Technology in Secondary Teacher Education

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Perhaps the time has come for the goals of education to change. Just as the invention of the printing press in the 1400s transformed the intellectual life of the world, so has the invention of the computer in the 1950s. The computer reinvented knowledge by giving us a new way to view the world and ourselves. Education must move from the static, mechanical view of teacher as giver of knowledge to teacher/learner as integrator, guide, architect and facilitator. However, for this change to occur, educators must accept the computer and its software not as replacements for the content of the disciplines at the core of the curriculum, but as useful extensions that complement content.

Those that drive the Information Age continue to invent intelligent technologies and strategies as quickly as the maturing fields of cognition and learning reveal new learning systems and processes of knowledge acquisition. Opportunities and needs are therefore expanding for the professional development of educators that will enable them to recognize and utilize these tools and informational representations effectively in the classroom.

Educators at all levels may need to rethink the central mandate of the educational process. Learners should now be taught how to learn, how to search for appropriate information, sort it according to their needs, create knowledge from it, and then report it in a way that has individual and collective meaning. The static approach to learning is well on its way to making schools as we know them obsolete.

Schubert (1986) suggests that curriculum improvement in schools lies in the education of teachers and, while much of that education occurs on the job, pre-service teacher education really begins the professional journey. The current pre-service teacher curriculum usually consists of general education courses (liberal arts), professional education courses (foundational methods), student teaching and other clinical experience. The program follows recommendations made by James Bryant Conant in his 1963 study "The Education of American Teachers," which reinforces the idea that any reform in the general educational curriculum must be preceded by reform in teacher education.

Although most teacher education programs provide some computer education for pre-service educators, many do not have up-to-date equipment or faculty with technology expertise. This makes the situation no more promising for those just entering the teaching profession than for in-service teachers who report their technology training as being about computers, not learning with computers.

The concerns about pre-service teacher education and the integration of technology are well documented in research literature:

  • Students express a strong need for computer education as an integral part of teacher preparation, particularly for courses to include issues of curriculum and strategies for classroom implementation (Oliver 1994).
  • Very few teachers are aware of what's out there and available to them because they have no long-range vision or hope for advanced technology (Strudler and Powell 1993).
  • Pre-service education programs have yet to coordinate instructional technology, so prospective teachers are trained to use advanced technological pedagogy (Moss 1988).
  • Teacher education students believe, as d'es society at large, that telling and/or showing is teaching subject matter (McDiarmid 1990).
  • Teacher in-service has to model how to use technology in the teaching and learning process. The idea is not only to teach them how to use the hardware and software, but how to integrate it seamlessly into the curriculum (Siegel 1994).
  • "If we don't intentionally think about the use of technology in teaching math and science, we're going to miss an opportunity to improve the curriculum and to make a difference in the quality of instruction" (Bruder 1993).
  • Undergraduate instruction is not known for producing exemplary teacher models, and pre-service teachers see little modeling of effective instructional strategies (White 1994).
  • Studies reveal that providing a comfortable environment and many opportunities for using computer technology enhances the future use of it (Johnson 1993).

The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) have adopted a set of pre-service teacher competencies for technology education and standards designed to prepare teachers to utilize technology (Wetzel 1993). But colleges and universities must make their own decisions concerning the integration of technology into the teacher education curriculum (Munday, Windham and Stamper 1991).

Unfortunately, most students complete their teacher education programs without examining their beliefs about their roles as teachers and their classrooms as contexts for learning, subject matter and pedagogy (McDiarmid 1990). Teacher educators, in many cases, do not encourage students to challenge or examine current teaching practices. Instead they focus on issues about which they and their students already agree (Brousseau and Freeman 1988). Evidence indicates that college instruction frequently presents teaching and learning as mechanical, disconnected and fragmented, just as they are at pre-college levels (Boyer 1987; Kline 1977; and McDiarmid 1990).

It is important, therefore, that colleges of education widen their offerings to prepare pre-service teachers to use technology effectively, and begin modeling proper applications of technology and teaching strategies in the learning process (Fawson and Smellie 1990).

Integrated Secondary Teacher Education Program (I-STEP)

In an attempt to address these national concerns and the Center for Excellence in Education at Northern Arizona University's mission - "To prepare education professionals to create the schools of tomorrow" - the secondary education faculty began a two-year reconceptualization of the secondary teacher preparation program in 1993.

