Issues Challenging Education CLOUDS AND SUN

New Directions:
Teachers and Technology For The 21st Century

Virginia Cárdenas

Gus Gillespie

Chris Mace

Scott Scheuer

Educational Leadership Program
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The issue:

Redesigning the model

Public schools must prepare students to meet the challenges of higher education or the workplace. Part of this preparation must include competence in technological productivity tools. In order for schools to prepare students to use productivity tools, teachers within the schools must incorporate technology into their teaching. A redesign of the current teacher training model is necessary for education to lead the charge into the 21st century. Teachers today receive similar training that teachers did fifty years ago. Generally, teaching methodology courses focus primarily on serving the needs of the traditional student. Teachers learn to utilize resources that are often obsolete and rarely effective. Novice teachers enter the educational arena with few tools and little armor, decreasing their chances of survival. Education must infuse teacher training with the enabling factors of technology. We need immediate change to a model that will adequately prepare teachers for the 21st century.


Several factors contribute to the probability of educational excellence. Three of these factors, if redefined and properly implemented into a new teacher training model, could revolutionize education: the educational infrastructure, the misuse and underuse of technology, and the access to learning ecosystems.

Educational Infrastructure

Although educators are aware of public schools' shortcomings and acknowledge that change and restructuring must occur to rescue them from further decline, many refuse to disavow themselves from the archaic practices that are strangling our schools. According to the North Carolina Education Standards and Accountability Commission (1995), public schools still cling to the antiquated paradigm of thirteen years of schooling, 180 days a year, five days a week, and six hours every day. The sage on the stage is still the predominant instructional strategy with very little enriching, mind-stretching learning occurring. In order to improve educational practice, we must as Smith (1995) states in Reinventing Schools, "Instead of being the repository of knowledge, teachers will be guides who help students navigate through electronically accessible information".

Misuse and underuse of technology

Original computer programs introduced during the 1970s and 1980s such as BASIC and FORTRAN did not enhance instruction. Students took elective computer courses that demoted the computer to the role of a glori fied typewriter. Not much has changed in twenty years. Tom Loveless (1996) argues that computers are capable of improving schools, but the underuse of the computer is a serious problem. Computers generally remain in labs removed from the classrooms, and therefore are not an integral part of instruction; students merely use them as word processors and powerful Atari's.

According to the Office of Technology Assessment there are 5.8 million computers in the public schools (one computer for every nine students). In spite of the abundance of computers in public schools, 70 percent of eighth graders have never used a computer in the schools (Loveless, 1996). The reason that students use the computer so rarely is because most teachers do not possess the training and skills to integrate computers into the everyday happenings of the classroom. Instead teachers restrict themselves to the once-a-month visit to the computer lab. Teachers use the computer as an add-on instead of truly integrating its use into the curriculum.

This trend can be extremely dangerous. So much of funding for schools has a strong link to performance and progress. The current role of computers has not improved scores and student achievement significantly (Loveless, 1996). This failure of the computer to produce results can lead to drastic cuts in technology budgets in the near future. While current methods courses are encouraging future teachers to use the computer more, our future classroom leaders are still not being taught how to integrate the computer into students' lives in a meaningful fashion.

Technology has become the main force driving our society. "Technology is empowering the individual" (Bechtol & Sorenson, 1993, p.4). Radios, televisions, telephones, video cassette recorders, computers, the Internet, e-mail, fax modems, and so forth are becoming accessible to the masses. This same technology is now available to let us instruct students as individuals. "Instead of moving students in lock step through the grade-level system, they can go through on a knowledge-level ladder at their own speed (Bechtol & Sorenson, 1993, p.4)."

