Ravell Call, Deseret News
Visitors tour the building as the Wayne Estes Center opens at Utah State University in Logan, Wednesday, May 14, 2014. A department at Utah State University that trains future teachers in using technology and other innovative practices in the classroom "may be the top program in the world for research productivity," according to a national report.

LOGAN — A department at Utah State University that trains future teachers in using technology and other innovative practices in the classroom "may be the top program in the world for research productivity," according to a report by the Association of Educational Communications and Technology.

Utah State's Department of Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences earned a top 20 spot on each of the report's five key indicators, including the number of graduates and faculty, the amount of grant money awarded, and the number of publications in top research journals.

The University of Georgia was the only other institution to rank in the top 20 on each list.

Department head Mimi Recker said the rankings in the Educational Media and Technology yearbook, now in its 39th year, speak highly of the program's ability to produce quality research and students, especially given that there are only 10 faculty members in the department.

"We are absolutely thrilled to see these. I think this is an amazing reflection of the fabulous faculty, staff and students we have," Recker said. "Rankings are funny. It's a little bit like sports: When you're highly ranked, you love it, and when you're not so highly ranked, you complain about the metrics. But in this particular case, I think they used a set of metrics that are very objective. … And in all of these metrics, we rank right up there."

Instructional technology and learning sciences combines several disciplines to teach prospective instructors about innovative ways to enhance the learning process in the classroom and other industries. Students in the program also learn how technology can act as a catalyst for student engagement and data-driven instruction.

"It's not just using technology to teach," said JoLynne Lyon, spokeswoman for Utah State's Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services. "It's using technology to figure out the best ways of teaching."

The report ranked the department as having the third-best graduate programs in learning, design and technology based on the number of publications in two high-profile scientific journals for those fields, just behind the University of Georgia and Stanford University.

BYU ranked ninth in the same metric.

Utah State has historically ranked high in other reports that measure research output. In a research index released in November, the Logan university ranked 90th out of 20,000 institutions worldwide and 45th out of 500 U.S. institutions.

With the 2015 yearbook, Utah State's Department of Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences came in sixth in terms of the amount of grant and contract funds that were awarded, which reached $1.35 million in the 2012-13 academic year.

USU tied for 10th pace in the number of full- and part-time faculty in the program.

The department currently offers one doctorate and three master's degree programs, typically awarding between 30 and 40 degrees every year. It ranked 20th for the number of master's degrees awarded and 12th for the number of doctorate degrees.

Using technology in the classroom has long been a growing focus for state education leaders. The Utah Legislature has considered multiple proposals to fund programs that would provide a hand-held device for every student, which many hope will produce data and other insights into the needs of students.

Programs like the department at USU help provide the research behind how students use devices to engage with course content, including how long students spend on subject material and how outcomes match up with academic standards.

Associate professor Andrew Walker, who is interim department head while Recker is on sabbatical, said the department is hoping to play a larger role in the state's policy discussion on technology in the classroom.

"I think there's multiple roles to play," Walker said. "We've got faculty who are very closely involved with some of these efforts from an evaluation perspective. They come in and look at efficacy, what's actually happening in terms of student learning.

"We've got faculty really pushing the boundaries of educational experiences," he said.

Recker said the students who graduate from the program also influence how technology instruction plays out, both in education and other industries. Many students who enter the program come from corporate positions, where they already have years of experience.

"There really is no pigeon hole. Our students go on to do such a wide variety of careers," she said. "We have lots of really talented students that want to graduate from our program and hopefully make a difference in the world. And I think they do."

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