University of Calgary
Calgary, AB T2N 1N4
University of Calgary
Calgary, AB T2N 1N4
University of Calgary
Calgary, AB T2N 1N4
Experience is something you undergo, it is not an accumulation of experiences.
In September 2000, Alberta teachers began the three-year implementation process for the ICT Program of Studies. This innovative curriculum, demanding the effective infusion of technology for communicating, inquiring, problem-solving and decision-making in core curricula, puts Alberta at the forefront in terms of what it means for students to think and learn with the full range of digital technologies that are so much a part of today's changed -- and changing -- world.
Both the research literature and the experience of the Galileo Educational Network (http://www.galileo.org) paint the same picture of what thinking and learning need to look like in a knowledge era. We no longer live in a world in which information is scarce. Overwhelmed by information from a wealth of sources, students desperately need the skills to create new knowledge, not just consume the old. Problems no longer come neatly packaged, defined-in-advance, and amenable to the rote application of familiar strategies. As our world learned on September 11, 2001 real problems erupt unexpectedly, demanding careful and creative attention in chaotic environments that had once seemed stable and unshakable. The old certainties of a world defined by four classroom walls and impermeable boundaries have disappeared forever, replaced by global interdependencies and complex systems that require flexibility, responsiveness, and imagination.
Our society can no longer afford to think of engaged learning, nimbleness, creativity and commitment to action as 'frills'. Multiple and conflicting perspectives are no longer problems to be fixed, ignored or eliminated. They are the way the world works. Our human survival depends on our ability to learn new things in deeply ambiguous and confusing situations. And it depends on our ability to teach our children how to do this, too.
This is a time in which it is profoundly tempting to withdraw into old certainties, to return to familiar landscapes of teaching and learning whose routines and well-worn grooves give us comfort and a sense of control and order. But the world, itself, holds a different lesson for us, a lesson about the importance of teaching the young to live well when the very shape of that world emerges, every day, in ways that are unlike anything we have ever known before.
NEW WAYS OF LEARNING DEMAND NEW WAYS OF TEACHING
Today's classrooms do not look much different than they did 20 years ago when Alberta Learning began to invest heavily in technology. While recognizing that there are pockets of genuine innovation in classrooms, schools, and universities across the province, we feel confident in making a few generalizations about the current state of affairs in Alberta as a whole. First, while many school and university students are using technology in their personal lives in a wide variety of ways, they are not using computers very extensively in classrooms in order to learn effectively in a variety of subject areas. There are a number of explanations for this state of affairs. One, computers tend to be available to students mainly in labs. This means that for many Alberta students, computing remains an event, scheduled in advance according to the convenience of a timetable. Technology is not yet seamlessly integrated as a powerful way to think and learn. Too often, instead of making possible the new ways in which people can share and exchange information in a digital commons, school networks and workstations are secure, standardized, pre-configured, and completely locked down. Two, tasks involving technology tend to involve a fairly low level of thinking and research, focusing heavily on the presentation of final products rather than on thinking differently, rigorously and effectively at every stage of a project. Third, there is a growing 'digital divide' between what students actually know how to do with technology and what they are permitted to do in school. There are growing numbers of students who routinely expect their school computers to be old, connectivity to be slow, networks to be unstable, and their teachers' knowledge and confidence to be significantly less than their own.
A second general trend we have observed is that many classroom teachers and faculty members in teacher preparation programs lack confidence in their own ability to think broadly with technology. Few classroom teachers use computers extensively in their own lives outside of school. Traditional models of professional development, like workshops and courses, have not been particularly successful in helping teachers and university faculty find ways to integrate technology into their teaching. Faculty members and classroom teachers are not comfortable with this state of affairs. They often feel bad about not knowing how to use technology for teaching and learning. They use phrases like 'technopeasant', 'technophobe', 'resident luddite', or 'stupid about computers' to describe themselves.