Learning Ecosystem

The belief that significant learning occurs only within the classroom ignores the wealth of opportunities that the global classroom provides. Acknowledging that learning occurs at school, home and in between plants the seeds of learning ecosystems. This concept capitalizes on the belief that instruction and learning can no longer be trapped within the school walls. Progressive teacher training equips students with the necessary tools and experiences to be creative thinkers, self-motivated, innovative, and cooperative team workers regardless of the environment they are in. Teachers must possess the skills to provide learning experiences that stretch beyond the school walls and spill over past the traditional six hour school day. The chiming of the school bell or the monthly calendar cannot continue to dictate the boundaries of the learning ecosystems. Through integrating technology in their instruction, educators can begin to make learning resources, information, and materials accessible to their students regardless of whether the teacher is on duty or not (Smith, 1995).

The force driving teacher training for the 21st century:

Several factors such as a rapidly changing student population, an expanding global community, and greater competition for funds and resources will impact the course of teacher training for the next century. None however will compare with the effect that technology will have in redesigning the roles, purpose, effectiveness, and scope of teacher training. Advancements in technolo gy are already infiltrating all areas of society, and will continue to do so at an even more rapid pace during the next millennia. The use, availability, power, and applicability of technology will increase while its cost will decrease. The global community is demanding that its citizenry and especially its work force possess advanced skills. These skills soar above the basics of reading, writing, and computation. To compete effectively, businesses will require that employees access information, resources, and markets in the most effective, efficient, and instantaneous format.

Given these forces, the teacher training model for the next century must utilize technology to carve a new direction. Technology weaves the strands that impact instruction: student diversity, ability discrepancies, special needs, accountability pressures, cultural background, and political forces.

Integrating technology into all areas of instruction affords schools the opportunity to develop the ideal learning environment of individualized instruction for all children. Technology should never be the curriculum, but rather a mechanism that bridges the child with the content. Technology allows students to progress at their own pace while corresponding to their individual learning style.

Technology must become a tool used to build skills needed to function productively in the future. It allows for the transformation of our current school model. This transformation calls for restructuring the roles and responsibilities of students, teachers, administrators, and the school itself. Teachers can no longer remain the circus trainers of drill and practice. Instead of viewing themselves as having the sole responsibility of imparting knowledge and enforcing discipline, teachers must learn to mentor students in their instructional and social development. They must learn strategies needed to guide and support students through learning experiences and opportunities that allow individuals to deepen their understanding of new and different concepts. Ultimately the goal of education is to instill the characteristics needed for life-long learning.


North Carolina stands at the forefront of teacher training reform. "Preparing for 21st Century Schools" ("Preparing for," 1996) is North Carolina's effort to revamp the current teacher training model. This commission, chaired by Governor James B. Hunt, lists five basic recommendations. Two of these recommendations strike at the very core of what we see as vital for a truly effective educational system of the future. First, schools must "reinvent teacher preparation and professional development" and secondly, create a learning ecosystem that is "organized for student and teacher success," ("Preparing for," 1996, p. iii) that prepares students to be productive members of a highly fluid society.

All areas of teacher training must incorporate technology training. Just as books and journals were previously considered the "fountain of knowledge," now computers, the Internet, telecommunications, satellite learning, cellular communications, and so forth are the convenient, mobile , and disposable textbooks and encyclopedias of the new millennia. These machines are the keys to current, accurate, and updated information. Since information is easily accessible, learning is more individualized, holistic, and pertinent. Only when the use of technology provides a meaningful and applicable opportunity for users will it become integrated into the pattern of learning and working (O'Neil, 1995).

Universities must provide teacher training using the latest technology. Te achers can learn information accessing skills that will make them more effective. Resources in cyberspace catapult the ability of the teacher to the global realm. In the 21st century technology will reach beyond the current confines of the universe. The charge of universities is to expose, prompt, stretch, and provide emerging teachers with the most advanced resources to be better, more efficient teachers. Technological advancements also help eliminate many restrictions such as time and distance. The use of real-time on-line teleconferencing, observation and discussion of real classroom situations is possible without actually visiting the site. Education students will benefit from observing experienced teachers and by interacting in authentic educational situations throughout the globe. Professors will reap rewards as well. By being able to enhance student teacher observations through teleconference observations, the educational methods instructor can create a more accurate, in depth, and realistic assessment than one restricted by the traditional and infrequent on-site visits. Student teachers (and even seasoned veterans) could request a professor to observe a small segment of a lesson to provide feedback. This would allow them to "observe their colleagues' classrooms and talk with them so that they can unlearn old practices and build new ones" (Smith, 1995).

