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Trending Topics in Education: eMINTS Professional Development [Podcast]

Posted by Carrie Watkins on Mar 7, 2016 7:00:00 AM
Topics: ed tech, professional development, podcasts

In this conversation with Christie Terry from eMINTS, we'll discuss the professional development training that they do with teachers all over the country. Christie talks about why flexibility and customization is important in all professional development, including face-to-face and online.

Trending Topics in Education with Carrie Watkins


Hello. This is Carrie Watkins with MBS Direct, senior digital consultant. We are pleased to announce the addition of eMINTS' digital-age professional development content options that we now provide to our partner schools. Today, I have Christie Terry, associate director of eMINTS with us to talk a little bit more about this program and what we can do with our partner schools. Welcome, Christie.

Christie: Thank you.

Tell me a little bit about eMINTS.

Christie: Sure. eMINTS is an outreach center at the University of Missouri College of Education. We have the mission of helping schools move to digital-age teaching and learning. As a part of the university, we're able to bridge that divide between the research that's going on at the college and bringing that into classroom practice.

All of our staff are current or former teachers, and they have expertise in both the content area — so mathematics, language, arts, and the curriculum areas that they taught — as well as technology integration. At the same time, we have a commitment to promote evidence-based practices and engage in vigorous research around our programs to make sure that our programs really do make a difference for schools and for kids. In fact, we've recently had the results from a new research project, a randomized-controlled trial that found that eMINTS made statistically significant differences for kids, which is really exciting for us.

Carrie: At MBS Direct, we work with schools all over the technology spectrum, some have been BYOD for a decade, some are just now starting to plan out a device strategy. Why would a school look to eMINTS to provide training?

Christie: We've been offering professional learning around technology integration since 1999. One of the things that we've learned over the years is that it's not really the tool that makes the difference in the classroom; it's how teachers use that tool with their students. We help them learn by providing experiences that focus on building a community of learners, incorporating authentic learning and designing high quality lessons that's all powered by technology. That technology is extending what is possible in the classroom, allowing the students to really dig in and make knowledge out of information, solve problems that don't have answers and go farther than they could do without the technology.

You talked a little bit about digital-age teaching. What does that mean for eMINTS?

Christie: Our kids are living in a world where everything from your car to your coffeepot has a computer and is networked and the modern workplace is an increasingly a collaborative, dynamic and technology-rich place. We help schools and teachers use teaching approaches and tools that reflect the real world that we live and work in; approaches that prepare students to solve problems that are complex and often don't have an immediate and obvious solution or even a clear process for developing a solution. Then they use technology to do that in ways that you might in your everyday work.

Carrie: Strategies for preparing students for the real world, problem-solving, creative thinking, I think all schools are really looking to do that. How do you help these schools deliver these strategies?

Christie: We have a couple of approaches that we take to help schools adopt these strategies. eLearning for Educators is our online professional learning program. It's a really convenient way for educators to learn these skills online in a supportive environment. The participants in our course can learn from home. They can work around their own schedule. There are no special tools or books that they have to purchase to take these courses.

Flexibility is so important when you're working with very busy professionals like these teachers. What are some of the courses that are available through this program?

Christie: We have a variety of topics available now. All of them are built on our instructional model, you see, with the high quality lessons design, community of learners, authentic learning, all powered by technology. If you're looking to improve or enhance your skills using interactive assessments, increasing student collaboration, designing online learning using differentiated instruction, universal design or even blended instruction, we have courses that cover all of those things.

What if a school needs something more specific to using technology in the classroom, something that maybe isn't in your course list already?

Christie: Sure. We actually do have additional courses on blogging, project-based approaches, 21st Century technology leadership, iPads, Google tools. We do have a big variety of courses that are designed specifically for technology tools. In addition, we can always work with the school to design a course  around their needs.

How are you delivering courses that maybe are more STEM specific or in terms of game design?

Christie: Sure. We have a course available now that focuses on helping students build computational thinking skills. Those are the skills that programmers use to design code, test their code and debug their code. Teachers learn how to get their kids started with coding as they design, build and test their very own video games using  software called AgentSheets. It's a great connection between STEM and inquiry-based learning. It allows students to create content related to video games and simulations.

Carrie: All of those can be taken online?

Christie: Yes, absolutely. There are over 40 courses in our catalog. These courses take about 7 weeks in length. They're facilitated by experienced classroom teachers who have used this content and these strategies in their classrooms. They can be taken anywhere that has access to the Internet.