Related to this second trend is our third observation that many education faculty and teachers who do feel more confident about their own ability to use computers for professional tasks are often uncertain about how to use technology in their teaching. Those in academic and school leadership positions often have less experience with technology than their teachers do, and are therefore not always able to provide strong leadership, or strongly informed support for required changes to enable the effective infusion of technology in their buildings. Almost by default, visions for the use of technology for teaching and learning are often created by IT specialists who are not educators. Network design and student access are often determined according to what is standard, easy to maintain and monitor rather than according to what is educationally sound. Alberta Learningís ICT Program of Studies (2000) tends to be poorly understood by teachers in schools, and education faculty in teacher preparation programs. Dominant curriculum models, based on fragmentation and discrete units of study (even in e-learning), tend to emphasize course delivery and information-transfer rather than knowledge creation. While there are thousands of examples of digital media objects and teacher-created units and lessons that claim a meaningful technology component, there are far fewer authentic images of the effective and imaginative infusion of technology.
Teachers and leaders in the schools and school districts are looking to new teachers to shore up the gap between technology presence and use. However, our fourth observation is that the current generation of pre-service teachers simply do not routinely infuse technology in their own learning and student teaching, and thus, few bring the skills and experiences that are needed to transform today's classrooms. There are several possible explanations for this state of affairs. One, information and communication technology tends to be regarded as an optional area of specialization in pre-service courses rather than as a crucial way for everyone to learn. Two, when compulsory courses are available, they tend to emphasize software applications rather than technology-infused curriculum design. Three, not enough pre-service teachers are being taught in ways that demonstrate effective infusion of technology in all subject areas. There is a great deal of talk about constructivism on North American campuses, but fewer examples of how to live and learn in these ways. Four, issues of perceived threats to professional freedom and standardized accountability mechanisms make it difficult to insist on the widespread and effective infusion of technology-enhanced teaching practices in pre-service courses. Finally, there has been no mechanism to deliberately place pre-service students in technology-enhanced classrooms where experienced teachers are finding new ways of teaching and learning with technology.
The final trend that concerns us is that many good teachers are leaving the profession. There is little or no sustained support for beginning teachers to learn or consolidate new ways of teaching. There is a lack of widespread support and professional development to help classroom teachers make the necessary changes to classroom practices. Teachers with a high level of technology expertise, or commitment to learning to teach in new ways with technology, frequently end up frustrated by the barriers they face in using what they know in their daily work with children. And they leave.
TEACHER PREPARATION AND TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION
A shift in thinking is required for teacher preparation that is similar to that needed in professional development for inservice teachers (Clifford & Friesen, 2001; Jacobsen, 2001). It is simply not good enough to teach the next generation of teachers in ways we were taught. Pre-service teachers must routinely encounter the effective infusion of technology in the normal course of their learning at the university and in their practicum placements in schools. Let us be clear about this -- no one of us has learned in classrooms where these powerful new tools were freely available to use. The technology is simply too new. This means that each of us must figure out what to do with these new tools, and create meaningful learning opportunities for our students that we ourselves have never experienced. Learning how to teach and learn in new ways with technology requires imagination, intellect, creativity, and no small courage.
For the past two years, the three of us have co-taught preservice teachers about integrating technology into their learning and teaching. Our planning for this special topics seminar on integrating technology across the curriculum was guided by our vision of engaged learning and educational reform (Clifford & Friesen, 2001, 1998, 1993; Jacobsen, 2001), and our commitment to address the kinds of concerns that we outlined at the beginning of this paper. We wanted preservice teachers to experience digitally rich, inquiry-based learning environments on campus and in their field placements. Thus, we situated technology infusion within the larger context of inquiry-based learning. Our seminar was not about technology; it was about teaching and thinking with technology. We moved well beyond skills acquisition or a focus on software applications, and instead created a context of use within which preservice teachers learned by designing learning opportunities for real students in real classrooms. Through focused tasks, we designed opportunities for them to learn in just the ways they will be called upon to teach children (Clifford, Friesen & Jacobsen 1998).
We drew on what we know about good professional development practice: (1) technology is best learned just-in-time, instead of just-in-case, (2) planning, designing, implementing and evaluating are best done in collaboration with others, (3) learning must be situated in authentic, challenging and multidisciplinary tasks, (4) a culture of inquiry around technology for learning supports risk-taking and knowledge creation, and (5) teachers need intentional and meaningful opportunities to reflect on professional development and growth.
