By Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education
For a number of years, our undergraduate teacher education program at Purdue University Calumet offered an educational technology course, early in the program sequence, which taught technology skills in isolation. That is to say, students were taught how to use certain technology tools that would be useful for them as teachers, but the projects they designed were for an “imaginary” audience of students that they would teach at some point in the future. Over time, this course morphed from teaching computer basics, such as the Office Suite, to using technology and programs designed specifically for teachers, such as Kidspiration and Web Quests. As technology has evolved, so have the ideas for how to implement them in the classroom at the K-12 as well as the university levels. Research on educational technology design has shown that to be most effective the integration of pedagogy and technology must reflect integrated goals.
Recently, our approach to teaching the undergraduate educational technology course changed again. It is now being offered later in the program in conjunction with the methods block of courses. I asked Emily Hixon, Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology, to give us some insight into the new course that she has developed, which teaches our pre-service teachers to integrate technology into a real-world teaching situation.
What is the nature of the course you are planning?
The new course being developed, Educational Technology for Teaching & Learning, will explore classroom applications of educational technology in K-12 settings and address strategies for effectively integrating technology into the teaching and learning process. Students will learn about technology-based instructional resources and the pedagogical processes they can facilitate.
What is the goal of this course?
Given the increasingly important role technology is playing in our society and the educational process, this new course is being created to allow preservice teachers to experience technology integration in a more meaningful way. It will replace a previously offered educational technology course that students were required to take very early in their program of study. By offering the course later in their program and in conjunction with a field experience, students will be able to learn about technology integration in an authentic context. This course will focus more on pedagogical aspects of effective technology integration, which was difficult to do previously because of the novice level of the students early in their program.
Why was the decision made to change the technology course?
There is a big difference between being able to use technology in a classroom and being able to effectively integrate technology into instruction to promote and enhance student learning. As noted in the research literature on this topic, the latter is more difficult to do. There has been much research focused on how to best prepare new teachers to be able to use and effectively integrate technology into their instruction. The research suggests that a more integrated, authentic approach where teachers can observe models integrating technology and “try it out” in an authentic context is the most effective way to prepare teachers. It is our hope that this new course will bring our approach more in line with best practices.
What benefits do you see from this integration for our students?
By taking this course later in their program, students will benefit in a number of ways. The placement of the original educational technology course in the program limited what the faculty could ask of the students given that it was typically one of the first education courses students took. They did not have the pedagogical knowledge or experiences in the field to be able to implement true technology integration in a meaningful way. The later placement of this course will allow the instructors to approach educational technology issues from a more advanced level due to the advanced knowledge of the upper level students. Because students in the course will also be taking an educational methods course with a field placement in a K-12 classroom, they will have a venue in which to experience true technology integration with K-12 students. Graduates of our program have also indicated that they felt they would benefit by having a technology course offered in closer proximity to their student teaching experience.
What challenges do you think this course will present from the perspective of the university instructors? The students? Their cooperating teachers?
The field-based component of this course will surely present many opportunities and challenges for all involved. For the university instructors, this is a new model that will require collaboration between the instructional technology and methods faculty members. Although both groups are anxious to work together, there will undoubtedly be bumps in the road as we work out this new model. I think our students will likely be intimidated by the prospect of having to integrate technology into a lesson with “real” students – perhaps one of the first lessons they will facilitate in a classroom with actual students. It is our hope that the instructional technology and methods faculty members will be able to work closely with our students to anticipate potential problems and support them throughout the process. I hope that cooperating teachers will not face many challenges, but perhaps will instead benefit by seeing different approaches for integrating technology. We are hoping that our faculty and students will also be able to model effective integration for the cooperating teachers as well.
Another challenge that we are facing is in relation to school placement sites. We are struggling with decisions about what technology resources should be available at placement sites. There are some technology-rich districts that we partner with, but also many schools that have very limited technology resources. We’ve engaged in discussions about the pros and cons of placing students at different sites and have decided that when we are able, our preference would be to place students in schools with sufficient technology resources, and ideally with teachers who are known for their integration of technology. This will require close communication and collaboration with our field placement director as well as the technology coordinators and administrators in the schools.
What benefits do you see from this integration for their future students?
The whole push for this new course is really to benefit the K-12 students that our preservice teachers will ultimately be teaching. Technology is very rapidly changing the world we live in and is becoming critical to our ability to function in society. Similarly, it is permeating how children learn and interact with their environment. I watch my two-year-old playing “games” on the iPad and am amazed by how easily he is able to navigate programs and by how much he is LEARNING! This is how today’s youth are learning – in a very interactive, engaging, and entertaining way. If a teacher thinks that she/he is going to be able to talk “at” students and they will learn, she is mistaken. Teachers must be prepared to engage students and use technology to support an interactive, meaningful approach to learning.
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