UCF Online has launched its four newest fully online programs that will be offered beginning this fall — three in the College of Community Innovation and Education and one in the College of Optics and Photonics.

The programs include an online bachelor’s degree in exceptional student education – learning and language, and online master’s degrees in elementary education, reading education, and optics and photonics.

Because not all potential students can attend in-person classes, UCF Online is adding these to its growing list of fully online programs.

“As someone who originally worked my way through school as a paraprofessional, I personally understand the challenges when coursework is not accessible,” says Associate Professor Rebecca Hines, director of one of the new online programs.

The programs are:

Exceptional Student Education — Learning and Language

This bachelor’s program prepares students to work with children with disabilities, and jointly with the university’s noncertificate learning and language track prepares students for a career in a school setting or with other agencies serving children with disabilities

Special education is a critical shortage area in school systems in Florida and around the country, but attending college may not always be an option for those who need to work their way through school.

Hines says this program was set up for students who already may be working as paraprofessionals in special education classrooms, parents who may have set aside their careers while raising a family, those looking to follow a path into a second career, or parents of children with disabilities interested in learning more about how to support their children.

Students interested in teaching can align specialization courses to meet state requirements and apply for certification after graduating. The learning and language track includes courses that cover language development and communication disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorder, child and adolescent development, and ethical and legal concerns.

“This option may be an attractive stepping-stone for students who wish to continue in school and pursue a career as a speech pathologist,” Hines says.

Elementary Education

This master’s program is designed for elementary educators with at least one year of teaching experience who hold a temporary or professional certification. Educators who are teaching on a temporary certificate can earn their professional teaching certificate upon successfully passing the Florida Teacher Certification Examinations.

“Districts throughout the state are working hard to make sure their teachers are highly qualified, and the online elementary education M.Ed. provides an outstanding opportunity for them to earn qualifications and endorsements,” says Associate Lecturer Lisa Brooks, coordinator of the program. “With busy schedules and high work demands, teachers need flexibility regarding coursework. Providing an online degree is one way to ensure access to anyone who would like to further their knowledge and skills.”

Certified teachers have the option to choose from several highly sought-after endorsement and specialization options, including reading endorsement, English to Speakers of Other Languages endorsement (ESOL), gifted education specialization, exceptional education specialization, and more.

Nonprofit private school teachers in Florida are eligible for tuition reimbursement from the Florida Department of Education, and teachers who have supervised interns from any Florida university are also eligible for tuition waivers.

“There is a current teacher shortage in Florida. At the same time, many teachers in the state are teaching out of field,” Brooks says. “That means they must earn the necessary qualifications to keep their positions. Earning a master’s degree provides more than the minimum requirements. It ensures professional growth opportunities.”

Reading Education  

This master’s program is designed for practicing or prospective K-12 teachers with courses aligned to the International Literacy Association’s Standards for the Preparation of Literacy Professionals.

The program meets Florida’s requirements for K-12 reading certification and fulfills recent Florida legislation requiring reading intervention content for recertification.

“Many public schools are in need of literacy/instructional coaches to provide high-quality. job-embedded, professional development for in-service teachers…this degree meets this demand,” says Associate Professor Andrea Gelfuso.

There has been an increase in nonprofit and private organizations that target the literacy needs of children, and this degree would help someone secure a job as a director, curriculum specialist or reading specialist in one of those organizations.

Although the classes are within a fully online program, the college will still offer opportunities for students to engage in research with faculty and present at national conferences to help develop experiences and a resume that reflect leadership qualities, Gelfuso says.

Optics and Photonics

This program is designed for students with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, physics, mechanical engineering or related fields.

The in-depth curriculum covers electromagnetics, physical optics, lasers, optoelectronics, fiber optics, imaging and other fields.

“We are one of the few programs in the United States to offer a graduate program in optics and photonics,” says Professor David J. Hagan, interim dean of the college. “Many potential photonics masters students are already working in industry…and creating a fully online option allows students around the state of Florida and nationwide to have access to our program.”

The study of optics and photonics is a relatively young field and has advanced greatly in recent years because of the impact across all aspects of our daily lives, from medicine to communications, manufacturing, security and defense. The field is becoming a dominant factor in today’s technological advances.

The college’s Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers (CREOL) pioneers collaborations and research with widespread applications.

Hagan says graduates will have enhanced career opportunities in the areas of imaging and remote sensing, electro-optic systems, fiber optic and laser communications, laser systems, directed energy, laser materials processing and optical design.

“The college is an exciting place for students to have an outstanding educational experience to interact with world-leading researchers in a broad spectrum of programs,” says Professor Jim Moharam, graduate program interim associate dean.