Arkansas State Normal School, now the University of Central Arkansas, was created in 1907 as Arkansas’s first teachers college. The purpose of the institution was to properly train teachers and transform Arkansas classrooms, creating a legacy that has spanned more than 100 years.
“UCA started off as a teachers college,” said Michael Mills, chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning. “That’s our heritage. That’s our legacy. We innovated where there was no innovation. UCA has a legacy of transformation.”
This tradition was exemplified when the university’s College of Education was notified of its selection as an Apple Distinguished School for 2018-21, a three-year designation given to institutions for continuous innovation in learning, teaching and the school environment.
UCA’s College of Education is the only one in Arkansas with the Apple Distinguished School designation.
“We are not just on the cutting edge of education, we are cutting that path,” said Victoria Groves-Scott, dean of the College of Education. “We are doing things that other universities are not doing within their colleges of education.”
The College of Education learned of the distinction in October 2018. The college received the designation, in part, due to its iPad® Mobile Technology Initiative.
During the 2015-16 year, college faculty and administrators began to assess and develop ways to increase the use of technology in the collegiate classroom. They spent a year planning, learning and building a program. Faculty attended full-day retreats and underwent at least 100 workshops to learn strategies for using the iPad in the classroom.
The tremendous amount of work in about a year speaks to the quality of faculty in the College of Education, Groves-Scott said. At the end of this planning period, faculty involved in this process received an iPad. The college also purchased three iPad carts to house in the college, as well as designated apps to share with all faculty and students.
In fall 2016, the College of Education added iPads as a curriculum requirement, stipulating that students enrolled in the elementary, special education and middle-level programs were required to have an iPad. Some secondary education programs also chose to participate.
Each faculty member was paired with a technology coach, and faculty continued professional development sessions after the launch of the initiative. Local K-12 educators were invited to attend some of the learning sessions whenever possible.
Faculty created textbooks and other Open Educational Resources with the goal of creating overall cost savings for students, Groves-Scott said.
“They take tests for licensure that are $300 each. They have to pay for background checks,” she said. “Some are driving to Little Rock for student teaching. If we can create textbooks they don’t have to buy, that helps a lot.”
Mills said he often tells students, “I’m not teaching you to just get a job. I’m not teaching you to slide into the status quo. I am teaching you to bust the status quo. I am teaching you to transform the environment where you end up.”
Jordan Painter is a middle-level education major and graduates in May. The Heber Springs native was skeptical of the mobile initiative primarily because of the cost of the device. The ability to quickly take and organize notes that could be viewed for years to come changed her opinion.
“That realization justified every dollar in my mind,” Painter said. “I probably became the number one fan of Apple Pencil® and iPad Pro® [devices.]”
Students learned how to use the devices and several applications such as SeeSaw, Nearpod, Adobe® Spark and Explain Everything.
Laurie Nick ’18 began teaching eighth-grade physical science in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after graduating. Through her education and training with the iPad Mobile Technology Initiative, Nick learned how to control robotic balls by using the Sphero Edu, fusing robotics and technology to fuel student imagination.
“I learned how to operate Sphero using an iPad,” she said. “Through the use of Sphero, my students were excited and curious to learn about energy transfers and transformations. It was evident that my students mastered the learning goals I had set for them through the use of this technology.”
As technology is increasingly used in careers from farming to heating and plumbing, Groves-Scott said she expects a pivotal moment in K-12 education.
“If we want to prepare the next generation for college and the workforce, we’ve got to start in the classroom,” she said. “It’s really an investment in our future.”