Home / Articles Posted by Kay Randall (Page 6)

Originally published in May 2011

Dr. Paul Resta

Dr. Paul Resta speaking at the Harvard Advanced Leadership Institute Think Tank on Educational Innovation and Technology, March 31 – April 2.

In December of 2009 a landmark national summit on redefining education for the digital age was held at The University of Texas at Austin, convened by Dr. Paul Resta and the College of Education’s Learning Technology Center. One hundred leaders from state legislatures, state certification boards, education professional associations, teacher unions, teacher education institutions, public schools, the business community and federal government attended the event.

During the three days of the invitational summit, education stakeholders held intensive discussions on the transformative policies and actions necessary to bring public education into the digital age. The aim was to address large issues and try to:

  • Identify the characteristics of a true 21st century educator
  • Define the critical elements of an educator preparation program that will produce this digital age educator
  • Identify the institutional, state, and national policy structures that support the creation of these programs
  • Develop a national coalition to reinvent teacher education for digital age learners to identify and resolve challenges to this transformation, and seize opportunities resulting from these challenges

The summit resulted in a major report that was delivered to Congress by Resta and National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future president Dr. Tom Carroll in the summer of 2010. It contained detailed recommendations for the transformation of teacher education programs.

New Hampshire Takes the Lead

To make revolutionary, far-reaching changes in public education, there has to be buy-in from most, if not all, major stakeholders – from teachers, school administrators, communities and parents to policy makers, educators’ professional organizations, and corporate supporters and partners. And from Washington, D.C., down to the local level.

Fewer than six months after the national summit hosted by The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education, New Hampshire held a state summit modeled on the national event, replicating the brainstorming, discussion and recommendations process.

Fred Bramante, a member of the New Hampshire State Board of Education and former Board chair, attended the Austin summit and is a passionate advocate for the recommendations in the summit report – he’s one of the visionaries who’s kick-started the progress in his state.

“There are specific changes that need to be made and then there’s a general transformation of the whole concept of what education is, or should be,” said Bramante, who at one time was a middle school science teacher. “We’re addressing both. It’s 2011, but most schools around the nation are still using a 20th century model – considering educators to be ‘content deliverers,’ assuming that learning can only occur within the four walls of a particular classroom and using school calendars that have remained unchanged for roughly a century.”

Bramante has led a major effort to review and revise state K-12 education policies in New Hampshire, with the focus being on the documented academic, physical and social progress of each student.  One of the results of Bramante’s hard work has been New Hampshire’s Minimum Standards for Public School Approval, which call for:

  • the personalization of learning environments and strategies
  • harnessing of untapped local resources that can yield partnerships which, ultimately, increase students’ learning and career opportunities
  • more flexibility in developing a school calendar
  • extended learning opportunities for credit toward graduation
  • distance learning and technology to access new learning opportunities and support the learning process
  • moving from a Carnegie Units-based system to a competency-based one

The standards were distributed to and accepted by the major education organizations that must review and implement such regulations.

“We’ve scheduled another state summit, which is being held this month, and in which we’ll discuss additional reforms, like those needed in teacher education programs” said Bramante. “The language we use now to talk about education and learning reflects the direction in which we’re headed. In our draft of higher education teacher training regulations, we’ve replaced every instance of ‘classrooms’ with ‘learning environments,’ replaced ‘teacher’ with ‘educator’ and ‘instruction’ with ‘learning’ or ‘learning strategy.’ Little by little there is progress and we don’t want to stop until we’ve fulfilled our vision.”

Additional states have begun to implement recommendations from the University of Texas at Austin summit as well, with California working on a transformation of their teacher education programs and Wisconsin instituting reforms in one part of the state with plans to scale the changes to the rest of the state in time.

Success at the National Level

Of the numerous national education leaders to attend the Austin digital age learners summit, Dr. Tom Carroll has been one of the most enthusiastic and vocal advocates for radical change. As well as being president of the NCTAF, he co-chaired the University of Texas at Austin summit along with Resta.

