Creating a Hands-On Technology Experience for the Online Student and Practitioner

Author Information
Author(s): 
Wendy Cowan
Author(s): 
Mark Gale
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Athens State University
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

The Athens State College of Education graduates approximately 300 pre-service teachers annually, with a goal of preparing these future teachers for the K-12 classrooms they will soon occupy. With a large majority of students completing coursework online, at times, adequate preparation becomes a concern. One particular area of concern, faced by the College, was preparing pre-service teachers to effectively use K-12 classroom technologies, when they lack experience and practice gained in traditional face-to-face classroom settings. While some K-12 classroom technologies are readily available, others, like interactive boards, collaborative stations and projectors, are not.

With this in mind, the College sought a way to provide pre-service teachers, enrolled in online and blended courses, K-12 classroom technology experiences outside of the traditional classroom context. A plan was formulated to construct an environment to fulfill this need.

With the assistance of a grant, the College constructed two K-12 technology labs, equipped with technologies widely used in regional K-12 classrooms. One of the labs, the sandbox, was made available to students during library hours, without prior scheduling. The other lab, the instructional classroom, was made available to instructional design trainers and faculty for scheduling as needed for train-the-trainer sessions, classroom sessions and K-12 professional development.

As a result, pre-service teachers are able to gain the experience and practice needed to effectively use a variety of K-12 classroom technologies, and prepare for interviews, while enrolling in the course format that best meets their needs. Additionally, professional development sessions offered in the instructional classroom have provided a means for preparing pre-service teachers, University faculty and K-12 faculty to effectively create and teach in blended and online environments.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

The Athens State College of Education graduates approximately 300 pre-service teachers annually, with a goal of preparing these future teachers for the K-12 classrooms they will soon occupy. With a large majority of students completing coursework online, at times, adequate preparation becomes a concern. One particular area of concern, faced by the College, was preparing pre-service teachers to effectively use K-12 classroom technologies, when they lack experience and practice gained in traditional face-to-face classroom settings. While some K-12 classroom technologies are readily available, others, like interactive boards, collaborative stations and projectors, are not.

The College knew a creative approach was needed to address this area of concern. Limiting online and blended course availability was not an option. For many of the College’s students, online courses provide an opportunity at betterment that would not be a possibility otherwise. Thus, the solution required thinking “outside of the box.”

With this in mind, the College brainstormed about ways to provide pre-service teachers, enrolled in online and blended courses, K-12 classroom technology experiences outside of the traditional classroom context. While many possibilities were discussed, in the end, it was decided that a University provided facility was the best approach.

A plan was formulated to construct environments to fulfill this need, using University facilities. Based on the goals of the project, it was decided that two rooms would be needed. Online and blended pre-service teachers needed a lab environment that was available to them without prior scheduling and not restricted to traditional course time structures. This open lab would allow students to participate in exploratory learning and practice, using technologies to increase their level of mastery on the tools. A second room was needed that would be restricted to scheduled use and allow for direct instruction on using the instructional technologies.

The next planning step was to determine specific room needs, ensuring the labs would be equipped with relevant K-12 technologies and trainers would be able to provide requested professional development opportunities. Visits were made to area school systems and classrooms to determine which technologies were being used in most area classrooms. Discussions with K-12 superintendents, principals and teachers were conducted and surveys were administered to determine areas of critical need and areas of interest, related to educational technology, for incoming pre-service teachers and current K-12 faculty (https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1IC77NiSovOO_lSzg8Y9FxUGIfwa_XsKc_lvUySN...). Information gleamed was used to determine room design, technology inventory and professional development topics (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0By1gt3B2ptCLeklFQkJQam9WQjA/view?usp=sh...).

At this point, a well-developed plan was in place, and it was time to actually locate rooms that could be used to meet the project’s needs. It was determined that the library’s hours of operation were greater than any other location on campus; therefore, a room inside the library was secured to serve as the “open lab” which has since then become known as the “sandbox.” A second room was available in a new building on campus, which houses other classrooms and the university’s technology help desk. The close proximity to technology support made this location the ideal choice for the second room, which has become known as the “instructional lab/classroom.”

Project funding was secured through a combination of resources – a grant by the Steelcase Foundation, the University Foundation and the general University fund – providing a budget of approximately $200,000 to complete the project.

Funds in hand, it was time to begin ordering equipment and readying the rooms. It was determined early on that the rooms would mirror each other, with the “instructional classroom” equipped to handle 25 attendees and the “sandbox” a lesser number. Therefore, if iPads were ordered for the instructional classroom, then iPads were ordered for the sandbox.
Both rooms were equipped with the following equipment:
- Promethean interactive board and desktop computer
- SMART interactive board and desktop computer
- GPS handheld units
- iPads, with apps used in surrounding K-12 schools
- Androids, with apps used in surrounding k-12 schools
- Laptop computers
- Chromebooks
- Mounted projector
- Mobile projectors
- Stationary whiteboard
- Mobile whiteboards
- Collaborative, networked stations with 42 inch display screens
- Group learning desks

In addition to equipping the room with relevant technologies, it was also important to design the room to be collaborative and mobile. As a result, collaborative stations, each with seating for 5 students, were included as part of the room design. These stations are constructed of 3 tables, each of which can be rolled into new configurations, as needed. The rooms also include group learning desks which are designed to form a variety of configurations including working with a partner, small group and large group.

