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Collaborative UT Austin, AISD project puts educators at forefront of revolution in teacher education

Closing the significant gap that exists between teacher training and emerging technology is the aim of a new collaborative program between The University of Texas at Austin and the Austin Independent School District.

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AUSTIN, Texas—Closing the significant gap that exists between teacher training and emerging technology is the aim of a new collaborative program between The University of Texas at Austin and the Austin Independent School District.

In recognition of the urgent need for technology-proficient educators, the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology program (PT3) — an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education — awards grants that support national, state and local initiatives to transform teacher preparation programs. PT3 is designed to significantly increase the number of future teachers using modern instructional technologies to improve student learning.

Last summer, UT Austin and the AISD received a three-year, $800,000 PT3 grant to help infuse technology into the math and science pre-service teacher program. Drs. Paul E. Resta, Jere Confrey and Anthony Petrosino of UT’s department of curriculum and instruction used the funding to launch project INSITE, Inventing New Strategies for Integrating Technology in Teacher Education. INSITE is a collaborative project between the College of Education, the College of Natural Sciences and the Austin Independent School District.

Recognizing that technology is a key transforming element in creating the classroom of the future, federal, state and local agencies are investing billions of dollars to equip elementary and secondary schools with computers and modern communications networks. Yet, only 24 percent of new teachers believe they are "very well prepared" to use technology in the curriculum, according to a 1999 report by the U.S. Department of Education.

In workshops offered through project INSIGHT, teachers are provided with new ways to communicate knowledge and training to use those tools effectively, enabling them to transform today’s classrooms into a high-tech showcase.

"Austin ISD is pleased to partner with the University of Texas in a joint effort to provide not only cutting-edge technology, but also cutting-edge teaching practices to current and future teachers," said Jeff Meyer, director of instructional technology for AISD. "The PT3 program does just that by using technology tools and bringing theory and practice together in professional development, education and classroom experience."

As part of the program, 28 highly skilled math and science teachers from Johnston, Reagan, Travis, Bowie and McCallum high schools; Webb, Covington and Clint Small middle schools; and Martin and Kealing junior high schools were chosen to be PT3 Fellows.

These educators will serve as cooperating teachers for the UTeach student teachers during the 2001-2002 school year, and will act as technology mentors to other teachers in their schools. AISD has provided each Fellow with a new Dell Notebook computer, a Palm Pilot, a new LCD projector for their department, as well as unlimited technical support throughout the school year. In addition, each Fellow will receive a $750 stipend after successfully completing four days of technology training provided by UT faculty and students and AISD instructional technology experts.

The PT3 Fellows already have had eight days of training in the Learning Technology Center’s newly opened state-of-the-art Model Technology Classroom this summer.

The PT3 grant does not support ‘one shot’ teacher workshops, Petrosino said. Instead, it is committed to long-term professional development. "Try to find a teacher professional development program which includes both in-service and pre-service components, the full cooperation of two schools at a major research university (the College of Education and the College of Natural Sciences) as well as the visionary support of a major urban school district that we have here in Austin," he said.

"Then see if that program is treating both the content as well as the technology with equal rigor to address meaningful student learning. I have what I believe is grounded optimism that we are in the process of formulating a model of professional development that will be emulated around the country."

Unless prospective teachers see current teachers using these technologies in the daily classroom setting, they won’t learn to make their use part of the fabric of teaching, Confrey said. "It transforms the mathematics and science as one sees it bring visualization, real data and measurement and simulation to life," she said. "As a software designer myself, I know what these technologies can do for students; the challenge is to get them used regularly and effectively by experienced teachers. Our PT3 grant promises to accomplish that."

Jo Mikels, a PT3 Fellow who teaches at Clint Small Middle School, said one of the best things the program does is to reconnect teachers to the academic community. "We sometimes feel very unconnected and unappreciated — and most of us are peddling as fast as we can. We can both grow from this association. UT gets to pick our brains and see that many teachers are using technology and are willing to change. The teachers get to try out skills that we have been dreaming and reading about in journals. We all win — UT, teachers, the community and students."

Representatives from the media are invited to attend the workshops. The next training sessions will be conducted from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Thursday (July 12) and from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Friday (July 13) in the Model Technology Classroom in the Sanchez Building, room 438 (Maps of UT Austin can be obtained at the following Web site: www.utexas.edu/maps/main).

The project supports the University’s UTeach Program for science and mathematics educators and will facilitate collaboration between College of Education teacher education faculty, content faculty in the College of Natural Sciences and the cooperating teachers in AISD.

Students in this program receive a technology-rich experience, with technology integrated into the curriculum of their education methods courses, natural science content courses and in the classrooms of their AISD cooperating teachers. Activities of the project include setting technology requirements and standards for the students’ portfolios, supervising graduate students who will assist faculty with technology integration and training cooperating AISD teachers in the use of technology.

For more information, contact: Melissa Tothero, project coordinator for PT3, (512) 232-9598; or Jeff Meyer, director of instructional technology, Austin Independent School District, (512) 414-9949.