Evrim Baran, who taught and consulted for the Center for Technology in Learning and Teaching during her doctoral studies, returns to Iowa State as an associate professor in the School of Education. Photo by Ryan Riley.

Transforming teachers’ learning environments with emerging technologies

Evrim Baran, an Iowa State University alumna known worldwide for applying technology to improve teaching and learning, returned to Iowa State this spring as a faculty member.

Baran, who received her doctorate from Iowa State in 2011, joined the School of Education as an associate professor in educational technology. Her research brings together educational technology, teacher education, and human computer interaction (HCI).

“I’ve had a long interest in designing and studying teacher education environments that use technology in innovative ways and enhance teachers’ learning experiences,” she said.

Experience at home and abroad

Baran prepares teachers to effectively use emerging technology such as mobile apps in their classrooms. She does so in three settings: teacher education, higher education, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. Her teaching style is practice-oriented and student-centered, where she’s also one of the learners in the class.

“We are now getting teachers who are already exposed to these technologies,” she said. “But knowing technologies doesn’t necessarily mean that they know how to use it for teaching and learning. So our job is to show them ways to use them effectively in the classroom — not for the sake of using technology, but using them to enhance learning environments in their subject areas.”

Baran previously worked as an instructor and researcher at Iowa State for five years. During her doctoral studies, she taught and consulted for the Center for Technology in Learning and Teaching (CTLT) — a learning environment that applies technology to improve student learning.

But she’s also taught and researched on three continents and in four countries including the U.S.A., Canada, Turkey, and Germany.

For the past five years, Baran served as an assistant professor in educational sciences at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey. She also served as associate director of the Center for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) there. Prior to that, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia in Canada. That’s allowed her to do international research.

“I had the chance to observe different teacher education environments and how different countries prepare teachers for effective technology integration in classrooms,” she said. “I think that also makes my research unique because there’s this international research aspect. I have a broader observation of different programs — how things work effectively and what things didn’t work.”

Interdisciplinary work across campus

In 2015, Baran received the early career award from the American Educational Research Association (AERA)’s Technology as an Agent for Change in Teaching and Learning special interest group.

“Evrim is a terrific scholar,” said Isaac Gottesman, an associate professor who is division head of teaching, learning, leadership, and policy in the School of Education. “She has developed an international reputation for her work. We are lucky to have her return to Iowa State. I have no doubt she will contribute greatly to the school and the university.”

Baran researches the digitalization of higher education — areas ranging from online teaching to the integration of mobile technologies into higher education classrooms. In Turkey, she initiated a faculty technology mentoring program that transformed faculty members’ teaching practices with technologies and helped spread the use of innovations across the university.

She also investigates teachers’ and students’ learning progressions in STEM-related practices such as engineering and design thinking. Her recent projects provide learning opportunities to at-risk and disadvantaged students, and help to develop their attitudes and interests toward STEM education and careers.

Her research is interdisciplinary. She looks forward to connecting with other faculty on campus and working with those in engineering, human computer interaction, and design.

“Recently, I started investigating using some tools like eye tracking and video-based analysis to see how novice and expert teachers use technology differently in their classrooms,” she said. “I’m bringing the tools and methodologies from HCI to track teachers’ knowledge in action.”

Finding balance with use of technology

Teacher educators need to be role models for integrating technology effectively in the classroom, Baran said. That takes practice. If technology is not used properly or forced upon people, it can create other challenges and can lead those using it to become resistant.

“Sometimes, you don’t need to use technology at all to create a rich learning experience,” she said. “Technology is not a must for every learning environment.”

Baran uses the same approach in her own life — using technology only when necessary and when it serves a purpose. She acknowledges that’s tough in today’s world.

“Sometimes, you just need to read a book without any distraction,” she said. “I’m also aware of the challenges of technologies in classrooms or in our everyday life. I think that we should start focusing on those challenges, too — issues such as privacy or too much technology in the classroom, cognitive load. In my personal life and my teaching, I try to balance it.”