With mobile technologies, there is always the concern with the technologies being taken out of the room and not returned. Therefore, policies and procedures on handling of mobile technology were developed and approved by the college deans. The university help desk would assist instructors and trainers using the room in documenting and accounting for the technology located in the room. If the policies and procedures were not followed and technology was found to be missing, the college with whom the faculty member was associated would be responsible for replacing the missing technology.

The “sandbox” is available to students during library operating hours, and is located off the main floor of the library. Directly adjacent to the sandbox entrance is a desk which is manned by a help desk student worker. The student worker is responsible for signing students into the sandbox, checking out requested equipment for use and checking equipment back in upon completion of student use. Students are required to supply a University ID card to use the sandbox.

The “instructional classroom” is scheduled using the University calendar system. The instructional classroom may be scheduled for reoccurring, weekly use for pre-service educational technology courses and instructional design training. Other users are limited to one-time use requests, and are subject to availability of the room.

Prior to being granted access to reserve the instructional classroom, an orientation training session must be completed. These sessions are offered as needed and include room reservation procedures, use and responsibility and room check-in procedures. Because the room is full of mobile technologies, this was a necessary part of minimizing equipment loss. Procedures for using the room include:
- Submit a reservation request
- Obtain key from HelpDesk at time of use (driver’s license must be left with HelpDesk)
- Use the room and equipment, as needed
- Complete room Check-In Survey (https://docs.google.com/forms/d/15yP6tW8oYlsgSVexeqsBaRS9KfpA7hFlBCGStiL...)
- Return room key to HelpDesk
- HelpDesk staff inspects room, ensuring all equipment is intact and stored appropriately
- Driver’s license returned to user

While the rooms have only been available for less than a year, to date, both have been widely used. Students are made aware of the sandbox and encouraged to use through a variety of means - at the College of Education’s orientation session, by course instructors and by the Director of Internship. As a result, pre-service teachers practicing effective technology use and preparing for interviews frequent the “sandbox” regularly.

The “instructional classroom” has also been widely used. Weekly and blended classroom sessions for ED 305 Technology and Media for Educators have used the room, as well as a few other College of Education, College of Business and College of Arts & Sciences classes. Instructional design training sessions, K-12 professional development sessions and Alabama Math, Science and Technology (AMSTI) initiated training sessions have also been hosted in the room. These sessions are offered at a variety of dates/times and provide professional development opportunities for students and faculty outside of the traditional confines of a weekly class meeting. A list of training sessions provided this summer are listed below. Next to the session title, in parenthesis, is the host and then who attended the session.
- The Peacock Effect: Customizing Your Courses to Stand Out from the Others (University, adjunct and full time faculty)
- Getting to Know Your Outlook WebApp (University, adjunct and full time faculty)
- Infographics: An Innovative Communication Tool (University, adjunct and full time faculty)
- Google Drive Basics (University, adjunct and full time faculty)
- Free Easy-Use Tools for Bridging the Gap Between Busy Teachers and Tech-Savvy Students (College of Ed, K-12 faculty and pre-service teachers)
- Taking Classroom Tech Use to the Next Level: Specific Traits for Transformational Impacts (College of Ed, K-12 faculty and pre-service teachers)
- Communication and Collaboration in a Networked World (College of Ed, K-12 faculty and pre-service teachers)
- Promethean Training (AMSTI, for K-12 teachers)
- Introduction to Quality Matters (University, for faculty)
- Microsoft OneNote (University, for faculty and staff)
- Google Docs (University, for faculty and staff)
- Effective Discussion Boards (University, for faculty)
- Advanced Excel (University, for faculty and staff)
- Office 365 (University, for faculty and staff)
- Blackboard Collaborate (University, for faculty)
- Enhancing Online Testing (University, for faculty)
- Telling Your Story – The Digital Way (College of Education, High school students and faculty)
- Let’s Fill Boxes (AMSTI, High school students and faculty)
- Mystery Goo (College of Education, High school students and faculty)

This project has provided opportunities that would not otherwise be available to pre-service teachers completing online and blended courses. By provided access to the sandbox, pre-service teachers enrolled in online and blended courses have the same opportunity to gain experience with K-12 classroom technologies as pre-service teachers enrolled in traditional face-to-face courses. This results in the availability of adequate preparation regardless of course format. Additionally, professional development sessions offered in the instructional classroom have provided a means for preparing pre-service teachers, University faculty and K-12 faculty to effectively create and teach in area K-12 classrooms, and blended and online environments, without the constraints of attending weekly class meetings.

