By Sandy Broughton
Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 31 - May 21, 1998
The Falls Church City Public Schools and Virginia Tech have entered into a unique partnership that will provide a state-of-the-art technology-enhanced learning environment for middle- and high-school students and for graduate teacher-education students.
The Technology Learning Center (TLC) was announced May 11 at a press conference at the facility on Route 7 and Haycock Road in Falls Church. It is the first such partnership between a university and public schools which focuses on new teaching-and-learning technology and the preparation of teachers who will use it in the classroom.
"We had been talking with Virginia Tech about possible partnership activities through the Northern Virginia Center, and had worked with Tech on teacher-training programs in the past," said Mary Ellen Shaw, superintendent of Falls Church City Public Schools. "We knew the university had a commitment to public schools and we wanted to benefit from Tech's expertise in new teaching and learning technology. It was a case of matching complimentary resources and talents to collaborate on a project that ultimately benefits us all."
The 4,000-square-foot center is located at the George Mason Middle and High Schools, adjacent to the Northern Virginia Center, which serves as the headquarters for Virginia Tech's course offerings in the area. The Falls Church City Public Schools will use the facility during the day. Virginia Tech will use it during the evening and on Saturdays. The TLC will be equipped with the latest teaching-and-learning technologies, including two computer labs with 50 workstations, a multi-purpose room, distance-learning capabilities, voice, video, and data connections, Ethernet access, and video conferencing.
The Falls Church City Public Schools provided the space and computers for the TLC. Virginia Tech funded the design and construction of renovations to the building. Bell Atlantic provided a grant for the cameras, monitors, microphones, and other equipment required for two-way interactive video. The V-TEL compressed-video setup will allow teachers and students to interact with lecturers and other classes in remote locations around the world, while retaining the personal interaction and class participation of face-to-face teaching. In addition, Virginia Tech's College of Human Resources and Education has committed to providing course offerings in teacher preparation in the facility over the next five years.
"We are sharing the space, but it is so much more than that," Shaw said. "By undertaking this joint project, we have begun a dialogue, people have begun to talk with one another, to see what they have in common, and realize the ways in which public schools and universities can work together to improve education at all levels." All of Virginia Tech's activities at the TLC will be related to K-12 education, so that they will be relevant and of use to public-school teachers, the staff, and students in the Falls Church City, Fairfax County, and other school systems in the Northern Virginia area.
"This is a collaborative venture at a level never before possible," said Janet Johnson, dean of the College of Human Resources and Education. "By being physically located together, we have made the step from cooperation to true collaboration. We have worked very successfully with the Falls Church and Fairfax County schools in the past. We are excited about the possibilities for partnerships offered by this new means of communicating and working together."
Construction of the TLC facility is under way, and will be completed in time for classes in the fall of 1998. The first of the TLC programs begins this summer. It is a new master's-degree program that prepares math and science teachers with a special emphasis on technology. Initial courses in the program will be taught in the Northern Virginia Center. It will use the TLC beginning in the fall for student teaching and field experiences. The one-year, full-time program was launched to help fill Northern Virginia's demand for math and science teachers in grades 6-12. It is designed especially for retired government, military, and private corporation technical professionals who would like to make the transition to a second career in teaching math and science.
U.S. News and World Report recently named math and science teaching as one of the 20 hottest career paths for the future. "Virginia Tech has heard from the school divisions in Northern Virginia that they cannot find enough well-qualified math and science teachers who can use and integrate technology," said Tom Gatewood, director of education programs at the Northern Virginia Center.
"We worked closely with the Fairfax County and Falls Church City schools to plan and carry out this program, so that we could meet their needs for qualified teachers and meet the needs of mid-career professionals who will bring professional experience and life training to teaching." A Professional Development Council, made up of representatives from Falls Church City Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools, and Virginia Tech, will monitor the program to determine how best to prepare teachers, to plan and assess student-teaching field experiences, and to continually assess TLC-based activities.
Other activities slated for the TLC for fall 1998 include George Mason High School's courses in computer science and vocational business, and Virginia Tech's new master's degree program in instructional technology for education professionals, which will incorporate on-line modules and distance learning.
The TLC is the latest in an on-going series of collaborations between Virginia Tech and Virginia's Public Schools. Past collaborative efforts include teacher training modules, on-site master's-degree programs for teachers, graduate-student mentoring workshops for high-school students, principal-preparation programs in several locations throughout the state, including Fairfax County, and the state-wide Institute for Connecting Science Research to the Classroom, which gives teachers access to the latest scientific research and teaching technologies, and helps them incorporate them into their curriculum.
Tech officials also hope that the TLC will establish the basis for Professional Development Schools, a model in which a university joins with public schools to provide teacher preparation, in-service training, curriculum design and assessment, classroom instruction, and technological expertise.