Technology Is Best Learned Just-In-Time, Not Just-In-Case
Students were able to take advantage of a new technology-enabled learning spaces in the Faculty of Education in our seminar. In the first year that we taught the seminar, students had to move from the traditional 'lecture' space, in which we had rows of desks facing an overhead projection of a computer screen, to two separate computer labs to work on their projects. The constraints of a lab model that we had to grapple with are similar to the computer lab model that most teachers in schools encounter. The design of our learning environment in the second year leveraged the ubiquitous access to technology in the seminar space (i.e., 16 networked workstations) and also the larger public learning spaces (i.e., additional workstations, multimedia development suites, scanners, digital cameras, CD burners, and so on). The fluid access to technology tools, Internet access and to each other changed the learning culture -- it was easier for students to gather around a workstation or deskspace to collaborate, and to move out into public spaces as needed. The permeable environment permitted flexible arrangements and grouping, and also provided ready access to other experts (i.e., Faculty support staff).
Our first assignment was two-fold: students were required (1) to read the ICT Program of Studies (Alberta Learning, 2000) reflect upon their own readiness to teach it, and to set learning goals within that context, and (2) to publish their reflections in an individual, web-based portfolio that would eventually contain all of their coursework. Each student created a personal, and personalized, web site for this purpose. For students with no experience with scripting web pages, we provided a template to scaffold their early efforts.
"Oh, easy for Leonardo"
The requirement that students engage with the program of studies, and publish a response on a web site they themselves had to design, sent many into a tailspin (not unlike that experienced by seasoned classroom teachers and faculty members). There were tears and complaints, and many were worried about a perceived mismatch between their present ability and our expectations. These concerns are typical. When a novice first enters this culture of technology use, everything seems overwhelming. There are several ways in which we might have responded to this level of distress. From a technocentric perspective, we might have reassured students, 'There, there, dears, don't worry, IT is actually very easy', and grabbed the mouse and clicked madly away (like geeks on speed). We might have told students that learning the computer part is really quite easy -- just take a couple of extra courses or attend a few workshops. But, we didn't.
Our response was to tell students this truth. Learning and teaching with technology is hard, it can be overwhelming, and the field is always changing. The way in which preservice teachers reacted to the ICT Program of Studies and building web pages is much like the reaction of many classroom teachers and faculty members when they grapple with how to integrate technology and the curriculum. It is also the way that experienced technology users venture into an area that is unfamiliar to them. Because the field is changing so quickly, everyone is in some sense a beginner.
Some students had created web pages before, and set to designing their web site at once. Others worked with us to learn how use the template and how to upload their finished sites to the university server. Each time a new site went up, there were whoops and squeals and broad grins of pure delight. Students felt the special rush of seeing their own work on the web. They were a like parents with a newborn -- even though some of the initial sites were a little plain and a bit wrinkled, they were beautiful to their creators. Our students were proud of themselves, and we were delighted, too. But something quite unexpected happened with those pages throughout the course of the seminar. We were content to have those early, functional sites to house each students' work, but they, themselves, were not content to stop there. As they gained new knowledge and skills, they kept going back and redesigning their websites, and adding new pages. And each time, their sites became new and exciting all over again.
One student dissolved after our first class, certain that her complete lack of technology experience would make it impossible for her to achieve any kind of success. She ended the year not only proficient in a wide range of technology skills unimaginable to her at the start, but also confident in her own ability to design engaging inquiries for students. She joined three other students who requested placements together in a school where teachers were working on new approaches to teaching with technology. We came to call this group 'The Roadies', because they wanted this particular school because it required a full hour's drive each way from the city, and they knew they would use the time to plan and talk as professionals together. One of the first things this group did was, in fact, to critique one of the focused tasks to which we had linked them on line. While the presentation of this task was smooth and very entertaining, The Roadies felt that the content was shallow and the game-like structure of the simulation, too easy to navigate without actually learning anything. Borrowing ideas from the task they liked, they set about to design something they felt was more worthwhile, and then they planned to roll this new version of the task into the integrated unit of study they later developed together. Knowing that they had then two solid months to create a coherent study, the set to work with a will to develop the kinds of technological fluencies that would help them enact what they imagined to be possible.
