Getting Teacher Educators Caught in the Web

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With the incredibleexplosion of the Internet affecting so many aspects of society,harnessing the network's power in meaningful ways will increasinglypose challenges for educators. This paper considers the possiblediscrepancies between frequent portrayals of innovative educationaluses of the Internet and the problems which may interfere with itsincorporation into teacher preparation programs. In addition, thepaper poses questions concerning appropriate venues for Internettraining to help teachers and students best make use of itspotentials.

While the Internet wastaking off in the United States, I was living a very low-tech lifeteaching at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya. Part of my task asa visiting lecturer in Kenya entailed conducting hands-on computerclasses with new users on donated Apple IIe machines. After livingfor a year in a technology-deprived setting, characterized by regularpower outages and highly unreliable phone service, returning to theU.S. in the fall of 1996 presented considerable reverse technologyculture shock.

Particularly startling wasthe increased computer competence of my students, primarilydemonstrated by their use of the Internet. When I left the U.S. inthe summer of 1995, the technology proficiency of my Englisheducation students was generally low to non-existent. Many weretechnophobic; few used e-mail before the course. Upon returning,however, I discovered that many of my students had acquired much moresophisticated computer literacy during my absence &emdash; and almostwholly because of the Internet.

What had happened? Had mycolleagues started to require technology use in their courses? Hadhiring practices for new teachers changed so dramatically thatstudents were beginning to explore technology out of their own futureself-interest? Was the campus interface so much more user-friendlythan it was before I left for Kenya? Why, within a single year, werestudents so much more technology proficient?

Because of my absence fromthe U.S. during the transformation, I cannot definitively answer thelast question. But I can say that neither teacher educators norofficials in New York State have so overwhelmingly embracedtechnology for pre-service teachers to make such a significantdifference. Although campus computing services continue to expand andimprove, the Internet only imposes greater user demands on thenetwork than existed before. Students themselves, however, seem tofind a venue in the Internet that encourages their increasedacceptance and personal use of technology.

PersonalExperiences

To discover more aboutstudents' attitudes toward technology, I surveyed my Fall 1997Methods class concerning members' experiences with and opinionstoward technology integration within their education curriculum aswell as their expectations for future technology integration asteachers. After conducting a session on educational applications ofthe Internet, I administered a questionnaire asking students to ratethe frequency with which they use technology (specifically theInternet), the frequency of technology utilization expected ormodeled by education faculty, and the importance they place ontechnology infusion for effective teaching.

Although the responses ofthese 25 students constitute too small a sample from which to makesweeping conclusions, they nevertheless may provide some insight intothe state of technology and the Internet in teacher preparationprograms, offering both good news and bad news for their adoption. Ingeneral, the responses suggest that students have become vitallyaware of the significance of educational technology and expect toapply it in their classrooms. Despite these expectations, the resultsalso indicate that education faculty may need to strengthen effortsto model appropriate technology infusion to help students mostmeaningfully utilize the powers of computers in theclassroom.

The students surveyedrevealed a fairly high degree of Internet use. 64% reportedoccasional to frequent use of the Internet, and those who "surf theNet" employ it for a wide variety of tasks ranging from the personalto the academic. Significantly for their development as teachers, allregular users consulted Internet sources to gain teachingideas.

Survey responses alsorevealed that non-users recognized the educational importance of theInternet: 24 out of the 25 students considered the Internet a vitalmedium for gaining resources and felt that developing overalltechnology competence and integration was essential for their futurecareers. More than three-quarters expected to use both the Internetspecifically and technology generally as future teachers &emdash;both for their own productivity and for the preparation of theirstudents.

The responses suggest thattoday's education students recognize the impact of the Internet ontheir projected teaching careers whether they regularly use thetechnology or not. That nearly one-third of the sample have yet tomaster the Internet d'es not influence their perception that itrepresents a tool critical to their development as teachers. And thenumber that use the Internet habitually has vastly increased from themere half-dozen students who had attempted e-mail at the beginning ofmy 1995 Methods course.

Good and BadNews

For technologyenthusiasts, this apparently growing acceptance of and facility withtechnology on the part of education students is a positive gain.Unfortunately, according to students' reports of their teacherpreparation, this level of technology competency and enthusiasm maynot be observably replicated by education faculty. Responses on thesurvey indicate that although some faculty are requiring technologyuse as part of course requirements, students' fail to perceivefaculty modeling appropriate integration strategies.

