When thinking about education, it’s easy to picture the traditional — a teacher standing at the front of a classroom leading a lesson plan for students. But Mia Williams is out to change that. As an associate professor at the University of Northern Colorado, she is transforming the Educational Technology Department as a cornerstone of innovation in higher education.
With a background as a high school earth science and English teacher, and a clinical assistant professor for the College of Teacher Education and Leadership at Arizona State University, Williams has been recognized as an innovator in her field. She has received Outstanding Teacher and Outstanding Advisor awards from the University of Northern Colorado, and was selected by the U.S. Department of Education as one of 14 leaders nationwide to participate in the Teacher Preparation Innovation Summit.
Williams uses her knowledge to help reinvent the way educators think about education. Case in point: She is preparing to roll out a new master’s program and Ph.D. program in technology innovation and pedagogy that will focus on engaging the 21st-century student in creative ways to improve learning.
“We have these traditions in higher education where we take students through a very stagnant process and in teacher preparation. But we don’t prepare them to be innovators and go into a classroom and see the types of learners they have, the context (parents, equipment) they have, and what to do with that,” she said. “We push them to have those kinds of mindsets. It’s really making it a craft where they assess what they have and their goals and how they can accomplish that in a creative way.”
Williams has spearheaded one-of-a-kind programs that encourage creativity. “We have new curriculum and have been able to create spaces and environments that are nontraditional for the classes, including three classrooms that have access to technology and are movable,” she said. “This is a space you can move and that allows you to engage in the activities that are also nontraditional.”
Looking ahead, Williams is working on developing a research center to bring more people to the university campus to experience innovative learning opportunities. She also is leading research on ways augmented reality and noncomputer technology may be used as classroom tools. —Julia McCandless