Transforming Idaho education

Last Updated 19 December, 2016

The need for education reform in America, and particularly Idaho, has filled this year’s headlines and evening newscasts. Northwest Nazarene University’s new Doceo Center is serious about helping Idaho educators change that story. “Idaho has some of the most dedicated and able teachers that I have seen,” says Dr. Eric Kellerer, director of the Center. “But still only half of our 8th graders are proficient in math or reading, and we are the lowest state in the nation for sending students on to college.”

The NNU Doceo Center exists to inspire personalized learning in pre-school through college-level classrooms by use of innovative practices in education. “The mission of the Center is the same as that of the university,” Kellerer explains. “We’re seeking transformation both on and off campus.”

Fifth grade teacher Amy Ackley (’01) was able to witness the power of what the NNU Doceo Center is offering after it helped her implement iPad use in her classroom. “Technology gave my students a voice,” Ackley shares. One boy who had never raised his hand or talked in class was able to communicate with the iPad in front of him with no hesitation. “For the first time, I got to hear what he was thinking. That’s powerful!”

“I have kids who have created things—mastered things—that I never could have imagined before. When you allow change and allow the fear of change to be set aside, you allow great things to happen,” Ackley explains. Her experience with the Center and the transformation she saw in her students inspired Ackley to join the team at NNU. “I’m excited to share this vision we have with others and to expand the opportunities for professional development and consulting with teachers and administrators throughout the state.”

The NNU Doceo Center is also entering year two of its Kahn Academy pilot project—a program that helps students to fill in gaps in their learning on a individual level through the use of laptops or tablets. Over 10,000 students participated the first year, and the Center will add another 10,000 students in the second. Through this pilot program, Kellerer and his team are seeking to answer the question, “In what cases does a student learn the most?”

“It’s exciting to watch the transformation that happens in the classroom as students begin to engage and learn,” Kellerer shares. “We want to take what we’ve learned from Khan Academy and see if it will transfer to different blended learning platforms.” The report from the first year of the pilot program has not yet been published, but it is safe to say that integrating technology into the classroom has been a success.

On the NNU campus, the Center is working to integrate technology more fully into the classroom and everyday life of NNU’s students. To aid classroom development, the Center is awarding grants to faculty and staff who wish to purchase technology or technical services for use in general education or teacher education courses. The Center has awarded $39,000 in technology and professional development funds for this autumn alone. These mini-grants, spread across 10 departments on campus, will help to enhance student academic outcomes and fund professional development for faculty.

The establishment of the NNU Doceo Center and its programs was made possible by grant funding from the J.A. & Kathryn Albertson Foundation. This funding allowed NNU to become part of the greater Doceo Center initiative begun by their foundation specifically for educational reform in Idaho.

NNU’s newest building, the Leah Peterson Learning Commons, will house the Center. This space will expand opportunities for integrating technology on campus and resourcing educators around the state. Kellerer’s goal is that the Learning Commons will be a space where students think differently about learning and teachers think innovatively about teaching.

Planned technology for the building includes collaborative, small-group learning spaces with shared displays and a MultiTaction board—a 10’ x 5’ multiuser, multitouch LCD display that will allow students to manipulate and display information from their tablets or smart phones. NNU is also collaborating with the University of Central Florida on avatar technology designed to assist student teachers with the development of classroom skills.

As the reach and capabilities of the Center grow, Kellerer hopes that other states and universities will begin looking to Idaho and NNU as an example. “Idaho is small enough to see change happen quickly, but large enough to show how ideas can be replicated in other parts of the country and world. Good ideas spread rapidly.”