In its initial stages, faculty members recognized a need for substantive change in the program. We acknowledged that serious deficiencies currently existed and, most importantly, that we were not adequately preparing our secondary candidates to meet the needs of diverse student populations that included differences across gender, ethnicity, culture, language, mentally/physically challenging conditions, sexual orientation and varying achievement levels. Further-more, we recognized a growing need for our students to become more skilled in the effective and ethical use of technology in classroom instruction.

It was at this time that the faculty realized that if we were to move beyond just tinkering with our existing program to radical redesign, we needed to have total control over the students' schedule for the professional pedagogical semester, and that this semester should come immediately before student teaching. This meant that students must have completed their content major/minor coursework, all liberal studies requirements and the educational foundation's prerequisites prior to their I-STEP semester. This decision truly freed the faculty from thinking about the program in traditional ways.

Framing the Curriculum

Even then, however, our first thought was that we could probably address some of the curriculum gaps we were seeing by simply re-conceptualizing curriculum within existing courses or re-allocating hours to a new course that more specifically addressed diversity, technology and context issues. But the critical question that kept emerging was this: What do we want our graduates to know, be able to do and be like when they leave our program? By framing our discussions around the issue of student outcomes, it became clear that before we decided on the form of the program, we must first decide what would drive the design. Thus, we began an extensive investigation into what the faculty believed, and what the literature indicated comprised the characteristics of effective teachers and student teachers.

We examined existing teacher preparation standards (e.g., the National Certification Association for Teacher Education's Knowledge Base Standards and the Council of Chief State School Officers' Standards for Licensing Beginning Teachers) as springboards for identifying the knowledge, skills and dispositions we wanted our candidates to have in order to meet the needs of the classrooms of tomorrow.

Once these were identified, we set out to determine the form of instruction that would best accomplish these objectives. It was here that we completely rejected the view of our program as a series of isolated courses taken in sequence. Instead, we began to imagine the program as student experiences that would lead to an integrated understanding of learning theory, curriculum, instructional methods, assessment/evaluation and the contexts in which all of these come together.

Through this focus on learning experiences, the program was reconceived as an integrated 13-hour block of professional study to be team-taught by faculty members from the secondary education area. The 30-student cohort meets three days a week on campus. Once a week they meet at one of two school sites (a high school and a middle school), rotating to the other school for half of the semester. At least one faculty member is also present at the school sites to coordinate activities and debrief with students at the end of each day's experiences.

The integrated semester guarantees alignment of course material through the team-teaching and planning. Formerly fragmented topics are united around experiences, themes and issues designed by the faculty team. Unnecessary duplication of material is eliminated by planned and coordinated coverage of important concepts. Placing inquiry rather than response in the foreground, the curriculum is experiential and project-based. Student work is directed toward a capstone experience - a final exhibition that offers students the opportunity to integrate their learning from all the areas of study into a meaningful whole. This exhibition calls on students to present their beliefs and plans for teaching as they would to a hiring committee, incorporating the production of teaching documents and professional presentations.

Technology Integration

Since the implementation of I-STEP in 1995, the faculty teams have rotated and changed each year or semester, making program continuity an ever-increasing challenge. Even with the commitment to technology from the university, our professional college and the department, the major question continues to be how to meaningfully integrate technology into classroom instruction with the varying levels of expertise of the many faculty members who teach in I-STEP.

During the first year or two of the program, members of our Educational Technology faculty conducted guest presentations on technological tools available to classroom teachers. Some direct instruction in one of the heavily used but under-equipped computer labs was also included, with regular I-STEP faculty following along. Over time, one of the secondary education professors became quite technologically proficient, and if he was teaching in I-STEP, the infusion of technology increased. He designed an I-STEP Web page complete with assignments, additional resources, etc. However, few required assignments within the course curriculum necessitated student development of technological artifacts. And when he rotates out of the I-STEP faculty, much of the technology integration is lost.

Therefore, we decided last year to restructure one of the existing three-hour required courses into a new course titled Diversity, Technology and Literacy in Secondary Education. Based on the belief that schools should represent a force for social justice in our society, this course demands that students critically reflect on their personal and collective identities, and on the many faces of diversity and equity in today's schools and communities.