Several of our students talked about 'being inspired into a culture of use' which is different in kind than the application focus of many preservice courses in IT. We concentrated on just-in-time, not just-in-case, instruction with technology applications. We discovered through our own direct experience a fundamental truth we had only known in our minds: when you begin to think differently about technology and learning, and you have different spaces in which to learn and teach, you can design different approaches to learning. If your basic assumption is that everyone needs to learn the same technology skills at the same time before they can do anything meaningful with them, then a computer lab scenario makes sense. You can have workshops, lessons and skill-building sessions on how to manipulate a word processor, use a spreadsheet or build a web page. However, when the teaching space itself is more fluid, new possibilities emerge. We were able to introduce meaningful, challenging and multidisciplinary tasks that posed complex and meaningful learning problems, and enabled a host of possible solutions. In the context of these tasks, the three of us coached and guided individuals and groups of students to design creative solutions, and to acquire the skills and competencies they needed to solve their problem in the way they wanted to approach the task. The tasks were large enough that no one student could complete them by themselves. The tasks required preservice teachers to draw upon their multiple and diverse perspectives, and to share emerging expertise with the technology.
Our approach challenges notions that constructivist classrooms are loose and unstructured. Our approach to "just-in-time" was a thread that ran through everything we did. It was flexible and responsive - everything we did as instructors, and everything we talked about was in response to student queries and needs.
Collaborative Planning, Design, Implementation And Evaluation
All of our approaches to using and learning technology in the seminar were in service of a task, not in service of learning technology for its own sake. Our focused task requirement put the preservice teachers in the position of the students they were going to teach. They had to actually complete one of eleven focused tasks designed for kindergarten to grade eleven students. The tasks required little prior experience with technology in order to get started. However, because of the nature of the tasks, there was no upper limit on the sophistication of technology use that was possible. Thus, there were steep learning curves for all students no matter what their starting point. Everybody got to sweat the same, and all students experienced the value and necessity of working in teams to build on the strengths and diversity in the group.
Tasks were drawn from the Alberta Learning ICT Assessment Toolkit, from the world wide web and from teacher sources. Individuals signed up based on interest in a particular task, and then formed groups based on their shared objectives. All of the tasks were designed to be interesting and meaningful, and best, or only, doable through technology. Groups were required to create something that really stretched their thinking both about curriculum and technology. Each task immersed students in experiencing what technology is good for, and engaged them deeply with what classroom teachers often face when considering how they will integrate the ICT program of studies across the curriculum.
The best way to understand the range of issues that surround technology integration is to dig in and start working with the kinds of tasks one might actually ask a student to do. The focused task requirement provided a range of opportunities for preservice teachers to learn how to design and evaluate challenging and authentic tasks. Groups did not have to design a pretend task, or create something for pretend students from scratch. Instead, they learned about Alberta Learning curricular expectations for thinking at the communicating, inquiring, decision-making and problem-solving level of the ICT Program of Studies (2000) by actually doing something that has been structured for real students. Our students gained first hand experience with the type of learning we were asking them to create for students. This understanding contributed to their thinking and development of an integrated unit of study.
Situating Learning In Authentic, Challenging And Multidisciplinary Tasks
Planning for engaged student learning (NCREL, 2000) and technology integration requires an applied understanding of project, instructional and task design. To move beyond the "add on" approach of using PowerPointTM or word processing as ends in themselves, teachers need to think and plan carefully about how to infuse technology in teaching and learning. Working in small groups, students collaborated on the design and development of an Integrated Unit of Study for authentic and meaningful integration of technology into one or more core curricular area.
A major requirement of the fourth semester in the MT Program is that students engage in an inquiry project that can be a field-oriented research project at a school or Community Work Place site that integrates theory and practice. The stewardship of the inquiry project is located in the special topics seminar. In the course of their Inquiry Project, students engage in critical inquiry in a systematic and intentional manner, contribute to ongoing efforts to improve teaching and learning at the field site, and demonstrate the understandings and skills acquired throughout the first three semesters of the Master of Teaching program. There is an expectation that the students' work will leave a legacy in the field.
Inquiry projects were designed to immerse preservice teachers in challenging and multidisciplinary work that made a difference in the present. They were meant to be real work - not just another way of preparing them to do something in the future. One of our students, Heather, learned how to construct and program Lego® robots alongside grade one and two students and their teachers in an elementary school. As the opportunity to work with robotics progressed through each grade, Heather became part of the coaching team, working with teachers and students right up to grade five. As her own expertise grew, the school came to depend on Heather's contribution, her insights and her creative solutions. She focused her inquiry project on documenting and interpreting her experiences with young children and robotics.
