Revolutionary Education

March 3, 1999

A student teacher from Baylor University's School of Education stands in front of a second-grade class and teaches about space and the planets. Instead of using the standard textbook and one-dimensional posters, this intern uses a multimedia presentation that she designed herself to illustrate the lesson, and the children focus intently. A video camera in another part of the classroom records the Baylor student's lesson, and many miles away, back at the University, School of Education faculty members watch and critique the student teacher's performance.

In another part of the city, fourth graders and their student teacher sit in front of a television screen and watch a tour of the Texas Capitol. Although these students are 100 miles away from the actual Austin structure, through teleconferencing equipment, they periodically can ask the tour guide questions about what they are seeing.

These scenarios illustrate how education has been revolutionized by technology, and how teachers must be comfortable in a high-tech world to remain effective educators. Through the $1.5 million PARTNERS Project, Baylor's School of Education is making sure that its teacher education students are gaining that technological expertise as they prepare to become 21st-century teachers.

The acronym PARTNERS stands for Partners as Researchers and Technologists Negotiating Education Reform Strategiesãa mouthful for even the program coordinators. Simply put, the state-funded program seeks to prove that requiring extensive field experience and technology expertise in teacher education programs will produce teachers who are better prepared for classrooms of today and of the future.

The state grant, which was awarded to Baylor in 1995, established its School of Education as a Center for Professional Development and Technology (CPDT) and a designated state center for researching new standards for state teacher certification requirements.

"There are four primary goals of the project, and because of the funding, we were expected to work on all four goals at the same time," says Dr. Betty Conaway, associate professor of curriculum and instruction and director of the PARTNERS Project. "The first goal was to implement a performance-based method of assessment for teacher education students so that we evaluate them not just on the basis of how well they can take a test but on how well they perform in classrooms when they work with children.

"The second goal was to increase the amount of technology preparation for teacher education students, which meant that we had to increase our technology here in the School of Education as well as integrate it into all of our courses.

"The third goal was to increase the number of field experiences prior to student teaching, and we were not to just increase the total number, we were to emphasize quality field experiences," she continues. "Instead of just sending students out, faculty would go with students and would collaborate with classroom teachers to plan the field experience. Then the Baylor students actually would teach lessons prior to the semester of student teaching.

"The fourth goal was to increase the preparation of teacher education students to work in multicultural and multilingual schools. Multicultural and multilingual topics are literally included in every teacher education course."

Baylor has used the latest technology to help reach the state-mandated goals. Using funds provided by the state, Baylor established telecommunication links, Internet access and other technology between Baylor's School of Education and elementary and secondary schools in different school districts in the Central Texas area. In addition to the school districts, Texas State Technical College assists partner schools to become connected to the Internet, and the Center for Occupational Research and Development (CORD) and Region XII Educational Service Center provide staff development opportunities.

Technology has been integrated into every course, and all teacher education students are comfortable using several word processing programs, Microsoft Power Point and the Internet. Additionally, a majority of the students and many of the faculty are proficient with multimedia programs such as Hyperstudio.

"The teacher education faculty also have volunteered and spent a great deal of their own time expanding their personal technology skills to take advantage of the equipment and the software," Dr. Conaway says.

This level of technological proficiency comes in handy during the various field experiences students take part in during their years at Baylor. During the 1997-98 academic year, elementary education students logged an average 230 clock hours during the approximately 12 different field experiences that they were required to take; special education students average even more hours, approximately 325.

"In order to increase the number of field experiences, we had to expand our professional development school network, so consequently we are working with schools in five different school districts," Dr. Conaway says. "We do have field experiences in other school districts, but Waco, Killeen and LaVega are our primary partners. And these school districts aren't just our partners in field experiences. They are our technology partners as well. Those three districts have received major funding to increase the technology available."

Many field experiences begin with the use of two-way audio-visual equipment. Through videoconferencing, Baylor students, while sitting in their Baylor classroom, can unobtrusively observe experienced teachers in an actual classroom setting. The Baylor students can ask the teacher about the lesson that was taught or ask the students to critique the teacher's performance. By watching teacher education students work with children in an actual classroom, Baylor faculty members in the School of Education are able to use the audio-visual equipment as a tool to gauge how well these Baylor students meld theory and practice.

The audio-visual equipment also allows Baylor's teacher education students to participate in field experiences at schools that are distant from the Waco campus and have a distinctly different atmosphere from Waco-area schools. For example, Baylor students interact with a multi-cultural, multilingual student body during videoconferences with Harker Heights Elementary, which is in the Killeen school district and is approximately 60 miles from Waco. With a large number of students and teachers whose families are stationed at Ft. Hood Army Base, the school has had students who have lived in many different parts of the world. In fact, the school prides itself on the fact that 49 different languages are spoken by students and faculty. Very few schools offer that kind of multicultural experience for teacher education students.

Dr. Conaway says she would like to arrange videoconferences with school children in Australia and England, but the time difference between the countries presents a challenge. However, the tele-conferencing equipment has been used to connect Baylor's School of Education, Harker Heights Elementary and the Hillcrest Professional Development School in Waco with Hong Kong.

Although many universities involved in teleconferencing employ distance learning equipment to teach at the college level, Baylor has used its audio-visual equipment to benefit the children at the partner schools as well. Through the magic of the videoconference, these young students can participate in "virtual field trips" to places such as NASA and the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio and can actually speak with experts at these locations.

The children also interact with children in other cities. For instance, students at Hillcrest and at Harker Heights Elementary provided election night news coverage for both campuses during the 1996 national elections. While Harker Heights students monitored election results on the Internet, Hillcrest students watched election returns on cable television. The students relayed information to each other by e-mail and videoconference.

The PARTNERS Project has met with praise at the state level for its methods of preparing students to be effective teachers. In the spring of 1998, a review team from the State Board of Educator Certification spent two days on campus studying the PARTNERS Project and the CPDT. In the report that was submitted to the state board, the team cited 11 strengths of the project, including the integration of technology throughout the learning community and the evidence of teamwork between the School of Education, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Schools of Business, Music and Engineering and Computer Science. The review team also recommended that the programs in place at Hillcrest PDS be replicated at secondary school sites.

The PARTNERS Project has gained an outstanding reputation on a national level as well. In April of 1997, the U.S. Distance Learning Association (USDLA) awarded its top honor to Baylor's School of Education, naming the PARTNERS Project as an "Organization of Excellence." The USDLA cited the project as a "pioneer in a new model of distance learning" and stated that the project "is changing the way teachers are being prepared for certification."

While state funding for the project ended in August 1998, Dr. Conaway gives her assurances that the programs that are in place will continue. "Primary and secondary students accept all the technology that is in place as a matter-of-fact part of school, and when the Baylor students see the children using the technology, it provides motivation for the Baylor students to continue to increase their technology skills," she says. "If teachers can facilitate a student's access to a variety of sources of information, including information available through technology, then that student is more likely to become a life-long learner."

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