One of the poorest places in the U.S. is pioneering teacher education.
Sumter County, Alabama, ranks in the ten lowest counties for average household income in the U.S. It’s a region of the American South known as the Black Belt, named after its wide belt of fertile black topsoil. Despite the area’s long history of economic struggle, Sumter is also home to one of the most successful and innovative teacher education programs in the country.
The University of West Alabama (UWA) is a small regional institution that has trained teachers since its founding in 1935. Most UWA students are first-generation college students that come from low-performing, at-risk schools. Although many arrive at college unprepared, that hasn’t stopped them from succeeding in this topnotch program. UWA’s College of Education is on a mission to produce an excellent, prepared workforce of teachers ready to make meaningful changes in Alabama’s schools. Thus far, they’ve not only met but surpassed that goal.
“GoReact is a life saver, a time saver, and a money saver. It’s all of those things for us.” —Dr. Jan G. Miller, College of Education Dean
Today, the university offers every kind of teaching education imaginable: elementary ed, early childhood, special education K-12, and 47 different graduate programs. UWA has also offered online degrees for over fifteen years. Nearly 90% of their 3,000 online graduates come from the College of Education, and for the last seven years, UWA had the highest number of graduates in education in the entire state. With that kind of high-level performance, many are asking how UWA is doing it—and how they’ve beaten the odds.
Challenges at UWA
Because of the unique demographic UWA serves, they also have a unique set of hurdles to overcome. Every year CAEP raises the bar for teacher education candidates, which is difficult for the many students already struggling to meet GPA requirements. In 2018, edTPA certification will also become consequential in Alabama. UWA had been looking for a solution for years to help their students meet CAEP standards and pass the edTPA certification test.
Another tough challenge is travel. UWA has a travel budget for observing interns, but onsite observations have become more and more expensive. Traveling supervisors need funds for hotels, meals, gas, and more just to observe two-hour lessons around the state, sometimes up to four hours away. The number of observations to be performed is only escalating with the online program serving more interns than ever. But the College of Education’s travel budget has stayed the same. One year, UWA was upwards of $30,000 over their set travel budget.
They knew they needed to make a big change, one that would decrease spending and prepare their students for successful teaching careers. For them, a technology solution was exactly what they needed.
What’s Their Secret?
The College of Education started hunting for a device that would prepare interns for certification and lower program travel costs. They needed a video tool to record lessons, help interns reflect on their performance, and spare their supervisors hours of driving for observations. GoReact happened to be the perfect choice for all three. As UWA introduced GoReact software into the teacher ed program, they quickly discovered that video feedback was the answer to every problem they were facing. It allowed interns to watch themselves teach and become instantly self-aware of their performance. It completely eliminated the need to travel four hours for an observation. And GoReact’s time-coded comments allowed UWA’s supervisors to give better feedback than ever. Some of them watch five teachers in a day without even leaving their office or home—and they’re giving ten times more notes on their observations too. Supervisors even have the option of leaving video comments on interns’ videos by turning around the camera and modeling a teaching technique on film. This is the kind of feedback you can’t even put on paper.
After a successful pilot, UWA now uses GoReact for graduate and undergraduate teacher education, instructional leadership, school counseling, library media, and more.
Problems GoReact Solves
No Bulky Equipment
Instead of expensive, complicated equipment, the interns now use their own smartphones and laptops to record. Some of the most traditional, non-tech savvy supervisors in the program have become GoReact’s biggest supporters. It’s that easy to use.
The Black Belt region is very rural, so many schools don’t have Wi-Fi or don’t give the interns the password. GoReact allows students to record on their phones and upload their videos later when they have Internet access. Low bandwidth is never an issue.
GoReact integrates seamlessly with most university LMS systems. At UWA, they currently use Blackboard Learn. After some initial concern about integration with Blackboard, faculty have caught on that GoReact works right in the environment they’re used to.
UWA has cut their travel expenses drastically by using GoReact to observe interns. Each student is being observed more frequently and getting more notes for each session. The result? Interns are improving faster while the program is keeping costs low.
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Student and Staff Reactions to GoReact
Naturally, the interns were nervous to use GoReact at first. Aside from the discomfort of filming themselves, they were also scared that their supervisors would judge them more harshly when reviewing the video. But after that initial recording, UWA’s interns claimed this was the first video experience that made them feel at ease. Now they can watch themselves teach and reflect on their performance right from the beginning of their program. This gives them the power to make important changes to their teaching sooner rather than later. Supervisors also found that the feedback they shared in GoReact became a springboard for more learning and more discussions. Their GoReact comments almost always came up later in conversations and emails with their interns because they were internalizing the feedback. Of course some supervisors were hesitant about GoReact too. Many of UWA’s supervising faculty are retired teachers who aren’t big fans of technology. They were worried this tool would be difficult and just one more complication in their job, but the complete opposite turned out to be true. As soon as they realized how simple GoReact was, they’ve never gone back to taking handwritten notes. Why go back when they were giving more feedback than ever in less time?
“I like that GoReact is easy for anyone to use and immediately. There’s no complicated training, and it’s simple, quick, and does what it’s intended to do. It’s a great product, and it’s really been what we need.” —Susan Hester, Black Belt Teacher Corps Coordinator
“Lots of interns are four hours away, but now they can send me videos of specific things they need me to see. Sometimes they just record the whole lesson. It’s great because I can refine the video, stop the video, and have them watch the feedback any time. It’s non-threatening and very user friendly.” —Sara Reynolds, Coordinator of Clinical Experiences
“We have a success story that happened just yesterday. This person serves in the military, and he’s going to be gone overseas. We can continue working with him while he’s deployed because of GoReact. He’ll be able to go into a classroom, do all the things he wanted to do, and still serve our country. How awesome is that?” —Jan G. Miller, College of Education Dean
Looking to the Future
The team at UWA is creatively pioneering new solutions in teacher ed to meet the challenges of our changing education landscape. And it shows. Their next round of initiatives with GoReact include developing new rubrics within GoReact, teaching classroom management skills, building a library of exemplary videos from UWA students, implementation in the nursing education program, and more.
More than anything, the faculty are thrilled to see how GoReact helps them serve teaching interns every day. When asked how she would sum up her experience with GoReact, Dean Jan G. Miller said, “It’s a tool that helps us improve the quality of teacher education.”
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