Can you talk a little bit about what a student would expect in using or taking a course through the eLearning environment?

Christie: Our courses are short seven-week courses. They start with an orientation week to make sure that people are really comfortable with the online environment before we get into the heart of the content. We want to make sure that any technical problems, introductions, all of those things are taken care of before our participants start feeling the pressure to start taking their course and getting into the content.

Our facilitators are experienced classroom teachers, and they're what we call high-touch. They are going to be available in the courses by email. They're going to respond to discussions. They're going to make sure that participants get the support they need to be able to transfer what they learn into their teaching.

The course activities and content might include discussions on what's going on in the classroom and how to apply their learning to the classroom, webinars, video tutorials, strategies that they can try directly in their classroom. We really try to make sure that we provide the teachers with all the support materials they need to implement what we're teaching them, whether it's survey tools that they can survey their students. If it's a collaborative learning strategy, we'll provide the handout they might need to use with their students to get them started using that strategy.

We also have optional online meeting with the instructors for really challenging content that maybe our participants want some feedback or maybe help troubleshooting how it's going in their classroom. These courses are designed for teachers in the classroom, and so we try to make sure that they're really practical and full of rich tools and strategies that teachers can use right away. Upon completion, the teachers get a certificate and, if they choose, they can even earn graduate credit at a little bit of an extra cost.

Carrie: The eLearning platform looks like a great way for teachers to really understand and get a little bit more information about the technology and how to use it in their classroom, but you also mentioned that you have face-to-face professional development as well?

Christie: Yes. We've been doing face-to-face professional development for 15 years. We’ve found, over the years, that it's really important to collaborate with schools to create custom PD that's tailored to their needs. Some of our most recent offerings were centered on Google tools, iPads mentoring, coaching, digital storytelling and visual literacy, but whatever the topic is, we really think it's important to make sure that it's aligned to the specific needs of whatever school we're working with.

What can a school expect when they look to eMINTS for a face-to-face professional development?

Christie: We first help schools decide what kinds of professional development are going to work best to meet their needs and how those are aligned to their goals. Once we work out the details and make a plan, then we're going to arrive on the scene ready to deliver that experience. Those can be half-day, full-day. We've even done a series of day-long sessions over a year using the existing technologies with a focus on enhancing learning in the classroom.

When we're there, we're going to model for teachers what should be going on in the classroom. We facilitate activities that really develop a community among those teachers so that they feel like they have a shared mission as they're implementing these strategies. During the session, we'll provide a website also that has the resources and links used during the training so that even years after we have left, those teachers can still access those resources and use those materials.

You provide a lot of resources that can be used in the classroom. Anything else that you provide during these trainings?

Christie: Our face-to-face sessions are designed so what is covered in the session is immediately applicable in the classroom. This allows our participants to build new tools and design the assessments that they can use in their classroom. We might even work on developing a lesson or a video or Web content that they are going to then use directly with their students.

For example, the participants might create an account and start bookmarking with online bookmarking tools like Symbaloo or they might develop questioning strategies that they're going to use in a specific lesson with their students or design an inquiry-based activity that incorporates collaboration tools that they're going to use in the upcoming lessons, and then they can see the results of their own professional learning right there in the classroom the very next day.

So, not a lot of “sit-and-get?”

Christie: No, not at all. We understand that adult learners, they don't want a boring, dry experience any more than their kids do. We also know that teachers are more likely to have the confidence to implement what they've learned if they get the chance to try it out and even experience it as a learner first.

Carrie: It sounds like eMINTS provides a lot of options for schools looking to integrate technology from starting out with Google apps all the way to incorporating game design principle in the curriculum. How can our schools learn more about eMINTS?

Christie: Thank you very much. It's been great to have a chance to talk to you. We're looking forward to working with teachers that are looking to learn new skills and bring some strategies in their classroom they haven't tried before. We encourage you to contact your MBS rep for eLearning courses or for face-to-face sessions from eMINTS. We're here to help you meet your school's professional development goals and needs.

For more information on any of the topics discussed in this podcast, or any other questions you have about digital content options, contact your Account Manager or you can reach out to me, Carrie Watkins, Senior Digital Consultant, on Twitter, @CarrieJWatkins.

About Carrie Watkins

Carrie is a former digital consultant for MBS Direct, who specialized in traveling around the country to learn about new products and services MBS Direct can provide to partner schools and bringing those ideas back into the office to work on with the digital solutions team.

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