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student experiencing state of the art technology along side professor in Doceo Center

Teaching for the Future

New Doceõ Center seeks to help teachers explore, evaluate technology

By Tara Roberts

Tablets, laptops, digital video cameras, smartboards and more are pouring into schools across the country, and the list of new technologies available to teachers and students keeps growing.

To prepare current and future teachers for a world of wired classrooms, the University of Idaho has opened the Doceõ Center for Innovation + Learning. The center was established in summer 2013, and its high-tech learning laboratory classroom opened in April.

Now, the center is ready to extend its mission and better engage and support educators, pre-service teachers and students across the state.

“From Day 1, our primary goal has been to start building relationships with Idaho’s K-12 educators,” says Royce Kimmons, Doceõ Center director. “That allows us to understand what they need, how to communicate with them and how to leverage our resources to support them.”

Changing expectations make technology-enriched education vital to Idaho, Kimmons says. New Common Core requirements emphasize technology-based learning. Most Idaho school districts are rural, which can isolate them from technological opportunities, and Idaho ranks 50th in per-capita education funding from state and local sources.

The Doceõ Center offers research-based information and training customized to the needs of individual school districts – whether it’s guidance on using the devices they already have, advice on what they may want to purchase next or grant-writing support to open new opportunities.

“We’re here to help,” Kimmons says. “We want teachers’ ideas. If they fit, we say, ‘Let’s do something. Let’s be creative.’ We need more creativity and ideas to solve problems in innovative ways.”

A Plan for the Future

The Doceõ Center was created through a $3 million J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation grant.

“Thanks to our partnership with the Albertson Foundation, the Doceõ Center already has begun helping teachers and students around the state to improve education through the better use of technology,” says Chuck Staben, president of the University of Idaho. “Too many students are failing out of college by the eighth grade, but partnerships like this promise brighter student futures by better educating them from kindergarten to graduate school.”

The center’s goals include not only increasing the capacity of Idaho’s teachers to integrate technology into their classrooms, but also providing research to help educators choose the tools that will most effectively enhance student learning.

“We are thrilled to be able to say that our pre-service teachers are now being prepared with state-of-the-art technology in a classroom designed for technology integration. We realize, however, that it is not the tools alone that make great teaching and strong learning,” says Cori Mantle-Bromley, dean of the UI College of Education. “Most critical is teachers knowing when technology is appropriate, which technology best addresses the need, and, most importantly, knowing when no technology is actually the best solution. We have the facilities and the faculty expertise to address both issues.”

While Albertson and an external evaluation firm will oversee the center’s progress, the Doceõ Center will be guided by an independent advisory board made up of UI faculty, K-12 educators and administrators and representatives from nonprofits and state industries.

Albertson Foundation Executive Director Jamie MacMillan said Doceõ Center opening marks a new era for colleges of education in Idaho and across the nation.

“By researching and implementing national best practices in blended learning, Doceõ faculty and staff will transform how future educators teach and Idaho's students learn. We know that the education leaders at UI are progressive, motivated and innovative,” MacMillan said. “We hope that Doceõ faculty and students will embrace a culture of experimentation and learning and anticipate that this will be a hub of information and a hotspot for the latest research and best practices in blended learning not just for Idaho, but for the nation.”

Inside the Doceo Center Lab

The Doceõ Center Lab allows pre-service teachers, K-12 students and educators across Idaho to explore the possibilities new technologies offer.

It functions as a fully wired classroom in which students can connect laptops, tablets or other devices to the central system to share information and ideas. The instructor guides the room from an iPad that allows him or her to interact with or highlight anything happening on any other screen in the room.

Group of students working in the Doceo Center for Innovation and Learning “Everything in this room has educational possibilities,” says Cassidy Hall, the center’s technology integration specialist and lab manager. “This is the way of education right now – teachers and students looking at things collaboratively in a virtual environment.”

Groups of students, teachers and UI faculty have already begun testing technologies and teaching methods in the Doceõ Center Lab. Brant Miller, an assistant professor in the College of Education, is now teaching his Technology Tools for Teaching and Learning class in the lab.

“We can look at the nuances of the technology within the lab,” Miller says. “It’s really exciting to have a space that’s the absolute latest and greatest and shows the interaction between the latest and greatest.”

Miller says the lab’s interactive capabilities bring a new level of collaboration to his class. If a student finds a great resource online, writes a line of useful code or builds a short video explaining a concept, Miller can share it with everyone.

“From my iPad I can project that on everyone’s screen, and we can have a conversation about it. Having that audiovisual capability is unlike anything out there,” he says. “Within a matter of seconds I can give students voice and have them guide the discussion from what they’ve found.”

Dedication to Research

Miller is also among a group of UI faculty members who are collaborating with the Doceõ Center on technology-infused research projects. His research investigates how technology can support science learning, using tools such as a tablet with embedded scientific devices, a cloud-based video editor and Google Glass.

Other research includes a pilot project testing iPads and Chromebooks for students at tribal elementary schools in Washington and Idaho; a project offering afterschool computer game programming in Boise; and a study of how technology can help measure students’ physical activity to help prevent childhood obesity.

The Doceõ Center faculty provide resources and expertise to these outside projects, but also conduct research of their own. For example, the center’s Chromebook initiative has placed carts of the relatively inexpensive laptops in more than 10 Idaho schools, allowing researchers to understand how students use them, how they affect learning and how sustainable they are for schools across the state.

“It really shows Albertson Foundation’s foresight and recognition of the problems we’re facing in the state to not only want to improve Idaho schools, but also to make Idaho a national leader in guiding large-scale educational innovation with technology,” Kimmons says. “The final goal is that we will become a national model for education.”