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Innovative teaching earns professors international award


July 09, 2008
Future teachers are combining old-fashioned teamwork with cutting-edge technology at Arizona State University’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership (CTEL). Three CTEL professors whose innovative teaching methods aim to produce K-12 teachers who embrace the use of new technologies in their classrooms have received international recognition for their efforts.

CTEL faculty members Teresa Foulger, Mia Kim Williams, and Keith Wetzel received the 2008 Research Paper Award from the International Society for Technology in Education’s Special Interest Group for Teacher Educators. The trio will be recognized during the National Educational Computing Conference, June 29-July 2 in San Antonio.

Foulger, Williams and Wetzel authored the award-winning paper, “Innovative Technologies, Small Groups, and a Wiki: A 21st Century Preservice Experience Founded on Collaboration.” The publication is based on their experiences teaching CTEL’s educational technology course to education majors who bring a wide range of technology skills to the class.

One of the professors’ key strategies is to have students work in small groups to learn a technological tool and its potential classroom uses. Students then conduct an “Innovations Mini-Teach” session in which they showcase the tool to their peers in a simulated K-12 lesson.

“Students gain a sense of empowerment by working in small, self-directed groups,” Foulger says. “When our students graduate and become K-12 teachers, we want them to use collaborative learning strategies with their fellow teachers as they refine their teaching techniques using new technologies.”

Students were placed in groups of two to four to complete their Innovations Mini-Teach assignments. In many cases, students encountered difficulties with inter-group dynamics, but the vast majority of issues were resolved without intervention by the professor.

“The social side of innovating can be tricky,” Williams says. “As instructors, we see these struggles as learning opportunity for students to develop interpersonal skills – the same skills that can support their professional development processes once they become teachers.”

Besides conducting an Innovations Mini-Teach, students post their findings about technological resources on a wiki, a web site that enables multiple users to create content. The collaborative effort extends over time, as new students refine and add to the wiki each semester, while current and future K-12 teachers can make use of the wiki’s resources.

Student focus groups conducted after the course ended show strong support for the Innovations Mini-Teach process and the benefit of the wiki.

“Most of the student presenters included a tutorial on something like how to put a Podcast together or how to make an iMovie,” said one student who participated in a focus group. “I may not have grasped all of the details at the time, but if I want to use that innovation, I can go back to the wiki and learn it step by step.”

Adds another student, “I expect to be continually accessing the wiki, and if I find information somewhere else that’s worthwhile, I’ll definitely post it on the wiki. Any help I can get is great.”

Wetzel says the exponential growth of new technology tools makes it impossible for the technology class to cover all of those tools. “So it’s important for students to have the confidence to know they can learn new tools and be able to put them to use in their classrooms,” Wetzel says.

Foulger says she has seen many “turning point moments” among students who went into the class without a strong base of technology skills. “Putting them into a situation in which they have no choice but to learn how to use an unfamiliar technology causes them to think differently about themselves. They leave the class ready to continue collaborating to learn new technologies, which will help them succeed as teachers,” she says.

This collaborative use of technology is being expanded to more of the CTEL curriculum this summer. Foulger, Wetzel and Williams are teaching approximately 40 of their CTEL faculty colleagues about social networking tools such as wikis. Participating professors will revise a unit from a course they teach in a way that relies on students’ use of collaborative tools, and student feedback will lead to further curricular refinements in the future.

Faculty members at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas are replicating the teaching techniques described in the award-winning paper, and Foulger says other universities are expected to follow suit as well.

More information about the project and links to wikis constructed by CTEL students and professors are available at http://web.mac.com/teresa.foulger/iWeb/Innovations/Home.html.