University of Texas at Austin Explores LIFE: The Innovative Laptop Initiative Engages the College of Education's Pre-Service Teachers in a Technology-Rich Learning Environment That Helps Them Prepare Their Students for a Future in Our High-Tech World

Article excerpt

In the fall of 2002, the University of Texas at Austin's (UT) College of Education (CoE) initiated a program that required all teacher-education students entering its professional development course sequence to acquire an Apple (www.apple.com) iBook and prescribed software for use throughout their academic preparation and field experiences. The Laptop Initiative for Future Educators (LIFE; www.utexas.edu/education/laptop.html), as the program came to be known, was designed to immerse pre-service teachers in a technology-rich learning environment that provides ubiquitous access to technology-tools, Internet-based resources, and online communication systems.

LIFE was based on a simple theory: Unless teacher educators model effective use of technology in their own classes, it will not be possible to prepare a new generation of teachers who effectively use these technology tools for learning. Thus, the program goals of LIFE included the seamless integration of technology standards, ensuring state-of-the-art technology, establishing strong partnerships with local school districts, and fostering faculty ownership of the program. The success of LIFE, however, depended on key areas such as professional development, technical assistance, student training, student-centered teaching, and assessment.

Multiple Perspectives and Lessons Learned

There are several lessons learned in planning and implementing a laptop initiative such as LIFE in teacher education, including administrative considerations, faculty and student training, technical support, and field experience.

Administrative considerations. Extensive pilot work with small groups over several years provided invaluable experience for planning and implementing a large-scale initiative. The pilot program confirmed that ubiquitous access to computers and networks produced significant gains in the integration of technology into the entire teaching and learning process, and helped identify the multiple issues that would need to be addressed in wide-scale implementations.

Faculty and student training. As the infrastructure has improved, more effort has been focused on the integration of technology into curriculum. Currently, the focus of the initiative is to support faculty as they continue to enrich their syllabi with effective technology assignments.

Technology training workdays--during which faculty develop assessment rubrics, lesson plans, and technology-enhanced assignments--are essential. Perhaps even more important than the technology products created are the support, validation, and creative energy that faculty provide to each other. Through these interactions, faculty realize that they do not all have to be technology experts to successfully implement high-tech tools into their courses.

The laptop initiative also created a critical need to train students to use the new hardware and software tools. Frequent workshops were provided at the beginning of each semester to familiarize new students with the operating system, basic applications, and resources of their newly acquired computer. These sessions were followed by an ongoing series of workshops designed to increase the students' knowledge and skills in using their computer as a learning tool.

Since students and teachers both needed an ongoing training and support system, Atomic Learning (www.atomic learning.com) was selected as a training partner. Atomic Learning provides Web-based software training and 24/7 support through a library of more than 15,000 short tutorial movies that answer those "How do I do that? …