UI College of Education unveils new collaborative high-tech space

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Friday, February 5, 2016

University of Iowa elementary education student Danielle Peterson, of Wapello, Iowa, virtually greeted and interacted with guests using a Double Robot, her smiling face appearing on an iPad screen attached to a metal stick mounted on rollers.

With a few simple keystrokes, Peterson directed the robot’s every movement from her location in another room.

At the Double Robot’s side was fellow elementary education student Mandi Burkley, who introduced her robotic friend to curious guests attending the Feb. 4 grand opening of the University of Iowa College of Education’s new high-tech, collaborative space, known as N110, in Lindquist Center North.

Burkley, of Lake Zurich, Illinois, explained that the Double Robot is an assistive device that can help homebound students with disabilities interact in hallways and classrooms, allowing social exchanges that are important in the school experience.

The Double Robot was one of many new educational technologies demonstrated during the grand opening.

The $2 million renovation has resulted in a contemporary space spanning more than 15,000 square feet, bringing together four centers under one roof:

"This will help ensure our teacher leaders are the best-equipped to identify and utilize technology in their classrooms to aid all learners, including those with specific needs and challenges."

—Christopher Morphew
College of Education executive associate dean for research and innovation

The event also included a tour of an adjacent classroom, the Iowa Technology Enhanced Classroom, or ITEC—one of the state's top teaching spaces in terms of leading-edge technology. 

This advanced learning classroom, located next door in N105 Lindquist Center, opened last fall and allows UI courses to reach students around the world.

The newly renovated space, on the first floor of Lindquist Center North, promotes collaboration and learning across the college, says Christopher Morphew, College of Education executive associate dean for research and innovation.

“The first thing that will hit you in this new space is opportunity and accessibility,” Morphew says. “We incorporated as many universal design principles as possible.”

This includes the installation of three hearing loops, which deliver a speaker’s presentation directly to hearing aids or cochlear implants for people who are deaf or hearing impaired. Other features include electric-powered height adjustable tables, which accommodate people who need to stand or use a wheelchair.

Morphew says another unique aspect is that it brings staff from four separate centers together in an interdisciplinary, collaborative teaching and learning space and is one of the most accessible classrooms in the nation.

“This will help ensure our teacher leaders are the best-equipped to identify and utilize technology in their classrooms to aid all learners, including those with specific needs and challenges,” Morphew says.

Video by Mei-Ling Shaw Williams.

Christie Vilsack, a member of the new UI College of Education advisory board and former first lady of Iowa, says the new space is a great example of the future of education.

“Today’s students are taking classes, not just in technology, but they are also integrating that technology into their learning to become teachers,” says Vilsack, who taught for 40 years. “When I was teaching, we had the hardware but we didn't get the training. The UI College of Education provides both the technology and how to use it to benefit students."

Vilsack, who also joined the U.S. Agency for International Development as the senior adviser for international education in March 2013, now travels the world looking at education in developing countries.

“This new space at the UI College of Education is such a rich environment, and I think most importantly it stresses the twenty-first century skills that every child will need going out into the world,” Vilsack says.

Game-changer for teachers and students

Though the technology is important, it is only part of why this space epitomizes teaching innovation and excellence, says Will Coghill-Behrends, director of the Teacher Leader Center.

“This is a real game-changer for how we prepare teachers to effectively engage and inspire students to optimize learning,” he says. “Hawkeye teachers will hit the ground running, serving all learners with technology right away and bringing a variety of talents they learned through community engagement experiences in the Teacher Leader Center.”

The Teacher Leader Center has been helping place students in community project-based learning activities. One example is a project with M.C. Ginsberg Objects of Art in Iowa City, where UI College of Education faculty and staff are working with owner Mark Ginsberg to create professional development for teachers.

One of the highlights of the celebration was the dedication of the Linda Baker Teacher Leader Center, named after one of the college’s most generous donors.

Baker, a UI alumna, has donated iPads to all incoming teacher education students for the past three years through the Iowa iPad Project. The dedication was a well-kept secret and surprise for Baker.

“We have rock-solid faith and trust in the University of Iowa and the College of Education as leaders to help the students of today and tomorrow,” says Baker, who received her Bachelor of Arts in 1968 and is a retired public school teacher living in Golden, Colorado.