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Release: Aug. 26, 1999

'Electronic backpacks' give education students a place to store work, experiences

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Next to a semester's supply of macaroni and cheese, backpacks are probably the most essential item on students' back-to-school shopping lists. How else can they haul around those 40-pound textbooks, spiral notepads, snacks and CDs?

This fall, however, some education majors at the University of Iowa will get backpacks of another sort: an "electronic backpack" -- essentially dedicated Web space -- where they can record and store class notes, projects and field experiences in the form of text, photos and even audio and video files. The information will be used to enrich the students' learning experiences and later be assembled into an electronic portfolio that potential employers can access via the Internet.

Ultimately the materials could be used for an electronic "toolbox" to improve a teacher's work in the classroom, to share information with other educators or to let parents know about a teacher's education, experience, philosophy and techniques.

"I like to call it a framework for professional development," said John Achrazoglou, lecturer/program associate and coordinator of Instructional Technology at the College of Education.

Achrazoglou and Rebecca Anthony, director of the Educational Placement Office, began developing the framework after recognizing the tremendous potential computers and the Internet offered for gathering, organizing and conveying dramatically the knowledge and skills accumulated in college.

About three years ago Achrazoglou and Anthony developed electronic portfolios as a way to improve the marketability of new education graduates. Principals and other employers can visit a graduate's web site and find the requisite resume, as well as lesson plans, samples of projects produced by students under the teacher's guidance and even video clips of actual classroom sessions. By virtue of having a Web site, new teachers also make it clear that they are computer- and Internet-savvy -- increasingly important in today's tech-friendly classrooms.

Achrazoglou said about 300 students have created electronic portfolios to date.

"We think this idea will work in any professional or academic setting," he said, adding that classes on electronic portfolios offered the past two summers have attracted students from business, art and other majors. "Employers are really enthusiastic. Tech skills are up there with communication and writing skills as a requirement in the job market."

Although students already had to accumulate materials for the portfolio in the past, the "backpack" provides tips on organizing the material in a coherent way, as well as Web space. This is especially important for prospective educators. In addition to meeting certain academic criteria, in 2001 Iowa teachers will be required to meet certain performance standards that might best be illustrated using testimonials, classroom video and other information suited to a Web presentation.

"This will be a powerful way to convey that information," Anthony said. "What we really want to do is position our students now so that when performance indicators are mandated our students will already have a head start, not just on a paper basis, but in an electronic format."

This semester about 150 students enrolled in the Technology in the Classroom Course will receive the backpacks.

"Once you have it, you can always go back, update it, enhance it, because as a college student you're always growing and learning," Anthony said. "Whenever you access it, you are using technology skills to add, to edit, to enhance."