ICT and teacher education

David Jones asked “When will we no longer teach ICTs to pre-service teachers?” I was going to post a comment in response but doubted that I could keep it brief so opted to post here instead.

David’s post cites a recent exchange we had on Twitter:
Twitter exchange with @djplaner

I still think that the continuing evolution of technology is a critical part of the puzzle. That’s probably more true if we consider the broader domain of ICT (information and communication technology) rather than the narrower IT (information technology) but both are relevant for educators and are evolving in ways that require users to adapt behaviour by learning.

Educators typically face three sets of learning about new technologies. The first is the same learning about operation of a technology as is required by any user. The second is learning about the application of the technology to accomplish something useful for life in general and/or for specific areas of activity. The third is learning about the pedagogical applications of the technology. In terms of the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) framework proposed by Mishra and Koehler these are technological knowledge (TK), technological content knowledge (TCK), and technological pedagogical knowledge (TPK). Expert teachers blend these forms of knowledge to facilitate student learning.

For the past couple of decades optimists have argued that the challenges of effectively integrating ICT for learning and teaching will be solved by the new generation of teachers who have grown up with ICT. The flaw in that argument has always been that there is a procession of technologies that are newer than the graduates. It might be fair to assume that students arrive in teacher preparation programs with working knowledge of the operation of current technologies, although as well as school leavers our intake at USQ typically includes mature age candidates who may be less familiar with some technologies. However, the knowledge that pre-service teachers (PSTs) have about technologies is often superficial. They can manage day-to-day use for their own purposes (TK) but may not know about applications for specific content areas (TCK) and almost certainly have not considered the pedagogical applications (TPK).

David writes about the SAMR model and notes that much of the use of ICT for pedagogy has not moved beyond substitution/augmentation to modification/redefinition. The reason for that may lie at least partly in the constant evolution of ICT, which creates a moving target for innovation. It takes time to develop the easy familiarity with any tool that permits adaptive and creative use. By the time teachers develop their knowledge of any form of ICT to the point where they can become creative there is likely to be some new ICT to adopt.

There are other factors to consider. David notes the inertia of schools and systems that inhibit change. That is consistent with prior research. Becker (2000) noted that changes in teaching practice with computers occurred where teachers had necessary skills, some freedom in curriculum, access to equipment, and constructivist-compatible beliefs. Although most teachers now have basic skills and computer equipment is widely available, the recent push toward tighter control of curriculum and high stakes testing will not be helping with innovation.

For as long as I have been involved with teacher education, first as a student in 1973, as a teacher and principal from 1974 until 1991, and as a teacher educator since 1991, teacher preparation and development have included learning about ICTs (in the broad sense). In 1974 that included the use of blackboards, overhead projectors (OHPs), film and slide projectors, and duplicators. When I started at USQ in 1991 the program still included a course that addressed many of those technologies. It disappeared in the next program change but there was a required course that introduced common applications on computers. David now leads a course that is the current incarnation of that tradition. The specific content of the courses has evolved along with the ICTs available to teachers. Currently the course has a focus on pedagogy (TPK?) rather than technology (TK?) but it seems inevitable that it will be the occasion for at least some students to acquire knowledge and skills for technologies that are new for them.

This evolution of course specifics alongside ICTs seems inevitable and appropriate but we might ask whether anything of value has been lost in the process. The better courses in educational media included some principles and skills intended to improve the quality of material produced by teachers for use on blackboards, OHPs, and printed materials. Layout, selection of font styles and sizes for readability, and selection of colours for adequate contrast were part of that. Observation of materials produced by some of the current generation of PSTs suggests that including principles and skills for design in different media would still be relevant today though the media produced would be different.

Prior to my arrival at USQ there had been a period in which PSTs had learned at least the rudiments of programming in Logo as promoted by Seymour Papert. Learning about computer programming disappeared from teacher preparation as the focus of computing in schools shifted toward using more of the emerging educational software and integrating productivity applications. Recent developments in the technologies learning area within the Australian Curriculum suggest that it may be time to revisit that topic and I have been reworking our technology education course to include work on digital technologies, including programming in Scratch. In that respect the wheel appears to have turned.

Is there any escape or must teacher educators continue with the seemingly Sisyphean task of teaching ICTs to PSTs? I suspect that, for as long as ICTs continue to evolve, offering new opportunities for work in various fields and for learning and teaching, it will be necessary to include them in teacher preparation. The more pertinent questions might include what and how we teach about ICTs to PSTs. If the rate of change in ICTs is sufficient to require teaching PSTs about them then it will also be necessary for teachers in classrooms to learn about ICTs. That was at the heart of the quotation in David’s initial tweet, expressing the hope that new teachers with IT expertise would solve the “problem of getting teachers aware of IT”. If that will not work, what should we do?

It seems that, for the foreseeable future, teachers at all stages will need to be continuously learning about ICTs. In that case, the best that teacher educators can do is to prepare PSTs to be expert learners. That’s not an original thought (see, for example, Teacher as Expert Learner and Teachers as Master Learners) but I think it is at the core of what we need to be doing in teacher preparation, with ICTs and otherwise. There will be some principles and core skills (such as for design as noted above) that should be included in our programs but mostly we need to be graduating teachers who are excited about learning and equipped to support and encourage other learners. Exploring ways to use ICTs to support their own and others’ learning is important and will be supported by initiatives like working with personal learning networks and contributing to professional communities through activities like content curation as David and I are proposing to do in our respective courses.

References

Becker, H. J. (2000). Findings from the teaching, learning, and computing survey: Is Larry Cuban right?  Retrieved from http://www.crito.uci.edu/tlc/findings/ccsso.pdf