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Preparing Technology-Competent Teachers

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A Strategy for Multicultural Schools

Editors' Note: The research reported in this paper was based on a project being funded by the U.S. Education Depart-ment through a PT 3 grant.

Nationally, a large number of graduates from colleges of education feel ill-prepared to integrate technology into their curriculum (Beckett et al. 2001; Congressional Office of Technology Assessment 1995). Although students graduating from the College of Education at Arizona State University West (ASUW) have taken a course on teaching with technology, they did not feel prepared to implement what they learned in their own classrooms (Wetzel et al. 1996; Chisholm, Carey and Hernandez 1998).

There are two major factors that influence the feelings of insecurity experienced by recent graduates. First, students do not see consistent or extensive modeling of the use of technology by faculty in preservice classes (Chisholm, Carey and Hernandez 1998). Second, ASUW has limited school sites for field placements where intern and preservice teachers can experience effective technology practices in K-8 classrooms.

Recent graduates are not alone in this phenomenon. According to Becker, Ravitz and Wong (1999) only about a third of in-service teachers assign work on computers regularly. Of those teachers who do assign computer work, few use analytic and project-oriented software on a regular basis. Instead, most rely on games or drill-and-practice software.

In an effort to change the way technology use is perceived by many K-8 classroom teachers, education faculty at ASUW have implemented a Practicum Plus Program that directly impacts field placements for preservice teachers. In the program, preservice teachers are paired with in-service mentor teachers for training in technology integration just prior to and during their practicum semester. All participants earn three hours of graduate credit when all requirements of the training are met. This critical intervention is a response to two beliefs:

  1. That there is a need for technologically prepared teachers for multicultural schools (Chisholm, Carey and Hernandez 1998) and that practicum students are often most influenced by the observed actions of their mentor teachers. (Darling- Hammond 1998).
  2. That the cohort teams of preservice teachers receive a richer, more coherentlearning experience when they study and work with each other and mentor teachers (Darling-Hammond 1995).

The Study

The Practicum Plus Program was implemented during the 1999-2000 school year to address the beginning teachers' need to be prepared to integrate technology in their classrooms. This study addressed the question: Was the PT3 (Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology) Practicum Plus Professional Development Pro-gram successful? To evaluate the program, the researchers asked:

  • Did the PT3 training result in the participants mastery of computer competency skills?
  • What percentage of participants created the units of practice (UOP) as intended?
  • What percentage of preservice teacher-mentor teacher teams achieved the level of "accomplished" for their UOP?
  • What percentage of participants taught the UOP as intended?
  • How did the mentor teachers and practicum students use the cohort listserv in the workshops?
  • What were the perceptions of university faculty regarding the effectiveness of the Practicum Plus  Program workshops?

Program Description

The PT3 Practicum Plus Program incorporated many of the features of the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT). Like the ACOT project, the PT3 Practicum Plus Program objective was to improve students' learning through training teachers in the use of computers in the classroom. However, the PT3 program training focused on technology integration where teams of preservice teachers and their mentor in-service teachers developed UOPs, which were then implemented in their K-8 practicum classrooms.

Description of Practicum Plus. The preservice teacher-mentor teacher teams attended workshops together during the summer prior to the fall semester. The summer workshops lasted six-and-a-half hours for six days. Three two-hour follow-up fall workshops were held after school in September, October and November. Recruitment of mentor teachers and preservice teachers was held during the semester prior to the summer workshops. PT3 staff, Arizona Classrooms of Tomorrow Today teachers and university faculty facilitated the workshops.

These workshops provided each preservice teacher-mentor teacher team with the opportunity to assess the technology available in the schools and districts. They explored and assessed various types of hardware and software; bookmarked relevant Internet sites; evaluated Web sites; and used a listserv to share ideas, strategies and resources, while developing two UOPs addressing state and national standards. In addition, teachers shared technology-integrated activities they have used successfully in their classrooms. Invited speakers introduced district standards, local technology resources for teachers and examples of their own UOPs.

