The Commerce Commission released an interesting report back in January on the implementation of high speed broadband into New Zealand schools. The report itself is worth a read for a general overview of the potential that high speed internet will bring to the New Zealand compulsory school sector. However the area of greatest interest to me was the report’s scathing assessment of New Zealand’s teacher education providers’ ability to prepare new teachers for the opportunities and challenges of teaching in the digital age.
I imagine this part of the report has generated a bit of debate as Teacher Education providers felt the stinging criticism of their teacher methods was entirely unjustified. However what seems to be missing from the debate which sees industry perceptions coming into conflict with institutions view that they aren’t doing that bad is the experience of teachers coming out of pre-service teacher education into teaching.
As a bit of background I completed my first ICT in Education paper online way back in 1999 and finally got around to finishing my teaching credential as an online student last year. So I’ve been around long enough to be part of the first wave of Education students experimenting with using html to code basic webpages for students to access from outside of school hours back in the late 1990s through to a recent graduate of a teacher education programme just entering the school sector with all the tools of web 2.0 now at my fingertips.
What amazed me about re-entering the university system was that despite the vast changes in the internet over the last 10+ years in terms of the number of users and devices, the speed at which we can access the net, the ability for users to interact and the amount of content that circulates through the world in a given day how little my experience as an online student within the university structure has changed..
In fact even the most basic stuff at some Teacher Education programmes seem mired in old school techniques. Most New Zealand Colleges of Education require a handwritten form and all student Teaching Experience documentation is done via pencil and paper (my simple request to submit digitally was firmly rebuffed). Although there were some videos and discussion boards, most of our learning was still firmly rooted around the old style of learning; lectures and textbooks.
Very rarely were we asked to find our own resources and discuss the implications of those rather than simply responding to the content we were given and outside of one assignment there was very little time for creating digital content. Some lecturers were fantastic about using the internet to engage with students, regularly posting individual feedback on comments posted to bulletin boards but there too many dreaded group response emailed off after the week was finished and in a lot of cases feedback was not received at all.
Perhaps most concerning aspect of teacher education is current assessment practices. I sat six pencil and paper exams which accounted for a large proportion of my final grades. And although my essays emailed off, they were printed out and returned by post meaning that the opportunity to add a rich multimedia dimension and interactivity that web 2.0 offers was lost. If we want to prepare students teachers for 21st century teaching practices, then institutions need to stop examining them using 19th century assessment practices.
Part of the problem is that the New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standards make only a passing reference to ICT stating that graduating teachers having ICT proficiency relevant to their professional role. This vague statement could mean a teacher can print a word document to demonstrate proficiency when we know ICT has moved a long way from word processing. Perhaps New Zealand needs to follow Australia’s lead and develop ICT standards for graduating teachers.
For me the biggest take-away from experience as an online student is that using ICT, using ICT to learn and teaching with ICT are fundamentally different activities and I don’t think Teacher Education providers have cottoned on to the latter two in particular. Having course content available online does not mean students know how to implement e-learning pedagogy into their teaching practice (although perhaps we’ve been given an example of what not to do).
I say that because right now I feel like a bit of failure.
I’m someone with a huge amount of interest and enthusiasm for using the internet to learn yet I’m little ashamed to admit that the computers in the classroom haven’t had much use by the students yet. That’s not to say I haven’t identified the moments where ICT could have enhanced our classroom activities but right now I’m working on the real basics of classroom management. Modulating the tone my voice, thinking about body position, getting kids moving the classroom, thinking about how we talk to each other. All teaching 101 stuff but without those fundamentals firmly in place I can’t effectively embed ICT into my practice.
Even just the basics of ensuring that the devices in the classroom are well cared will take me time to effectively establish. My digikids (computer monitors) need to be trained up, we need to think about how the computers are cared for, charged, where you can use them and that’s before even a single device is turned on.
Of course right now everything seems so overwhelming because right now I’m in new teacher survival mode. I’m sure I will look back on this year and this first term in much the same way a new parent does when their children reaches their first birthday, in a hazy blur wondering where the last year of my life has gone.
The first few months of teaching are tough.
There’s no shallow end to dip your toes into and getting to grips with the ins and outs of building relationships with the kids and their families, administering and analysing student assessment and even how your school runs means that a lot of new teachers, myself included, retreat into what we know. Not included in what we know is how to implement e-learning practices and pedagogy.
But what scares me is however difficult I’m finding it to integrate this new learning style into my practice I have it relatively easy. I spent last year as an online student and a lot of my downtime was spent immersing myself in the world of social media in education. Although I didn’t know it when I started blogging and tweeting gave me a crash-course in how to learn digitally when my own education history was largely analog. What will get me to that next step of embedding my own learning into the classroom is my school.
I’m fortunate to be beginning my career in a school which has embraced the use ICT for teaching and learning. However there are hundreds of Beginning Teachers starting out who don’t have the professional learning environment to support e-learning initiatives. I think one of the biggest mistakes policy makers and indeed everyone involved in education is repeated making by propagating the idea of younger teachers as ‘digital natives’ who know how to use ICT for learning and inside their classrooms.
This isn’t always the case.
Even something as simple as responding to blog comments is something that I’ve learned a huge amount from reading the likes of @kathleen_morris and her fantastic classblog. Kathleen has fundamentally changed how I respond to content and has provided a great model for how to create effective digital learning environments for students in my class. I didn’t come across Kathleen through any sort of university channel but through trawling the internet for teacher blogs. What concerns me is that there seems so little online activity from the New Zealand tertiary education sector available online for pre-service and in-service teachers to access.
Why aren’t student teachers commenting on class blogs? Where are their Graduating Teacher Standards wikis that can be used to develop a digital portfolio? Can anyone name a New Zealand tertiary researcher who drives debate and connections on social media like @courosa ,@timbuckteeth, @tomwhitby who runs #edchat or @dianeravitch on twitter?
Because when I think about it so much of my education about e-learning took place outside of the university system at educamp, on twitter and through blogging yet those same social media channels which I learned so much on were the same ones where student teachers were told ‘danger! Will Robinson Danger!’ I wasn’t the only one whose learning migrated away from my institution. Outside of the compulsory postings, a large number of students from my course ended up ditching the student management system to communicate with each other in favour of hybrid Facebook group and dropbox.
Which brings me to a brief comment around managed student learning environments.
At present there’s a lot of money and energy being dedicated to implementing various online learning environments around the country at the moment. However based on my experience as an online student the most vibrant and active communities are the ones that live outside of the digital gates of the university. I think that as there is a fundamental shift occurring in education especially for online study and the future is likely to be a far more devolved concept of what online engagement by teachers might look like.
Currently most students need to assume different digital identities to visit institutions. However to be successful in the future I think institutions will need to take their learning to the places where their students interact online. What the implications of this for younger children I’m not sure. But I think one of the challenges and opportunities for ultrafast broadband is the creation of individual digital identities but questions remain in my mind over how will retain ownership over the identities and how portable those identities will be.
This post has covered a lot of ground and I’m not sure if I’ve done much than ramble some incoherent ideas but as some conversation starters:
Are Teachers Colleges preparing new teachers to teach digitally? What could they do differently?
Should a separate set of Graduating Teacher Standards in ICT be developed?
Are managed student learning environments are future innovation or likely to be a relic of the past within the next decade?