“Post-summit recommendations are really gaining traction at the state level,” said Carroll, “and that’s excellent because both Congress and the U.S. Department of Education are putting leadership back at the state policy level. As far as our national recommendations, the most important thing is to establish national competency standards.  I see that as the area on which we should focus most of our energy and resources right now. Ideally, there eventually will be shared international standards – we need to keep the international context in mind as we establish ours.

“As Congress reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we need to get them to directly address the need for education that creates a 21st century, digital age workforce. To teach students who know how to work with new media and social network tools, we obviously must have teachers who have the necessary technology skills and knowledge. It’s imperative that we help Congress understand that this must be part of the investment in education.”

Key national education leader Susan Patrick, who also participated in the Austin summit, concurs with Carroll regarding the urgent need for updated teacher training programs and teachers who are highly skilled in technology use. Patrick is president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, which promotes access to a world-class education for all students by promoting online learning opportunities.

“Currently, there are few teacher education programs in the U.S. that offer training and pre-service practice in online and blended learning,” said Patrick. “One of the most significant outcomes of the summit was to highlight the need for this kind of teacher training. We’re starting to see programs include instruction in online learning as part of their curricula.

“The summit recommendations also are having an impact Congress’s reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Obama’s plan includes standards on teacher preparation and professional development for 21st century skills and online instruction, so we’re beginning to see some very significant effects on state and national policy.”

In March of this year, Resta, who has been shepherding much of the progress and information dissemination following the Austin summit, was invited to Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative think tank to speak about redefining teacher education. The think tank drew education stakeholders like IBM Foundation president Stanley S. Litow, who is a former deputy chancellor for New York City schools, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller.

“This Harvard event included an international group – since it was a webinar, 1000’s of individuals worldwide were able to participate. Other countries are watching with great interest to see what we are going to do about issues such as the revamping of teacher education programs.

“During the three days of the summit, the clear and recurring theme was that we must change the ways that we’re preparing teachers so that they can prepare today’s students appropriately,” said Resta. “Most agreed that we need to build a ‘collaborative atmosphere’ around issues of reform so that there will be largescale buy-in at all levels and so that schools that are islands of excellence won’t be such a rarity and remain un-replicated.”

In April, Resta was in Washington, D.C., again, this time to update invited U.S. Department of Education leaders and Capitol staff on the impact that the Austin summit has had in the past year and a half and the reforms that are being adopted across the nation.

“It was very gratifying to be able to report that a great deal of progress has been made,” said Resta, “and share the message that the recommendations are gaining traction. Places like New Hampshire, Wisconsin and California are setting the stage for sweeping nationwide change.”

Originally published August 2012

Dr. Min Liu

Dr. Min Liu

Providing English language learners (ELLs) with iPod touches, or other similar handheld devices, can support their learning and improve academic outcomes, according to a study from The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education.

Dr. Min Liu, a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, looked at ways that teachers and ELL students in elementary, middle and high school are using iPod touches to improve teaching and learning. Qualitative and quantitative data gathered during the 2010-12 school years revealed that students enjoyed educational benefits from the device’s mobility, flexibility, connectivity and multimedia capabilities. ,

College of Education graduate students Cesar Navarrete, Erin Maradiegue and Jennifer Wivagg assisted Liu in this study.

“The majority of ELL students in Texas are Spanish-speaking and many are from economically disadvantaged families,” said Liu. “Mobile devices like iPod touches offer them an academic advantage in that they have 24/7 access to learning resources on the Internet – this can help them do their homework anywhere and anytime. Our research shows that these students’ learning opportunities are extended well beyond the classroom and there’s even an indication of ‘sociocultural capital’ benefit. That just means that these students have a device that helps them feel more like their English-speaking peers and it isn’t something that sets them apart in a negative way and stigmatizes.”

In Texas, ELL students begin to be integrated into regular classrooms in middle school and, according to Liu, using mobile learning using like the iPod touches could help make the transition more successful.

For the study, Liu examined students in a Central Texas school district that is spread over a large geographic area, making it even more of a challenge for students without transportation to avail themselves of after-hours learning resources at the schools.

