From a Distance: Training Teachers with Technology
Technology is transforming our home and workplaceenvironment. Interactive media such as e-mail, the Internet andteleconferencing are altering the manner in which we communicate withone another. These communication technologies can also be a catalystfor bringing about changes in our educationalsystems.
With computer conferencing, Web browsers andvideoconferencing readily available, educators are being challengedto think of powerful, non-conventional ways to construct learningenvironments. Therefore, it follows that teacherpreparatory programs at universities must use these advancedtechnologies while training future teachers. As a result, beginningteachers will develop a comfort level with the technology and feelconfident about integrating multimedia intoinstruction.
Project Inception and Design
Undergraduate students and faculty at KentuckyState University in Frankfort collaborated with educators at DixieK-4 Magnet School in Lexington, Kentucky, in a telecommunicationsproject for an entire semester (16 weeks). It began when a professorteaching a Primary /Elementary Reading Methods course and thecoordinator of videoconferencing at the University introducedpreservice teachers (students training to be teachers) to interactivecompressed video. This two-way video connection provided an avenuethrough which all university students could interact with masterteachers (licensed educators) at an elementary classroom (remotesite).
Dixie School, approximately 25 miles away from theUniversity, was invited to participate because officials thereexpressed a willingness to move away from standardized teaching whileexploring the limits of technology. In addition, the school had newcompatible videoconferencing equipment and embraced a philosophy thatvalued distance learning applications.
Both institutions had compressed video classroomsthat were connected to over 130 other similar interactive rooms atuniversities and K-12 schools throughout the state. The KentuckyTeleLinking Network connects these "two-way audio" and "two-wayvideo" rooms through bundled phone lines, without satellite uplinksand downlinks. Each site had two large-screen monitors, one todisplay the received image from the remote site and a second todisplay the picture/images in their own classroom. In addition, eachschool had a document camera for sending images of graphics or reallife objects.
As the authors speculated about ways to structurethis project, inquiries were honed to one guiding question: How canpreservice teachers effectively observe and teach in an elementarysetting via videoconference transmissions? Very little research wasfound with projects that involved elementary schools, preserviceteachers and videoconferencing technology. Roblyer recommended thatK-12 schools might benefit from examining videoconferencing deliverysystems. Furthermore, it is believed thatvideoconferencing can greatly enhance student interaction andparticipation.
Three planning sessions with Dixie viavideoconferencing were conducted during the fall semester. Both sitesexchanged ideas about project expectations, goals and which teacherswould be involved. In addition, transmission days, times andtechnological logistics were considered. Initially Dixie's technologycoordinator, librarian, three primary teachers and principalparticipated. When the telecasts started, a music instructor, fourthgrade teacher and art educator joined the project.
Coordinating days and times with the remote sitetook meticulous planning due to the number of people involved.Schedules and calendars had to be considered from educators at bothsites, the videoconference rooms, videoconferencing coordinators, theuniversity, and the school district. It was finally decided to linkthe sites once a week for one hour in the morning.
Eighteen preservice teachers observed four Dixieteachers instructing Reading lessons for the first six weeks. Sincethe university course ran from 8:30 - 11:30, the preservice teachershad time before the link with Dixie Elementary to review the purposeof the observation, instructional methods the teacher may use, andspecific Reading curriculum.
The last 10 weeks were devoted to helping thepreservice teachers plan, design and implement Reading lessons fordelivery to elementary students at the remote site. Universitystudents worked in pairs as they prepared to teach. Prior to theirdesignated teaching date, technology training was conducted by thevideoconferencing coordinator. Demonstrations included equipmentoperation, loading video clips, storing freeze frames and writing ona whiteboard that could be manipulated from both sites withelectronic colored pens.
While practicing with the cameras a student wasoverheard saying, "There aren't any children in the room for me tolook at. Instead, I have to look directly into the TV monitor to seethe students. When I look off to the side, it distracts them. This isreally much harder than it looks. I have a greater appreciation forthe people on the six o'clock news."
In addition to the technical training, theprofessor consulted weekly with university students. Traditionallesson plans and curriculum materials were altered to meet the needsof the technology-infused instruction. Content and lesson deliveryare important to the success of distance educationcurriculum.
One of the university seniors realized thecomplexity of blending curriculum and technology: "This is such adifferent way to teach.... I want to have a lesson that gets kidsinvolved, to be interactive with me and the technology.... Thisequipment helps me see the endless possibilities I have at myfingertips to teach a concept, like showing a video, checking it outon the Internet, watching clips from the CD-ROM, and even watching medo an experiment in front of the document camera."
Practice and Feedback
Before each interactive lesson, preserviceteachers rehearsed their lesson in front of classroom peers. This wasfollowed immediately with assessment from their colleagues. The oraland written assessment was structured to include three complimentsabout content, delivery or technical methodology, and a suggestion tohelp strengthen the lesson.
After the actual lesson was presented to Dixie,elementary students dialogued with preservice teachers about whatthey liked and learned from the electronic lesson. One primary girlcommented: " I didn't realize you were a practicing teacher. Ithought you were a real teacher. I learned a lot from yourlesson."
When the elementary students finished assessingthe lesson, an assistant took them to another room in the school.Dixie teachers, who had viewed the lesson, remained in the classroomwhere they orally critiqued the lesson. This was followed up by asurvey (see Figure One). Critiques included an analysis of lessondelivery, curriculum, children's behavior and/or technicalissues.
Boone strongly advocated opportunities to processthe observation after the interactive class has ended.Students might misbehave or be so distracted by the technology thatthey do not follow the lesson. Discussion about these and otherevents in the transmission is an important part of the debriefingprocess.
