Training Today's Teachers for Tomorrow's Classrooms
If most school systems in the United States are either getting wired or making plans to get wired for the Internet (Levinson and Surratt 1999), how then shall today's teachers be prepared to deliver education in tomorrow morning's classrooms? Any response to this question is hazardous in view of the fact that technological change has increased at such an accelerated rate that proposals for pre-service and in-service teacher preparation in technology have a brief shelf life. Daunting though the task may be, one must take aim at such a dynamic, moving target and fire away.
Recently, a university instructor and an instructional specialist collaborated to redesign a graduate level course in Instructional Technology Management. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has adopted standards for technology preparation for all teachers. Overarching ISTE technology competencies addressed in the course include demonstration of a student's ability to: 1) explore, evaluate and use computer technology-based materials; 2) use computers for problem solving data collection, information management, communications, presentations and decision making; 3) design and develop student learning activities that integrate computing and technology for a variety of student grouping strategies and for diverse student populations; and 4) demonstrate skill in using such productivity tools as word processors, databases, spreadsheets and print/graphic utilities.
All of the graduate students registered for this course are teachers currently working in K-12 classrooms. After giving careful thought to the needs of these teachers, and in light of the course expectations, the instructor posed the following question to the instructional specialist. How could these teachers experience the expectations they would potentially hold for their own students? More specifically, what is the most meaningful delivery system to assist teachers' acquisition of information technology techniques to foster active inquiry, collaboration, and supportive interaction in their own classroom?
The collaborators determined that the most suitable way to provide authentic, performance-based assessment and a context in which to house demonstration of ISTE competencies was to allow the teachers in their class to establish Web accounts for the creation and development of their own Web pages. This idea was inspired by a desire to provide teachers with an opportunity to feel comfortable using technology in their classroom and to provide students with the most recent tools available to assist them in learning. Most classroom teachers struggle to find time to develop authentic assessments, let alone consider designing Web pages for use with their students in their classrooms. Needless to say, these teachers were thrilled at the prospect of utilizing three hours one night a week to actually acquire skills and develop technologically enhanced student learning activities.
Course Relevance Issues
As a preliminary step in assuring course quality, relevance and teacher ownership, the university instructional specialist suggested using a Web-based course management tool to conduct an online survey of the 29 teachers to determine their existing skill level. The results of the survey showed a broad range of capability from novice to intermediate skill levels. Nobody considered himself or herself an expert and no one knew anything about Web page development or how a personal Web site might be used in a classroom. Though many teachers were understandably intimidated and threatened by their own apparent technological deficiencies, there was general agreement that there was not a strong correlation between their deficiencies and their perceived intelligence. They just needed some time and patient assistance.
Based on the data from the survey and after many days of face to face and e-mail consultation, the university instructor and the instructional specialist gave birth to a course outline. This course outline was designed to provide the teachers with the skills necessary to generate exciting Web pages to be used by students, other teachers in their respective schools, parents and members of the community. A rubric was jointly constructed and negotiated with the teachers to formulate a set of criteria for the contents of each Web site.
Exemplary Web sites were those that included opportunities for students, other teachers, parents and members of the community to: 1) view teacher-made slide show presentations including such data displays as charts, tables, and spreadsheets; 2) engage in inquiry-based learning activities with external links to Web sites containing primary source documents; 3) view student-made projects or field trips using scanned images or digital photography; 4) read student-made publications of their own writing using a desktop publishing format; 5) receive information regarding assignments, classroom and school wide events, field trips, classroom and school policies; and 6) engage in a wide variety of distance learning opportunities especially designed for students with extended absences. Creation of interactive asynchronous bulletin boards and calendars were optional enrichment activities for the technologically adventurous.
These classroom teachers experienced many joys and frustrations as they worked to improve their technological competency. One particular observation about the activity system (Engstrom 1991) of this course was the authoritative capacity of technology (Salomon, Perkins and Globerson 1991) to enable teachers to accomplish many of the organizational, curricular, instructional, and assessment goals espoused by thousands of educators (Dewey 1938, Vygotsky 1978, Bruner 1986, Spady 1994, Beane 1993) in the twentieth century.
With little effort these teachers found themselves conspicuously breathing the rhetoric of best practices for reflective practitioners. The educational environment was well nourished with effective communication, problem solving, informed decision making, and creative thinking. For example, teachers were forced to ask for guided assistance from their instructor and from other, more competent, peers. There was an apparently endless flow of "aha's" as teachers reflected on the most creative ways to engage their students given the plethora of resources that existed to supplant traditional textbook curriculum and instruction. Collaborative ideas surfaced about new and better ways to organize the classroom setting to accommodate the integration of technology. Teachers began to think about organizational and time management strategies to provide all of their students access to teachers' Web sites. A pair of teachers from the same school collaborated on a Web site to provide their students opportunities to experience interdisciplinary curricula. Other teachers who worked with children on the same developmental level exchanged ideas and helped each other find educational links for specific age-appropriate content.
A Good Example
Cindy, a 7th grade Math and Science teacher with no prior knowledge about Web page construction, developed an outstanding Web site to provide information for students, parents and colleagues. Her pages also included links to numerous activities designed to create a classroom environment that encourages peer discourse and collaboration, investigation and a visual display of ideas (McLoughlin and Oliver 1998).