The UOP, collaboratively created by Apple Computer Inc., The National Science Foundation and the New American Schools Development Corp., is a framework for organizing ideas and embedding technology into teachers' instruction so that learning rather than teaching is emphasized. UOP activities are structured to encourage learner autonomy, initiative and inquiry, while nurturing curiosity and dialogue among learners. The activities are designed to provide opportunities for constructing new knowledge and understanding through authentic experiences. Goals are focused on performance and understanding (University of Pretoria 1996).

The UOP brings into focus seven elements of instruction used to align curriculum with developmentally appropriate standards across grade levels and content: invitation, situations, tasks, interactions, standards, tools and assessment. These elements are integral parts of the three phases of teaching: planning, instruction and evaluation.

The PT3 Practicum Plus Program added an additional abstract/overview element, which is designed to help other teachers relate the unit to their own classrooms. It also gives them a frame of reference as they look at the UOP outline at the ACOT Web site (http://azli.asu.edu).

Subjects. A total of 70 mentor teachers and 50 preservice teachers participated in the seven cohort groups. There were five cohort groups: Elementary Education (EED), Bilingual Education (BLE), ESL Education and Early Childhood Education (ECD). The ECD cohort training was abbreviated, and these participants received a one-hour credit and did not develop a UOP.

The cohort workshops were held in schools where a partnership existed with the ASUW College of Education for on-site classroom training for preservice teachers. ASUW is a commuter upper-division campus with many nontraditional students. For instance, the average age of the undergraduate student population is 29, many students are first-generation college students and 21.6% are of minority heritage. Preservice participants in the PT3 Practicum Plus Program paralleled the profile of ASUW students. In addition, 12 ASUW education faculty members assigned to the site-based teacher preparation locations helped lead the Practicum Plus Program workshops.

Data Collection

Multiple measures were used to collect data for each of the research questions. The instruments employed and the procedures used to gather data are presented in the following sections.

Technology checklist. Preservice teachers' and mentor teachers' mastery of technology skills was captured by PT3 instructors and university faculty using a Technology Skills Inventory assessing eight areas. Workshop leaders examined  participants' products and checked off  mastered items as noted.

Completion of a UOP. Each participant was expected to complete a UOP. PT3 instructors collected the first draft of each UOP at the end of the six-day summer workshops. The percentage of UOP completions was obtained by comparing participant lists with submitted UOPs. A rubric was developed to determine participants' applications of each element in the final draft submitted at the end of the fall semester. The rubric consisted of a three-tiered scale: accomplished, developing and emerging. In addition, each team or individual teacher participant was required to teach at least one of the lessons from their UOP during the fall semester.

Daily participant exit tickets. All participants in the PT3 UOP training were asked to complete an exit ticket that was composed of five prompts for a formative evaluation. The prompts were:

  • One thing you learned or relearned today;
  • One positive comment about today's activities;
  • One idea you learned or saw today that you can use with your students;
  • Your suggestions for improvement; and
  • General comments and questions about today's topic.

Listserv. PT3 Practicum Plus Program staff enrolled all workshop participants in a listserv created for their cohorts. The purpose was threefold: to provide participants with skills in electronic communication, to encourage collegial sharing, and to create a community of learners who could interact beyond the time and place of the workshops. PT3 staff performed the data analysis with qualitative techniques. Emerging themes were recorded to form the basis and interpretation of content analysis. Data was analyzed to determine the numbers of contributions during the summer classes and follow-up fall sessions.

Faculty reflections. University faculty from each education concentration area (elementary, ESL, bilingual and early childhood) attended and helped lead the three-credit, one-hour classes with preservice and mentor teachers. They were asked to take notes each day reflecting on strengths and suggestions for change of that day's program. The notes were then typed and submitted at the end of the training. Emerging themes and suggestions were noted and used to revise the program.

Results

Generally, the results, based on an analysis of data from many sources, showed the PT3 professional development activities in technology integration to be effective.

