Certifying Educators for a Technological World

From: Public Affairs

Not so many years ago, "technology" in a school classroom was an overhead projector and a television set. The technological world that today's teachers face is an array of iPods, laptops, smart phones, smart boards and whatever tools and applications quickly follow them.

Determining the best use of the day's technology is a challenging job for teachers. But there is help in the form of NETS*T Certification, a professional development and assessment system developed and accredited by James Madison University and educators in the Shenandoah Valley.

Through NETS*T Certification, educators learn new technologies and how to integrate them into their teaching to enhance learning among their students. By diversifying their instruction methods with the aid of appropriate technologies, teachers can "reach" students using visual, auditory and kinetic tools, whatever channel best suits an individual student. Not only do teachers use the technology in the classroom, they teach their students how to use the tools, further engaging them in learning.

NETS*T Certification has been licensed to a start-up company, James Madison Partners for Education Inc. The new company is the second venture established to take technologies developed at JMU to the marketplace. To ensure the highest academic standards of the program, JMPE and the university work closely under a formal private/public partnership.

The mission of JMPE is to offer affordable and innovative educational technology tools and professional certification programs to educators. The new company is taking the software tool invented by Dr. Rich Ingram, coordinator for technology and special projects in JMU's College of Education, and teachers affiliated with the Shenandoah Valley Technology Consortium to the marketplace to benefit educators and society on a larger scale, Ingram said.

What became the JMU NETS*T Certification program, Ingram's software, began in 2003 to meet an immediate need for assessment of educators' skills in "using technology effectively to enhance teaching and learning," Ingram said. With initial support from the Virginia Department of Education, the development of NETS*T Certification meshed the professional standards established by the International Society for Technology in Education with a means of providing professional development and performance certification to Shenandoah Valley teachers and technology resource coordinators demonstrating mastery of skills and standards.

"It's a very teacher-driven program," Ingram said. "The people in the Shenandoah Valley are the ones who put the meat on the bones and made it work from the original structure I developed." That early progress caught the attention of Microsoft Corp., which was seeking proven projects to fund through its Partners in Learning initiative in 2005. With the software company's sustained support through 2009, the NETS*T Certification program was extended throughout Virginia.

In late 2009 the time was right for the NETS*T Certification to follow a path blazed by JMU's Center for Assessment and Research Studies in working with James Madison Innovations Inc., the university's intellectual property transfer enterprise, to match a solid idea with a proven business partner. Ingram sought the advice of Mary Lou Bourne, executive director of JMI and director of Technology Transfer at JMU, in determining that his product had the commercial potential necessary to make it to the marketplace.

Drawing on her expertise and contacts, Bourne enlisted the services of InnovateTech Ventures Inc. that "matched" Ingram's intellectual property with Dr. Jesus Soriano, a medical doctor, scientist and life sciences entrepreneur who has nearly two decades of leadership and experience in teaching and research, healthcare management and technology transfer. Now, as founder and chairman of JMPE, Soriano is the man taking the professional development and assessment product from the academy to the market across the United States and abroad.

"The timing was perfect," Ingram said. "Dr. Soriano came in and bought the rights to this program and decided to go ahead with it. Since he jumped in, he's been energetic with ideas, vision and an aggressive implementation and marketing plan."

"For me, it wasn't only a time commitment that I couldn't make because I had other responsibilities, but just the vision, the skills," said Ingram, who remains involved with JMPE as scientific advisor. "I'm not a marketing person. I love the idea and how it has progressed. I love what I've seen happen with the SVTC with the teachers and their confidence and demonstrated proficiency, but Dr. Soriano has taken it to a whole different level."

Soriano was drawn to Ingram's work by three factors, he said. The high quality of the NETS*T Certification program, the opportunity to make a positive contribution to society by forming a responsible business and JMU's outstanding reputation encouraged him to take the risk associated with start up of a company. As he works to establish JMPE, Soriano is maintaining strong connections with JMI, for which he has considerable admiration. "From day one, all of them have been wonderful," he said. "They set an example for technology transfer in America." Soriano describes the people he has worked with at JMU as passionate about education, interested in problem solving, responsive to his needs as a businessman and highly motivated to the transfer of knowledge.

Additionally, JMU, through the Office of Outreach and Engagement, is collaborating with JMPE to provide teachers with a plan to receive optional academic credit for their NETS*T Certification work.

From his first-hand perspective of working with JMI, Ingram is an enthusiastic proponent of the university's desire to share intellectual property to help meet needs in the world. "If somebody thinks they have intellectual property, contact Mary Lou and she can be a good sounding board to start the process of possibly taking a good idea forward. There's a real labyrinth of things to go through. Mary Lou offers tremendous support with all the details contacts, contracts and all."

"JMU is not really in a position to market these things invented at the university directly to the consumer, as I see it," Ingram said. "But we're certainly in the business of ideas and being innovative."

Bourne welcomes ideas and inquiries from faculty. She can be contacted at bourneml@jmu.edu.

Related Links:

"Madison Scholar" articles about the launch of the first start-up company and JMI:
http://www.jmu.edu/news/madisonscholar/2010MadisonAssessment.shtml
http://www.jmu.edu/news/madisonscholar/2010JMI.shtml

James Madison Partners for Education Inc.
http://www.jamesmadisoneducation.com

James Madison Innovations Inc.
http://www.jmu.edu/innovation/

Office of Technology Transfer
http://www.jmu.edu/ott/

Be the Change: Michael Cappeto ('70, '71M), education assessment professional
http://www.jmu.edu/bethechange/people/cappetoshtml

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Dec. 21, 2010