For example, an internal link to a page entitled "super science" offers students explicit instructions concerning their involvement in a variety of science projects. Within the context of the project there are links that provide examples of student log books, descriptions of experiments with scanned pictures of student work, and research papers. The "super science" page also furnishes a list of external links lending ideas, inquiries, and rubrics for science fair projects. Additionally, the "super science" page contains internal links to various slide show presentations generated by Cindy to enhance the knowledge of her students.
Another link from Cindy's home page brings the onlooker to a science camp field trip page housing twenty-four photos in a two by twelve table. These scanned photographs are chronologically arranged to give students a sense of how their learning experiences developed over time. The neatly configured display of the day's adventure allows students to reflect on their learning experiences through guided classroom discussion and generates possibilities for writing and research.
Clearly, Cindy designed her Web site with a desire to enable her students to have a visible voice in her classroom. An internal link to student pages permits her students to have such a voice. One such page entitled "Matt's Blackholes" hypnotizes the viewer with a striking blinking star background superimposed with colorful planetoid images and a futuristic space ship. The page contains information on black holes and a diagram illustrating the parts of a black hole. Matt has provided a link to his e-mail address at the bottom of his page so that other students can have further discussions with him.
At the end of the course, the teachers were given the opportunity to respond to some focus questions about their current involvement with educational technology. Teachers were divided into groups corresponding to similar classroom developmental levels. The groups consisted of 12 early childhood teachers (grades K-5), 7 middle school teachers (grades 6-8), and ten secondary teachers (grades 9-12). All groups were asked to exchange their responses about the following questions:
- What design elements were used to engage students, parents and colleagues?
- How d'es your Web site content address the needs of your students?
- How do you plan to make your Web site accessible to your students?
- How d'es technology assist in developing: inquiry-based and discovery activities, problem solving activities, performance-based assessments, real world applications and social learning skills?
Most of the responses to these questions across grade levels were unusually similar. Everyone agreed that design elements needed to be colorful, simple and consistent. Furthermore, Web sites needed to address the needs of students by providing links for help, research, remediation, demonstrations and examples of student work, as well as schedules including important dates and reminders for homework, exams, project due dates and after school activities.
Most of the teachers with limited technological resources in their own classrooms suggested the use of a television wired to their personal computer as a means to give their students public access to their Web site. Other alternatives included providing more computer lab opportunities, using a smart board (electronic whiteboard), and home use. One teacher stated that her school principal was investigating the idea of leasing laptops for his middle school students in the same way that band instruments are currently leased.
A majority of our classroom discussion centered on responses to the question about how technology assists in developing social skills and issues related to inquiry-based, discovery, and problem solving activities. Teachers drew from their own recent experiences in the course and believed that they could successfully transfer their successes to their own students. This was perhaps the most significant and powerful finding of this course. Teachers experienced ways in which the Internet enabled them to explore real world issues relating to societal problems from a broad range of sources with varying perspectives. This discovery opened the door for conversations about whose perspective is most believable.
Consulting databases helped convert hypothetical perceptions into facts and figures, resulting in more informed discussion and decision making. In the minds of these teachers, this form of fingertip research was worth passing on to their students. No longer would they be victims of accepting textbook interpretations of historical events and others' perceptions of answers to some of today's problems.
Additionally, teachers who previously abandoned the hope of finding engaging applications for cooperative learning experienced the use of technology as a centering force for group collaborative activity. Teachers were excited about the possibility of students creating their own pages as a means of performance-based assessment. Performance-based assessment allows a wider variety of intelligences (Gardner 1993) to be measured than traditional paper and pencil assessments.
Teachers also voluntarily reflected on the benefits of learning in the non-threatening environment of the course itself. The course instructor and instructional specialist worked to eliminate the presence of fear of failure by giving participation grades, encouraging risk taking, letting teachers work at their own pace, and by providing contextualized instruction and guided assistance as needs arose. This activity apparently had a profound effect on teacher thinking about the learning process. It inspired teachers to bring a version of this experience to their own classrooms.
As a result of our formal discussion, ongoing informal discourse in class, and through unsolicited e-mail, the following conclusions are evident. Teachers need more structured time to develop skills working with new technology-based educational tools. These tools need to be presented in a context of learning in which the overall objective requires an authentic demonstration in a performance context. Teachers must be convinced by their own successes that new technological tools have an every day practical application and that parents and local infrastructures support the use of these new tools. Teachers need more opportunities built into their daily schedules to engage in reflective thinking with other teachers to share new ideas, to revel and delight in the positive effects of their efforts measured by student progress in cognitive as well as affective outcomes (Spady 1994), and to share new discoveries in the ever-changing world of technology. As a final conclusion, we discovered that hardy belief systems about teaching and learning and resistance to change these belief systems, which are so heavily influenced by the culture of schooling (Sarason 1991), are more readily changed by the integration of technology as an educational tool.
Suggestions for Future Research
The similarity of responses from teachers across developmental levels about the effects of using teacher-created Web sites in the classroom raises the question of whether or not current educational technology helps level the playing field for conceptions about definitions of teaching and learning across developmental levels. Responses to these questions represent a clear departure from traditional developmentalist thinking about what education should be for various age levels. Maybe younger children are quite capable of engaging in inquiry and critical thinking skills (Tharpe and Gallimore 1989) while secondary students can revisit the enjoyment of integrating artwork and collaborative effort into real world application activities in their single subject disciplines.
Our teachers have agreed to let us follow them into their classrooms this new school year as a measure of accountability for "walking the talk" and putting the fruits of their labor into practice. We are looking forward to these observations.
Mark Warner -- [email protected]
Maureen Akins -- [email protected]
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This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.