Linda Slakey, Division of Undergraduate Education

LINDA SLAKEY: Thank you. It's a big assignment to represent the things that Cora would have said. So I actually have two spots on the program. Your program will say that Cora is here, and also that I was going to be here.

So, I'm going to begin by setting some context of teacher education as a priority in the whole directorate for education and human resources, and then move onto some things that I particularly want to share with you, also of director-wide interest. But, particularly things on which I've taken a leadership role and the division of undergraduate education has taken a leadership role.

So, here we are, then, dealing with the question of, how should the directorate for education and human resources support teacher education? And you notice I frame it in terms of new students and new challenges. It'll be more evident why I've focused, especially, on the ways that students are changing in present times, as we get a little farther into the presentation.

I think, when Cora and I were both at this meeting last year, we told you, as I recall, we made remarks, but we didn't actually have slides, that of the work of the directorate, when Cora came on board, she organized it. It gave us a framework for thinking about it, based on five themes. We've actually added one to the themes. So the one that I always place first, if I'm doing the presentation, is "Enriching the education of STEM teachers." So she's basically calling on the whole directorate, whatever is the core work of a particular division, to think about what part they play in making sure that teachers at every level, college and university and K-12, are as effective as they can be. And, of course, one of the things that I liked about these themes, and about talking about them, is that they're each-- they can each be kind of seen as a gateway into the overall work of education of STEM education.

You can see, yourselves, given the way you construct your MSP projects, that you're working on, certainly, at least three of these. Because everyone takes it as part of their task to broaden participation. So, even though there's a whole segment of the directorate that has that as a major mission, broadening participation is everyone's work. And, both in last year's conference and this year's conference, you've also been very focused on the extent to which the math and science partnerships are working to promote learning through research and evaluation.

So, as I've said before, some of you who've heard me speak in other contexts know that I often quote the MSP program as an example of the way we really should be constructing all our programs. And, what I mean by that, is that, from the very inception of the program, it was entered into the programming structure to pay serious attention to assessment and evaluation. So, it didn't come along kind of after the fact, saying "Well, how well are you doing?" It's right there in the structure. And that's given rise to very rich data set, which many of you are beginning to mine very effectively.

So, I want to switch gears a little bit, here, to just share with you the product of some conversations that the division directors in EHR had. A little over a year ago, when we had a retreat, we were dealing, in part of the retreat, with this topic of how should the directorate approach education. And Cora challenged me to kind of come up with a new way of thinking about it that would help us.

Again, she's often thinking about how to place our thinking in a context. So, I began thinking about education from a developmental perspective. And I thought "How do you end up with adults who are confident in their ability to use scientific knowledge?" Well, you start with children, who are innately curious. And you hope that, over the long process in which you get from children, little children asking "Why," to an adult who's still really interested in using evidence in their thinking What that whole long process, in which people gain conceptual understanding and begin to buy into the consensus of the way we think about things, that in all of that time, that they're progressing in the way that they feel confident about and able to use the knowledge of the STEM disciplines.

So, if we let the developmental trajectory, here, focus on a particular adult working choice, that is, the person who chooses, as an adult, to be a teacher, and we see that, for the moment, as what the trajectory is heading for, then all of this happens, of course, in a school system. There are age-appropriate and system-appropriate ways in which that goes forward during the school time, at every one of those stages, sometimes more than others at particular stages. But, there's a common set of questions that you have to be concerned about at all the stages. Are the students being drawn in or put off?

We all know that one of the big challenges is that we lose people at various stages along the way, because they find the work too demanding or not interesting. Does their confidence increase? And again, we all know of opposite outcomes. The one that's been focused on, of course, are essential skills and knowledge acquired? For far too long, we've defined that as what the teaching is about at every level. But, of course, it is essential. And so, that needs to be part of our planning.

And then, we increasingly are having business and industry, and indeed, our own thinking about societal problems, put the demand on us that we be able to apply our learning in everyday situations.

And finally, a key element is that we want to be sure that the material that we work so hard to have students come to an understanding of, is actually retained. So, now, how does that actually play out in NSF programming? Well, if we think about a subset of the teacher population, the ones that are dealing with K-12 and even kindergarten, then the NSF programming--and this is very much at the heart of MSP's work-- is supporting gains in STEM knowledge and conceptual understanding. And, particularly if your own focus is K-12, you might have a tendency to think "Well, if we're getting that part right, we're getting it right."

