From professional development to statewide educational content, MTSU’s high-tech College of Education produces more than just new teachers
The Tennessee legislature created what is today MTSU in 1911. It did so specifically for the purpose of training new teachers.
Nowadays, MTSU’s more than century-old history of grooming educators is bolstered by an in-house, high-tech, educational media operation aimed at further strengthening Tennessee’s PreK–12 education. It does so by providing seasoned teachers with continuing education and school districts with a steady flow of educational content.
In that respect, MTSU’s modern-day College of Education is more than simply one of the largest producers of teachers in the mid-South (which it is). Boasting capabilities ranging from onsite and online professional development to TV and video production, the college offers a decidedly new-age approach to its now 106-year-old mission.
Mind you, being high-tech and cutting edge isn’t new to MTSU’s College of Education. For nearly two decades, the college’s satellite capability alone placed it among the rare colleges of education nationwide with the ability to broadcast timely educational content to school districts from Mountain City to Memphis desperate for it.
In 2017, though, the college’s arsenal of media offerings has been fine-tuned in such a way as to become a crucial resource to PreK–12 educators statewide. In doing so, MTSU’s College of Education—and specifically the staff of its Center for Educational Media (CEM)—serves economies across Tennessee without themselves being teachers or educators.
One might say the college achieves all this through adherence to a simple mantra: Because teachers never stop learning, MTSU never stops teaching.
The College of Education frequently hosts hundreds of veteran teachers on campus, providing the region’s educators the opportunity to convene and to focus on the newest methodologies and standards in teaching.
The recent creation of several new campus spaces for teacher training has further cemented MTSU’s reputation for teacher improvement in Tennessee. The College of Education recently unveiled a massive renovation of the Learning Resources Center (LRC) that culminated in the creation of a 150-seat Professional Development Center for use by veteran teachers and teacher candidates alike.
“It offers even more of an opportunity to expand our outreach and extend our hand to PreK–12,” Dean Lana Seivers said. “We always have our hand out to them to ask, ‘Would you take a student in residency?’ But now we can offer this back to them in a larger setting than in the past.”
Beyond bricks and mortar, though, it is the College of Education’s aforementioned cutting-edge technological capabilities that truly provide teachers statewide (especially in remote and economically challenged districts) with the kind of support and ongoing training they need. The high-tech aspects built in to the 150-seat auditorium, which has been up-and-running since May of 2015, serve as a sterling example. Events held there can be streamed, Skyped, recorded, and sent out—whatever school districts need.
Tennessee requires 30 hours of in-service professional development for public school teachers each year. Many districts also require extra training. That could be in the form of a local seminar with specific content, a college course, or online education about an academic subject or pedagogy. Completing that work takes time and, often, money. And, not unlike in corporate America, budget-conscious districts find it increasingly harder to fund a seminar or travel to a conference.
To meet that need, the CEM produces, edits, and curates relevant educational videos (including original content far beyond what can be recorded onsite at the LRC). By doing so, it has created a niche for itself as a provider of free content that can be used by any teacher in the state as part of required professional development hours. (After a teacher logs in and completes a video, the center sends a report to the district to confirm credit.)
Videos for the PreK–12 educator audience run the gamut from math assessment to digital media’s impact on child’s play. Programs on topics such as current policy shifts, bullying prevention, STEM education, and literacy stay in high demand. Recently, the CEM worked on video content related to dyslexia studies (see related article on the college’s Center for Dyslexia on page 10).
The emphasis on developing more original professional development video using resources available on campus can be seen most recently in a brand-new English language learner video series created, directed, and produced in-house by CEM staff. The project provides needed support to teachers who are not certified through ESL but who have English learners in their classes (which is basically everyone), even in a math class.
“Professional development budgets don’t always allow for all the different experiences we’d like,” said Terry Sue Fanning (’84, ’92), supervisor of instructional programs for Lincoln County Schools. “What MTSU does is low- or no-cost and high-quality, so it’s a win for the budget, a win for the teacher—a win for all of us.”
Much of that educational video production accomplished by the CEM staff is used to enhance what the college is doing on its own TV station.
The College of Education operates the Education Resource Channel (ERC) at MTSU, which provides programming to communities in six Tennessee counties. Chartered by the Murfreesboro Cable Commission, the channel specializes in community and educational programming, combining original content created and produced by CEM staff on campus with content purchased from vendors like Annenberg. All content is specific to PreK–12 professional development, PreK–12 education for student consumption, or community programming.
