Dear Teacher Education Providers – Can you enter the 21st century please?

Paper, paper everywhere. (Photo by the author)

New Zealand graduating teacher standard 4.d

Graduating teachers demonstrate proficiency in oral and written language (Māori and/or English), in numeracy and in ICT relevant to their professional role.”

Dear Teacher Education providers

Yesterday I received my pack for Teaching Experience 2 containing a wonderful array of informational booklets, multi-coloured forms for myself, my associate teacher and visiting lecturer to fill out on my next Teaching Experience. The forms look wonderful in their different colours and I’m sure its taken someone a long time to collate.

For fun I’ve also added the paperwork from this course that I’ve already amassed. The red folder is my unit plan from my last TE, the blue envelope has copies of the forms of my last placement, the clear folder contains all the marked assignments that my institution has printed out and sent back to me while the black folder underneath contains resources I’ve had posted to me during my studies.

Is this evidence of twenty-first century teaching practice?

I feel a bit bad for ‘outing’ my university but I know that they are not the only ones who still like to churn out paper for student teachers to collect and organize into ring binders.  At my last placement there were students from three separate institutions and we were all doing the same thing: dutifully filing away pieces of paper which were filled out BY HAND for our institutions (and in turn Teachers Council) to see evidence that we are meeting the professional and legal requirements necessary to graduate and therefore teach in a classroom.

I’m trying to remember the last time I wrote something out by hand and it was for my exam and application forms to get into university. These processes seem so far removed from my reality where I learn, bank, shop, socialize and watch TV online. Almost all the teaching I did during my last placement was done using my laptop with physical materials for students to manipulate. I would have happily incorporated more if the students had devices themselves.

Perhaps I’m the lone blogger in a sea of people who like to file paper away in ring binders where no one else can read it or see it. But then the associate teacher at my last placement made a remark that these forms should be available in digital form and apparently she isn’t alone.

There are so many reasons why pre-service teacher practice needs to go digital.

  • Waste of resources – From an environmental point of view the  carbon footprint from the paper generated from these courses is phenomenal and I haven’t even factored in sending these packets out. Throw in staff time collating all these packs, putting the envelopes, sending them out receiving them again at the end of the placement and that’s a lot of time and money down the drain.
  • Content not easily reproducible – I needed to have a goal setting conversation with my mentor so my last appraisals were important part of this conversation. In order for her to have the data I had to take photos of the photocopied forms (since my institution needs to have the originals), covert them into a PDF and email them off for my mentor so that we could both have a copy of the form as we live in different cities.
  • Data security – For some reason people seem to think that hard-copies of evidence are more secure. I really don’t get that. If my school bag gets stolen while I’m at the gym or my water bottle leaks over my paperwork or perhaps someone spills coffee then ALL my paperwork is ruined. Backing up my work via hardrive, cloud data or USB means that I have multiple copies ready to go. Likewise not all digital content needs to be public like this blog.

But the big one is:

The process of filling in forms doesn’t encourage collaborative practice.

Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed a lot of incoming search strings (that’s visitors who have come to my blog via search engines) with phrases like

  • “strategies for promoting and nurturing the physical and emotional safety of learners”
  • “promote a learning culture which engages diverse learners effectively”
  • “complex influences that personal, social and cultural factors have on teachers and learners”

Anyone working in teacher education should immediately recognize these phrases are from the New Zealand Teacher Council Graduating Teacher Standards.

These incoming search strings indicate students are coming here to look for information because the internet is where they go to find the information. Right now my e-portifolio is the only source of information of real-world examples of the Graduating Teacher Standards for students to easily access on the internet. In fact if you type the phrase  “working cooperatively with those share responsibility for the learning and well being of learners” into google, a blog post of mine is the first entry. That’s a great ego boost for me as a blogger because someone might be using my information but I would love to have other students out there responding to my reflections and challenging my ideas because it will make me into a better teacher.

Institutions need to think about how they are encouraging student teachers to become digital literate, how to blend the digital technologies into our learning so we in turn can teach to others. Don’t assume just because we can text, facebook and google with the best of them that we are automatically digital literate. We may have mastered the technology, but it doesn’t mean we know how to apply it to our learning or students learning.

But we need to.

The students in our classrooms want it, our country needs it.

Right now teacher education providers are part of the problem of digital illiteracy when they need to be part of the solution.

If student teachers aren’t integrating digital learning into our practice at a university, when we have people who are supposedly far more learned than us show us the way, how are going to do it when we are out being real teacher? It goes down the bottom of the to-do list as we work our way through survival mode of the first few years in the profession. I don’t understand why institutions insist on perpetuating old practices when they should embracing the benefits that this new technology for pre-service teachers who will soon be out in classrooms full of digital natives who also don’t want to be filing away work in ring binders.

I’m six months away from graduation and I can assure I’m not pondering how to fill in forms or organize information into folders because I stopped using ring binders once I left high school. I am wondering how  to incorporate digital learning that I’m doing here into a classroom setting? What digital tools can I use to promote the learning areas and key competencies of the New Zealand curriculum?  How can I maximize the benefits of social media platforms to enhance learners literacy while minimizing the risks? What applications exist to plan collaboratively? How am I going to communicate effectively with a generation of parents who grew up in the digital age? What platforms can I use to organize student work? How do I stay relevant as a teacher in a world of information abundance?

I don’t know to the answers to those questions but I do know I won’t find them by filling in forms.