Because I'm the division director for the Division of Undergraduate Education, I tend to be very aware that all of these same questions still obtain undergraduate and graduate work. And that they're the same challenges of keeping the students engaged and making sure that the teaching is done in a way that the information is retained. And here, the NSF programming has to focus on the acquisition of teaching skills.

We're usually dealing with STEM professionals who are already on top of the material, but unhappily, not necessarily as on top of all of the things that it takes to be effective in the classroom. And so, our programming, at that level, tends to be more focused on activities that improve the teaching skills. And the thing that I love about the MSP program is that it brings the elements together. It's, again, a model program, in the sense that it has very rich and robust partnerships between K-12 and the STEM disciplinary practitioners, the faculty at colleges and universities. And so, you really demonstrate and embody a community that we can turn to when we really need that richness of understanding, that communication between the STEM disciplinary side and the expertise in helping children learn. So that's kind of an underpinning for the way, certainly, that I think about the whole picture, and increasingly, the way that we think about the picture as we try to frame our specific activities for improving teacher education.

Now, I'll switch gears, yet again, because one of the things that Cora and I were asked, between us, to address is to help you make some sense out of the current political climate for teacher education. It's certainly a very interesting moment. As we're sitting here, having what will turn out to be a conversation, because in a few minutes I'm going to invite you to participate in it, Congress is working on a stimulus bill, as I'm sure you're all aware. And, if you've been reading the small print on the stimulus bill, as it's made its way through the House, there was a significant investment in teacher education and explicit investment in both the MSP program and the Noyce program. It's still being marked up in the Senate, and so, it's too early to know where we're actually going to come out in that particular piece of legislation. But that's really only emblematic of the fact that the last Congress--and it appears to be the case this Congress, as well-- feel very invested in teacher education. So I think I can say, with some confidence, that you can look for investment in this area, both through the MSP program continuing to be robust, and particularly very targeted investment in the Noyce scholarship program, which I think all of you are aware of-- And has closely related interest, but focused on the money being available to the participants. At the same time, it's a very interesting moment in the private philanthropic center or sector, with the Exxon Mobile Corporation having put $100 million dollars into efforts to replicate the You-Teach Model at the University of Texas Austin.So that's gotten a lot of visibility. It's gotten a whole set of very visible institutions engaged in focusing on teacher education.

And finally, the National Association of State University and Land Grant Colleges, it's about to change that acronym. I Googled on it right before I came to see whether the new name was appropriate yet. So, you Google on NASULGC, you still get their Web page. And it doesn't announce the name change. But, it's going to change to the Association of Public Colleges and Universities, something smaller. Anyway, they decided, two years ago, that they wanted to launch a new project that would be a major focus of the association for several years. And, after debating a number of things they could take on, they decided to take on science and mathematics teacher education. So they just, this past fall, had a public roll-out at their annual meeting of an effort to get all of their members, some 200 or so of the largest colleges and universities, to make a commitment that they were going to invest, explicitly, in improving science and mathematics teacher education on their campuses. Now, of course, not everyone will buy into it. You can already see some of the responses they got from some of their members were not enthusiastic. But others were highly enthusiastic.

So again, it's a moment in which, on many campuses, there's going to be a focus of attention on science and mathematics teacher preparation. So really, a very interesting time to be in this business.

You probably-- Most of you know these things. But I just want to remind you of the various contexts at a programmatic level, at which the NSF explicitly supports teacher preparation initiatives. The Math and Science Partnerships, of course, the largest and most visible of the entities at this time, the Robert Noyce Scholarships that I already alluded to, and about which you're going to hear more from Joan. You may or may not be aware that the Advanced Technological Education Program, which has a focus on two-year colleges and explicit workforce preparation. So, much of its activity has to do with generating curricula and partnerships between community colleges and industry, that prepares people to work particularly in the partner industries. But, it also has an arm that's about technological education at the high school level. So, some of its big projects are explicitly about the preparation of teachers who will then be able to introduce technological material at the high school level. The two programs in the Division for Research on Learning, DR-K12 and REESE also have many ways in which you can apply to those programs to enhance specific activities for teacher education and for the preparation of teaching materials.

And finally, the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, a longstanding diversity program in the Division of Human Resource Development, in the last couple of years has launched a pilot in which some of its participant colleges and universities are making specific investments in teacher preparation, as well.

So, in addition to the two most highly visible programs, there are others, as well, that it's worth reading the solicitation, to see whether aspects of it are a fit for you. And I want to tell you, I didn't put this on the slide, but again, you may be aware that all over the foundation, in the research directorates, particularly when resources are distributed to some of the biggest centers, there will be an explicit insistence in the solicitation that there be outreach activities. And that's given rise to a broad spectrum of activities, not all of which have really good systemic grounding. Sometimes the beneficiaries will be middle and high schools in the immediate neighborhood of the center. And often, truly excellent things get done. But they'll impact on a small group of people who happen to be geographically close to the center.

The NSF is making a conscious effort to have people from EHR work closely with the program officers who manage the big center programs, so that those outreach efforts can become more systematic and more global in their effects. And I just want to give the MSP PIs fair warning that every time this conversation comes up, if I'm there, I say maybe one of the things that we should do is make sure that everyone is aware of where the nearest MSP is. Because there could be partnering between some of these big disciplinary related centers and MSPs, where the MSP would bring to the partnership its connection to the school districts and its understanding of what's really needed to enhance what's available in those schools. And the big disciplinary centers would then be prepared to make additional investment on the content side. So, you may be getting phone calls from people who say that they're doing some local big NSF disciplinary centers. You can blame me if you get phone calls like that, because I am beginning to encourage that we think of that as a way to kind of bring efforts together.

So let me come back, then, to a theme that I sounded in the title. What do I mean when I talk about new students? Now, of course, it's always been important for good teaching that you begin where the student is. That's a mantra that you all provide leadership and making the rest of the community aware of. But that really is shifting in contemporary times. The population of students that we have to deal with is increasingly diverse. It's increasingly technologically savvy, often much more so than the classroom teachers. And it's also just almost instantly, over the last several years, become accustomed to social networking as just a way of doing business, as a way of living. And this, right down to the smallest children, already equipped by their parents with their cell phones and their ability to do text messaging, kind of as soon as they learn their alphabet.

So, how does all of that impact on the way that we have to do our work? And it's reflected in some of our more recent statements of goals. Some of our goals are obvious. We need enough STEM teachers. We don't have that yet. We need a diverse STEM teacher pool, and we need a STEM teacher pool who's prepared to engage all students, including the full range of diversity of the students that they're dealing with. And we need, and have all along, needed teachers who are confident enough in their understanding of the material, that they can draw students in. But I'm going to add one to the list that hasn't been there before.

And here, I segue to the kind of new piece that I want to call your attention to, that I think hasn't been on the table nearly as explicitly before. We really need teacher leaders who can use and share cyber-learning resources. And I think that that's making a significant new demand on the system, but one that we really can't ignore.

Just about a year ago this time, Dr. Marrett and Dan Atkins who was, at that time, the director of the Office of Cyber Infrastructure at the National Science Foundation, convened a task group to advise them what they should be doing about cyber learning. And they actually coined the term "cyber learning." The invitation to them was to discuss what Cora called cyber-enabled learning. Now, they shortened it to cyber learning. So, they made some interesting recommendations. And it was evident to me, in reading their report, these were, of course, people whose expertise was in cyber technology. And so, they were coming from a high degree of confidence in handling that material.

When you talk to people for whom that's the bread and butter of their lives, one of the things you sometimes hear is that the whole of education is going to change. Because, after all, all of this material is going to be online. So, we should be thinking about how the whole thing is going to change radically. And, what always passes through my mind, at that time, is that I don't think the American school system is going to change. I mean, it's a whole social structure. It's our arrangement for making sure that young people get a whole range of, not only information, but a way they spend their day and become socialized. I find it difficult, no matter what happens to the cyber infrastructure, to imagine that we aren't going to have an arrangement in which we have a group of children with one or two adults in charge for the day. That looks like a school to me.

