Technology is transforming the teacher’s role today as radically as did the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press more than 500 years ago. But teacher colleges have yet to update their methods and philosophies to keep pace with the changes occurring in today’s schools.

Lately, I had occasion to reflect on such things when I served on the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) to prepare a report on where we are today with technology and education. Part of our report focuses on something I think is pretty important — how colleges of education understand teachers’ concerns, fears, and need for training in schools across America.

“Teachers may be forgiven if they cling to old models of teaching that have served them well in the past,” we wrote. “All of their formal instruction and role models were driven by traditional teaching practices. Breaking traditional approaches to instruction means taking risks and venturing into the unknown. But, this is precisely what is needed at the present time.”

What kind of teacher is best able to take advantage of technology for instruction?

First, it’s the teacher who understands the deep impact technology is having on our whole society: how it has changed the way we work, the way we communicate, the way we learn.

It’s the teacher who is less devoted to transferring discrete pieces of information to students and more interested in helping students use knowledge to answer the questions that are important to them.

It’s the teacher who serves as a credible role model for students by using the technology for professional development — who uses eMail to communicate with colleagues, participates in professional development video conferences, diagnoses and addresses learning deficiencies by drawing upon expert systems, tailors instruction to the ability and needs of individual learners, and monitors their progress electronically through digitized student records. And, finally, it’s the teacher with “attitude”: who is fearless in the use of technology, secure in no longer acting as the primary arbiter of knowledge, and eager to learn throughout a lifetime of teaching.

Educating educators

Re-educating the existing teaching force will not be easy and will require extensive professional development over many years. The problem will be compounded if those teachers now entering the field for the first time have not been adequately prepared to use new technology. So a large part of enabling teachers to use technology lies in the teacher education departments and colleges where new teachers are prepared.

At NCATE, we found that many teacher preparation programs are falling short. Among teacher education faculty members generally, there may be little appreciation of the impact technology is having on society and an insufficient understanding of the demands on classroom teachers to incorporate technology into their teaching.

Many college faculty members undervalue the significance of technology and treat it as merely another topic teachers should know about. As a result, teacher colleges are making the same mistake made by many K-12 schools. “Technology” is treated not as a phenomenon that needs to be incorporated across the teacher education program, but merely as a special addition to the teacher education curriculum, requiring specially prepared faculty members and specially equipped classrooms.

As a result, teachers-in-training are limited to lectures on “computer literacy,” maybe with some screen shots culled from curriculum software. Rarely are they able to use technology in their own education, nor are they given the opportunity to see role models using it in other work.

Imagine the result if prospective teachers were shown how to teach children to read and were told that books would be important to their work in the classroom but were not given reading assignments themselves.

Low technology priority

The reasons for these failures in teacher education programs are relatively easy to explain, if difficult to excuse. Many teacher education programs are given a low priority for technology funding, and therefore lack the essential hardware and software.

Teacher education faculty members may not have the knowledge and skill to incorporate technology into their own teaching. Similar to K-12 teachers, they may not have been provided the training they need to use technology successfully, and, due to a lack of incentives and clear goals, they may be unwilling to devote the time necessary to offset that shortcoming.

Few higher education faculty members seem to have an understanding of the vast changes brought about by technology in K-12 schools, and few seem to realize that they must change their own instruction to stay abreast of changes in the schools.

Teacher education programs are driven by an academic culture that rewards individuality among faculty members. Few incentives exist for bringing faculty members together around a common vision of what the teacher education program should be. A few individual faculty members believe that more emphasis should be given to the role of technology, but right now, they are a minority.

College faculty members are expected to be experts in their own fields. There seems to be little or no tradition of identifying and then providing opportunities for professional development. The result is frequently a stand-off between those who “get it” and those who don’t, with no visible progress made in providing students much-needed instruction.

NCATE Report