21st Century Teaching

Which Came First - The Technology or the Pedagogy?

A new spin on an old riddle goes to the heart of a conflict between K-12 schools and the colleges of education responsible for cultivating and providing them with new teachers.

Which Came First - The Technology or the Pedagogy?WHY IS A GENERATION of teachers more knowledgeable about technology than any before it arriving in classrooms with little understanding of how to teach with it?

It's a debate that, according to Ann Thompson, director of Iowa State University's Center for Technology in Learning and Teaching, has K-12 and higher ed engaged in mutual finger-pointing. "School districts say, 'If colleges of education just better prepared new teachers in technology, we'd be all set, but they're not doing their job,'" Thompson says. "Colleges of education say, 'We're doing a great job, but then students go out into schools and they don't have access to technology or don't see other teachers using technology, so some of this prep goes to waste.'"

Thompson believes that on their end, colleges of education can help cross that chasm by instilling in preservice teachers a sense of humility for their first year or two in the classroom and deference for veteran faculty members. "It's important that they understand that they may bring a lot of technical expertise, but that they have a lot to learn from the [other] teachers in schools in terms of pedagogy and content," she says. Thompson also concedes that higher ed has been guilty of paying too much attention to the devices themselves. "We all did at first: 'If we just teach teachers how to use technology, they'll figure out how to teach with it.' Although it was an understandable approach, it really wasn't the approach we should be taking."

Glen Bull, co-director of the Curry School of Education Center for Technology and Teacher Education at the University of Virginia, is more blunt. "A Smart Board doesn't teach anything," he says, noting that at his institution, knowing how to operate a device is a baby step toward understanding tech integration. "Five years of prep are what we think are needed to take advantage of it."

Tying Technology to Topic

The five years of prep Bull refers to is the Curry School's fiveyear program that integrates subject-matter education with teaching expertise, coordinating students' undergraduate and graduate work. The student's undergraduate major is matched by that same area of concentration in the education program. With the help of academic advisers on both ends, preservice math majors, for example, will focus their education studies on math teaching. At the end of the five years, students receive from the university both a bachelor's degree in the given subject matter and a Master of Teaching degree. The program has since evolved to include technology as a content area.

Integrating Online Technologies

Which Came First - The Technology or the Pedagogy?AT WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY IN DETROIT, Mary Brady, a senior lecturer in special education and instructional technology in the school's College of Education, believes the drift toward student-oriented online learning obligates teachers to become engaged firsthand in web-based technologies if they are going to be able to deliver their educational uses.

"In the state of Michigan, every high school student must have at least one online class experience for graduation," Brady says. "What I say to my students is, 'How can we have that as a high school requirement if we've never walked in their shoes?' We have to take an online class to be in a better position to train our students so they'll be ready for that online experience."

Read about the Florida Virtual School’s new effort to teach local preservice teachers how to deliver classes online.

For that reason, Brady teaches her courses online. She meets students face-to-face for the first night of class to introduce the use of the college's learning management system, from Blackboard. Students must then use the LMS to create their own web page.

Next, they sign up for a Skype account. Brady makes herself available for student meetings through the IPbased phone service. She also relies on TechSmith's Camtasia Studio, a tool that can capture computer-based demonstrations with audio for playback. When one of her students doesn't understand how to perform a particular software-based or online activity, Brady will create a recording in which she demonstrates the activity, and then send it off.

The university holds an annual conference in February, where new teachers return to the school to share how their technology training has played out for them. Brady says that some of them have reported using Skype to set up scheduled times to be available to talk with parents, and others use Camtasia to record lessons for students who are absent or who need further review.

Brady has just begun dabbling with the microblogging service Twitter, to send out quick alerts to her students, for example. Although she hasn't had reports back yet from any of her newly certified classroom teachers, she expects to hear that they're doing the same with their students as well as parents-- reminding them about deadlines and getting the word out about special events.

"The formal expression of this is 'technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK),'" Bull says. "TPACK says that you have to know three things to use technology well. You first have to know the content. It's going to be hard to teach calculus if you don't know calculus yourself. You also need to know the pedagogy associated with that content-- the instructional strategies that will be effective. Finally, you need to know the innovation or technology that you're going to then use."

Math teachers, he explains, might need to know how to integrate The Geometer's Sketchpad into lessons. "If you were in language arts, you might need to learn about digital storytelling. In social studies, you'd learn about the use of primary source documents at the Library of Congress. It's grounded in the subject."

Iowa State's education program also adheres to the TPACK approach, which Thompson says is a dramatic change from earlier methods that focused on the tool, not the instruction. "When we first started this venture, a lot of what we did was teaching them how to do things like use a spreadsheet," she says. "What TPACK does is help to get us away from emphasizing technology.

"There's very little emphasis on how to blog, how to create a wiki, how to create a digital story. The emphasis now is on how to use storytelling in a classroom situation, how to create a lesson where students are using blogging in a classroom."

For example, in an Iowa State math methods class, students watch videos showing K-12 kids at the interactive whiteboard explaining their thinking about how to solve a specific math problem. After the video is over, they discuss as a group various solutions for addressing student misconceptions. "We're really interested in having our students understand the thinking in math that second-graders or third-graders are doing and what typical errors might look like," Thompson says.

Which Came First - The Technology or the Pedagogy?

A LOT TO LEARN Iowa State's Ann Thompson (standing) says new teachers need to recognize that technology expertise is no substitute for pedagogical skill.

When those same preservice teachers go out to do field work, they can emulate those math lessons with an interactive whiteboard, creating an opportunity for students to explain their thinking and reflect on the solution. In addition, the veteran classroom teacher receives a valuable lesson on how to integrate a digital whiteboard into math instruction.