Including the Methodsclass, 68% of students reported that they had been required to usetechnology in education classes, but in only one or two classes outof a total of 10 required courses. Nearly one-third reported no suchrequirements. On the positive side, these results suggest that amajority of students are expected to use technology in some formduring their pre-service training, but only in a very limited numberof classes. Their responses seem to reflect the familiar 20-80 rule:approximately 20% of education faculty require 80% of the technologycompetency. Still, a majority of students are using educationaltechnology as part of their formal training, although requirementsremain minimal.

The bad news remains.Although many students are using technology and the Internet ineducation courses, faculty are not &emdash; at least not indemonstrable ways that students recognize. According to the survey,respondents received little modeling of educational technologyintegration while completing their coursework. Including theirMethods class, 84% reported that faculty modeled technology use inonly one or two of their education courses. This finding impliesthat, although some faculty may be suggesting the importance oftechnology competence through course requirements, they may not bedemonstrating how to use it or how to make it relevant to thecurriculum or discipline.

These results suggest thatdespite the seeming pervasive influence of the Internet on society asa whole, and despite education students' own awareness of theimportance of the Internet, faculty may be significantly behind inoffering structured training to help pre-service teachers developtechnology skills relevant to the classroom.

ReasonableAnxieties

Do these students' reportsabout faculty technology use reveal technology incompetence? Not atall. Most of my colleagues use technology, including the Internet,extensively for their own professional productivity. But, of course,the ability to execute a skill competently is a far cry from beingable to teach someone else to become proficient with the same skill.When technology is involved, the complexity of the teaching taskincreases enormously.

Anxieties about technologyintegration are both manifold and reasonable. How will I adaptfamiliar curricula and pedagogical style to new media? How d'estechnology fit into evolving changes in standards for teachertraining? Can I assume a basic level of competence, or at leastfamiliarity with, the media among students? Will the equipment work?Will I end up teaching technology instead of teaching withtechnology?

For many veteran faculty,the challenge of translating knowledge through the visual, non-linearhypermedia of technology requires entirely different pedagogy fromwhich we ourselves learned or learned to implement. And the timecommitment required to de- and then re-construct our course curriculaand remodel our teaching approaches to incorporate technology is fargreater than most of us are able to manage with already demandingloads.

Perhaps to the detrimentof technology infusion, the many "wonder stories" of technologyintegration may actually discourage rather than inspire faculty.Although "literature on education technology is full of glowingpromises of dramatic improvements to classroom activities andoutcomes...the mere presence of technology is not an automaticguarantee for improved education."[1] Articles in educationaltechnology literature, for instance, often highlight only the mostnoteworthy case studies of technology use across campuses viaheadings such as "The Web's Worldwide Reach," "Tripping the LightFantastic," and "Blazing a Trail of Technology and Education." Basedon my own experience with technology integration in the developingworld of Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, a recent account ofInternet infusion into schools in Botswana is not only admirable buttruly wonder-filled.[2]

While such projectsrepresent exemplary applications of technology in the college oruniversity classroom, they can also make faculty feel their ownefforts are inferior and present overwhelming challenges to studentsstill concerned with mastering all aspects of their teacherpreparation. Even the most avid Internet users in my Methods classwere intimidated by a local teacher-technology enthusiast who visitedthe course and claimed third graders at his school were designingtheir own Web pages. Although I have no doubt that this was true, Ialso suspect that these youngsters created their products with a lotof help from highly dedicated teachers. But such apocryphal storiesmay dampen rather than ignite the enthusiasm of a novice.

An Incentive toLearn

Even without previoustraining, today's education students have incentive to learntechnology use. Unlike most current teacher educators when they begantheir careers, when today's pre-service teachers first enter theclassroom, they will encounter a great number of students who alreadypossess technology skills, challenging the development of their own.Apprentice teachers also benefit from vastly more prevalent adoptionof technology throughout society than was typical during the studentdays even of many junior faculty. Many faculty succeeded academicallywithout the benefits of word processors, scanners, Zip drives and Websites to become teachers and scholars. But for current students, theInternet has so many perceived uses, including non-academic ones,that they see it as invaluable for understanding or accessing adiversity of information and making sense of the world.

