Julie Randles
Reinventing teacher training

The next time the idea of revitalizing classroom instruction seems daunting, take heart from Mia Kim Williams, Ph.D.

Williams, an ISTE Board member, is the associate professor of curriculum studies and educational technology for the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Northern Colorado.

It’s a mouthful, but in 2015, she essentially condensed her job to a single focus: Creating a new ed tech program for master’s and doctoral students at her university.

Like most breakthroughs, it started innocuously. The dean came to her and said, “We need something new. What do you want to do?”

“It was so exhilarating to get that charge,” she said. “To be told, ‘Here’s your passion — go make something that will make a difference.’ To have all of the ideas that others bring to the table has been a huge blessing.”

Typically, her job would be 60 percent teaching, 20 percent research and 20 percent service. Today it’s all reinvention, all the time. With the help of two other educators, she’s pushing tech integration and pedagogy. “We’re always focusing on what it can meaningfully do for students,” Williams says.

To date, she’s crafted 17 classes, each one a research topic in itself. She compares it to planning all of the grades in K-12 at once. She’s also assisting 30 doctoral students with their research.

“Research is where my passion is,” she says “Most is connected to the work I’m doing with preservice teachers or teachers through my courses. It’s been exciting, and it’s overwhelming at the same time. There are so many steps to get through the university process that we’ve had the opportunity to determine what’s most meaningful and how what we plan will benefit kids.”

An ISTE member since 1998, Williams fell for ed tech during her first ISTE conference. “Seeing all these teachers taking tools and integrating them so differently was kind of like walking into Willy Wonka’s factory,” she recalls. “There was so much amazing stuff going on.”

Her passion for ed tech drove her active involvement in two ISTE affiliates, starting with the Arizona Technology in Education Association and later Colorado with Innovation Education Colorado.

She was elected to the ISTE Board in 2013 and became a member of the Linkage Committee because she likes to open communication channels and bring stakeholders together. She ran for the board to explore ways that ISTE could benefit higher ed, and with her board service ending this month, she’ll focus on bridging the ed tech gap between K-12 and higher ed.

A big thinker, Williams wants to develop a system to match tech-savvy preservice teachers to schools that value those skills. Think of it as Match.com for teacher placement. It’s about connecting higher ed, K-12 and policy because it takes all three to make sustainable change in education, she says.

The next step is to connect Northern Colorado’s new curriculum program to its community. She is already laying the foundation for a community research center that offers tutoring and engaging camps for students. Imagine a makerspace, a digital storytelling camp and stations where students can dive into science projects and explore creative ideas.

As a former K-12 English and science teacher, she’s eager to work with younger students again.

“I’m super excited to get back in the classroom with this new, forward-thinking curriculum” she says. “And excited to work with teachers who can implement it every day.”