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  November 20, 2000

State Grant Helps Prepare Future Teachers
To Boost Technology in Public Schools

"Thank you Connecticut" is the message from a group of enthusiastic students in the Neag School of Education.

Sixty-four students in the teacher preparation program have received new laptop computers to use until they graduate. The pilot program is funded by a $150,000 grant from the state's Department of Information Technology, in an effort to integrate technology into the public school curriculum.

"This is an investment that will reap rewards for years to come," says Richard Schwab, dean of education. "When our students enter the classroom as teachers, they will be trained in the latest technology, capable of using it to benefit their students, and able to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively."

To demonstrate appreciation for the state's investment, the Neag School of Education held a kickoff event at the Konover Auditorium in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center on Nov. 10. Students gathered on the stage for a group photograph, as they displayed their new laptops and a large thank you sign. The picture will be used in a card that will be sent to thank state lawmakers for passing the needed legislation.

Computers and the Internet offer educators a multitude of opportunities to enhance classroom activities and learning. But a 1999 survey by the National Center for Education Statistics showed that 80 percent of K-12 teachers in the U.S. are uncomfortable using technology for instruction.

That statistic comes as no surprise to Schwab, whose academic research has focused on understanding how to integrate technology in classrooms. He has published extensively on the subject, and has testified before federal and state agencies interested in finding out how to conduct large-scale integration of technology in schools.

"Without doubt, a critical element for success is training. Schools need to invest as much in computer training as they do in equipment," he says. "And now, with this grant from state lawmakers, we're giving our students in the Neag School of Education a head start. They are not being handed a computer and told to go use it. We're conducting training seminars and we've put a support system in place so they can get the assistance they need."

The program is built upon the experience and expertise of Schwab and other faculty members including Scott Brown, Michael Young and Sadhana Puntambekar of the educational psychology department. The team is also greatly enhanced, says Schwab, by outstanding graduate students in the educational technology program, including Rick King, interim director of technology for the Neag School.

To receive a laptop, students responded to a series of questions about how they would use the computer to facilitate their learning, how it would affect their ability as classroom teachers, and how it would benefit their future students. A faculty committee ranked the responses and the top scorers received the computers last week.

One of those top scorers was Amanda Robustelli, a senior who is studying to be a French teacher. Next semester she will be student teaching. Just mention the new computer, and her enthusiasm bubbles over. In seconds she can reel off example after example of how she plans to turn her laptop into a virtual passport to France.

"I'll be able bring real life examples of French language and culture into my classroom. I can download audio and video clips from radio and television news reports. I can call up websites to get menus from restaurants, movie reviews and classified ads from newspapers. The possibilities are endless!" Robustelli beams.

While the laptop is poised to become an effective tool in the classroom, it will also lend a hand in writing lesson plans, tracking student attendance and the mounds of other paperwork teachers often have to take home to complete.

In accepting the laptops, students are expected to become mentors to their classmates and future colleagues, says Scott Brown, head of the educational psychology department, who is leading the initiative.

"We'll have 64 agents for change out there. Not only will computer and Internet knowledge benefit their work in the classroom, we anticipate that teachers who haven't been exposed to the technology will turn to our students for help," he says.

During the next three years, Brown and his colleagues will conduct qualitative and quantitative studies to track the students' abilities and accomplishments in relation to those who do not have laptops.

Janice Palmer