For faculty, however,modeling educational uses for the Internet or other technologies maystill be a challenge. Many technologies may not represent whollyappropriate tools for instruction or ones which help students"develop those inner qualities, such as insight, creativity and goodjudgment, which education at its best has always sought toinspire."[3] These humanistic concerns are certainly worthconsidering when adopting technology and may concern faculty whochoose not to use technology in their courses. But even on a verypractical level, technology integration may not appear worth the timesacrificed or the learning curve endured unless it can be seen asbetter than what it replaces, has observable benefits, adapts to thevalues and need of adopters, and is accessible to theinnovator.[4]

These are formidablebarriers to overcome to encourage faculty integration of technology.Additionally, professional standards are still evolving concerningthe use of educational technology. NCATE, for example, is onlybeginning to define requirements for acceptable technologyintegration within teacher education programs. Without clear orconsistent guidelines for meaningful integration, even faculty eagerto develop infusion programs may be at a loss about specificworthwhile measures to adopt.

To encourage faculty tomodel the use of educational technology for their students requiresmore than support for "individual faculty and innovators who arenaturally inclined to experimentation and who are thus intrinsicallymotivated."[5] Indeed, many such faculty innovators may notbe supported at all in their endeavors since new technologies areoutside the purview of traditional teaching and scholarship concerns.Additionally, some technology enthusiasts may lack the requisiteknowledge about basic principles of instruction that can mostmeaningfully demonstrate effective curricular integration; that is,technology competence alone is not enough to model effectivetechnology integration.

WorkingCooperatively

Teaching with technologycan seem like entering an uncharted territory, particularly whenusing the Internet. The changing dynamic of information presented onthe Internet, even its recognizable display from moment to moment,can be unnerving when attempting to teach new and relativelyunfamiliar material. The growth of technology and "dramatic shifts inbeliefs about the fundamental goals and strategies of educationitself...have not developed in isolation."[6]

The constructivist sloganto change the teacher's role from "the sage on the stage" to "theguide on the side" may represent a useful image for repositingfaculty's perceptions about teaching with technology. Utilizingprinciples of a constructivist approach to pedagogy is particularlyvaluable for technology integration. Instead of expecting ourselvesto be the experts, we can position ourselves as co-learners with ourstudents.

Using the Internet to workcooperatively with students to solve problems is one approach thathas several benefits. First, it can model technology integration thatstudents perceive they lack from their instructors. Additionally,faculty may receive helpful technical advice from student "experts"eager to share their enthusiasm. Most important, the technology canbecome a means for exploring important issues already central to thecurriculum.

For example, in my Methodsclass, one key component of students' training involves evaluatingresources to achieve the larger goal of designing and implementingeffective lessons and modes of instruction. Exploring a variety ofvaluable Internet sources with students (such as Kathy Shrock's Website or Stephanie's Lesson Plans) can not only result in usefulresource-gathering but, more globally, can engage students indiscussions about criteria to follow when selecting material from theInternet or from other sources while planning their lessons. Creatingrubrics for evaluating Web sites, for instance, can paralleldiscussions of designing rubrics to accompany lesson plans &emdash;an important aspect of the course already familiar to both studentsand instructor.

Following such an approachwith my own students, their insights led to discussions about thesocial implications of using the Internet in secondary classrooms.After developing criteria for evaluating Web sites (such as thereliability and value of the information, clarity of presentation,and the accessibility of the design for illuminating content),students also projected the potential problems with using the siteswith their future students. A particular sample lesson locatedthrough ERIC resources, for instance, involved a word-play game thatengendered debate about appropriateness of material for secondaryclassrooms. Some Methods students were concerned that teenagers mightuse the "one-up-manship" central to the game to hurt each others'feelings while others felt the lesson could encourage creativity andincrease vocabulary.

Such instructional uses ofthe Internet can address humanistic concerns to help "compensate forthe computer's mechanistic tendencies; to assure that all 'resourcesof self' are brought into the learning process."[7] In thisinstance, students' evaluation of material did not focus primarily ontechnology but reflected their interest in fostering a positiveclassroom environment and approaching curriculum creatively. At thesame time, they developed greater competence using the Interneteducationally.

