The first class ever - Instructional Media and Technology - began Monday in the University of Jamestown's newly installed SmartLab. It's a required course in the Teacher Education Department where future teachers will experience what their future students will be experiencing.

Dr. Leann Nelson, the Teacher Education Department chair, facilitates the class. Neither she nor these future teachers will "teach" in a SmartLab.

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"I'll facilitate, in other words, I'm available if they have questions they haven't been able to answer or need an information source they can't find on their own," Nelson said.

Students in a SmartLab apply technology to projects of their own design. As the small group works together on the decided project they learn critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration and more next generation skills. They also take responsibility for their own learning

The university invested $100,000 in the lab that will serve grades K-12 and the 18 UJ-student lab. Having chosen SmartLab, Nelson said, they connected with North Dakota's Center for Distance Learning. The center wanted a project-based learning program that blends STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) with curricular content in a smart lab that's designed for North Dakota K-12 students. To accomplish this goal, NDCDE has partnered with Creative Learning Systems in designing a SmartLab program customized for North Dakota schools.

"Once we decided on a SmartLab we went to NDCDE," Nelson said.

Creative Learning Systems' SmartLab comes with Dell all-in-one computers, additional software, fully assembled project kits and a curriculum.

"Creative Learning Systems provided everything including the resources," she said. "The only thing we had to provide was the room."

It's a STEM-based program where students focus on development of problem-solving skills, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and design principles in the projects. The students in the university's class are learning just as students in the classroom will learn in the STEM-based program. However, these students will also go online to learn about what they'll be doing in their future classrooms using the CLS.curriculum and resources NDCDE wanted.

"This curriculum is used for future teachers to do their lesson plans," Nelson said. "What we're doing is integrating technology into teaching and learning."

As this class is required for all the future teachers in the department, it includes students with majors in elementary, middle school and high school education.

"Students are partnered with people on the same grade level with other students with the same major," she said.

The Education Department faculty is also going to be trained in the SmartLab.

"Right now, we're being trained to be SmartLab facilitators," Nelson said. "Next semester every faculty member will utilize one class in the SmartLab based on their curriculum and what SmartLab resources align with their lesson plans."

Then there are the community and schools.

"Our biggest discussion was how are we going to connect to the community and partner with area schools," Nelson said.

Community connection may still be in the background, schools are not.

"Our vision is to have SmartLab education camps for teacher and kids," Nelson said. "A teacher would bring her class to the SmartLab where students would actually do a project-based lesson facilitated by UJ's future teachers."

Other avenues are also being explored.

"We're a resource for surrounding schools," she said. "We want to work with area schools and teachers on learning more about SmartLabs and STEM and how they're integrated."