IOWA CITY - Sitting close to the ground on a bright green beanbag-style chair, Anna Foley of Bettendorf barely touches the screen on the SMART Table in front of her.

A new picture appears.

It looks as though she's playing a computer game, but the 21-year-old University of Iowa student is learning how to be a tech-savvy teacher at the College of Education's new Teacher Leader Center, set to be unveiled at an open house today.

College officials are touting the center as one of the first of its kind in the nation, where education majors can become familiar with cutting-edge technology and learn how to incorporate it into their curriculums and student assessment practice.

They also learn how to use tools such as iPads, 3-D SMART Boards, SMART Tables, virtual reality programs and other technology to engage a new generation of students with diverse backgrounds and needs, Susan Lagos-Lavenz, director of the center, said.

"We're some of the first students to come in here and experience it," said Foley, who will be a senior this fall.

The college did a national survey of school districts two years ago, asking questions about some of the biggest challenges facing teachers in the classroom today and what they're looking for in potential hires.

From that information, the college developed the center for students admitted into the teacher preparation program. It now is the place for students to apply to enter the program, get advising assistance and earn a new Teacher Leader certification as part of that program, Lagos-Lavenz said.

The school plans to hold professional development workshops for veteran teachers to get familiar with those tools, too.

"Our students use all these tech toys already," the college's dean, Sandra Damico, said. "But they don't know how to use them to teach others."

After much planning and consultation with education officials in and around Iowa, the $260,000 center quietly opened a few weeks ago in a 6,000-square-foot space in the Lindquist Center building, Damico said.

William Coghill-Behrends, a Bettendorf native who serves as associate director of the center, said the University of Northern Iowa is known as the "teacher college," but the University of Iowa is stepping out as a leader in the field with the development of this facility.

"Our classrooms are changing, our students are changing," he said. "They're growing up in an entirely different world."

Most classrooms now have some form of whiteboard, instead of the traditional chalkboard, but some student-teachers have never used one before.

In the new lab, students can learn to use a 3-D enabled SMART Board, which allows viewers to put on 3-D glasses and watch pictures and videos jump off the screen. The speaker also can wear a "necklace microphone," which amplifies the voice so students pay closer attention.

The lab also offers a microphone for students to pass around, and many other assisted technologies to help students engage in the classroom.

Another area features emerging technology for the classroom. Right now, it houses a computerized virtual reality program, Lagos-Lavenz said.

A child-size SMART Table allows the student-teachers to learn how to personalize lessons for their classes.

Collaboration among student-teachers and instructors also is stressed. An open space with round tables and movable privacy screens was created to encourage group work, while leaving other space available for seminars, workshops and independent study, she said.

Docking stations have been built to allow students to plug in their laptops, iPads and smartphones.

"It's the idea, ‘How can we use this technology to get students to interact?'" Coghill-Behrends said.

"We'll always be adding to it," Damico said about the lab's technology tools. "This has really energized a lot of people around the building, as well."

Jake Chung, principal at Hoover Math and Science Academy in Schaumburg, Ill., said he sits on the University of Iowa Alumni Association's board of directors and often invites new teachers into his school to talk about skills they will need in the classroom.

He said they need to be ready to deal with 21st century needs, and that includes embracing collaboration and new technology.

"It's a tool that will allow students to comprehend the information and engage with the lesson that's taking place," he said. "It's all part of really meeting the needs of our kids."

Foley, the Bettendorf student, said she hopes to teach students ranging from second to fifth graders, or perhaps middle school students. In any case, she's confident that what she's going to learn at the center will help.

"We didn't have any of these boards in my classrooms," she said. "I think it's great. It'll help us by getting in here before we ever get out teaching."

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