The channel has always been a trusted provider of educational programming, although not always the most interesting channel on the menu. CEM, though, brought it to life. The CEM creative staff was tasked with making more interesting programming that still fit the mission.
They met the challenge. Examples of quality programming created in-house include:
• a joint initiative to capture PreK–12 professional development programs at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s new Taylor Swift Education Center
• a series of programs promoting student success called “Grind Your Be,” in partnership with the MTSU School of Behavioral and Health Sciences
• La Comunidad Inicios documentary telling the story of Latin American student success at MTSU, through a Tennessee Board of Regents grant
• collaboration on the monthly Out of the Blue show, highlighting University events of interest to the broader community and co-produced with MTSU Marketing and Communications
ERC is also a public educational government (PEG) station—one of hundreds of small, independent stations (with small budgets) located across the U.S. The college shares all of its original programming on PEG, providing a significant marketing boost for MTSU outside its local market.
All of this content accumulates in a statewide archive accessible to teachers, schools, and communities statewide. But how do they access it all?
Increasingly, they do so live over the internet. The CEM is in the midst of a major shift away from its once cutting-edge statewide satellite system (MTSU had been the only Tennessee university with a statewide satellite and webcasting network) to a streaming digital platform.
Already, any time anyone steps in to CEM’s new broadcast facilities they can livestream their event to smartphones or school computer screens anywhere. In all, CEM manages over $3.1 million in satellite, television, and webcasting equipment, most of it housed in the LRC.
Given that capability, the possibilities are limitless. For instance, rural school districts could build a consortium to pool their limited individual resources to coordinate seminars on MTSU’s campus that meet their needs and could be streamed back to them at a fraction of the cost. Essentially, MTSU can support their needs at a distance, and the district spends less money.
Beyond developing compelling educational programming, the CEM audio-visual team also serves the campus academic community.
In 2016, the division partnered with eight different colleges at MTSU on video production projects showcasing the work of faculty and/or students. MTSU faculty are now openly solicited to write CEM’s audio-visual services into their grant proposals, as funding sources increasingly wish to see data collection, interviews, and analysis rendered in video format as opposed to lengthy documents. Video also serves as a viable means not just of documenting subject matter but storytelling what researchers have done within a grant project to produce results.
It’s not every university that has an entity like the CEM to help scientists with their grant work—more less such capability stemming from under the auspices of a College of Education.
One final technological role CEM now plays on campus involves leadership in MTSU’s ongoing commitment to improve access for all individuals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The CEM has become the go-to entity for closed captioning campus-wide.
Prior to taking up this cause, closed captioning was virtually nonexistent on campus. In an effort to change that, CEM has partnered with the MTSU Information Access Team, Disability and Access Center, Walker Library, Academic and Instructional Technology Services, and the ADA director to implement the MTSU Accessibility Plan.
The focus of the effort is on information accessibility—meaning course syllabi, any printed material posted online, websites including, the MTSU website, and any videos posted on campus. CEM has focused on video captioning and audio description and is now building the on-staff know-how (and acquiring necessary equipment) to handle this task for the University at large. So novel is this type of programming among Tennessee universities that the CEM staff had to visit out-of-state universities to find ones doing it well (such as Georgia Tech and the University of Illinois). This is truly a University service.
A Special Place
Such innovation in all of these technological areas feeds the College of Education’s end goal to be the alpha and the omega for the education and teaching communities statewide. Many school districts are just learning about the CEM’s capacity, while others—such as Lincoln County, where Fanning works—have partnered for years.
“MTSU is unique,” Fanning said. “Some colleges do things along this line, but those usually are not free and don’t have this wealth of offerings.”
Every year, the College of Education at MTSU produces more than its fair share of fresh-faced teachers for schools across Tennessee and the mid-South. But as a result of the CEM, the teacher training MTSU provides doesn’t end there.
“Research shows that the single biggest impact on child learning is making teachers better,” said Laura Clark, CEM director. “We can do that.”
By Drew Ruble and Vicky Travis
To read this Aspire Magazine story and others: Aspire
Have any questions or comments? Contact us at: Darby.Campbell@mtsu.edu