It was nearing the end of the spring 2016 semester when Susanna Post ’17 walked into her Analysis and Practice of Teaching class and saw something surprising: The tables were covered with items that looked more fitting to a second-grade art class than a masters-level education course.
“There were all these fun, random things like marbles, drinking straws and Play-Doh,” Post said. After a short lesson, the professor instructed the students to work in groups to create a visual representation of what they learned that semester.
For Post – who would later be named 2021 Arkansas Teacher of the Year – this was a moment of revelation.
“All of sudden, I realized that student assessment doesn’t have to involve a pen and paper. I saw how to get students involved at a higher level of thinking, and that was a big moment for me,” she said.
While still in the process of earning her master’s degree from the University of Central Arkansas, Post was already putting innovative strategies such as this one into practice as a math and business technology teacher at Belle Point Center in the Fort Smith Public School District.
“When I tried these incredibly practical strategies in my classroom, they worked. I remember thinking that these UCA professors really know what they’re talking about,” said Post, a nontraditional student and mother of three, who stressed the college’s ability to meet the needs of students from all walks of life.
“I started the Master of Arts in Teaching program in January and was offered a full-time teaching job the following July. The fact that you can be employed as a teacher and earn a salary while you’re getting your master’s degree is a big deal,” she said.
As Arkansas’ largest producer of teachers in the state, the College of Education evolved from UCA’s founding in 1907 as the Arkansas State Normal School, an institution dedicated solely to teacher training. In 1925, the school was renamed Arkansas State Teachers College before ultimately transitioning to UCA in 1975.
The college now emphasizes innovative and realistic approaches to both teacher education and K-12 instruction. From undergraduate teacher preparation programs to graduate degrees in areas such as school counseling, library media, and school leadership, management and administration, the College of Education funnels hundreds of highly trained professionals into frontline education positions each year.
UCA has had at least three alumni who were named Arkansas Teacher of the Year since the program began in 2015, and several alumni have received prestigious awards from the Arkansas Library Association.
“For us, it is all about improving Arkansas’ K-12 education. It’s a passion for our faculty members, and I think that’s what really sets us apart,” said Victoria Groves-Scott, dean of the College of Education.
Since accepting the position in 2015, Groves-Scott has spearheaded a number of successful initiatives she credits to the leadership team and faculty members who she says “are not afraid of big ideas and the hard work it takes to accomplish them.”
Among those big ideas is the college’s iPad Mobile Learning Initiative, which earned the college international recognition as a highly regarded Apple Distinguished School.
Defined as “centers for leadership and educational excellence that demonstrate Apple’s vision for learning with technology,” Apple Distinguished Schools number only 690 worldwide. The College of Education is the only teacher education program in Arkansas to hold this honor.
“It is a highly competitive process to be named an Apple Distinguished School, and very few applicants are selected. What it means for us is that we are using technology – in our case the iPad – to transform the classroom experience,” Groves-Scott said.
According to the college’s publication titled “Digital Age Teaching & Learning: Our Story,” available on Apple Books, the iPad Mobile Learning Initiative is focused on “empowering student voices in their learning, providing increased choice in curriculum and assessment, and developing a framework for access and accessibility.”
“This transformative initiative requires students in certain degree programs to obtain and use an iPad in the classroom, but “it’s not about swiping through PowerPoint presentations,” Groves-Scott said. “Instead, the iPad is a key both to increasing student engagement and interaction within the College of Education and preparing students to use the power of technology in their own classrooms.”
Active learning strategies that incorporate the iPad are extensive and include the ability for students to create videos explaining their understanding of course material, develop digital portfolios, create illustrations and animations and delve deeply into content through interactive experiences. It also opens the door to quicker and more efficient feedback between professors and students.
As a former special education teacher, Groves-Scott also truly values the initiative’s emphasis on accessibility.
“When our students get into the classroom, they use the iPad as a way to make sure that all of their students, regardless of their physical or developmental ability, are engaged in that lesson to the greatest extent possible. That’s why the iPads have been transformational for us,” said Groves-Scott, who was also one of five in the College of Education to have been named Apple Distinguished Educators for their focus on academic excellence, leadership and innovation.
As the iPad initiative continues to expand into other areas of the college, she and fellow leaders also are ramping up an ongoing emphasis on educational equity to ensure all children in Arkansas are supported and have access to the resources they need to succeed.
“Educational equity is vitally important to us, and we are actively engaged in intense and difficult discussions about these issues. When you are a teacher, you must be able to identify barriers and serve as an advocate for every child, whether they are LGBTQ, Black, Hispanic, Latinx, gifted or living with a disability,” she said.
Work on a yearlong residency program to address statewide teacher shortages is underway thanks to a $100,000 grant to the college as part of Forward Arkansas’ Educator Preparation Program Design Collaborative. The residency, which will place students in paid teaching positions prior to graduation, is intended to attract future educators while also filling immediate classroom needs.
“Districts are struggling with teacher shortages and retention. We think this will make a difference in the teacher pipeline and in our ability to attract more students to the education field,” she said.
With so many opportunities to improve education in Arkansas, it is ultimately the willingness of the college’s faculty and students to take risks and engage in new educational strategies that makes Groves-Scott most proud.
“It’s hard to do something new and innovative, but we are really invested in change that supports education in Arkansas,” she said.