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Teaching the teachers: Teacher Education students help integrate technology in Manitoba classrooms

November 18, 2014

Eva Brown2Teacher Education students at Red River College are flipping the professional development experience by teaching teachers how to integrate technology into their classrooms.

It’s all part of Flipping PD, a program developed by RRC’s Eva Brown, an instructor with the Business/Technology Teacher Education program offered jointly through the College and the University of Winnipeg.

Brown knows it’s impossible to anticipate the future of technology. Instead, she focuses on developing the skills teachers need to effectively utilize technology in lessons.

“My student teachers need to learn how to use tools, but more than that [they need to know] which tool to go where and how to help their students figure things out, because things are changing so rapidly.”

Future teachers need the ability to constantly learn and adapt; Flipping PD facilitates this by putting them in situations where they’re forced to think on their toes.

“I take my student teachers out into the world. I take them to conferences and different schools and they deliver professional development to reach teachers that want to use these technologies to teach in their classrooms.”

For example, Brown’s students might demonstrate ways classrooms can use Google Drive or Skype to facilitate global learning. Rather than demonstrate how to use a specific tool for a specific lesson, however, they show the learning opportunities that can be facilitated through technology.

“It’s categories of tools that we try to teach, and the ones that will be the most bang for your buck.”

The program is proving both successful and popular. In the three years it’s been operating, Brown’s students have hosted professional development sessions at the Manitoba Teachers’ Society Special Area Groups of Educators Conference, for teachers in Waterhen and Churchill (the latter was featured in a Winnipeg Free Press article), as well as for RRC instructors.

Although teaching teachers can initially be daunting for students, Brown finds they quickly overcome any apprehension once they realize the usefulness of their lessons.

“I explain to students, ‘[These teachers] did not learn these technologies, they are not Red River graduates. They went to universities where most of them had limited exposure to technologies used in teaching and to technology courses while completing a Bachelor of Education program. ”

Traditionally, students prepare lesson plans they deliver to their peers. Since everyone’s learning the same subject matter, there typically aren’t many questions, and the experience tends not to mimic what teachers experience in a real classroom.

It’s totally different with Flipping PD.

“When we go out to the real teachers who want to – and need to – infuse technology into their curriculum, we get questions hand over fist. So it’s rich learning.”

This learning helps Brown’s students consider different aspects of lessons and teaches them how to troubleshoot issues as they arise. Although the concept may seem obvious, she says she doesn’t know of a similar program currently running.

In fact, when Brown and her students presented at the International Society of Technology Education conference in Atlanta last June, they were inundated with questions from hundreds of people who were keen on the idea.

“This is not rocket science,” she says. “We’re filling a need for our students to practice, and we’re filling a need for teachers to learn. So it’s a win-win.”

Brown knows that keeping up with changing technologies can be a challenge.

“Technology has totally changed over my teaching years … but the foundations of teaching, the connecting with students, the working with young people, that doesn’t change.”

Brown herself is a lifelong learner: a 1979 graduate of the Teacher Education program through RRC and the University of Manitoba, she also completed RRC’s Adult Education Certificate program in 2003, and is currently a graduate student at the University of Calgary in the Doctor of Education program. She stays on top of technological trends by taking massive open online courses (MOOC) and completing emerging technology certificates, among other things.

Instilling a similar appreciation for lifelong learning in her students will help ensure they too can have 30-year careers. But Brown believes education has to embrace innovation to ensure that we’re setting future generations up for success.

“I see education down the road as totally different. Students need to start teaching students. I think we need to do a lot more sharing, a lot more discovery, because then we don’t regurgitate the information and spew it out for a test; it becomes who we are and we don’t have to worry, because who we are, we don’t forget.”

Brown says administrators see value in learning to integrate technology into the classroom. RRC’s Business/Tech. Teacher Ed. program is therefore a great way for a student to have the competitive advantage.

“Infusing technology into the curriculum is huge everywhere around the world right now because our society is based around technology. Administrators want teachers who are grounded in that – which is why our students get those jobs.

Click here for more information about Business/Technology Teacher Education at RRC.

By Stacy Cardigan Smith (Creative Communications, 2006)