Ashley Laughlin, For The Miami Student

Project BackPac, a new program of the Miami University education department, allows student teachers to access Skype, SmartBoard applications and other advanced educational technology services in classrooms that do not have the resources to do so otherwise.

Wendy New, the student teacher supervisor, said the project allows students to create exciting and interesting lessons. She spoke of a specific student who used the backpac during her student teaching, in a classroom whose only technology consisted of an overhead projector. The students became eager to participate and engage in the colorful screens.

Doug Brooks, professor of teacher education and founder of Project BackPac, has championed the integration of technology into student teaching classrooms for nearly 30 years.

This program started off with four backpacs, funded by the Student Technology Fee Grant program in fall 2009, according to Brooks. Currently, there are 11 backpacs. Brooks says the department is applying for 16 more backpacs for future use.

The cost, weight and ecological footprint of the backpacs have been cut down now, costing approximately $3,000 a piece. The price is estimated to continually decrease.

“The large screen projector is the size of the palm of your hand,” Brooks said. “Very cool.”

MacBook Pro laptops, Sony digital cameras and projectors, eInstruction student response sets, liveScribe pens, flipcams, tripods and all the necessary cords make technology portable, according to Brooks. Each backpac is customizable to complement whatever technology the student teacher would like to incorporate in the classroom. Brooks said digital curriculums, Android tablets and online blended courses may be incorporated in the future.

New said the children look forward to the interactive elements, videos and to use the SmartBoard screen.

“It is a great project,” she said.

However, there have been instances when students want to use a backpac, but they were not available until several weeks into the semester. New speculates the pacs returned from the previous semester were returned in very poor condition, necessitating an extensive amount of work to restore them to a useable condition.

“My goal is to make Project BackPac a program feature at Miami and not just a prototype,” Brooks said.

She also mentioned that the program consists of 16 weeks of team-based professional development on emerging technologies.

“It is always fun to see an idea mature from a prototype into a program feature,” she said.

This project has gained full support from the Dean and the Director of Technology Services in the School of Eduation, Health and Society, Dr. Carine Feyten said.

“We are very proud of Project BackPac,” Feyten said.

The student teachers are considered beneficiaries of the project because of the backpacs, and often they arrive with tools their mentors wish they had. The backpac makes Miami’s student teachers very attractive as new hires, according to Brooks.

“Our students deserve to be introduced to the possibilities of emerging technologies,” Brooks said. “We send them into the field with backpacs that include survival resources.”