21st Century Literacies and Schools of Education

This is a topic that has been on my mind for several years but after spending some time with a new teacher over the Christmas break has pushed me to the point that I need to put my thoughts somewhere even if no one reads it.

What are universities doing to make sure that their teacher candidates are prepared to use and teach their students to use technology? Apparently not much. Case in point: my nephew's wife has been teaching in California under a provisional/temporary teaching certificate. This year she started taking coursework to get a permanent teaching license. One of the courses was an "advanced" technology in the classroom course offered online by the UC system. Her description of the course, "A total joke" They had to make a Powerpoint presentation, write a web scavenger hunt and find a website that can do customized puzzles. The syllabus dates hadn't been changed from the previous sememster and there was little communication. Do the work, submit it online , get the credit.

We sat down and talked about technology in the classroom and I mentioned terms like web 2.0, 21st century literacies and personal learning networks. It was as if I were speaking Greek. She had never heard of podcasting, wikis, nings, Classroom 2.0, or Twitter. The thing is that not only did she not know but she was confident that no one in the English department or any other department at the school where she currently works knows much about it either. It's never been brought up in any faculty meeting or offered for professional development. The biggest problem our teachers face today is that they don't know what they don't know! If they don't get any exposure while training to become a teacher and the schools don't offer professional development how can we expect them to prepare their students for life in the 21st century?

While it is clear that school administrators have got to do more to support technology in their schools (that is a topic for another day) I am more concerned about the colleges and universities that are credentialing teachers who have at best only the most basic technology skills. If you don't believe me do a little research. Look at the syllabuses of technology courses offered at any school of education. There are a few good ones but they are hidden among a sea of outdated terms and basic concepts. Some people will say well you have to look at the schools that are known for their ed/tech programs - my response is no, you have to look at all schools that produce teachers. The old cliche' holds true here: We are only as strong as out weakest link. The teaching profession deserves better. Our children deserve better.

Views: 57

Tags: 21st, century, literacies, teacher, training

Comment by Steve Shann on January 1, 2009 at 9:34pm
I read this while writing a unit outline for our teacher education course on literacy teaching in secondary schools. It was a good reminder to make sure that, by the end of the unit, our trainee teachers know more about what they currently don't know :)
Comment by Peter Lane on January 2, 2009 at 12:41am
I teach in California and your comments took me back to my course work.... what a waste of time and money. I tested out of the required tech class by, among other things: listing hardware and software (providing examples, of course), describing how to save a document, creating a PowerPoint with graphics and transitions, and proving that I knew the correct way to send e-mails. It was so fustrating... especially as I had to edit the test for spelling and grammar errors and most importantly content -- who cares how to format a floppy disc? I would point out one of the plusses of the course but I can't think of any... : (
Comment by Lynne H on January 2, 2009 at 10:43am
Thank you Steve and Peter for taking the time to read my post and comment. I was a classroom teacher for 20 years and had numerous student teachers during that time. Not one of them was tech saavy. Several years ago I asked a professor who headed up a college of education just what they they taught that prepared future teachers for the day to day tasks of teaching, including use of tech. She told me that most of the daily things would be saved for the student teaching experience, they taught theory! I was floored. Thankfully she is no longer the head of that department. I learned nothing from my under grad ed classes but a ton from an offsite grad program I went through from Gonzaga. Unfortunately, like most teachers today, all of my tech knowledge I learned on my own.
Comment by Roland O'Daniel on January 2, 2009 at 11:29am
I recently helped teach math methods at a fairly major university (I won't say the name because I am currently finishing my PhD there), and the course did a poor job of integrating technology as part of the instruction. I say this because I was part of it, so I'm taking part of the blame.

Unfortunately, the universities still seem to see teaching with technology as something extra rather than as how you achieve what you are doing when teaching. I think there are three major reasons; 1) the schools that teachers are going into have such a wide variety of technology options that it is difficult to prepare teachers for everything they are going to experience. [I say that and think that ANY teacher that graduates from today's colleges and aren't digitally oriented then the teacher him/herself is not preparing him/herself for a real world experience (but that's not the focus of this conversation)]. Unfortunately, many teachers in pre-service education have so much to learn that each course is focused on specific issues rather than try to achieve everything,

2) There is still a separate set of standards that university teachers are dealing with when dealing with technology. When we looked at the standards for the math methods course we had a long discussion about intentionally using technology to make sure we reached those standards. I kept 'fighting' for the perspective that we should be more worried about making sure we just did what we did well and create opportunities to achieve those goals through technology. The counter argument is that we didn’t want to move the focus away from the content because teaching the students to use the technology would take time that is not allocated in this course. It was a valid argument from the perspective that there were already too many standards to achieve without adding ‘other stuff’. I’m not justifying the approach; I’m just replaying the argument. I think digitally and was allowed to do some things with a wiki, and discussion forums. My goals were actually formative assessment and offering specific types of feedback rather than ‘good work’ type of comments. (I achieved the goal of the course using technology, rather than look for a way to teach math using technology- yes I’m patting myself on the back).

3) The technology comfort level of the instructors is often very poor. I helped a professor this semester also do some digital storytelling with her literacy class, but she never got involved with the lesson herself. She wanted to use it, but let others do the learning. She thought it was a success, but I was incredibly frustrated because it was another example of ‘doing technology’ rather than teaching content and using technology to do it more effectively. I think the students liked it, but there was a disconnect between the project and the goals of the course. My only other example is a professor who teaches in a state of the art classroom and brings with him a twenty year old overhead to show his five year old overheads. He has all of the notes on office, but doesn’t see the need to show the notes via the overhead lcd projector, even though it would achieve the same thing.

I’m not sure if this is what you are looking for but I’m going to post it anyway. I’m going to go back and re-read everyone else’s responses and probably post a second response later. I’m listening to the end of the year conversation right now.
Comment by Steve Shann on January 2, 2009 at 3:49pm
This is a great discussion. Thanks Lynne, for starting it. Roland's comment helps remind me that, when I'm planning the literacies course for later in the year, we must be using the literacies themselves to achieve what we're setting out to achieve. Yes, I want the students to know about the various relevant literacies ... but the best way for them to come to know them is to use them. So we'll be using blogs, nings, digital stories, podcasts and so on in order to learn about ... well, 21st century literacies. As this will be my first experience as a teacher educator, it's great to have this Classroom 2.0 community (and Jim Burke's wonderful English Companion Ning http://englishcompanion.ning.com/) lending a hand, even when its members don't know that they are!
Comment by Lynne H on January 2, 2009 at 5:20pm
Mahalo Steve and Karen for braving new technologies with your students. Your students and their students will surely be better for it. I am very grateful you and Roland and Peter took the time to read this. It is my first blog post and was really written out of frustration at the lack of vision most schools of education display.

My father was the one who always used the phrase "they don't know what they don't know" and it stuck with me. People who go into teaching are usually lifelong learners. They know (should know) that they must always be looking new ways to get through to their students, but if they don't know certain tools exist they have no way to integrate them into their teaching. That is why undergrad and grad programs must be in the lead when it comes to educational technology. The coursework is not the end of their learning but a begining. They should demonstrate what is possible and let the students run with it. The profession can't afford to have new teachers so far behind. I think Roland from the post above has a point when he says that college professors are often uncomfortable with the new technologies available. They won't change unless forced and who is going to do that? The higher you go the less technology you see.

I guess the only thing we can do is force the change from the bottom up. Share what we know with as many teachers/professors we know and with time the colleges of ed will catch on. :)
Comment by Dennis Pack on January 28, 2009 at 11:24am
G'day everyone!

If we could put you people in universities (or higher up, if you are already there!), maybe we would get somewhere!

Is it any wonder US education ranks so low on a world scale? The way new teachers are being taught is the same way they were being taught when I went through uni back in the 70s! And the product goes out into the classrooms of America and tries to use the same methods that were used on them!

Have we not learned anything from Barack Obama's campaign? What did he do differently that enabled him to reach all those young voters? He met them on their playing field! His campaign managers recognised the significance of technology to today's youth [I'll just refer to them as "today's youth", for the lack of a better description] ... and really, to all of us!

I have recently returned from a 20+ year teaching career in Australia. The first thing that struck me upon arrival back on American soil, was how far behind the whole of the US is when it comes to adopting technology. I hadn't used a checkbook since the early 90s, kindergarten kids in Oz know how to make simple web pages, by year 10 they can make web sites, PowerPoint style presentation are the norm - not the exception (by both teachers and students), digital projectors are fairly common in classrooms and, in teacher education, the students spend more time in schools then they do at university! And, it starts the very first year at uni. You discover quickly if you can handle the profession!

"On the job training" would solve many of the issues mentioned in previous comments! I was fortunate in my training as a teacher in 1976 to score an internship in a program being run by a principal who was working on his doctorate. It is the best thing that ever happened to me! I spent all day in a school and we had seminars in the evening. Very little class lectures and a lot of working with teachers and students --- and quite a bit of reading to do. Can you imagine the seminars that could be generated from discussion groups such as this?

Change from the bottom up is severely needed. Why? Because the top knows less about technology than the kids do! But then, that is the case with most teachers as well! So how do you change the bottom? One solution I see is what another former Australian teacher (currently teaching science in Texas) and I are trying to do. We want successful, experienced teachers (like us) to go into schools and universities and run hands-on workshops with teachers, administrators and anyone else who will listen! We want them to experience what an engaged, techno-savvy student experiences! They need to recognise the "student's playing field" (What is called their lifeworld.) and learn the "rules of the game" if they want to play! People like us can show them how to do that.

One other system failure in the US, that I see as a major weakness, is how successful teachers with a wealth of experience, but no advanced degree, perhaps, are not called upon to pass on their skills and knowledge of the profession. Don't you think 30 years of successful teaching has value? While some teachers were busy studying for advanced degrees (probably with professors who were years behind the times and hadn't been in a real classroom for who knows how long), those left at the "chalkface" were gaining valuable on the job training from the best teachers in the profession --- their students!

Put people like me, with a proven track record, back in front of classroom teachers (practicioners or students themselves) and let us show them what works with today's youth! Then you might see some change taking place at the bottom!

Viewing technology as a "tool" is like putting paper and pencil in the same category hundreds or maybe thousands of years ago! Can you imagine a teacher introducing paper and pencil to their classroom for the first time! Would they do it with the same approach used today to introduce a wiki? Or a blog? Or a temperature probe?

Though it can function as a tool, it is more than that. Our current students have never known a world without it. It is just part of their life. It is how they communicate. It is how they entertain themselves. It is their world!

We, especially as teachers, need to immerse ourselves in the technology and learn how to interact on their terms.

We need to learn the rules!

And we need to make sure new teachers coming into the profession know the rules before they try to play!

Check out my profile for more details of what can be done.



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