Analog Teacher Education = Digital Teacher?

The typical teacher network and the networked teacher (images by @Courosa used under creative commons licence)

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?


26 thoughts on “Analog Teacher Education = Digital Teacher?

Add yours

  1. You make some extremely valid observations and I have to agree with you in most parts. One of the challenges for universities and colleges across the globe is how to allow their students to present their knowledge and guarantee that the content is entirely theirs, not cut and pasted. There are lots of different systems in place now that check content but the only way to make themselves feel better if they insist on handwritten submissions. Hmph. Not at all sure how this helps, but if you go to any uni website you will find that this is the expectation and the norm.
    “…using ICT, using ICT to learn and teaching with ICT are fundamentally different activities…” what a rich and relevant statement and one that many schools, educationalists and universities need to take stock of. We have a huge, yawing gap between what our students learn, use and create in primary school compared to the hoops they jump through at high school and the boxes they fit into at uni.


  2. Agree you have hit the nail on the head. I had a public conversation with a representative of Vodaphone at the Learning Futures conference in Auckland in December. The gist of the conversation was that although 4G broadband is promised, it won’t be in all areas of New Zealand, and coverage will continue to be sparse even with the new promised roll out. That will remain the greatest digital divide, although as you indicate, the divide we see in the classroom is just as trenchant.

    I’m not too sure about your statement about learning styles though – there is little evidence to support the existence of learning styles as cognitive constants – and digital learning is not a learning style. Hope I didn’t misunderstand that =)

    A great, well thought out blog post…. keep up the good work!


  3. When I was selling in the UK 5 years ago most schools had Interactive whiteboards in every classroom. It was a government initiative. I know because I was selling Primary Interactive software. It was fantastic stuff and the students were loving it. It was also easy to use..after all, I was demonstrating it so it had to be…and I rarely found any teacher who did not want to have a go. Smartboards were everywhere also and software for schools was a growth industry!
    I came back to NZ and neither of the schools I did my placements in had more than one computer in the classroom. If the teacher wanted to show something they had to connect their own laptop up to the projector. Who needs to be ICT literate to do that?
    I was very surprised, given the supposed high quality of education in NZ.
    The common cry of course is lack of funds. In the UK it was a government -led initiative….perhaps that needs to happen here.I saw first-hand the difference it makes to engaging kids.


    1. But engaging kids is not the same as kids teaching and learning.

      An interactive whiteboard isn’t the thing. An iPad isn’t the thing.

      The shiny things aren’t the thing.

      The relationships and conversations between teachers, students and parents are the thing.

      Yes, the medium will change the message between those groups – but we spend so much time, in the name of “engaging students” swanning around worrying about the medium that we forget the message.


  4. You have highlighted quite eloquently the missing step between what student-teachers are learning them-selves and the learning they will be required to facilitate once they graduate. I’m in my final year of teacher training via distance/online and have spent the previous three years wondering when I’m going to find out more about ICT/e-learning in order to teach with it. It hit me that I was going to have to get out and do it myself (so I blogged about it
    Given that I’m in a 4 year online training programme I would have assumed that ICT/e-learning would be somewhere/everywhere throughout my own learning but it really hasn’t been, beyond what I have been required to do to complete my course (i.e. make a slideshow – but does this teach me how to apply it in class for my own students? Hmmm, debatable). I have had to enrol in an optional course in order to find out more – this is the only chance in 4 years I will have to explore the theories, research tools and get to grips with the practicalities of ICT/e-learning. In a political era that currently favours post-graduate training over a multi-year education degree, I think the focus is on getting the 101 classroom management basics right and any other skill is considered value-added. Which begs the question – is ICT/e-learning now a fundamental part of education in NZ or is it still considered value-added? I think many would agree it’s fundamental for students – why not so for student-teachers? If not during training when and how will we get this knowledge? In our own time, at our own cost? In our PD time at cost to our school/employer? Possibly never..?
    To answer your 3 questions:
    1. My University has been trying, but I suspect they are limited by finance and by knowledge, and perhaps even by the plethora of available tools – so they stick to what is widely available to their student base (a standard PC with whichever OS is installed) and what is free-use off the interwebz that their staff have had time to find and understand themselves.
    2. Quite simply – yes. And in doing so, I suspect that the obstacles listed above may suddenly become ‘must solve now’ issues, instead of ‘must solve when we have time, money, expertise’ issues…
    3. I think managed student environments are a necessity that will remain (I have assumed you mean things like Moodle?) but I suspect the use will change. For example, 4 years ago when I began, the site for My University was very structured, very little of the course information was downloadable, lots of students were trying to find ways to save/edit/submit that were clashing with the structure – as you yourself encountered with the pencil + paper element of your study. This has changed immensely in the time I’ve been using it – now everything is downloadable and savvy tutors are sending us video conference links instead of slideshow lecture notes. There are still many aspects that we students are leading the way forward (as we find tools and experiment) and we often use informal options instead of the structured site options. I think there is room for flexibility and both managed and organically occurring environments should be welcomed.

    Great post Stephanie.


  5. Having completed my three-year Bachelor of Teaching degree online and undertaking several papers about E-learning and ICT, I myself questioned why we still needed to submit word documents. I was fortunate however in having a few lecturers whom allowed more ICT Elearning formats, I submitted a Blog, we completed online tests, discussed learning in moodles and worked with Google docs ect.

    I learnt to podcast at Uni and I did a lot of reading and research into how pod casting, literacy, and blogging can improve academic outcomes and improve motivation through ownership of learning. I thoroughly enjoyed Dorothy Burt’s input into my studies even though Dorothy may be unaware of the impact she had on my learning.- I did learn how to implement ICT and Elearning into learning for students. My studies did not teach me all I needed to know but being a lifelong learner myself it allowed me to develop an academic understanding that can be referenced, debated, and backed with research when discussing issues around ICT, E learning and learning.

    We used Skype, lecturer pod-casts and live web, we discussed new technologies, one assessment was based around our own podcasts, and how we would use this in the classroom, (podcast into moodle of course). We were encouraged to use TKI and all the associated elearning and digital content, and encouraged to use ICT, WWW. and digital instruments in our teaching and learning. (Unfortunately, not twitter at the time)

    However, it is my belief that like any formal training, we learn the basics and then it is up to us to develop and follow our own beliefs, understandings, and passion and extend our own knowledge. I did not expect to learn it all, but I do have the confidence in developing my skills, thanks to the firm footing I was given at university. There are many however, who still disagree with technologies in the classroom and no matter the amount of ICT training, they will not embrace its use in the classroom. For me it is about the attitude and not the starting skill base.

    I believe that we where given a good insight into ICT Elearning and I personally extended that through the encouraged optional papers, and there where many to choose from based around 21st century learning

    What I have found though is perhaps some schools are not up to date as was my University, and I have struggled finding and overabundance of schools in my area that utilise what I was taught effectively. Thankfully, I have one great school in my local community that is supporting me with ideas and new understandings and I have the wonderful Rachel and all my Twitter / Blogging PLN and there to discuss ideas with.


  6. Future teachers should most definitely be taught to teach digitally. Universities need to develop new outcomes and objectives for today’s educators. Tools for social media, blogging, pod-casting, etc should be incorporated into the teachers learning environment. These are valuable tools that can enhance learning not only for the student but for the teacher. I enjoyed this post.


  7. Interesting blog! I’m a student in education from Europe and currently researching about the teacher training system in NZ specifically in regards to ICT. After reviewing some policy documents, I still wonder whether it is compulsory for teachers in NZ to demonstrate/ evidence their ICT skills for becoming fully registered teachers? Thanks, if you can help with this.


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