URI School of Education awarded $5.6 million to boost role of technology in teaching science, math

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Project to target mobile teachers, learners

KINGSTON, R.I. – March 26, 2008 – Because of laptop computers, cell phones and MP3 players, today’s students are able to learn anywhere, anytime. In short, their learning style is nomadic.

The University of Rhode Island’s School of Education is determined to keep its education majors and beginning teachers in the race by developing New Order, Multi-Modal, Advanced-Design (NOMAD) Learning Spaces.

Through a $5.6 million state grant, the School of Education is providing its teacher education students with access to current hardware, software and models of effective use of technology for instruction. Funds have also been allocated to Rhode Island College and the Community College of Rhode Island for similar initiatives. The Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education has emphasized that the money will help the three schools collaborate and develop consistency in how technology is used in teacher education.

For teachers already in the classroom, the University is offering and developing teaching tools that will give them and their students access to the latest science, math, engineering and technology professional development and programming content.

The program is targeting science, technology and math teachers, as well as those University students preparing to teach in those fields, with an ongoing goal of trying to increase the numbers of individuals qualified to teach in those areas.

“This project is an answer to the question ‘how do we ensure that teachers effectively use technology to enhance student learning,” said David Byrd, director of the URI School of Education, which is part of the College of Human Science and Services.

“Our own students preparing to be pre-kindergarten through grade 12 teachers need to be ready to use these tools skillfully when they enter the workforce, and current teachers need support so they can use technology as a collaborative tool to enhance learning in all areas. This project will help students and teachers access exciting discoveries, research and education developments at URI and elsewhere as they move about their lives,” Byrd said.

The Narragansett resident said the grant was a result of cooperation among the Rhode Island Office of Higher Education, the General Assembly and the governor’s office.

The overall goal of the project is to support knowledge transmission within the classroom and over the Internet so that collaborative activities become easier and more productive.

The funding is earmarked for enhancements in 30 classrooms and four auditoriums in 10 buildings at three of URI’s campuses. The money will also be used to purchase software, web services, social software, online learning, remote experimentation and visualizations, scientific probes and lab instrumentation.

The existing buildings slated for improvements where education majors and beginning teachers take classes are the Chafee Social Science Center, headquarters of URI’s teacher education program; East, Pastore and Quinn Halls; and the Providence Campus. Twelve rooms in these buildings will provide significantly improved flexibility for use of technology.

Three buildings under construction or renovation are also going to receive technology upgrades to provide digital streaming of scientific content for URI students and other students within the state. Those buildings are the Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences, the Narragansett Bay Campus’ Pell Library/Inner Space Center and Lippitt Hall, home of the Department of Mathematics.

“We’ve earmarked about $1 million of the grant for work with the public schools,” said Associate Professor Pete Adamy, project academic coordinator.

Adamy said a prime example is Oceanography Professor Robert Ballard’s Inner Space Center and its work with Smithfield High School. The high school is equipped with technology that is linked with the Inner Space Center at URI’s Narragansett Bay Campus. The equipment allows students and teachers at the high school to view and communicate with Ballard’s oceanographic research expeditions as they happen.

“We want to expand these types of opportunities to many other schools,” Adamy said. “Everyone remembers Generation X, well now we are preparing to educate the teachers and students of Generation Net.”