So, I think that the challenge, on the other hand, is cyber infrastructure, and the way that young people use it, isn't going to go away either. So, I really think we're at a moment in which those two things have to engage in a serious way. And that's exactly the moment at which the National Science Foundation has to come in, and something really new has to be done, something really new has to be supported. Let me tell you a little bit more about the advice the cyber learning task group gave us. First of all, they gave us their definition of cyber learning. And notice that they didn't just say the use of computing technologies. They really focused on the use of networked computing and communications technology to support learning. So, the emphasis is on the fact that, willy-nilly, we have access to all the information that's out there all the time. And so, the task becomes how to manage that, and how to digest it, how to use it in ways that are meaningful for teachers and for children. And then, cyber learning implies interactions among communities of learning across space and time.

This is where we won't need schools any more begins to creep in. And then, I begin to say "Well, I think we still will need schools." But the schools need to be a part of this whole picture. And another corollary of this is that customized interaction with diverse materials on any topic at any age, all of that flows from the availability of the networked information.

So anyway, there's the advice that I just summarized that the task group gave us. And they also suggested some key strategies, a way to organize the information again, as we go ahead with this task of trying to incorporate this into the way we do business. So, they recommended that we think in terms of funding the development and advancing of the technologies, enabling students to use data, and that, in the expansion of that notion, they were talking not only about setting up classrooms so that you're technically connected---- in fact, that'll become less and less necessary, as handheld devices become more dominant. But, it means enabling, in the curricular sense, of making sure that the ability to tap into and use big publicly available data sets becomes part of how we engage the students and how to think about things.

And the next one is really interesting, especially from the perspective that you've taken the last couple of years in your meeting, of doing research and assessment. And that is, remember that any learning that's done on the cyber infrastructure is captured. It creates its own data. So, you can go back later and say "Okay, if this was the question that was posed, how well did the students do?" And, without your making any extra effort, however the student interacted with the system is captured by the system. Or, at least, there's that technical potential.

So, the capacity to do education research will also get transformed by the cyber infrastructure. Support for broader audiences, again, we don't want to see the gap grow between those who are able to participate and those who are not. And then, they also want us to sustain cyber learning materials. Cyber learning materials are, by their nature, this funny dichotomy. I just alluded to the fact that the information and interaction can be captured and used for research. But, it's also true that it's not necessarily reliably built into any particular mounting of cyber information, that it will still be the next week or the next month or the next year. So, one of the things that the task group called on the NSF to do was to pay attention to the means by which we're making sure that materials that we invest in the development of stay available for a reasonable amount of time. And, as they got deeper into the report, and beyond the strategic thinking, I just pulled this out of a slide set that they prepared for public presentations, a point in which they acknowledge the importance of supporting teacher professional development. That we really must explicitly address the fact that we have an enormous cadre of experienced teachers who aren't necessarily of the generation that is innately comfortable with these materials and approaches. And so, it's a key challenge of the moment to think about how we do the teacher development that's necessary to bridge that gap. So, you can see why I would bring this to an MSP PI meeting, where you now have a long record of leadership in effective teacher professional development.

So, I want to pose some questions. I said that I wouldn't do all the talking. And, in an attempt to model the desired behavior, I never talk for the whole of the time allotted to me any more.

So I would like you, at your tables, to begin a conversation about this, which we can let go on for a few minutes. We're not in such a hurry that we can't spend, maybe, ten minutes on this conversation. I'd like you to actually just check around your own table and see how you envision school systems that make optimum use of the power of cyber learning. And not just-- I'm sure you know we're way past "Well, they have to spend money to get computers in the rooms." But, you know that that's really not the issue.

So, really start saying "What do we need to do, to get us to the point where we're making the best possible use of the cyber technology? And what might be the role of the MSP program?" So that you can tell us where the MSP program is the one that really should be providing some of the leadership.

So, you can see, then, that I've now fore grounded a third of the themes, that is, promoting cyber-enabled learning. And I'm really inviting you to let that begin to be a focus of your work going forward.

And I'll just put the questions back up so you have them in front of you while you're talking about it. So, let's spend, maybe, ten minutes actually working on that as a group. And then we can't go around all the tables, there are too many of you.

But I will ask a few volunteers to share what they've decided. Thank you.