A New Approach to Preparation of Preservice Teachers in Developing Technology Competencies

go to revision #4
go to revision #3
go to revision #2
go to revision #1
go to original draft

Over the past century, the explosion of technological advances has brought increasing demand for America's schools to be responsive to the educational needs of a technologically literate society. In the same vein, Fischer (1997) states that, "given the growing movement for restructuring schools, educators' responsibilities have increased with the ever-changing technological advancement of society" (p. 28.). Partly in response to this, and partly to assist in the delivery of "classical" (or core) courses, technology has increasingly become part of the stock-in-trade of today's educators. Therefore, I do not lobby in behalf of the use of technology in the classroom, as it is taken as an axiom; rather I propose an approach for instructing preservice teachers (i.e., teacher education students) in the effective use of educational technology as well as to indicate certain aspects of competencies by which we can measure our success.

My approach is based on "project-based learning," and is intended to provide a context through which preservice teachers can form linkages with inservice teachers who have already succeeded in making effective and meaningful use of technology in their own K-12 classroom instruction. By doing this, we bring the preservice teachers' technological knowledge into alignment with the instructional needs relevant to their own discipline. This philosophy is not new, as can be seen from Northern Illinois University's (NIU) College of Education Technology Committee's Recommendations (Owen, 1994 link doesn't work) concerning advice and support for technology, which identify four important teaching areas:

In order to realize the above goals, we must select qualified teachers whose models of instruction are worthy paradigms. By exposing the preservice teachers to successful working models of technology-based instruction, some, if not all of the following parochial attitudes can be eliminated: 

In addition to linkages with teachers, the K-12 students themselves can be instrumental in helping preservice teachers form more positive attitudes about the potential of technology in education. Planned excursions to K-12 classrooms, school technology labs, or media centers where students are immersed in projects can reveal important possibilities for instructional technology; the enthusiasm that students display in their learning of technology can play a motivational role for any teacher. For example, in a discussion concerning a visit to a local middle school, where the students were working on developing Web pages and multimedia projects, 95% of the 36 students enrolled in my technology course (fall semester, 1998) expressed a heightened appreciation for the relevance of their coursework to their future profession.

The use of project-based learning can help preservice teachers assemble small, and seemingly fragmented details of their technology training into a unified and coherent whole. As the completion of a project in this type of learning forces them to engage in a more complex process of inquiry and design than do more routine and repetitive classroom exercises, their competencies develop more rapidly, and their appreciation for opportunistic use of technology in their future classrooms is enhanced. Furthermore, such experiences ideally provide opportunities for greater cooperative learning among students and collaborative learning between students and more experienced professionals (in this case, between preservice teachers and their classroom teacher mentors). Through these activities, not only is the preservice teacher afforded a more hands-on approach in learning to design instructional material, but the psychological and attitudinal benefits gained through the ensuing sense of accomplishment help to minimize those prejudices already alluded to above.

I have described one example of project-based learning in detail (Zhang, 1999). In this case teachers at a K-8 school in Nebraska were recruited to collaborate with teacher education students (preservice teachers) at Concordia College (now Concordia University). This project was designed to show how instructions in a variety of disciplines (including language, social studies, mathematics and sciences) could be delivered through multimedia packages. The project was roughly divided into four parts: (1) initial consultation between the teachers and the preservice teachers enrolled in the technology course, (2) preservice teachers' development of their technology-based instructional materials, (3) critique of these materials by both the course instructor (the author) and the respective teachers, and (4) actual delivery of the instruction to various K-12 classes of students, with each session taking place in the school's computer laboratory. The teachers were not only asked to take the responsibility of supervising and assisting preservice teachers in the design of instructional materials, but also to evaluate the preservice teachers' work in this process. The evaluations of the preservice teachers were based not only on the final products they developed, but also on their attitudes, participation, efforts and dedication to quality production of instructional material. Of the final grade for the project, 25% was based on input from the participating teachers.

The primary benefit realized in this approach was a tangible product, viz., the multimedia instructional materials developed by preservice teachers. We used HyperStudio as our multimedia tool because it is the tool used by many K-12 schools and it provides the opportunity for preservice teachers to learn the strategies of designing multimedia instructional material and produce something they can, in fact, take it with them to classrooms. Therefore, using a project model approach, my preservice teachers created an embryonic model for future applications of educational technology.

Crucial to the completion of their projects was the reconciliation of theory with practice, as well as the development of mentor relationships between classroom teachers and preservice teachers. Preservice teachers spent more time researching reference materials and consulting with classroom teachers through a variety of media, including phone, electronic mail, and personal contact. Some preservice teachers shared their experience in their journals, saying:

Some of them even arranged to bring students from the various K-8 classrooms into the college computer lab in order to tutor them on the basic use of some of the relevant software.

The preservice teachers in this course were often more receptive to feedback from the K-12 students than from the course instructor.  One preservice teacher wrote in her journal: "The K - 12 students were very straightforward about what they thought about the project; they would point out the positive and negative aspects of the project directly." These student comments were helpful in getting constant feedback and reinforcement about their instructional methods, whereas similar comments made by the instructor were taken in the context of their final grades for the course, and therefore seen as both intimidating and not altogether relevant to their classroom teaching. Another preservice teacher wrote in her journal: "I felt my 5th grade students were really sincere.  I could tell if they liked my project or not, or they liked some parts of my project and dislike some parts.  I felt that I it was important to meet their needs.  If I did not have a chance to hear their comments directly, it would be hard for me to realize that there is so much for me to learn about designing instructional materials."

In their weekly journals, 90% of the preservice teachers involved in the collaborative project reflected that they felt that the K-12 students were surprisingly candid in their evaluations of the instructional material. The input from the K-12 students served to help bring the instructional materials designed by the preservice teachers into better alignment with the students' needs and interests, thereby providing for an enhanced understanding of the instructional material design process.

Educational technology cannot be delivered to preservice teachers as a rote task-oriented discipline, as this will only continue to hamper their competencies and perpetuate many of the negative attitudes described above. Part of the problem, we feel, is that learning technology through memorized algorithms creates learning obstacles not unlike those seen in learning mathematics. When this happens, preservice teachers begin to perceive psychological barriers preventing them from attaining a usable understanding of educational technology, resulting in a corresponding reluctance to use it in their future classrooms. Instead, the competencies must be learned in both a practical and philosophical context, allowing the preservice teacher to extrapolate from skills learned in the classroom to meaningful applications of technology in their curriculum. The required technology course(s) in any teacher education program must strive to harmonize practice and theory in order to produce quality teacher candidates, thereby ensure a quality education for our next generation of children.


Fisher, M. M. (1997-98). Design your future: Technology literacy competency recommendations for K-12 education. Journal of Educational Technology Systems 26(1), 27-34.

Owen, M. B. (updated 29 August 1994). Utilizing technology competencies in development and implementations of technology plans. Retrieved 24 May 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.deakin.edu.au/edu/MSAA/CLP/CLPArticles/UtilizingTechnology.html [November 28th, 1998]
[this link does not work]

Zhang, Y. (1999). Project-based collaborative learning. Proceedings of the 10th International Conference of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education, 1960-1963.