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Professors on Path to new Technologies

Lone Star College–Tomball professors Pat Falbo and Catherine Olson are trailblazing new pathways for future teachers.

As participants in the Community College Pathways to Improved Teacher Preparation Through Technology - or Pathways - Falbo and Olson were invited to join representatives from only 18 community college institutions nationwide to learn to better incorporate and utilize technology in teaching.

"Each of the 18 institutions selected articulated a strong understanding of Pathways goals, including an institutional focus on pre-service teacher education, modeling effective pedagogy for pre-service teachers, and supporting faculty in the effective use of technology in their own teaching," said Edward J. Leach, Vice President of the Services and Programs League for Innovation in the Community College.

"Community colleges are fast becoming a critical segment impacting on the K-12 arena. An estimated 20 percent of those who go on to become K-12 teachers are educated at community colleges, with over 40 percent of all teachers completing some or all of their science and mathematics coursework at two-year colleges," said Leach. "The Pathways Project was envisioned to fill a critical need in preparing tomorrow's teachers."

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the project will involve faculty from 33 community colleges over three years in Internet-based training designed to model best practices using technology-based instruction, said Leach.

The Pathways Project involves a faculty training program, a framework for development and sharing of Internet-based Real World Learning Objects - RWLO's - and an online community to support course implementation. RWLO's are instructional Internet-based activities focused on higher education mathematics, science, educational technology, and language arts that can easily be used in similar courses at other institutions to enhance learning and integrate technology in a meaningful way, said Leach.

"RWLOs are basically lesson plans that give a teacher specific step-by-step instructions on how to approach a specific topic using websites that provide information that is either unavailable elsewhere, ever-changing and even interactive," said Olson, an English Professor at Lone Star College–Tomball.

Falbo and Olson joined fellow Lone Star College System representatives Professors Christie Smith of Lone Star College–Montgomery and Betsy Morgan of Lone Star College-Kingwood in North Carolina for the initial Pathways project conference and RWLO brainstorming session last semester.

"We interacted with faculty from other colleges and we grew our ideas together to develop RWLO's," said Falbo, Lone Star College–Tomball Associate Professor of Math. "After they were submitted to the review committee, many were made part of the RWLO library,"

Olson said she was struck by the effectiveness of the RWLO.

"They show potential teachers that they can use the web and have creative plans without just doing a lecture," she said. "They can find some great material in here that will really make their students go ‘wow.'"

Falbo referred to an RWLO she developed which is an exercise in tracking seismic activity.

"It asks students to find the 15 most recent earthquakes that have occurred on the planet - information that could vary if one student started just 30 minutes after another. What is unique and compelling about this exercise is that students can do it on their own and it's web-based - a combination that usually makes it more interesting for students," said Falbo. "The fact that we have these types of activities available as lesson plans on the RWLO library for teachers everywhere can greatly benefit instruction."

Leach said the Pathways project hopes to eventually have in excess of 200 RWLO's on the website - http://www.rwlo.org/.

Lone Star College–Montgomery's Professor of Education Christie Smith summed up the experience as one of leading by example.

"When you teach future teachers, you always have to watch how you deliver instruction and 'practice what you preach,'" said Smith. "These RWLO's and participation in the pathways project have made that easier to accomplish."

For more information on the Pathways Project, visit the website at: www.ciese.org/pathways/.

Lone Star College–Tomball is a member of the Lone Star College System. Lone Star College System comprises Lone Star College–CyFair, Lone Star College-Kingwood, Lone Star College–Montgomery, Lone Star College-North Harris, Lone Star College–Tomball, six satellite centers and The University Center.