With New Digital Classroom, Saint Leo Redefines Education Leadership for Bachelor Degree in Elementary Education

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School of Education opens hands-on classroom to train future teachers in the latest learning technologies

Today's classrooms can look more like high-tech computer showrooms than the sterile chalkboard-lined quarters where many of us learned to raise our hands. To make sure tomorrow's teachers are not just committed to education, but also to ahead-of-the-curve technology leadership, Saint Leo University's Education Department has opened an innovative, interactive training facility this fall at its traditional liberal arts campus near Tampa, Fla. Saint Leo offers a state-approved bachelor degree in elementary education and middle grades education, as well as a secondary education minor, and an array of graduate programs.

Saint Leo's new 21st century classroom, housed in the main campus library, improves student and faculty access to state-of-the-art tools and better integrates technology into instruction. Students gain deeper understanding and experience in today’s transformed learning environment: The chalkboards, transparencies and spiral-bound notebooks that traditionally defined education have been swapped out for touch screens, cameras and laptops—gadgets that make learning more dynamic and interactive than ever before.

"We've developed this initiative because we know that in order for our students to go out and be the best possible teachers they can be, they need to know how to make learning fun and engaging," says Candace A. Roberts, Ph.D., chair of the Education Department and associate professor of education. "We now require our education students to incorporate technology into their lesson plans when doing student-teaching in real-life classroom situations. We've seen big changes in their levels of confidence."

Last year, the University piloted a small educational technology lab, containing one of each type of technology. Based on that success, Saint Leo launched the full digital classroom in August 2011. The facility holds up to 32 students, and contains class sets of MacBooks, iPads, iPod touches, student response systems and Flip video cameras. It is also outfitted with interactive whiteboards and LCD projectors.

These new tools that help learning come to life include:

· iPad and iPod touch: The portable Apple devices have saturated pop culture, and have useful applications in the classroom. Schools use iPads and iPod touches to engage students in their own learning, bolster motivation and improve reading scores. Students can access thousands of educational applications, podcasts, online books and references—from a Dr. Seuss book that reads itself aloud while teaching new vocabulary, to a customized avatar creator students can use to overcome public speaking anxieties in presenting in-class reports.

· MimioVote™ assessment system: Lectures turn into give-and-take conversations with this student response system. Teachers gauge student comprehension as they’re instructing, providing immediate feedback on whether students “get it” or need further explanation. More than a useful polling tool, the MimioVote also encourages students to pay attention and keep pace with the teacher’s instruction.

·    Document camera: The overhead projector of the 21st century, a document camera takes a picture of a document, an equation, a page from a storybook, a frog dissection—anything a teacher wants to show the whole class—and projects it with a very clear resolution so that all students have equal access to the learning experience.

·    Flip video cameras: Easy-to-use digital camcorders encourage creativity and collaboration in the classroom. In lieu of the old-fashioned book report or poster presentation, students can video blog chemistry demonstrations or share music videos inspired by the latest Toni Morrison novel.

·    Interactive white boards and MimeoTeach™ Interactive System: One of the most classic features of a classroom, the chalkboard, is now digitized. The MimeoTeach™ Interactive System transforms a regular white board into an interactive one, projecting images from a computer screen to infuse play into learning and stimulate visual and kinesthetic learners.

The digital classroom is open to all Saint Leo students and faculty, in addition to the 14 full-time faculty members and 100 education students at Saint Leo's main campus, where many students earn a bachelor degree in elementary education. The University has about 450 total undergraduate students in elementary and middle grades education across its campus and Florida-wide Education Centers—including Gainesville, which saw its own digital classroom open this fall.

About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo ranks as one of the top universities in the South, according to U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” list. Saint Leo’s traditional liberal arts campus, located 30 miles north of Tampa, educates more than 1,900 students. Total enrollment across its campus, regional education centers, and online programs exceeds 15,000. Among the oldest Catholic universities in Florida, Saint Leo is one of the nation's 10 leading providers of higher education to the U.S. military, and is a nationally recognized leader in online education.

To learn more about Saint Leo University's bachelor degree in elementary education or bachelor degree in middle grades education, visit http://www.saintleo.edu/Academics/School-of-Education-Social-Services/Undergraduate-Degree-Programs/Undergraduate-Education-Department.

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Jo-Ann Johnston
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