Technology can be a powerful educational aid. However, giving students new iPads or Surfaces won’t automatically make them better learners, or even more receptive to learning. In untrained hands, these technologies can become nothing more than personal entertainment and social media systems. Only the effective implementation of technology, bolstered with teacher training, can make a difference in students’ lives and how they learn.
Fortunately, for more than a decade, the College of Education’s EdTech department at Boise State University has offered graduate programs for teachers and other education professionals geared toward meeting this increasingly urgent need to support traditional teaching methods with emerging new technologies.
As educators across the country are now learning, technology programs aren’t just for computer science teachers. They apply to educators in all disciplines because of their focus on integrating technology as a learning aid in the classroom.
Since the early 2000s, there has been a national push to equip educators with emerging technology training, as students will need these advanced skills to succeed in our increasingly technologically based society.
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Boise State was an early adopter of this movement — the university formally launched its EdTech department in 1997. Since then, hundreds of similar online educational technology degree programs have launched at universities across the country. Yet Boise State’s department remains among the largest in the nation, with between 400-500 students actively enrolled in their programs. In addition, the programs are nationally ranked in the top 20 percent of graduate programs in education, according to the 2017 U.S. News and World Report.
They offer the largest and most diverse program options for educational technology in the state. The department currently offers a doctor of education (Ed.D.) in educational technology, education specialist (Ed.S.) in educational technology and a master of educational technology (MET). It also offers graduate certificates in technology integration, online teaching and school technology coordination, and educational games and simulations.
One aspect that makes the department so popular among educators is the way the classes are conducted. All EdTech courses are online, with no campus visits required. Courses are interactive and practitioner-based, meaning Boise State instructors expect graduate students to integrate new technologies into their respective schools and classrooms as they learn it.
The department also fosters a strong community of collaboration, which is a striking accomplishment for an online-only educational format. Classes are built around skill-building group activities and lab projects, reinforced with immediate feedback from instructors. For instance, some of these activities include “quests” that students can complete to learn new online tools — ranging from simple tasks, such as how to use Google Docs, to more complex quests, such as mastering and then using new presentation technologies.
The EdTech department plays an equally vital role in research and development, another component that makes the program nationally successful. Faculty members continually test the effectiveness of new technologies such as mobile devices, learning applications and internet-based programs before they hit the market, and provide designers with feedback. The department supports this important work with grants from the National Science Foundation, among others.
The willingness to boldly explore new teaching formats and test new technologies — in essence, the willingness to fail — has instead led to great success at BSU, which graduated the first class of these doctoral students in fall 2016.
Even as the department celebrates this and other milestones, it is determined to ensure the success and growth doesn’t end there. Administrators are working on further cultivating graduate students here in Idaho. Currently, only 20 percent of EdTech students are based in the state. In order to increase those numbers, a $1,000 Idaho teacher scholarship has been created for educators at any level who have earned their undergraduate degree at an Idaho institution or are currently employed as a K-12 or higher education teacher in the state.
The program also has partnered with the Boise State Alumni Association to offer a 15 percent discount to all Boise State alumni. The goal is to ensure that all Idaho educators and students not only have the technological tools to be their best in the classroom, but also know how to use them.
Mark Rudin is vice president for research and economic development at Boise State, where he oversees the Office of Sponsored Programs, the Office of Research Compliance, and other administrative and technical offices. His column looks at the state of scientific discovery and economic development in Idaho.