Focusing on major sociocultural and political issues related to schooling, students are asked to examine their own notions of why schools are the way they are, and to re-imagine the possibilities for the way they should and could be. Beginning with a focus on self, students progress through a series of assessments that help them understand the influence of their family on their current identities, beliefs and behaviors. Reflections are completed each week to monitor personal growth in developing an ethic of caring, valuing diversity, efficacy, etc. Shifting the focus to learners, classroom diversity and equity issues are investigated and experienced. Finally, shifting the focus to teachers and teaching, students are challenged to re-imagine current teaching practices that disenfranchise and marginalize many students.

In addition, the course includes the following technology objectives: understanding the uses of technology on changing teacher roles and diverse learning environments; understanding the ethical implications of technology; and using a variety of computer applications in developing class projects. Now, every secondary education pre-service teacher will take the course, whether they are in the innovative I-STEP section or any of the traditional program sections.

Two graduate assistants, former classroom teachers who are skilled in technology, now teach the technology strand in both the I-STEP and traditional programs. However, in each case, the regular faculty members are also present at the time of laboratory instruction so that in the future they will be able to teach these technology components themselves. Thus, professional development of university faculty, as well as pre-service training, is taking place simultaneously. This direct instruction takes place in either a Mac or PC lab for a block of time no less than an hour and 15 minutes per session. This technology integration includes direct instruction and the production of student artifacts in the areas of multimedia presentations, Internet investigations, spreadsheets and desktop publishing.

During the semester, each student will be a member of two interdisciplinary teams that will be charged with solving authentic school-related problems. These teams do research on the Internet, as well as in appropriate books and journals to formulate possible solutions to each problem. The final projects are presentations to mock-school boards and special education evaluation teams. A required component of these presentations is electronic supporting documentation using Microsoft's PowerPoint.

Each student will also be required to create a WebQuest that they would use with their high school or middle school students in each of their respective content areas. WebQuests are inquiry-oriented activities in which some or all of the information that learners interact with comes from resources on the Internet. After completing a longer term WebQuest, a learner will have deeply analyzed a body of knowledge, transformed it in some way, and demonstrated an understanding of the material by creating something that others can respond to, online or off.

Students will also become familiar enough with spreadsheets to understand their multiple uses for everything from setting up a worksheet to calculating grades, to keeping athletic team statistics or club accounting records. Students can keep budget information for a school store, enter hours of work, or set up "what if" situations for solving math and statistical problems. Spreadsheets are tools of practical value that require minimal math skills to accomplish tedious calculations and gain understanding of mathematical concepts (Brownell, Young and Metzger 1999).

A final technological artifact that will be produced by each student will be a newsletter they might send home to parents, or their own students might be taught to create. Using word processing or desktop publishing allows students and teachers to create newsletters for their classrooms, clubs or parents. They learn appropriate formatting and uses of graphics and text for communicating ideas and issues, or just reporting on current activities. Throughout the semester, students are investigating and reading articles about the ethical implications of technology in classrooms, pondering such troubling issues as gender equity, equity of access, students with special needs, copyright and responsible use of the Internet.

Clearly, we are finding that technology in pre-service teacher education, as well as in society at large, is a powerful vehicle for change. It has become a catalyst for challenging our attitudes, long-held beliefs about the way things have always been done, classroom practices, and the way students learn. Our future teachers will be in classrooms full of the "N-Gen" (Internet Generation) who have grown up in a digital world (Tapscott 1998). Therefore, beginning teachers no longer have a choice about using technology in their classrooms of tomorrow if they hope to understand and reach this generation of students who have learned technology as a second language.

Elizabeth M. Willis, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of educational technology at the Center for Excellence in Education at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ. She earned her doctorate from the University of New Mexico, and taught at New Mexico State University before taking her current position at NAU four years ago. In addition to teaching graduate and undergraduate courses in educational technology, Willis also serves as the coordinator of the educational technology faculty and the online MEd in Educational Technology now offered by NAU.

E-mail: Becky.Willis@nau.edu

Peggy Raines, Ph.D., is an associate professor of secondary education in the Instructional Leadership Department at Northern Arizona University. She received her bachelor's, master's and doctorate from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Before coming to NAU in 1991, she taught English for seven years at a middle school in Northglenn, CO. She was also an administrator in three Colorado school districts, all at the middle school level.

E-mail: Peggy.Raines@nau.edu




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This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.

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