Technology checklist. Participants demonstrated increased levels of skills for the use of applications and the Internet. As participants demonstrated proficiency of each skill, workshop leaders noted the accomplishment on the Technology Skills Inventory. Evaluation of the preservice teacher-mentor teacher Technology Skills Inventory indicated that 95% of the participants demonstrated 90% proficiency on the skills listed.

Completion of UOPs. All participants except ECDs completed a UOP, which ranged in grade level from K-8. Analysis of the UOP's final draft clearly showed that participants developed the abstract, invitations, tasks, interactions and situations. The areas that were missing or not developed were standards and assessments. For example, 89% of the preservice teacher-mentor teacher teams included Arizona Academic Standards and 40% of the ESL teams included the TESOL standards. Figure 1 below shows the percentage of teams meeting the accomplished, developing and emerging levels in all UOP components.

Although there was the requirement that one lesson from the UOP be taught, 7% of participant teams and individuals reported that they were unable to perform this task because the unit would be taught the following semester, grade levels had changed or there was no time in the schedule. However, 93% of the teams reported that they did implement at least one lesson from the UOP.

Daily participant exit tickets. Several themes emerged from the formative evaluation provided by the participants' responses on the exit tickets. First, participants appreciated the opportunity to learn about a variety of technology and resources, including Microsoft PowerPoint, Inspiration, digital cameras and the Internet. They valued the time devoted to working with the technology, while practicing and improving their skills for applications in their classrooms. In addition, they appreciated learning strategies that worked with small groups when a limited number of computers were available. Finally, they valued opportunities to use Internet resources, including Web site evaluation procedures and links to educationally relevant Web sites.

Listserv. The listserv functioned as a communication path for participants to share ideas and thoughts. They used the listserv to share teaching ideas, including ESL strategies, resources and suggestions on how to complete assignments such as bookmarking Web sites. Participants helped each other stay abreast of current events that would impact their classrooms and offered support for each other in their work at the university.

Faculty reflections. The reflections received from university faculty confirmed a positive reaction to the UOP workshops. Faculty members wrote that workshop activities helped mentor and preservice teachers learn how technology could be incorporated into their curriculum. Faculty also remarked positively on parts of the training that directly impacted their university teaching such as developing confidence in their skills for incorporation of technologies into their own college. It was also noted that while mentor teachers provided expertise in pedagogy and content, the preservice teachers provided the expertise in technology. Faculty also suggested changes that could make the workshop training stronger, including:

  • Inform mentor and preservice teachers of training dates earlier for planning purposes and to facilitate the formation of more teams;
  • Introduce technology and hands-on computer activities on the first day;
  • Give a UOP model to participants at the beginning of the training;
  • Integrate accommodations for special needs students; and
  • Present ESL and bilingual faculty with the TESOL standards early in the training in order to acquaint mentor teachers with them.
Discussion

One of the benefits of the workshops was the opportunity for preservice teachers and mentor teachers to become acquainted and to develop a collaborative working relationship prior to the school year, while creating the technology-integrated UOPs. All participants showed growth and success in developing Internet skills for sending e-mail, creating and saving bookmarks, and using search engines. In addition, they developed skills in the use of software applications to improve teaching and learning. Through development of the UOP, preservice and in-service teachers were able to break out of the textbook dependency mode, guiding students' learning through a variety of sources of information.

Preservice teacher-mentor teacher teams reported that three components of the workshops particularly important in facilitating skill development and application to the classroom were:

  1. The transfer of learning from the professional development setting to the classroom was cited by 93% of the participants. Learning allowed preservice and mentor teachers to engage in activities that could be used directly with their pupils later.
  2. The workshops provided participants with significant amounts of time to learn how to use technology through practice with a variety of applications.
  3. Participants were given ample time to adapt technology skills, materials and techniques for classroom instruction.

