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A Sobering Survey

The results made me wonder where colleges of education have been for the past 20 years.

In the late 1980s Don Knezek, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and I worked together at the Texas Education Agency. I remember sitting in a meeting with Don in support of his proposal that all Texas preservice teachers should have certain basic technology knowledge and skills when they left an educator preparedness program. This experience was one of the points of origin for what would become the ISTE National Educational Technology Standards (NETS).

Flash forward two decades and we have some new data on how colleges of education are using technology, courtesy of a recent Project Tomorrow (tomorrow.org) survey of preservice teachers’ views on technology use. The results are fascinating and frightening, and made me wonder where colleges of education have been for the past 20 years.

One survey question asked: “What is the best way for you to learn about effective strategies for integrating technology into instruction?” Respondents were given 19 choices and instructed to check all that applied. The most common answer was “during my field experiences or student teaching,” followed by “during classroom observations” and “by observing my professors.”

This seems to reinforce the classic belief that teachers teach as they have been taught. So does the response to the question, “When you think about teaching in your future classroom, what types of technology would you like to use to enhance student achievement?” Three of the top four responses were “digital media tools such as video and audio,” “interactive whiteboards,” and “computer projection devices.” All three strongly support a teacher-centric classroom, although competent, well-trained teachers can and do use these devices in student-centered project-based learning.

Here is the scariest part. When asked, “In your teaching methods courses, which technology tools or techniques are you learning to use?” respondents most often chose the most basic of the 22 answers provided: “using word processing, spreadsheet, or database tools.” What they are not learning is equally alarming. In the middle of the pack, with 24 percent of responses, was “analyzing student achievement data”; near the bottom (14 percent) was “using student achievement data to inform my teaching.”

What to make of these results? The obvious indication is the gap between the rudimentary technology skills that colleges of education are instilling in new teachers and the high-level tech savvy K-12 students are exhibiting in the schools. Beating up on colleges of education has been sport for at least two decades, since Don and I made our case in support of technology in preservice education. It is time to do more than complain.

What teacher education program prepared you for teaching or administrating? When was the last time you talked to someone there and let the person know what you wished the program had taught you? You might try it. If enough of us do, it could make a difference for those soon to join the rank and file in 21st century classrooms.

This article originally appeared in the June / July 2010 issue of THE Journal.

About the Author

Geoffrey H. Fletcher is the deputy executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).