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College of education goes high tech

Technology has changed a lot within the past 10 years, so much in fact, that many colleges around the country are now integrating mobile computing into certain areas of study as a way to meet students’ new technology-driven needs.

USF is the first university in the state to realize the benefits of new technology after students created a pilot program called Explorers Cohort, a laptop initiative to test the technology’s educational capabilities.

The new program consists of 25 students in the College of Education who have volunteered to see what they think about using the new technology and also to see how they benefit from it.

The university, now in a partnership with Macintosh computers, is lending laptops, or “iBooks,” to each of the 25 students who volunteered for the pilot program for five semesters.

To participate students had to be enrolled full time as an elementary education majors and had to have completed five semesters of course credit.

Participants will be required to take three technology courses next semester and can choose from the selection offered. If a student doesn’t acclimate well to the new technology or if he or she simply does not like the classes in the program, the College of Education has a waiting list of students who are interested in joining.

“The specific goal for these students is to be able to use their laptop to teach an entire elementary class full technology,” said Professor Barry Morris, one of the professors teaching the new technology to the group. “We’re training for the worst case scenario — if there is no computer or only one computer in the classroom — because it just isn’t realistic to think that all schools are going to have up-to-date technology.”

This “anytime, anywhere” technology makes learning and teaching possible in ways that traditional approaches to education cannot. The new iBooks allow teachers in training to build their portfolio online. It will also help them make lesson plans, slide shows and movies, and will even allow a teacher to assess a student’s progress with a few simple clicks on the keyboard.

“One of the great benefits of using digital multi-media like the iBook, which comes with iMovie, iPhoto and iTunes, is that it really helps memory retention,” said Michael Hageloh, account executive of the education division for Apple computers. “Memory retention for reading is low; retention for seeing is a little better but is also low. Doing something hands-on with multimedia really helps students remember what they’ve learned for much longer.”

At least a few of the students and even some of the teachers who are participating in the program are PC users and have little or no previous Macintosh experience.

“The way Dr. Morris is leading by example is great. He switched from PC to Mac a couple of weeks ago and he is bringing his iBook to class — he’s learning with us,” said Sylvie Fanous-Samaan, a participating student.

When asked why Macintosh was chosen instead of PCs, Professor Morris said, “You can’t stay single platform anymore. You have to know both, because once these students graduate and start teaching, there is no way to know what will be in the school once they get there. And I’m convinced that Apple has the best training package for our purposes.”

Apple is currently involved with 150 schools around the country.

“The largest Apple partnership is with a school of 7 to 12 graders in Richmond, Va., — they currently have 25,000 students in a similar program,” Hageloh said.

If USF’s new program is successful, it can have a variety of benefits for the College of Education and USF. The new program will put the university at the cutting edge of teaching technology and will help attract applicants for admission into the College of Education’s elementary education program, said Maria Paul, assistant to the dean of education.

“This program will help the university in 2006, when it’s time for the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education to reevaluate the (College of Education) for accreditation,” Paul said.

If successful, Morris hopes that the laptop initiative will also extend to the other eight programs in the College of Education.