As more K-12 schools add technology capabilities to their classrooms — access to the internet, wireless devices for student use, education-focused applications, and more — barriers to the effective use of technology still linger. However, the key to overcoming these may be the preparation future teachers receive at the university level, according to the National Education Technology Plan (NETP).
Produced by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, the NETP was published in 2015 and updated in 2017. Although the 2017 iteration notes increased conversation about the need to update curricula for pre-service teachers, the implementation of changes is not widespread. A few schools of education, however, have done well in addressing technology training — preparing our nation’s future educators to better serve and engage students of all backgrounds and abilities.
University of Michigan
About seven years ago, the results of a post-graduation survey identified the stand-alone technology class offered by the University of Michigan’s School of Education as both “too much and not enough,” says Liz Kolb, PhD, a clinical assistant professor of education technology. “Graduates liked the course but said we tried to cover too much information and … [that the] technology was not carried throughout other classes.”
Today, the curriculum still includes the technology course, but it is no longer a single semester, says Kolb; it is now integrated throughout the entire two-year curriculum. This new focus consists of a combination of traditional class time, during which students learn about the research and foundation of using technology to support and enable learning objectives, and an embedded course that provides real-life experience using technology in the classroom.
“We spend four weeks at a Title I middle school, with 40 student interns working with about 200 sixth and seventh graders,” says Kolb, adding that the interns work with two English language arts teachers to prepare a variety of lessons that incorporate technology. “We emphasize the use of a research-based framework to use technology that is effective for the situation versus the … latest technology trend.”
St. Leo University
Professors Candace Roberts, PhD, and Holly Atkins, PhD, serve as the lead faculty members on technology instruction for pre-service teachers at St. Leo University in Florida, and both agree with Kolb that future educators must be taught to use technology in a way that makes pedagogical sense.
“Technology is a tool for teachers, and just like other teaching tools, it should be [used] if it enhances learning,” says Roberts. Although St. Leo offers a course to provide a foundational knowledge of technology as a tool, the real learning takes place in classrooms, where faculty members use it to enhance their lessons and students are expected to use it in their projects, she adds.
“We don’t teach specific tools; instead, we give students enough knowledge about technology that is available so they can make decisions about the tools they will use,” says Roberts. For example, St. Leo students were asked to develop a presentation using technology that included a public service announcement about bullying. “Students used a variety of tools such as Prezi, Padlet, and Nearpod for their presentations, but one group produced a video public service announcement that they embedded in their Prezi presentation,” she says.
Because pre-service teachers are “digital natives” — meaning they grew up using this technology and thus are more familiar with it — they are more likely to try new technologies or to use existing ones in new ways if allowed, Roberts adds.
“Our college of education faculty meet monthly to share what we’ve learned — on our own or through our students — to expand our own knowledge,” says Atkins. “Our faculty members have also learned that it is OK to fail in the use of technology, because our students will have times [when] their plans don’t work. This is one more way we model how to handle situations they will encounter in their own classrooms.”
Addressing Gaps in Curricula
There are a number of reasons that college of education curricula may be slow to adapt, says Christie Terry, associate director of the University of Missouri College of Education’s Enhancing Missouri’s Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies (eMINTS) National Center. A lack of incentives for faculty to take time away from teaching, research, publishing, or other work that is routinely recognized by the university means that learning how to integrate technology into curricula falls to the bottom of the
to-do list, she says.
Fear of change and a lack of funding also present challenges, but another large issue is the fact that universities often adopt different technology tools than K-12 schools possess, says Terry. “Tools selected by universities may work well for the majority of other departments, but they don’t often translate to pre-service teachers’ experience once they graduate.”
While the primary focus of the eMINTS program is to work with K-12 teachers to help them effectively integrate technology into their classrooms, a $12.3 million Investing in Innovation grant from the Education Department led to the study of college curricula and the application of the eMINTS model at the university level.
“No two university programs are alike, so integration of technology in the curriculum will differ,” says Terry. For example, at Park University in Parkville, Mo., technology is integrated throughout the two-year program, and an eMINTS-certified teacher assesses student-teachers’ use of technology.
Similarly, William Woods University in Fulton, Mo., integrates technology throughout the curriculum but also offers an additional concentration in education technology, which includes an eMINTS certification. “Every student with the certification is placed after graduation,” she says, adding that the program’s placement rate confirms the value of enhancing pre-service teachers’ technology education.
Teresa Foulger, EdD, an associate professor at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, has been leading a working group of educational technology faculty-researchers in the development of the competencies called for by the NETP. Using crowd-sourced literature as a base and the Delphi methodology, which relies on a panel of experts for input — in this case, a wide range of teacher-educators and content experts — they created a final list of competencies, which is currently in review for publication.
“So many people have been exposed to the competencies during review that I’m hearing from people who are already adopting them,” says Foulger. Once published, a link will appear on the Teacher Education Competencies project’s website at teacheredtechcompetencies.weebly.com.
Although technology competencies are not part of an accreditation requirement, Foulger hopes that the identified need for them, along with the inclusion of representatives from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the Council for American Private Education in their development, will eventually lead to their inclusion in accreditation standards. Although both organizations have not formally endorsed the competencies, Foulger says they are aligned with their needs and their own existing aptitudes.
One of the competencies specifically addresses diversity of learning styles in the classroom. In fact, some technological tools provide teachers additional methods for collaboration, assessment, and engagement to better serve students of different learning styles and abilities. For instance, Google Docs promotes students working together on group projects, Backchannel Chat enables shy students to submit questions or observations during a lesson, and digital exit tickets completed via a smartphone or tablet solicit feedback at the end of class to inform the next day’s lesson.
Supporting students with different learning abilities is the greatest benefit of technology, says Kolb. “We know that learning is social, but students who are non-verbal, hearing-impaired, or vision-impaired face greater challenges socializing in the classroom,” she explains. While Google Translate makes it possible for ESL (English as a second language) students to read assignments, participate in group work, and learn, myriad other communication tools exist for educators.
“Applications such as iCommunicate enable non-verbal students to work in a group, and the TapTap app alerts hearing-impaired students when someone is speaking so he or she can … read lips — both of which increase students’ ability to socialize with others.”
To get the most out of technology, Kolb recommends preparing future educators to adapt to the school at which they are hired. “This means finding resources when schools have little technology and students [don’t have] access to technology outside the classroom,” says Kolb.
“We teach our students how to be creative — ask for the library to stay open later for students to use computers, work with local community groups to acquire tablets, or inform students and their families of local areas that offer free internet and computers,” Kolb adds. “Because we don’t focus on specific tools, our students are adaptable, and they successfully use technology in teaching — even in high needs schools.”●
Sheryl S. Jackson is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity.