The role of Teacher Education: Preparing Teachers to Do New, Different Stuff in New, Different Ways
Many thanks to John Merrow for not accepting the overly simplistic argument that because increased use of technology in school doesn’t appear to yield increases in test scores, then technology is not worth the big bucks schools are spending on it. The central tenet of Merrow’s rebuttal of the September 4 New York Times article is right on: “Schools spend billions on technology but use it to do the same old stuff in more entertaining ways!” says Merrow. He is absolutely right that this issue, which really boils down to a discussion of how to modernize pedagogy and curriculum, needs much more attention.
NCTAF has long understood that technology in and of itself does little if it is not used as a means to new and evolving ends. It is what you do with the technology, not the technology itself that matters. We’ve learned this important lesson again and again in our Teachers Learning in NetworkedCommunities (TLINC ®) project, which we have been implementing at colleges of education across the country for more than five years. Designed to address the significant need to curb the high turnover among teachers and to leverage technology in teacher preparation, TLINC gives new teachers a strong start by inducting them into linked professional learning communities that blend face-to-face and online collaboration. Over the life of the project, we’ve used any number of online platforms, and have had to intentionally work at separating the particular technology du jour (which sometimes poses challenges) from the content and the concepts of the program. The technology is a tool, but it’s the goal—in this case integration of technology-enabled mentoring and collaboration—that we’re after. And it’s just this distinction that John Merrow is urging educators and education advocates to focus on.
The most important lesson from the TLINC project, however, is the largely unaddressed need to integrate technology into teacher education. If we expect teachers to innovate and take full advantage of technology’s power— to do new things in new ways— then we must prepare them to do so from the moment they enter their teacher preparation programs. Traditionally, no one expected student teachers to magically know everything about pedagogical theory—that’s why they needed training. Why then are we surprised that teachers cannot keep up when technology that demands a shift in pedagogy comes along? And I do not mean that we need to train teachers to use Google or to use GarageBand. We need to teach teachers to help students recognize appropriate sources, so that they can conduct content-rich original research and drive their own learning. Technology fundamentally changes how everyone, especially children, can access information and process it. We need to work with teacher educators to help schools keep up.