We cultivated genuine partnerships between students and teachers at all levels to harness our collective energy on behalf of children. For example, in the first seminar, one of our students made a difference in his school through his inquiry project. He chose to investigate networking options that would leverage the older technology in an inner city school. Frustrated by the fact that these students did not have the kind of network access that would be routinely available to middle class students in middle class neighborhoods, he ended up moving workstations around and stringing cable himself. He created a network infrastructure that increased opportunities for student learning with technology that would otherwise not have been available. His inquiry project focused on issues of network design, but it was truly about social justice.
Creating A Culture Of Inquiry Around Technology For Learning
One of the most powerful aspects of our special topics seminar was the intentional placement of students in enriched field settings for their action research projects. About a third of the class had the opportunity to work in schools in which the Galileo Educational Network was providing on-site support to teachers to design new learning experiences for students through the effective technology infusion. In most teacher preparation programs, field placements are more generic: students are matched to schools and partner teachers mainly according to grade and subject specialty. This 'shot gun' approach to field placements builds on two notions. One is that the main goal of field placements is to make sure the numbers work out, given certain broad category matches. It assumes that, essentially, schools and classrooms are convenient catchments in which preservice teachers can 'practice'. Second, many teacher associations fight targeted placements on the grounds that all teachers are equally excellent in exactly the same ways. From such a viewpoint, targeted placements smack of elitism. That, of course, is not at all our experience. We did not target 'good' or 'better' schools and teachers. Instead, we asked ourselves this: 'What energies can we leverage if we place preservice teachers committed to developing their ability to infuse technology into teaching and learning with experienced teachers who are also intentionally pursuing their own professional growth in this area?' We had only three and one half months with our students, and we knew that we could maximize the impact of their on-campus work by seeking out field placements where the infusion of technology was also a priority.
Reflection On Professional Development And Growth
It is an Alberta Learning requirement that all certified Alberta teachers complete an annual professional growth plan. The teacher's plan must include goals, strategies and evaluation. It is reviewed twice a year by either the principal or a designated review body made up of the teacher's colleagues and peers. Teachers are expected to consider the Teacher Quality Standard (Alberta Learning, 1996), their school division's goals and plans, and their own school's improvement plan when developing their professional growth plans. While plans of such detail were not appropriate in a special topics seminar, we did reinforce the experience of our students throughout the whole MT program: the importance of cultivating reflective habits of mind about professional practice. To that end, our students prepared a professional growth plan throughout the seminar that included three self-assessments. They published these as part of their web-based, electronic portfolio.
WHY DID THIS SEMINAR WORK?
First, how do we know it worked? The most significant indicator is the high caliber of the students' scholarship. The quality of their work, their thinking and their reflection was exemplary. Each student was able to meet seminar requirements for curriculum design, for planning and carrying out substantive inquiry, for reflection on professional growth, and for the acquisition of technology skills. Students asked us to burn a CD ROM of all the units of study they created, and the focused tasks on which they had worked. As we did this, we were struck once again by how much they had learned. From our perspectives both in staff development and in teaching in the graduate program at the University of Calgary, we have no hesitation in saying that each of our students left the class better prepared to infuse technology in their own classrooms than many experienced teachers. Many tackled inquiry projects at a level of complexity that approached performance expectations for graduate work.
Building on Diversity
We believe the exceptional degree of student success and engagement was an outcome of deliberate design and instructional decisions that were informed by our knowledge of the current state of affairs in schools and on campus. First, the space in the seminar was open enough for all students to define a place for themselves. We designed the course so that it required a wide range and diversity of projects. From the first day, our students learned that it did not matter what grade or subject they were preparing to teach. We were not fussed about whether they had extensive experience with technology or none at all. It was all right to prefer different platforms, different software, and alternative approaches to tasks than the ones we suggested. That is, we structured exactly the situation we wanted them to create for their own students. They came to see that their diversity was not a problem to be overcome, but an essential resource on which we all could draw.
Second, all aspects of the seminar were centered on pedagogical issues rather than technology issues. There are two apparently contradictory consequences of a strong initial focus on technology skills acquisition in the common kinds of workshops and courses designed for experienced and preservice teachers new to technology. The first is that participants often seize on one or two of the applications they first learn to use, assuming that now the job of integrating technology is taken care of. This enthusiasm is apparent in how often teachers introduced to planning a technology enriched experience for students start with statements like this, 'I was thinking of letting kids do Power PointTM reports on their animal....' Jamie McKenzie (2000) uses the felicitous phrase "Power Pointlessness" to describe the careless adoption of an otherwise effective presentation tool as if it were the be-all and end-all of technology use in the classroom.
