Preparing teachers with modern digital technologies

Preparing teachers with modern digital technologies

Penn State’s College of Education is using technology to equip future teachers with the virtual skills needed to teach America's next generation of students.

Within Penn State’s College of Education EDUCATE initiative, students are using powerful digital tools to learn about and practice teaching methods in today's 21st century classrooms. Through EDUCATE, or Exploring Directions in Ubiquitous Computing and Teacher Education, students entering their junior year in many of the College’s teacher preparation programs are now required to purchase a notebook computer and a specified selection of software.

Students use the computers for in-class assignments, to prepare curriculum materials, to engage K-12 learners in various learning environments, to communicate with peers and instructors while studying abroad, and to record and analyze their own teaching, among other uses. Knowing that every student in their class has a notebook computer allows the faculty members teaching these classes to incorporate the technology into the coursework.

For example, a student can record herself teaching children and then analyze the digital video with peers in a methods class. In a literacy teaching methods classroom, students prepare blogs, podcasts, and other materials to support literacy teaching and learning. Mathematics teaching methods students are also able to review and critique online mathematics learning tools and applications.

“My students bring their computer to class every day, like a textbook. I think of it as a toolbox that they will be able to take with them to their own classrooms—only instead of being a static set of tools, the notebook computer and the connectivity it provides can be a dynamic resource,” said Andrea McCloskey, assistant professor of mathematics education.

Jennifer Weiss, a world languages education student, was enthusiastic about her experience with the digital tools. “It was helpful as a reflective tool to look back and think through our experiences in the classroom,” she said. “As a future teacher, I have a better idea of how to incorporate technology in the classroom in a variety of ways, including slide shows, websites, videos, and more.”

McCloskey is researching questions related to the preparation and support of preservice elementary teachers to teach children mathematics, and is especially looking at innovative ways to capitalize on intersections between university coursework and field experiences in elementary classroom settings.

As part of this effort, she asks preservice teachers to use their notebook computers to record and then review video of young kids solving a mathematics problem. The preservice teachers then learn to assess the mathematics knowledge and understanding of the children based on what they see in the video.

Similarly, Associate Professor Scott McDonald is interested in helping preservice teachers develop a professional pedagogical vision. His research focuses on the development of beginning teachers’ expertise through the use of video analysis of teaching. This analysis, he said, is focused on developing preservice teachers’ ability to understand and engage in ambitious science teaching.

“I ask students to do intensive and extended analysis of video of teaching practice individually, in small groups, and in whole class discussion over a semester-long course on science teaching,” he said. “In particular, I use a sophisticated video analysis tool, called Studiocode, to help my students develop professional pedagogical vision, which is the ability to see and think about teaching and classrooms like an expert teacher would.”

In one activity, McDonald asked his students to record videos of themselves teaching lessons to their classmates or in school settings. He then asked the students to analyze the videos and reflect on their teaching practices. The Studiocode tool allowed the students to create “codes,” or labels, to mark events of interest within their videos.

In another study of two beginning science teachers, McDonald and then doctoral student Oliver Dreon examined the emotional engagement they had with their teaching practices, especially that of implementing inquiry-based instruction and the resulting impact these emotions had on pedagogy. To examine these phenomena, they used narratives shared in interviews and blog postings.

According to the study, anxiety emerged as the emotion most significantly impacting participants. This emotion arose from the participants’ experiences related to how comfortable they were in teaching the content, how unpredictable the inquiry lessons were, and how they perceived their students as viewing them.

“The implications of this work are that reflection on their own teaching is not adequate for preservice teachers to develop complex practices,” said McDonald. “By designing experiences for them that focus on developing their professional pedagogical vision, they develop a richer understanding of and ability to engage in these practices.”

From the Penn State College of Education Report on Evidence-Based Teacher Preparation