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Last modified: Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A $749,000 federal grant will help the IU School of Education to increase new teachers' abilities to use the latest technology

IU, Auburn University and New Mexico State University partnering to spread knowledge across regions

Oct. 20, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The U.S. Department of Education has selected the Indiana University School of Education to receive $749,853 to create a teacher education curriculum supporting problem-based learning (PBL).

The unique program called "PBL-TECH: Using Web 2.0 Tools and Resources to Support Problem-Based Curricular Innovations in Pre-Service Teacher Education," will partner IU with the Auburn University College of Education and the College of Education at New Mexico State University over the next three years. The project's goal is to increase new teachers' ability to use the latest technology with problem-based learning techniques at the three institutions, while establishing the latest teaching innovations in the programs and then disseminating those resources and strategies in different parts of the country.

"We thought that synergy and collaboration of three institutions in disparate areas of the country focusing on three different teaching populations would really strengthen the grant proposal," said Thomas Brush, associate dean for teacher education and associate professor of instructional systems technology at the IU School of Education. "We were looking to expand the reach of this to a broader audience throughout the country."

"A strength of this project is its wide geographic range," said John Saye, Alumni Professor of Social Science Education in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Auburn, located in east central Alabama. "This allows us to disseminate ideas and tools that we develop in common across a range of regional and discipline-specific constituencies, and then offer the opportunity to build a national community of teacher educators and teachers who leverage interactive technologies to improve practice."

Problem-based learning requires teachers to select problems that require students to acquire the knowledge they need, then solve the problem through self-directed work and also through working within teams. It is gaining support from educators and others for its "real world" application and as a tool to better motivate students to learn. While growing in popularity, PBL is also a different way to approach teaching and learning.

"PBL emphasizes both content-learning and problem-solving processes," said Krista Glazewski, associate professor of learning technologies at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, N.M. "In this way, students' learning is more flexible and durable over time, and students learn to internalize and use the content beyond what exists as verbal knowledge or information."

Brush said he and his partners have begun the initial work of recruiting faculty to participate -- both those who already implement PBL techniques in teaching methods courses and those who would like to integrate more PBL techniques. Faculty will develop PBL methods this spring and implement them with classes in fall 2011.

"Then that iteration will continue," Brush said. "I'll be doing three iterations of this with a different set of teacher educators each year. After that, we'll have the tools and resources developed. Those will be available to any teacher educator and any teacher who want to use them with their teacher-education students or K-12 students."

Supporting faculty and pre-service teachers in adopting PBL techniques is at the heart of the project, and the technology integration is an important tool in that effort. The preparation and execution of PBL is more time consuming than more direct methods of instruction. The researchers believe that interactive Web 2.0 technologies will help teachers overcome obstacles associated with the conceptualization and implementation of PBL practice.

The project is important as more schools turn to PBL as a method for improving student learning, Brush said. "We have both the researchers telling us to do this, as well as schools pushing and saying, 'We need more teachers that can do this -- help us out.' I think from those two aspects, that's why we really need to do more of this."