Currently public education stands at the brink of a new century faced with a plethora of research pointing at the inadequacy of both their graduates and teachers. The 21st century will flood society with information and resources. A metamorphosis of novice teachers will occur when they learn how to access and effectively utilize technology. When teachers eradicate the limitations imposed by traditional methodologies, the possibility for learning increases exponentially. Our emerging educators need to not only respond to constant societal change, but more importantly to become agents of progressive change. Redesigning the current teacher training model by allowing technology to stretch, enhance, reaffirm, and catapult our emerging teachers will help develop a society prepared to successfully meet the challenges of the 21st century. Technology can help make this a reality!



Shifting the current paradigm of teacher training to incorporate technology into all areas of instruction will allow us to access the learning ecosystem that keeps up with rapid societal advances. Restructuring the current teacher training model will empower educators to do the following:

  • Facilitate students to become adaptable, creative, and technologically versatile citizens
  • Adapt the curriculum to meet the demands of the 21st century
  • Use technological systems for information transfer and research
  • Provide accessibility to learning materials and instructional support twenty four hours a day 365 days a year to students, parents, and interest groups
  • Integrate, individualize, evaluate, monitor, and expand curriculum
  • Develop partnerships with professionals in the broader community: science teachers with scientists, English teachers with writers, and so forth (Scott, 1996; Smith, 1995)


If universities continue to promote and use the traditional canon of teacher training , schools will become obsolete institutions of society. We will fail to meet the needs of our students, businesses, and both the micro and macro communities that we belong to. Students will enter the job handicapped by useless knowledge and skills, and incompetent to perform expected skills. Generations of children and young adults will be unable to maneuver successfully in a rapidly changing and demanding society.

Maintaining the status quo will have the following negative implications:

  • Traditional practices of teaching will continue
  • Subject areas will remain non-integrated
  • Teachers will remain isolated from other teaching disciplines
  • Students will not have the problem-solving , technological, communications and group dynamic skills to be successful
  • True individualized instruction will not occur
  • Teacher attrition will continue to rise while student performance continues to decline
  • Long range effects to the economy will be disastrous due to a shortage of skilled workers
  • Schools will become useless institutions of society
  • True educational reform will not take place until teacher training is reformed
  • All sectors of the economy will demand the competencies needed to use technology
  • The technological leap to the 21st century will leave teachers in the dust
  • Without the effective integration of technology into teacher training, education will remain in the current obsolete paradigm (Scott, 1996; Smith, 1995)

New Directions:

The teacher training model for the 21st century

The teacher training model needed to shatter the current outdated paradigm develops student teachers into educators capable of becoming change agents. It capitalizes on the most effective, accurate, and up-to-date expertise. Technology orchestrates the currently scattered and counter effective components of education. Recommendations of specific machines, models, or name brands make any model obsolete. The specific technology (lap tops, teleconferencing capabilities, Internet, and so forth) is not included in the teacher training model for the 21st century. Of essence is the benefits technology will bring to instruction and ultimately the improvements or by products students will reap from improved instruction. The following are components of the teacher training model that will result in improvements in instruction and improvements in student learning.

Improvements in instruction:

