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St. Leo U Opens Digital Classroom for Teacher Prep

A school of education in Florida recently opened its first digital classroom to help prepare students for what they'll find in the 21st century classes where they'll be teaching one day. Saint Leo University in Saint Leo made the investment after experimenting with a resource lab packed with the same equipment, including interactive whiteboards, wireless tablets, clickers, a variety of Apple devices, and small digital video cameras.

The university, based about 40 miles northeast of Tampa, has about 15,600 students attending courses in seven states as well as online. The institution has two schools of education, one for elementary grades and the other for middle grades.

In the past, the university's teacher preparation programs have relied on a single course on instructional technology to prepare their students for its use in the classroom. But the education department recognized that such a course was no longer sufficient."Technology needs to be meaningfully infused and modeled throughout the program," Candace Roberts, chair of the Education Department said.

The classroom initiative followed on the successful piloting of an education technology resource lab, a space where students and faculty could try out new teaching technologies, like the ones that would be available in the digital classroom.

"If we could show that we were good stewards of the equipment and that it would be used and not just sit, we knew we could make a case for the need for the more extensive investment," Roberts said. "The worst thing that can happen with the purchase of technology equipment is that it sits and no one uses it. I was determined not to let that happen. Starting slow and building capacity was important. Fortunately, I have a proactive faculty who are committed to preparing the best possible teachers for tomorrow's classrooms, and they took up the challenge valiantly."

Once faculty "were on board and comfortable with the technology, we could justify their use of a 21st century classroom," she added, noting that excitement about the lab generated even more excitement about the development of the digital classroom.

Whereas the resource lab had one of everything, the digital classroom has multiples: three interactive whiteboards; three MimoTech Interactive Systems, which convert a regular whiteboard into an interactive one; four LCD projectors; two document cameras; two sets of student response systems; and class sets of MacBooks, iPads, iPod touches, and flip video cameras.

Roberts said the new space was remodeled, furnished, and outfitted for about $60,000. She noted that the cost would have been higher, except that DYMO Mimio, a company that sells classroom technologies, donated a classroom set of its equipment.

"The technology allows for instructors to model a variety of teaching strategies--very important in an education classroom," Roberts noted. "Faculty must model the effective use of pedagogically sound ways. Otherwise, the equipment is just a bunch of bells and whistles, some nice toys that techies and students can play with. The 'wow' factor of these wears off over time--and therefore the educational value."

Now, she said, six groups of students can simultaneously share lessons they've developed for the interactive whiteboards, and everybody can have an iPad or flip camera in their hands as the professor models its use. "That hands-on time is invaluable in building the necessary skills and comfort level with teaching with technology."

Currently, the classroom is being used for 10 courses and enthusiasm is high among students and faculty. "The students seem genuinely grateful that we invested in the equipment and in them and their future as educators," Roberts stated. "Faculty now has the assurance that the equipment is available and in their room, so there are no obstacles to using it on a regular basis." She said she expects usage to grow in the next semester.

Now faculty requires their students to use the devices in their coursework and their field placements. Next, the university hopes to partner with a local school that is exploring the instructional use of iPads and also plans to host technology training for students and local school teachers.

As Roberts noted, "While our new digital classroom is very exciting, there is a much bigger picture here: building capacity and integrating technology throughout our program."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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