits developed as a result of this inquiry were grounded in the following: (a) participants' general understanding of the nature and purpose of the course, (b) their understanding the online pedagogical tools used for instruction, (c) their perceptions of the online discussion boards (synchronous and asynchronous), and (d) their concerns. These experiences were woven into portraits that highlight the importance of themes including, but not limited to, relationships, course design and content. The final portraits illuminated idiosyncratic issues that emerged within the context of student's professional and personal lives and impacted their engagement in the online course.