The Internet can also beutilized to explore other aspects of social behavior in schoolsimportant to students' development and coincident with facultyexpertise. Bernie Dodge's WebQuests represent a valuable strategy forlearning about the Internet while reinforcing course contentconcerning teaching approaches. By adopting pedagogical roles (suchas the technology enthusiast, the innovator, the traditionalist),students can evaluate Internet material, gain insight into teachingapproaches, and further their knowledge of technology.

KeepingFocused

Teaching with the Internetposes special challenges for keeping students focused. Most of us whohave explored the medium have probably been "caught in the Web" atsome point, becoming distracted from our original purpose after beingcaptivated by the wealth of disparate information available and theease of accessing it. Students are particularly subject to suchdistractions since they are still formulating their senses of whattopics are important, still developing their skills in translatingthose decisions to others.

Therefore, "the need for ateacher who can keep a focus...becomes even more crucial" when usingtechnology in general.[8] The teacher educator's role isparticularly vital in providing structure for classroom uses of atechnology tool as dynamic as the Internet. Utilizing what we alreadyknow about effective workshop and cooperative learning strategiesapplies even more when teaching with the Net: set clear andobtainable goals, use short tasks, and establish accountabilitymeasures to help structure and focus students' explorations of theNet.

Helping our students keepfocused and develop evaluative criteria for assessing technology usecan help achieve such "fundamental goals of education" as the pursuitof truth, the comprehension of great ideas, the generation of newideas, the use of good judgment, the development ofwisdom.[9] Every introduction of technology into theclassroom can engender discussion of its advantages anddisadvantages. What have we gained, for instance, by using theInternet rather than texts for research? How d'es the classroomdynamic change when students are looking at a computer screen ratherthan at the teacher and each other? Do students' perceptions of theteacher's role change? How d'es our own concept of ourselves asteachers transform within this new environment?

As we guide our studentsthrough these explorations, we can ask them to consider suchquestions of loss and gain. From my own experience, for instance,exploring Africa through the Internet could never give a comparableknowledge or understanding of the continent as fully as living there.Having always lived with regular water, electricity and phones,students cannot fully appreciate the convenience of such services orevaluate the degree to which each is actually necessary. At the sametime, the ability to access the Kenyan national newspaper each daycan provide students with much deeper and more authentic insight intothese cultural hardships than they could receive from far more staticclassroom resources.

Those same kinds ofevaluations are important to students' development of technologyskills so that they can use the media in educationally valuable ways.Surveying my own students suggests that many, as "surfers," mayalready be masters of the Net. But their responses also indicate thatteacher educators must address students' needs regarding technologyintegration. By taking a more active role in modeling teachingpractices with the technology, we can prepare them to become morepowerful teachers, using the Internet as an additional tool amongtheir pedagogical resources.

Today's education studentswill be at the forefront of determining the Internet's impact onschools in the next millennium. The incredible success stories ofcomputer integration so often reported can be balanced by more modestefforts to model practical application in typical classroomsituations. Through our own instructional uses of the Internet, wecan help students avoid getting caught in the Web and empower them tofind freedom in its possibilities.

Nancy Deal is an assistantprofessor of English education at SUNY College in Buffalo, N.Y., withspecial interests in educational technology and internationaleducation.

References: 

1. Roblyer, M.D., JackEdwards and Mary Anne Havriluk (1997), Integrating EducationalTechnology Into Teaching, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill. 

2. Nleya, P.T. (1998), "Improving the Computer Literacy of YoungPeople: The Case of Botswana," T.H.E. Journal, 25(6), pp.53-54. 

3. Monke, L. (1997), "Computers at School: The Web and the Plow,"Output, 18(2), pp. 41-46. 

4. Sherry, L. (1997), "The Boulder Valley Internet Project: LessonsLearned," T.H.E. Journal, 25(2), pp. 68-72. 

5. Boettcher, J. (1998), "The Journey to the Web: Simple Adaptationsor New Curricula?" Syllabus, 11(5), pp.46-51. 

6. Roblyer, et al, p. 55. 

7. Monke, p. 45. 

8. Monke, p. 43. 

9. Monke, p. 43.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.

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