Unlike many professional development activities that only focus on skill instruction, the workshops provided both time and support for instruction and skill development essential for transfer to classroom uses. The Practicum Plus Program could not control all of the important factors needed to support the teams' implementation of the UOP for the following reasons:

  • The Internet access was down the days the K-8 students were to conduct searches for information.
  • The lab wasn't available at the time it was needed in the lesson due to once-a-week class scheduling in schools.
  • The preservice teacher wasn't there at the time of day the lesson was to be implemented, and the mentor teacher wasn't confident enough to do it individually.
  • Required standardized test schedules supplanted the curriculum lesson.
  • Further, it should be noted that the implementation of innovations takes time, and although the teams learned a lot, more training and support may have been needed.
Implications

The results of this study provided multiple implications for preservice and in-service technology preparation:

First, the data indicated that many teachers need additional help in developing appropriate assessments.

Second, the data revealed that bilingual and ESL teachers needed further help in incorporating the TESOL standards.

Third, the UOP offers multiple benefits for students. The pupil is the center as learner and the teacher is the facilitator of the learning through modeling, reflection and self-inquiry.

Fourth, pairing preservice and in-service teachers in a collaborative, interdependent team benefited both groups. Each shared his or her expertise and learned from the other.

Fifth, the issue of time for exploration and development of technology skills should not be ignored for either preservice or in-service teachers.

Finally, teachers discovered that using technology for instructional purposes is a viable way of enriching and furthering the learning experience.


Description of UOP Elements

Invitation, the first element of the unit of practice (UOP), invites the students to the learning table and focuses on what they are going to learn and do. The question should provide students with a project overview and spark their interest, making them want to explore and find information to answer this initial question.

The second element, Situations, is a definitive description of where, when and for how long students will engage in the unit. Situations describe the time of day, week, month or semester, including the arrangement of the physical environment where instruction will take place.

Tasks, the third element, is a clear-cut explanation of what students will do to achieve the unit's goals and objectives that are linked to the academic standards.

The fourth element, Interactions, describes group dynamics and the behaviors of teacher and students. Specifics are given about who initiates the dialogue process that generates the appropriate learning experiences, teachers or students.

Tools, the fifth element, list the resources provided by the teacher to engage students in the act of learning and the creation of their own knowledge.

The sixth element, Standards, clearly states and defines the learning objectives and links them to mandated state and national standards, the curriculum, technology and TESOL standards across grade levels.

Valuation, the seventh element, gives a clearly stated description of how student work will be evaluated on the standards set forth in the UOP.

The Abstract/Overview provides a clear summary of the content knowledge and skills expected of students.


References

Becker, H., J. Ravitz, and Y. Wong. 1999. Teacher and Teacher-Directed Student Use of Computers and Software. Center for Research on Information Technology and Organizations: University of California, Irvine and University of Minnesota. [Retrieved April 2000 from www.crito.uci.edu/tlc/findings/computeruse.]

Beckett, E., K. Wetzel, R. Buss, I. Chisholm, E. Misdoubted and H. Padgett. 2001. "Preservice and In-service Teachers Collaborate to Integrate Technology Into K-8 Classrooms." SITE Conference 2001: Norfolk, VA.

Chisholm, I., J. Carey and A. Hernandez. 1998. "University Minority Students: Cruising Down the Superhighway or Standing at the Off-Ramp?" Presented at SITE 98: Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference, Washington, D.C. March.

Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. 1995. "Teachers and Technology: Making the Connection." Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office.

Darling-Hammond, L. 1995. "Changing Conceptions of Teaching and Teacher Development." Teacher Education Quarterly 22 (4): 9-26.

Darling-Hammond, L. 1998. "Teacher Learning That Supports Student Learning." Educational Leadership 55 (5): 6-11.

University of Pretoria. 1996. What is constructivism? [Retrieved March 2000 fromhttp://hagar.up.ac.za/catts/learner/lindavr/lindapg1.htm.]

Wetzel, R., R. Zambo and N. Arbaugh. 1996. "Innovations in Integrating Technology Into Student Teaching Experiences." Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 29 (2): 196-214.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.

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