The second consequence of an initial focus on skills acquisition is that such a focus feeds the growing sense of panic that sets in when many of us squarely face a harsh, but often unspoken reality about technology: no mere mortal can keep up with the innovations. No one in a classroom is going to win the race against new hardware, new applications, and new capabilities. There is always a new version, a new digital device or a new idea coming down the pipe. Another unspoken, but harsh reality of teaching is the deep and pervasive assumption that somehow, as a teacher, I always have to know more than my students. I have to be at least one chapter ahead in the textbook, and I have to know how to use a software application myself before I teach it to students. Considering the range of applications now available to students and teachers, and the rate at which new versions are introduced, it is easy to feel overwhelmed even by finding a starting place.
When preservice students can be convinced to give up the idea that they need to know this application, and this application, and this application, and accept that they will never know everything about every piece of software, they undergo a transformation. Many feel suddenly liberated. They feel a burden lifted when we say to them, 'Look, there is no way that you will ever be faster, more fluent, more knowledgeable about what's out there as technology tools than all of your students. And you know what--that's okay. It actually gives you a whole lot of room to get things happening. There are some things that the kids will always do better than you. Let them. And there are important things that they need to be taught. Your job as a teacher is to design the learning experiences. They don't know how to do that. You have to figure out what these applications are good for. The kids will figure out how to drive them.'
Sometimes technology intimidates experienced and preservice teachers and university faculty. It makes us feel stupid, inept, and somehow at the mercy of forces we do not understand and cannot control. Teachers sometimes ask us, 'If I start letting the kids use all this technology, what's happened to my role as a teacher?' Of course, what they are really asking is what will happen to me? Do I still have anything of value to offer? Ironically, in our special topics seminar, identified as focusing on technology integration, we were able both to raise and to address this very real and important concern. Confident technology users ourselves, we know that deep understandings of the character of inquiry-based learning and knowledge construction have never been more important than they are in digitally rich environments (Clifford & Friesen, in press; Jacobsen & Goldman, in press). It is entirely possible to do foolish things with powerful tools just because they are there. Our challenge was to help our preservice teachers develop a fluency with teaching and learning with technology, not just with technology, itself. In one of those lovely little moments that open up whole worlds to them, one of our students wrote to us about her experience of reading the Foundations level of the ICT program of studies, and of hearing us talk about teaching and learning as the primary focus of the course. 'I thought', she told us, 'that only people who were against technology ever raised questions about ethics and values and what is worth doing. I was amazed to find it in the curriculum, and to hear the three of you say critical things, too'.
As our students become aware of the possibilities both to use and not to use technology in their teaching, they developed a sense of their own agency, their own ability to make their ideas happen. In exactly the sense in which John Dewey once imagined a curriculum in which students built things, they set about creating pieces to which they were committed, not because they were technology tasks, but because they offered real possibilities for children and youth to learn important things about the subjects our students were learning to teach. Encouraged to imagine possibilities, they developed a level of comfort with saying, 'I don't know how it can be done, but I know it can be done, and I am going to find out how'. They sought out help from the three of us, from Faculty of Education support staff, from experts made available to them through the Galileo Educational Network. Husbands, wives and roommates were drawn into their circle of mentors.
It was hard work. For most, there was a huge learning curve, coupled with a determination to dig in and learn what was needed in service of important ideas. That is, the culture of inquiry we talked about creating in classrooms became a living part of the seminar, itself.
We, ourselves, worked collaboratively with one another and with the support staff who were available to assist our students. The course was enacted through the genuine collaboration that was required to get complex things done. We depended on our own collaborative efforts, and we valued and encouraged opportunities for students to access one another's expertise. This collaboration extended to the field placements, and the students contributed to and benefited from the diversity among teaching staff as well. In a world in which we know we must prepare students to work effectively in teams both to define and to solve problems in ambiguous situations, teacher isolation is a terrible problem. The culture of schooling makes it very difficult for teachers to form strong work teams. As part of helping preservice teachers both experience and understand the power of colleagial support, we forced our students to become interdependent, 'force' being both an extremely strong and a particularly accurate word. There was no way that any student could meet the demands of the course alone. They sought out one another, and they had to negotiate all the ordinary troubles of working together as part of their learning. We also made conversations about 'grouping' part of the discourse of the class. Many were surprised, for example, that we required them to choose a focused task based on interest. We suggested that groups larger than 4 sometimes became unmanageable, but did not require them to have any specific number in the group. We didn't force all groups to be equal in size. We didn't try to sort them out by ability, nor did we say anything about working or not working with friends. When it turned out that no one signed up to do one of the tasks we had designed, we didn't break up other groups in order to cover it. Nor did we get upset when ten groups wanted to do the Travel Agent task. As they experienced intentional pedagogy around grouping to accomplish a task, they had new questions to ask about how this would work out with children.
