Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Teacher Education In and Through Technology

As an instructional technology instructor for preservice teachers at UNL, I've been invited to participate in a panel discussion at NETA on April 24th, 2014.

The panel is titled: Teacher Education In and Through Technology.

In this session, panelists and the audience will weigh in on the direction teacher education should take in and through technology. Teacher educators, teachers, preservice teachers and school administrators will be included responding to three questions:

  1. What skills and capacities do new teachers need to teach in the 21st century?
  2. How can teacher education programs foster such skills?
  3. How can schools as practica sites help preservice teachers develop?

Here are my initial thoughts, in the form of big ideas/themes, along with links to resources that may be helpful.
  • Autonomy! In my classes, rather than teach step-by-step how to use a given technology, I focus on pedagogical themes and have students explore various tools. I show them how to find and use technology tutorials and help guides online. This enables them to be prepared to deal with new technologies as they continue to emerge. Students, especially those who want to be teachers, must learn skills that promote autonomous learning beyond the classroom. There is a big emphasis in my class on professional development opportunities and sharing knowledge. I end my classes with a mini-practice conference and usually offer some extra credit opportunities for attending conferences and submitting reflections of their experiences. 
  • Practicality! I focus on teaching students how to apply any given technology for some purpose to avoid using technology just to be using it and think more critically about how it can enhance teaching and learning. I encourage them to think of materials they might one day use when developing assignments for my course. I tell them to save everything they create and try to find ways to use those materials in the future. 
  • Patience and learning from mistakes! Unfortunately, technology doesn’t always work the way we want or on the first try. I encourage my students to learn from their mistakes, always have a backup plan and several ways to accomplish the same task. I point out valuable ways tech can promote learning and coach them to have patience when learning and creating new materials.
  • Creativity! I begin my classes by pointing out to students that the statement, “I’m not good at technology” is a choice they are making and not inherent talent they lack. With patience and creativity, technology is useful and fun for both themselves and their future students. 
My courses include, but are not limited to, the following themes:
  • Critical Evaluation - I always begin my course by guiding students on how to effectively search the Internet and how to be critical consumers of what they find. There's more to Google than just randomly typing in terms and it is important for preservice teachers to know how to evaluate what they find and how to guide their students to do the same. Kathy Schrock has a great site of resources for evaluation of information.
  • Creating, Sharing, and Curating Resources - There's so many wonderful resources online. Once my preservice teachers have some practice combing through and evaluating what they find online, they need somewhere to keep up with it all. There are so many different ways to do this, but since I work with elementary education majors, I encourage them to use the very popular, Pinterest. They can create boards, share pins with colleagues, and develop their own collection of resources for their future classes. As an added bonus, my students say it is both addictive and fun. If you're unfamiliar or wish to know more about Pinterest, here's one guide I give my students to help them see the potential of this tool. Not convinced? Hear why you should fall in love with Pinterest from one of my students:
  • Digital Citizenship - Helping preservice teachers understand how to be safe and responsible online by highlighting the importance of keeping their future students safe really helps engage my students with the topic. Here's one article that I use most often
  • Whose? - One nice thing about the Internet is how it promotes a participatory, shared culture. Unfortunately, understanding ownership in regards to digital media can be tricky. I developed this website to help me briefly illustrate to my students just how complicated the issues of copyright and fair use can be. I also use it to introduce the concept of creative commons. 
  • Assessment - While I do stress the importance of various types of assessment and how technology can be used to promote more accurate and beneficial assessment, one example I show to my students is Flubaroo. Flubaroo is a script that runs within a Google spreadsheet to turn a standard survey-style form into a self-grading quiz. 
There are so many great ways to incorporate technology into education but it is most vital to remember that content-focused pedagogy must drive how technology is used in order for it to be most effective for learning.