The approach is facilitated by Iowa State's policy of allowing its students to check out equipment such as iPod Touches, computers, and video cameras in lots of 10-- quantities large enough to use in the classrooms where they're student teaching.

"At the beginning, we used to be concerned about breaking equipment and things being stolen. It hasn't really happened," Thompson says. "We really want to give preservice teachers a chance to have the technology they need to try out ideas and lessons in the school as part of their field experiences."

Creating Tech-Savvy Principals

Which Came First - The Technology or the Pedagogy?A TECH INTEGRATION EFFORT is only as strong as the administrative support behind it. Accordingly,Western Governors University, a Salt Lake City-based online institution, has seen fit to include a "large technology component" in its new Master of Science program in educational leadership for teachers who want to be school principals, according to Adrian Zappala, program coordinator.

Introduced in February 2008, the graduate degree requires those in the program to prove competency with basic applications, such as databases and spreadsheets, as well as in using the internet for conducting web searches on demographic data. Participants are also expected to create a long-range technology plan for their school or district, working in partnership with their administrators.

Once they've completed their master's thesis, the would-be principals must deliver an electronic presentation of their findings-- either as part of a teleconference or a webinar-- to a committee that will evaluate their work. "Most of our students are classroom teachers," says Zappala. "Some of them may not have had the opportunity to present to different audiences. It's valuable training for someone who could be called to present findings of an administrative action to a board of education."

Another major aspect of the program includes the issuance of handheld devices-- currently, the Palm TX-- to all participants. The devices are loaded with an application from Teachscape called Classroom Walkthrough. It's a simple data collector that enables the user to record selected observations about a teacher's performance in the classroom. It's intended for quick, five-minute visits, not formal evaluations.

"We feel a responsibility to train our students in how to conduct data-driven research and make data-driven decisions as a school administrator," Zappala says. The device helps identify educational practices, he explains. "For example, is there coaching going on? Lecture? Discussion? Hands-on experiences? With the PDA, the [user] is free to walk around the classroom in an unobtrusive manner and record the data [while] observing the practices."

The on-the-job training is done with the full support of the teachers whose classrooms undergo observation, and thus far the results have been positive. "I'm hearing from students who have gotten to this point in the program that the principals are very impressed," Zappala says. "Principals are finding out things about their classrooms that perhaps they didn't know before."

More importantly, Zappala adds, within their schools, participants in the educational leadership program "can be evangelists for educational technology because they've used technology in a number of venues as related to their work in the graduate program."

Mentoring Programs

Field experiences that pair a preservice teacher with an experienced teacher who acts as a mentor while picking up information on how to use the latest technology tools are essential to the work being done by colleges of education. At the Curry School, the Curry/Albemarle Technology Infusion Program places about two dozen preservice teachers into semester-long internships at nearby schools in Albemarle County Public Schools and Charlottesville City Schools. The local classroom teachers, who have to apply to the program, then work with the interns to identify ways to integrate educational technologies into their specific classroom practices and curricula.

At Iowa State, the College of Education's faculty mentoring program is a bit of a misnomer; it's really the students who serve as the mentors. The program teams education students one-on-one with the college's faculty members to discuss, design, and apply instructional technology ideas. The relationship enables faculty members to gain help in areas where their tech savvy needs a boost.

"It's like having a personal trainer for faculty," Thompson explains. "The personal trainer is there to show particulars about using the equipment, but also is cheering the person on. It isn't an experience where students come in and say, 'Do this, do that, and do the other thing.' They really work together to derive an application."

Thompson says that the popularity of the mentoring course, which in-house research has shown to be regarded by students as one of the most valuable of their training, is an even bigger hit with the professors: "I always have more faculty signed up than students."

An even more determined take on the mentoring approach is the teacher residency program, wherein the education student spends the first year out of school as an apprentice to a veteran teacher. Citing as examples the Boston Teacher Residency program and Chicago's Academy for Urban School Leadership, Kathleen Fulton, director of Reinventing Schools for the 21st Century, an initiative of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, compares the arrangement to a medical residency.

"[Students] work with that teacher as well as other teachers in the school," she explains. "They work in a cohort team. They visit other schools. They have coursework."

However, it's an expensive model and a "hard one to pull off," Fulton adds. If the district pays the apprentice, that means making a financial commitment to two teachers in a classroom. That said, there's a lot of interest in it right now, she says, "because there's some money," most of it supplied by grants from the US Department of Education.

Reality Strikes

Grounding in real life, however, doesn't always prepare the preservice teacher for life after graduate school. "When you go into your classroom in your first and second year, there are a lot of contingencies and issues to deal within a new system," Bull says.

This is where colleges of education can fairly argue that they are unsupported by a K-12 environment that doesn't always provide optimal conditions for technology use. To illustrate, Bull explains that for the last three years, all math and science teachers in the Curry School program have been given visualization technology, including a projector, laptop, and an interactive whiteboard, which they tote with them to wherever they are doing their student teaching. "Then when they go out into the teaching practice, they're in great demand," he says.

But, Bull points out, as the junior-most teacher in the school system, that person may not always find those resources useful-- or usable. "One of our math teachers in the first year did, in fact, have a Smart Board, but taught in a two-story school with no elevators. And, of course, you could imagine it would be unfeasible to drag a Smart Board up the stairs and set it up in different classrooms."


Thompson believes that this scenario will be a thing of the past as the new influx of tech-savvy teachers begins to push education to accommodate and embrace technology. "Many technology people in schools are really frustrated right now," she says, by the inclination of school administrators to shut down emerging technologies, such as social networking, out of fear of bad things happening. "Many of these younger teachers are putting more pressure on the administration to open up some of these firewalls and rules. I think they're going to be helpful in working with administrators and harnessing these capabilities."

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This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2009 issue of THE Journal.