The online classroom is needed for a large percentage of today’s students; however, there are times when the reality of profession demands students have some traditional experiences. While this effective practice does not take place online, it was initiated as an effort to provide opportunities for students to complete their education online, and engage in alternative ways to ensure preparedness. This effective practice provides a traditional experience to online and blended students, while still providing for the online student’s need for flexibility and alternative approaches to learning.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

This project was implemented in January, 2015, since that time, data has been collected, providing evidence of effectiveness.
The initial survey administered to superintendents provides a summary of areas of critical need and areas of interest for educational technology training. As reflected in the session titles of the provided professional development sessions, for pre-service and K-12 teachers, topics have been presented to reflect superintendent responses.

- PD Need Survey: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1IC77NiSovOO_lSzg8Y9FxUGIfwa_XsKc_lvUySN...
- PD Need Survey Findings: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0By1gt3B2ptCLeklFQkJQam9WQjA/view?usp=sh...

Relevant PD Sessions Offered:
- Free Easy-Use Tools for Bridging the Gap Between Busy Teachers and Tech-Savvy Students (College of Ed, K-12 faculty and pre-service teachers)
- Taking Classroom Tech Use to the Next Level: Specific Traits for Transformational Impacts (College of Ed, K-12 faculty and pre-service teachers)
- Communication and Collaboration in a Networked World (College of Ed, K-12 faculty and pre-service teachers)
- Promethean Training (AMSTI, for K-12 teachers)
- Telling Your Story – The Digital Way (College of Education, High school students and faculty)

As session data indicates, attendees significantly increased in topic knowledge.
- Free Easy-use Tools… Data: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1WaYqaBmM8BkXhaEayZXwYSufWxFwOqDwaZht...
- Taking Classroom Tech Use… Data: https://docs.google.com/document/d/14XnyWHzRsVfZqKW0IEpbRYwEXJxdSiXnMDzE...

While quantitative data has not been collected from students using the sandbox, upon several occasions students have expressed appreciation for the sandbox and the preparation opportunities it provides that would not otherwise be available to them. Future plans include adding “sandbox use” survey items to the current College Graduation Exam.

Finally, data obtained from training sessions offered by University instructional design trainers also indicates significant knowledge increases.
- ID Training Sessions Data: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1lm3pZtEDWYevcLrGC1xL4_gRmLivxZvI...

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

This effective practice relates to the following EP Pillars:

- Learning Effectiveness: While this effective practice does not take place online, it was initiated as an effort to provide opportunities for students to complete their education online, and engage in alternative ways to ensure preparedness. This effective practice provides a traditional experience to online and blended students, while still providing for the online student’s need for flexibility and alternative approaches to learning.

Principals hiring pre-service teachers do not alter hiring practices and expectations based on the course format completed by the interviewee. All interviewees are expected to demonstrate knowledge and abilities. This practice provides a means for online and blended students to obtain the same knowledge and experience as students completing courses in a face-to-face format.

- Access: The online classroom is needed for a large percentage of today’s students; however, there are times when the reality of profession demands students have some traditional experiences. This effective practice allows students to complete courses in online and blended formats, while maintaining alternatively-offered opportunities for necessary professional skill development.

- Faculty Satisfaction: Professional development opportunities offered thus far have resulted in attendee satisfaction and increased knowledge. These items, combined, result in faculty who are more prepared, thus more confident, to teach in online and blended learning environments.

- Student Satisfaction: Data from professional development opportunities indicate a satisfaction with information/topics presented, as well as an increase in knowledge and ability levels.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

If someone was to reproduce this effective practice, to ensure the rooms are equipped with relevant technologies, area school systems should be visited. These visits may result in different needs than described in this effective practice.

To implement this effective practice, it is strongly recommended that two rooms be available – one for direct instruction and one for students to practice the techniques and technology taught in the instructional room and online courses. The room designated as the “Sandbox” needs to have extended hours of operation to allow online students increased opportunity to practice with the technologies. Each of these rooms should mirror each other in technology and furnishings, albeit, the open lab can mimic the instructional classroom with fewer pieces of technology since the total number of participants in the room at any one given time is more than likely to be less than the instructional space.

To fit the needs of the regional school districts, we implemented the following technologies in the instructional classroom and the open “sandbox” lab:
• Laptops (Windows, Chromebooks)
• Tablets (iPads, Samsung Galaxies)
• Collaborative Stations (Large Screen TV w/ Tablet and Laptop Connections)
• Smart Boards (Promethean, Smart, Mimeo)
• Mobile Projectors
• GPS Devices

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

Based on the needs identified by our regional school systems, the approximate cost of the project was $175,000. However, this cost will fluctuate between the needs of the regional school district and the organization implementing the project.

Costs for this project were based on specific technologies used in our regional school districts. If the implementing organization is not required to use as much technology as we used, the cost will be less. Additionally, we outfitted the instructional lab for 25 seats and the sandbox for 15 seats. The number of seats in the project had a direct impact on the cost as many of the mobile technologies in the classroom were purchased based on the number of seats (ex: 1-to-1 laptop ratio). Hence, if a smaller capacity room is used, the cost will also be less.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Wendy Cowan
Email this contact: 
wendy.cowan@athens.edu
Effective Practice Contact 2: 
Mark Gale
Email contact 2: 
mark.gale@athens.edu