Following a lesson that called for students tointeract with the document pad, a Dixie teacher remarked: "I was veryimpressed with your lesson. It had a nice flow to it. The childrencould follow your directions, which were given clearly. Theyespecially enjoyed getting a chance to work on the document pad whenyou asked them to circle specific things from the story you read. Theinteractive part of this kind of teaching is veryimportant."
Instructional plans had to be transformed to meetthe needs of the technology and reflect the technical aspects of thelesson. For some preservice teachers this was quite taxing. Afterseveral hours of preparation, a senior lamented: "I found that ittook much longer to plan than I originally anticipated. It probablytook me 50 to 60 hours to get this kind of a lessontogether."
Lesson plans had a line drawn down the center ofthe page. On the left side of the page instructional procedures werelisted (i.e., introduction, purpose, objective, outcome, developmentof lesson, guided practice, independent practice, review, closure,assessment, extension). On the right side, corresponding to thelesson sequence, were technical notes reminding the teacher whichcamera was operational, the person doing the talking, or when tochange to stored slides, video, or the document camera (see FigureTwo).
Successful training of preservice teachers viavideoconferencing with a remote elementary school was at the veryleast challenging. It demanded more time and attention than any ofthe participants ever imagined. From the feedback collectedthroughout the project, it was apparent that a vast amount oflearning was taking place. Some highlights follow:
1) Will technology replace teachers? Often we hearthat technology will supplant the need for teachers. The authorswould argue that the need for teachers is greatly enhanced withinteractive technology. However, teachers will have to be technologyliterate to function in this setting. It is necessary to have ateacher who knows about the technical aspects in order to operate,monitor and troubleshoot the hardware/software. Dixie's coordinatoroffered this comment: "The teacher of the 1800s will not survive inthe year 2000. For so long teaching has been about teachingknowledge. It is no longer that. It is teaching children how toresearch things, how to find answers, what is relevant to theirsearch, and what do they do with it after they've gottenit."
2) Who was training whom? The authors of theproject initially believed that they were presenting an innovativeway to provide observation and teaching experiences for preserviceteachers at a remote site via interactive video. That did happen.Kentucky State University students were given opportunities toobserve master teachers model Reading lessons using technology.Nevertheless, the feedback received from Dixie Magnet indicated thatthe university trainees were also modeling for the elementaryteachers. Dixie's coordinator expressed it this way: "We have tochange our teaching style. We are still using our traditionalteaching style in a technologically rich environment and we realizedthat it was ineffective. Our students lost attention because studentssaw that there was technology available and that we were not usingit. They knew that there had to be more to it than just coming in andsitting in front of two TVs with a teacher teaching a lesson. Whenyou started teaching, we noticed a big difference in student behaviorand student interest. It was because you were using the medium andtechnology more effectively than the way that our teacherswere."
3) How will teachers break away from traditionalroles? This project created an alternative "techno-academic"classroom where support and encouragement for efforts to try theuntested facilitated the transition from passive to active learning.The environment continually reinforced actions and ideas that brokeaway from traditional roles of teaching and learning. While learningnew technology, questions could be asked and doubts could bevocalized. One preservice teacher expressed skepticism toward thiskind of training: "At first I didn't believe in this system, butafter using it myself, I think it is good. As future teachers itgives us a feel of the classroom and a chance to teach. Now, I reallylike this system." Another future teacher said: "I wasn't too fond ofthe idea of teaching with the interactive compressed video, but now Ifeel more classes should be observing this way.... If you can do ithere on the screen, it'll be a lot easier doing it in my classroom."When questions and concerns are addressed in a compassionate,professional manner, there is a likelihood that the new technologywill be adopted successfully. Until teachers arecomfortable using and accessing information with technologicalliteracy, there will be no significant change in instructionalpractices in the classroom. A preservice teacher sharedthis insightful remark: "The way you are taught in college is the wayyou will be apt to teach when you begin your career in teaching. I'llbe more comfortable to use this type of instruction in myclassroom."
4) What about student/teacher interaction andsupervision? The summary of project surveys indicated a high level ofsatisfaction from both sites. Videoconferencing is a viable mediumfor university training and elementary instruction. In addition toall the positive comments, two suggestions were made for futureprojects. The first suggestion referred to the teacher/studentrelationship. Dixie's primary age children wanted more contact withthe university students. The videoconferencing coordinator explained:"Students at this age wanted to talk with KSU students a little morethan just in a group setting. Part of this is developmental. Childrenof this age are inquisitive about other people, especially peoplethey can see and hear and interact with." One 40-minute lesson d'esnot supply ample time to build a strong student-teacher relationship.In the future, preservice teachers could teach 3-4 lessons toestablish continuity and rapport. The second suggestion pointed out acondition that makes the elementary school a unique site for distancetransmissions. Unlike a remote site with adult learners, childrenneed adult supervision throughout the video connection. It wasrecommended that educators be present during the interactive class tooperate the equipment, monitor behavior, distribute materials,oversee student work and process follow-up instruction after thepresentation. This type of supervision ensures that academic andtechnical needs will receive attention and resolution.
A Final Word
Finally, the national mandate is clear: futureteachers must be ready to use technology in the 21stcentury. If preservice teachers are to educate youngstersin a technologically rich environment, projects of this nature mustbe undertaken to strengthen teacher preparation programs. Manyfuturists have projected that there will be an increase in the numberof classrooms capable of offering remote learning programs. If thatis true, then the individuals involved in this project will be betterprepared to work in such a setting.
Tod Porter is the Videoconferencing Coordinator atKentucky State University in Frankfort.
Sharon K. Foster, formerly a professor at KentuckyState University, is an educational consultant in Louisville,Ky.
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This article originally appeared in the 09/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.