One of the concerns about students using mobile devices for education purposes is that they instead will be focus on accessing recreational content, but Liu found that students primarily employed the iPod touches for school-related work. They frequently used resources like translators, calculators, maps and media creation tools such as voice recorders, still cameras and video cameras to complete homework assignments.

“The positive outcomes for the students were that they had a home-to-school connection, could engage in language learning away from school, could accomplish more content learning, were able to extend the amount of time they were able to do schoolwork and they had multimodal support,” said Liu.

When surveyed, students and parents had very positive responses to the iPod initiative.

“The parents and students loved the iPods,” said Liu, “and the teachers were enthusiastic about helping the students use any new resource that could help them succeed. For the teachers, though, there were some challenges to overcome. A significant amount of technology training is required as well as training in how to effectively teach the subject matter using the devices.”

Liu discovered that significant training time was needed to instruct teachers in how to integrate the mobile devices smoothly into teaching. In order to be effective in the classroom, the teachers needed assistance in finding the appropriate iPod applications, monitoring students’ use of the devices, solving iPod connectivity issues and dealing with lost devices.

“We’re only beginning to look at how best to use mobile devices with English language learners,” said Liu. “For something like this to succeed, teachers and school districts must be willing and able to make a major time commitment to training. Also, you have to deal with the issue of rapid obsolescence when it comes to technology, and, as we saw in our study, the devices often are lost or broken. All of this equals financial demands on a school district. If a district adopted an initiative like this, we’d want it to be sustainable. That requires further investigation.”

Originally published May 2013

A new report issued today by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), and developed by two University of Texas at Austin professors, says schools should play a key role in ensuring all students have the opportunity to engage in at least 60 minutes of vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity each day.

Harold W. Kohl III, a research professor in the College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, was chair of the IOM committee that wrote the report, and Darla Castelli, an associate professor in kinesiology and health education, was a member of the committee.

Recent estimates suggest that only about half of school-age children meet this evidence-based guideline for promoting better health and development. The report recommends that most daily physical activity occur during regular school hours in physical education classes, recess or breaks, and classroom exercises, with additional opportunities available through active commutes to and from school, before- and after-school programs, and participation in intramural or varsity sports.

“Schools are critical for the education and health of our children,” said Kohl, who is also a professor of epidemiology and kinesiology at the University of Texas School of Public Health. “They already provide key services such as health screenings, immunizations and nutritious meals. Daily physical activity is as important to children’s health and development as these other health-related services, and providing opportunities for physical activity should be a priority for all schools, both through physical education and other options.”

The report calls on the U.S. Department of Education to designate physical education as a core academic subject to draw attention and attract the resources necessary to enhance content, instruction and accountability. Although most states currently have laws addressing physical education requirements in schools, there are no consistent nationwide policies. The committee recommends that 30 minutes per day in elementary school and 45 minutes per day in middle and high schools be devoted to physical education, and students should spend at least half that time engaged in vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity. The report emphasizes that physical education cannot be the sole source of physical activity, and additional opportunities must exist throughout the school environment.

Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, 44 percent of school administrators have reported cutting significant time from physical education and recess to devote more time to reading and mathematics in the classroom.

A growing body of evidence, including several studies by Castelli, suggests that increasing physical activity and fitness may improve academic performance — especially in mathematics and reading — and that the benefits of engaging in physical activity during the school day outweigh the benefits of exclusive use of classroom time for academic learning.

A variety of physical activities that include aerobic and resistance exercises, structured and unstructured activities, and both short and longer sessions will likely confer the greatest benefits, according to the report. For example, aerobic fitness is linked to brain structure and function related to working memory and problem solving, and single bursts of activity have been shown to increase time on task and improve focus. Recess provides students the chance to refine social skills and use their imaginations.

The report indicates that along with a minimum number of minutes spent in physical education classes, students should also receive frequent classroom breaks, and recess should not be taken away as punishment or replaced with additional academic instruction.

According to the report, ensuring equity in access to physical activity and physical education will require support from federal and state governments as well as state, district and local education administrators, the report says. School systems at every level, together with city planners and parent-teacher organizations, should consider physical activity in all policy decisions related to the school environment.

The study was sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine and National Research Council make up the National Academies.