  • Connected Universities: The new model demands that colleges and universities maintain faculties that are abreast of the latest educational research, model effective and innovative teaching strategies, integrate the most advanced technological advancements into their curriculum, and actively participate in teaching, disciplining, counseling, and mentoring in the public schools and its surrounding communities.
  • Exchange Partnerships: The information and technology industries must forge a partnership with the schools. It is the responsibility of educators to explain to the industrial leaders the curriculum, academic abilities of students, language and behavioral differences, and so forth that teachers address. Businesses will link universities t o match the skills taught in school with those needed to excel as productive contributors to the nation's economy.
  • Human Retooling: It is imperative that industry devise the tools that individualize, empower, facilitate, and enhance both instruction and learning. Educators must acquire skills needed to access information. (Smith 1995) states that teachers "will use the new technologies to build networks with each other, with parents and students, with academic and industrial experts, and with other professionals" .
  • Skills Alignment: Teachers will learn how technology aids in organizing resources, acquiring, evaluating, and using information, understanding complex work systems, working with a variety of technologies, and working productively with others (Apple, 1995).
  • Teacher Translucence: Ultimately technology helps teachers remain flexible, creative, and adaptable. No longer is learning teacher-centered and teacher-directed, but instead teachers become a significant piece of the learning puzzle. The importance of teachers is not diminished, but redefined.
  • Life Long Learning: Teacher Training is not restricted to a four or five year university program, but remains an on-going process throughout the teacher's professional career.
  • Information/ Resource Accessibility: All teachers must receive technology that is powerful, flexible, user friendly, transferable, and interconnected. We must also replace obsolete technology with updated models, and include the necessary and ongoing technology training during teacher training, but especially throughout the rest of their professional career.
  • Field Work Expansion: Matching student teachers with expert teachers for longer periods will link educators through "collaborative learning environments" (Morrison, 1997).
  • Virtual Teachality: Developing model classrooms allows student teachers to have earlier and longer experiences working in virtual settings. Utilizing technology to provide student teachers with ongoing observations of students and teachers throughout all the components of the training cycle fortifies their learning experiences.
  • Teleconference Linking: An effective model will allow student teachers to observe and interact with experienced teachers from the beginning of their training through the incorporation of on-site visits as well as through teleconferencing.
  • Electronic Portfolios: Utilize data collecting networks to provide instantaneous and accurate information used to evaluate student progress and program accountability.

Improvements in student learning:

  • Learning Ecosystem: Technology will allow teachers and students to push back the walls of the classroom to the outer limits of the world and pull into the learning ecosystem the expertise, resources, advancements and limitations of the present, past and hopefully future civilizations.
  • Custom Designed Learning: The availability of information and resources creates a learning environment custom designed to each individual child regardless of needs.
  • Student Centered Learning: The guided use of technology empowers students t o expand and deepen their knowledge base according to the pace and learning modality of their choice.
  • Redefined and Enhanced Roles: Enhanced and redefine roles of teachers, students, parents, and the community develops holistic learning.
  • Engagement: As a result of student empowerment, children will be engaged in their own education and help determine the direction and depth of learning.
  • Interlinking of the Content with the Child: A technology-woven model will link and adapt the content with each individual child. Custom designed instruction will become a reality.
  • Empowering Skills: Children will learn to become flexible, disciplined, creative, responsible, and adaptable team workers.
  • Coordinated Services: Coordinated services will provide ongoing and instant service to needy children.
  • Full Inclusion: Students with special academic, behavioral, emotional, language, or physical needs will be fully included in the global learning ecosystem.


A new teacher training model that addresses improvement in instruction and student learning must capitalize on the attributes and convenience of technology. The challenges faced by education in the next century are numerous. Teachers must acquire the skills needed to prepare students to utilize creative avenues needed to access information and resources. Reinventing and enhancing teachers' roles must occur if children are going to surpass the basics of drill and practice. As educational leaders, our role must include stressing the urgency needed to revamp the current teacher training model. The future of public education lies in the hands of educational leaders. If educators continue to ignore the seriousness of the current situation, public schools will cease to prepare children to be productive students, but more importantly our society will begin to deteriorate. Technology can help change the current path of education; instead of destruction, technology can help in the rebirth of public education!

Writer Daniel Kinnaman (1995) sums it up quite aptly: "If empowered with today's technology..... it is sensible and reasonable to think that good teachers will be able to help every student excel. Together, good teachers and good technology form the basis for substantial, lasting education improvement" (p. 98). If we don't recognize and utilize the benefits of technology in education today, we will be guilty of shackling future generations of American citizens to a less-than-optimal lifestyle while the rest of the world rockets into the future.


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