A student teacher

Postscript, this post influenced me to go ahead and digitalise my practice for my next Teaching Experience rather than waiting for the wheels of the university system to turn.

24 thoughts on “Dear Teacher Education Providers – Can you enter the 21st century please?

Add yours

  1. I know exactly where you’re coming from. I had the same problem last year as a student when we had to submit a visual diary in hard copy format. Can you believe I would print off web pages to cut and stick into my journal, no matter how much I impressed on them the benefits of an digital journal my tutors were just not ready for the new format:(


    1. Yes I can believe that you would have to print off stuff to send it away. I know of a couple of university people (including an overseas lecturer) who do follow the blog so I’ll just put it out there and hope things eventually change.


  2. Great post! I am abaout to start primary teacher training in the UK, and already have been set a task to complete to start gathering my portfolio of evidence for out equivalent of your teaching council. I konw from students just finishing the course this year, that this will be a paper file. I’ll be trying hard to be as paperless as possible, but I know it is going to be an uphill challenge. I hope the right people hear your message and start to think about changes their practices.


    1. Hi Jo,
      Thanks for stopping by! Yes it is frustrating but I also think that if nobody says anything, then nothing will change.

      Good luck with your studies.


  3. Great points made – if only we could save the rainforest AND reduce the amount of time spent handwriting in a world of typeface! I believe that one of the reasons cited for making student teachers record by hand is due to the ‘cut and paste’ world of the internet, but this seems crazy to me! Keep working on getting change though, as an Associate Teacher I still can’t believe that WE also have to ‘handwrite’ your reports and are not able to have eCopies of your docs for placements either….!


    1. Kimberly,
      Great to hear another associate teacher chipping. It’s possible to check if someone is cutting and pasting, just google random phrases. Also check for changes in voice etc.

      The other day I had a goal setting meeting using google docs so it is happening slowly but surely. However I really think that universities need to be leading the charge on this!


  4. I have recently had the privilege of supervising a student teacher during her first teaching prac (experience) and was shocked to see how little the university has changed its practice for student teachers. There are so many forms and so much communication that could be easily streamlined using simple tools like Google Apps. I truly believe that when students complete high school and begin an education degree they must feel like that have stepped back in time. The time is well overdue for universities to embrace 21st century pedagogy and web 2.0 tools for teaching and learning.

    Thanks for sharing your experience and keep on expecting more from your university.


    1. Jason,
      Thanks so much for stopping by and for your thoughtful comment. I thought I had been asked to step back in time when I applied and they asked me to handwrite my form! The technology is there and student teachers are using it, but perhaps not for their learning which is a shame.


  5. get over it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Yes there is a lot of paper work, but so what!!!!! There is something to be said about ‘us’, when people rely so heavily on technology, to write a log and fill in some lesson observations. What is so bad about filling in a form ‘manually’, a lot of the so called ‘unnecessary’ paper work (for example the a/t and v/t assessments) are written on the spot, during your teaching, therefore it makes sense that we and the assessors write down what they are seeing, rather than lugging around a lap top and typing away hurriedly as they observe you, its less intrusive and more personal.

    I know from experience the moment the paperwork becomes electronic (ie: on blackboard), students still complain. I cant count how many times i heard someone maon about their interim report.

    All my A/T’s ( I have a teaching qualification, NZ) said they prefer writing their reports rather than type them up. They feel that they are more meaningful and personalised (as mentioned) and are a true reflection of teaching in action!

    What is more, the moment our faculty stopped printing a book of readings and made them electronic, the first thing everyone (literally) did was to complain they didn’t have hard copies any more and were expected to print them themselves…… Fact is most people learn better reading from a piece of paper rather than a computer screen.

    It seems as though people are over generalising comments our lectures are saying to suit there way of thinking, i don’t like paper work, my lecture was about the importance of IT, so there shouldn’t be any paper work.


    1. Anne,
      Thank you for your alternative viewpoint. Yes you are right that students will complain when something becomes electronic. I know people from my course are printing out screeds of documents that are available electronically. I don’t understand but as an apartment dweller anything that cuts down on storage space is great hence why I very rarely print anything out. But I take issue with your generalisation that most people learn better by print, I think that’s changing rapidly.

      I also don’t think a laptop is any more intrusive than pen and paper and also you seem to be assuming that feedback can only come through writing something done when we know there are other methods of assessment. There’s comments from several associate teachers here and a blog post in my original post who have all said that this sort of practice is outdated.

      My point is that I would at least like the choice to be able to do my work electronically rather than being forced into handwriting screeds of forms. But in reality the world is moving towards digitalisation and teaching and in particular teacher education should be leading the charge on this or education system will quickly become irrelevant.



  6. It is not just at the university level. I teach HS, and I attempted to submit my Annual Professional Performance Review digitally….my admin didn’t have a clue what to make of it, and told me to print it out….sigh….


  7. I just found this post and absolutely love it! I am graduating from an education program this year and digital portfolios were hardly mentioned in my facukt


  8. *faculty. I love the idea of them and feel that you have made a very strong case for their use. I totally agree that not everything needs to go online, but it is a very modern and flexible alternative to traditional portfolioss. I hope that as time passes I really hope that they become the norm in Ed programs around the world.


    1. Hi Mary,
      Thanks for your comment. You are right that in general universities have a long way to go around digital practice but I think things are slowly changing.



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