What are we thinking about doing differently next time?
Ironically, given all that we have said about the intentional focus on pedagogy rather than the technology itself, one of the first worrisome things we discussed about the tasks and units that students created was how few of them build spreadsheets and data bases into their work. It is not that we wanted to be able to 'tick off' these applications from some sort of pre-formed list of to-do's and content to cover. Rather, we realized how little experience most of us have with the kinds of thinking that these tools make possible.
Spreadsheets are a standard feature of any integrated software package, and have been for decades, but they are shockingly underutilized in classrooms. They are good for exploring relationships between variables and properties, forecasting, reckoning probabilities, and sharing data on line (Clifford & Friesen, in press). There is a world of powerful information readily available to students in both the physical and social sciences. A pedagogical use of spreadsheets would allow students to concentrate on analysis and interpretation -- that is, on real thinking -- rather than on performing repetitive calculations, setting up tables or making charts. Thinking with data rather than simply practicing the use of the software application lets students try out strategies, revise hypotheses and ask and receive instant feedback to the powerful question, 'What if?'
Databases are good for helping students to organize and search for all sorts of information: text, pictures, sounds, videos, and references to other sources that contain more information (Clifford & Friesen, in press). Databases allow students to create knowledge by working with information, not just memorizing it. Using data bases, they can look for commonalities and differences among groups or classes of things, analyze relationships, identify and interpret trends and patterns, test and refine hypotheses, and organize and share information . For data bases to be really powerful intellectual tools, students need to be involved in every aspect of their construction. They need to debate and determine the categories, or fields, decide what data will count, and to collect information effectively to populate the categories. All of this involves coming to terms with fundamental structures and ideas in the topic or discipline they are studying.
We think it is important for preservice teachers to know about and experience first hand the power of spreadsheets and data bases. Thus, we need to think some more about how to introduce preservice teachers to the use of spreadsheets and data bases as thinking tools, and not just 'how to's' about setting them up. Can we design a meaningful requirement so that our students need to use these tools, perhaps in the way that we established the requirement that they design, construct and upload an e-portfolio in order to get all the work of the course done?
We decry workshops as a starting point for teachers and faculty members when they begin to think about infusing technology throughout their curriculum. That is not to say, however, that we think workshops per se are unhelpful. We offered structured instruction on 'how to' use specific tools throughout the course. Once students knew that they needed specific tools, they had a real need to learn how to get started with them, or how to locate and use advanced features. Our students found these sessions helpful, and wanted more. Scheduling appropriate and timely workshops amidst all the other activity of the seminar is a real challenge, one that we want to meet even more effectively in the future. We know that the solution to this problem will lie in becoming a more effective team with faculty support services.
Finally, we will search for additional ways to showcase the range and quality of student work. In our first run at the seminar, we made student projects available on line through their portfolios, but we did not encourage or require everyone in the class to engage with their peers' work. The second time, we built peer assessment into each task, so there was a significant amount of class time available to see and respond to each other's work, and to talk about strengths and weaknesses. Encouraged by the class, we produced a CD ROM for students to purchase at the end of the course. Each student gave us permission to include parts or all of their work. Anyone who then wished a permanent record of what they had accomplished could carry away ideas and examples of good work. We have shared this class portfolio with others interested in issues of teacher preparation, and the results are always the same: people are astounded at how much can be accomplished in a very short time. We think others outside the immediate circle of interest in technology also need to see what teaching and learning with technology can look like. We will encourage more of our students to frame their inquiry projects with a view to possible publication, and we will consider how we, ourselves, can use some of the technology tools available to us to share their work more widely.
