Future teachers at The University of Scranton have interacted with students from around the world, including a small, rural village in Alaska and Rome, Italy. However, some of their greatest lessons are being imparted right here in northeastern Pennsylvania. Technology is at the heart of all of these endeavors, according to Sandy Pesavento, faculty specialist in Scranton's Education Department.
Pesavento incorporates technology into all of her classes, helping future teachers gain the knowledge and confidence necessary to use every electronic aid available to enhance student learning. She said that due to the “Classrooms of the Future” program launched by the administration of former Gov. Ed Rendell, most classrooms in Pennsylvania are now equipped with two very high-tech learning tools: SMARTboards (interactive whiteboards) and a videoconferencing capabilities.
“Although most classrooms now have the technology, many teachers don't know how to use it,” Pesavento said. That's where University of Scranton education students help. They become quite competent with the technology in Pesavento's classroom and they, in turn, teach the teachers.
“By the time our students graduate, they are well prepared to use the technology in their own classrooms,” said Pesavento.
The technological aids are more than just “bells and whistles.” A SMARTboard, for example, is not just a souped-up chalkboard. It makes learning interactive. “It engages students,” Pesavento said, by allowing learners to launch a video with a touch or by permitting them to click and drag items. Suppose a lesson focuses on the geography of China. A teacher can ask a student to approach the board and touch the map to locate an important city. The feedback is instantaneous and “allows the teacher to readily assess the student,” Pesavento said.
As for videoconferencing, Pesavento uses it to connect her students to the world. Using this communication tool, Scranton students have delivered lessons to classrooms in Kentucky, Nebraska, Massachusetts, South Carolina, New Jersey, Alaska and even Italy. Pesavento explained that it’s beneficial for both her students, as well as the students who are being taught, by allowing for the development of communication skills and cultural awareness. For example, she said the students in the small village of Alaska have very limited communication outside of the village and this is something they need to work on.
“Videoconferencing allows for our students to practice their teaching skills and the younger students to communicate outside of the village,” said Pesavento. "Additionally, the cultural exchange is invaluable. Students learn about the difference in cultures that they did not know existed, even within the United States.”
Whether connecting to points across the globe or lighting up learning with an interactive SMARTboard lesson, Pesavento said the students' reactions are always the same. “Everyone is engaged,” she said. “Everyone is excited, on both sides.”