P-12 schools see a wide variety of technology in use, from overhead projectors and transparencies, to wired computer labs, mobile learning devices such as iPads and other tablets, and the more recently burgeoning use of Chromebooks with Google Apps for Education (GAFE).

In such an era where rapid technology change, both in the use of the old and the development of the new is the norm, providing adequate tech training to teacher candidates faces previously unanticipated challenges. Great diversity and multiplicity of options creates dilemma for many, college technology instructors being at the forefront.

Such situation elicits some basic questions: what kind of technology training do we provide for our teacher candidates and how do we do it? What about the relationship between tools and mindset? What about ethical issues? These are big questions to which the answers beg for systematic research and in-depth discussion.

What We Teach Teachers

My inquiries to these questions start from redesigning and refocusing “EDU315 Critical Media Literacy: Values, Education and Society.” EDU 315 is a general education (GE 12) requirement for the childhood/early childhood education majors, and a major goal of this course is to help pre-service teachers develop understanding of and competence in meaningful integration of technology into P-12 curriculum.

In redesigning and refocusing EDU315, we focused on the following aspects:
• Mindset: candidates’ conceptual understanding towards appropriate and meaningful use of technology – critical medial literacy;
• Tools: candidates’ competency using tools and in integrating technology tools into the content areas, and
• Lifelong Learners: candidates’ development of lifelong learning skills which will be transferred to and extended during their future experiences as teachers or other personal or professional endeavors.

Below are a few teaching and learning examples, as part of the inquiries by my students and myself:

Skill #1: Learning How to Learn

With the exponential increase in the number of Web 2.0 technologies and other teaching tools, it has become impossible to teach students every tool or online learning resource. Learning how to learn is, then, the essential skill for both pre-service and in-service teachers.

Sir Ken Roberson in “learn, unlearn, relearn” suggest that what is most important for modern students is for them to know how to learn, unlearn, and relearn (Toffler, 1973). In other words, students should be coming to class to learn how to fish instead of getting a fish (after the aphorism, “Give a man a fish and you have fed him for today; teach a man to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime”). The students are given an adequate amount of preparation work to lay the foundation for learning how to learn; the main focus in class is learning by doing, in a learning community where a positive climate is nurtured and learners are encouraged to explore and experiment with new tools and gadgets through trial and error from the very beginning of the semester.

While most of the course projects are well defined with specific requirements, there are also loosely defined projects provided in the course, such as the project “Come to the Edge.”

Instead of teaching individual tools, the students are given a pool of tools to explore and tinker with. They are expected to explore as many tools as they can, and create some minimum number of products using the tools.

As a result, students receive exposure to different tools. They are encouraged to make sense of the tool in their individual way, and apply them to appropriate content areas.

At this point in the students’ progress, their examples may not yet constitute meaningful integration, since they have yet to teach in real classrooms. Instead, the focus is on knowing the tools that they have picked out and practicing their application, which is a necessary step on the way to meaningful integration of tools into content areas, the mindset.

Shared below are screenshots of the “Come to the Edge” project completed by two students (See Figure 1 & Figure 2).

Figure 1. Come to the Edge Products by Alexis

Figure 2. Come to the Edge Products by Gretchen .

(Next page: Innovative teacher skills 2 and 3)

Skill #2: How to Effectively Infuse Creativity

One of the course projects is Critical Medial Literacy: What Would Maria Montessori Say about the iPad – Theoretical Frameworks for Children’s Interactive Media. Students role play a panel discussion so as to provide theoretical frameworks for children’s interactive media.

The panelist includes Piaget, Skinner, Montessori, and Vygotsky, with Fred Roger being the moderator. Each panelist will be asked to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of using technology–tablets and interactive media–with young children and bring examples of apps to support their theories.

Video: Role Play: What Would Montessori, Piaget, or Vygotsky Say about iPad?

As Alexis wrote, “Our Critical Media Literacy project may have been our best exhibition of creativity. Media literacy is a combination of technology and literacy in an engaging and interactive format. For this project we needed combine theory and technology. Our product was an interesting spin on the family game show family feud known as Theorist Feud.”

Skill #3: Honing Reflection and Ownership

“In creating the aesthetics and format of my ePortfolio, I was able to take ownership of my educational career. Every link, drop down menu, and file attachment demonstrates the hard work and dedication that I put in as a SUNY Cortland student and as an educator. As shown in the different menus, I have about me, diversity, technology, self-reflection and various other elements. In the world of education, there is no one more successful than a self-reflective teacher. Along with the ability to reflect, you must be able to take a diverse group of students, add a dash of technology and chunk of assessment to create a welcoming, inclusive environment,” said Alexis. (A screenshot of Alexis’s ePortfolio is shown below in Figure 3.)

Figure 3: Students Sharing Learning Journey through ePortfolio

Alexis submitted a proposal for Transformations (2016) –  A Student Research and Creativity Conference. The proposal was accepted and she shared her exemplary works with audience of faculty and students.

Here is the abstract of her presentation at Transformation (2016)–A Student Research and Creativity Conference: “Through making an ePortfolio for a technology integration course (EDU315 Critical Medial Literacy), I have recorded a learning journey of my professional development and personal growth. An Early childhood and Childhood Education Major, I have designed an esthetically appealing ePortoflio where I showcase classroom learning activities I have learned to create for elementary school children and my learning through field experience. More importantly, I have made introspection and reflection on my learning process – and product. Through sharing process and products of my ePortfolio, I would like to explore with audience ways to infuse creativity, reflection and ownership into my own students’ learning in my future elementary classrooms.”

Final Thoughts

Teachers of the 21st Century must deal with previously unanticipated challenges in an era where rapid technology change, both in the use of the old and the development of the new, is the norm. Old and even new technologies come and go. Our college teacher training in terms of technology use needs to be proactive instead of being responsive or reactive.

Often than not, technology is being used not for its intrinsic value, but for its short-term value as superficially impressive “bells and whistles” to either cater to mandated policies or to create the semblance of keeping pace with technological development.

What we need to strive to do in our teacher educations programs is to make tech-savvy teacher candidates who are technically competent in tools and who have the mindset and capabilities to actively, innovatively and meaningfully integrate technology into elementary classrooms to enhance children’s learning.

Learning how to learn so as to become a life-long learner; infusing creativity; taking a learning journey as a reflective learner are only a few learning experiences we would like to share with readers for further discussion.

Acknowledgement

Thanks go to Karlene Anderson, Stacey Backstrom, Gretchen Krzykowski, Elizabeth Moshkowski, and Alexis Vilceus from EDU315 classes for their contribution.

About the Author:

Shufang Shi Strause is an associate professor of Educational Technology in the Childhood/Early Childhood Education Department at the State University of New York at Cortland (SUNY Cortland). Dr. Shi is a prolific author of journal articles, book chapters and books in the field of educational technology, teacher training and international education. She has received multiple research grants and frequently presents at local, national, and international conferences.