A deep commitment to the principles that pervade the entire Masters of Teaching program at the University of Calgary guided the creation of our special topics learning environment. We opened spaces in which preservice teachers used ICT fluently for personal productivity in the creation and maintenance of professional documents. Preservice teachers developed an understanding of Alberta Learning's (2000) ICT Program of Studies, and discussed the implications for learning and teaching in their discipline/grade level and for their own professional growth plans. Students were articulate in describing the ways that technology had influenced their own learning and in describing the ways they had seen technology play a role in others' teaching and learning. In groups, and as individuals, students wrote, communicated, made decisions, and conducted inquiry smoothly and effectively using technological aids if and when these technologies contributed to those processes. Students intelligently questioned uses of ICT and were appropriately skeptical about naive enthusiasms and overly simple 'solutions.' In the context of focused tasks and integrated units of study that they created, students discussed the strengths and weaknesses of ICT in a wide range of applications. They moved beyond being mere proponents of ICT usage, or already-hardened skeptics, and became thoughtful professionals who choose tools appropriate for the tasks they needed to accomplish. Students developed an informed personal position on ICT use in education and articulated and defended that position with each other.
In the school placements, preservice teachers encouraged their students both to actively question the place of ICT in their learning and to make responsible use of ICT in their own work. They developed an understanding of technology and its uses in learning and teaching that supports the pedagogic responsibility to foster students' development of understanding and meaningful learning. In the context of their own creative work, preservice students understood and developed ethical dispositions and practices in relation to the uses of technology in the classroom, and to encourage the uses of technology in ethical and pedagogically sound ways. They developed a capacity for critical inquiry and became ongoing learners in the applications of technology in learning and teaching, essential dispositions given the rapid pace at which information technologies are transforming our world.
The authors appreciate and thank the education students in two sections of our special topics seminar, many of whom are currently making a difference in children's lives as classroom teachers.
Alberta Learning. (2000-2003). Information and communication technology, kindergarten to grade 12: Program of studies. Curriculum Standards Branch. [On-line]. Available: http://ednet.edc.gov.ab.ca/ict/
Alberta Learning. (1996). Teacher Quality Standard: An Integrated Framework To Enhance The Quality Of Teaching In Alberta. Policy Framework. [On-line]. Available: http://www.learning.gov.ab.ca/news/1996nr/june96/nr-qteaching.asp
Clifford, P. and Friesen, S. (in press). The Stewardship of the Intellect: Classroom Life, Educational Innovation and Technology. In Issues in the Integration of Technology into Teaching, Learning, and School Culture(s). Barrell, B. (Ed.). Calgary, AB: Detselig Enterprises Ltd.
Clifford, P. and Friesen, S. (2001). The Galileo Educational Network: Bringing learning to learners. Proceedings Ed-Media World Conference on Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications, 2001.
Clifford, P., Friesen, S., and Jacobsen, D. M. (1998). An expanded view of literacy: Hypermedia in the middle school. Proceedings of the ED-MEDIA AND ED-TELECOM 98: World Conference on Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia & World Conference on Educational Telecommunications, Freiburg, Germany, June 20-25. [On-line]. Available: http://www.rockyview.ab.ca/bpeak/research/galileo/literacy.html
Clifford, P., & Friesen, S. (1998). Hard fun: Teaching and learning for the 21st century. Focus on Learning II, 1: 8 ? 32.
Clifford, P. & Friesen, S. (1993). A curious plan: Managing on the twelfth. Harvard Educational Review 63, 3: 339-358.
Jacobsen, D. M., & Goldman, R. (in press). The Hand-Made's Tail: A Novel Approach to Educational Technology. In Issues in the Integration of Technology into Teaching, Learning, and School Culture(s). Barrell, B. (Ed.). Calgary, AB: Detselig Enterprises Ltd.
Jacobsen, D. M. (2001). Building Different Bridges: Technology Integration, Engaged Student Learning, and New Approaches to Professional Development. Paper presented at AERA 2001: the 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Seattle, WA: April 10-14. [On-line]. Available: http://www.ucalgary.ca/~dmjacobs/aera/building_bridges.html
McKenzie, J. (2000). Scoring Power Points. In FNO: The Educational Technology Journal. Vol 10, No 1, September 2000 [On-line]. Available: http://www.fno.org/sept00/powerpoints.html
North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. (2000). New times
demand new ways of learning. [On-line]. Available: http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/edtalk/newtimes.htm