A Paper Presented at the Annual AESA Conference
November 4, 1995
Exploring Epistemological, Moral, Social, and Pedagogical
Implications of Computer Technology in Education
This world of ours is a new world, in which the unit of knowledge, the nature of human communities, the order of society, the very notions of society and culture have changed, and will not return to what they have been in the past. What is new is new, not because it has never been there before, but because it has changed in quality. J. Robert Oppenheimer
By spring 1995, schools in the United States will have 5.8 million computers for use in instruction, approximately one for every nine students. Almost every school in the country has at least one television and videocassette recorder, and 41 percent of teachers have a television in their classrooms. Only one teacher in eight has a telephone in class and less than 1 percent have access to voice mail. Classroom access to newer technology like CD-ROM and networking capabilities are also limited. While 75 percent of public schools have access to some kind of computer network, and 35 percent of public schools have access to the Internet, only 3 percent of instructional rooms (classroom, labs, and media centers) are connected to the Internet (Office of Technology Assessment Report, 1995).
The future of technology, knowledge, information, and communication, as well as the impact of these components on teaching and learning, may ultimately rest in the hands of educators (Stephen, 1994). The preparation of these educators in teacher education programs in colleges of education must include a vision of preservice teachers as architects of new directions for today's technologies -- particularly computer technology -- as essential tools for teachers. To use these technologies responsibly and humanely, preservice teachers need to understand their potential, have opportunities to apply them, be supported in their explorations, and have time to experiment. Equally important, they need to acquire dispositions to recognize and acknowledge technology as more than a tool for teaching and learning.
Preservice teachers' perceptions of technology in their classrooms in one study indicated that their perceptions were rather limited and reflected four basic themes: technology as managerial support, technology as a motivational tool, technology as an unreliable or difficult requirement for teachers, and technology as an unknown (Kraus et al., 1994). Such limited perceptions do not serve preservice teachers well in developing technological competencies and lenses for critical examination of some of the larger issues the uses of technology present in educational and institutional contexts.
Perhaps the most distinctive new element of teacher preparation curriculum in the last ten years is preservice students' preparation in the use of computer technology in professional contexts. Yet, most new teachers graduate from teacher preparation institutions with limited knowledge of the ways technology can be used in their professional practice (OTA, 1995). Knowledge of computers, instructional software, telecommunications, and the Internet is far from central to the teacher preparation experience in most colleges of education. Teachers and Technology: Making the Connection (1995), a recently released report from the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, suggests that, in the process of acquiring hardware and software for students to use, teachers -- perhaps the most valuable part of the education equation -- have often been overlooked.
Presently, there are 2.8 million teachers in K-12 public and private schools in the U.S. By the year 2003, an estimated 3.3 million teachers will be needed in U.S. schools (OTA, 1995). Despite these figures, the implications of how technology can improve the preparation of new teachers appears to be only lightly considered in colleges of education. Seldom is a vision articulated of how technology can empower teachers to carry out thoughtfully and well all parts of their work. Making the connection between teachers and technology is a critical investment in the nation's commitment to education. Two questions in relation to such a connection may represent a starting place: What is the role of technology in teacher preparation programs? And, what should this role be?
Encouragement regarding teacher education and the integration of computer technology into its programs has recently been illuminated in several initiatives. At least two journals published by national organizations of teacher educators, the Association of Teacher Educators (ATE), and the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE), are devoting entire upcoming issues to technology. An Accreditation Committee of the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1992 developed a set of guidelines approved by NCATE, National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, the foremost teacher accreditation agency in the United States. Several recommended and related computer technology guidelines for teacher education students are (p. 177):
These standards and indicators reflect the acceptance of educational technology as a fundamental part of the teaching, learning, assessment, evaluation, and productivity processes (Abramson, 1994) in the preparation of teachers.
This paper is a slice of a larger study which explored Year-Long Project elementary teacher education students' experiences with technology in their teacher education program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. One of the research questions explored whether these student teachers viewed technology as a tool, as a resource, as influencing their views of teaching and learning, or as a combination of these. In the YLP, where technology is infused within various methods courses and throughout three practicum placements per student, an ideal although not yet realized goal of the program is that student teachers will understand the uses and implications of computer technology within the social contexts of teaching. Exploring student teachers' understandings of whether technology is viewed as an isolated, autonomous phenomenon or is viewed as a part of contextualized experiences offers insights for teacher educators and for programmatic revision.
Constructivism supports the formation of knowledge construction, logical knowledge, critical thinking, and structural knowledge. In constructivism, learning is an active process in which the learner builds an internal representation of knowledge that is open to change and links. There is no shared reality. Rather, reality is the outcome of the individual construction process (Duffy & Jonassen, 1992). Constructivisist teacher education programs perceive the teacher education student as constructing knowledge from experiences, mental structures, and beliefs. Such a perspective is based on the premise that educational systems should help teacher education students construct meaningful and conceptually functional representations of the external world instead of providing the educational system's own interpretations (Murphy & Oughton, 1995).
Social foundations of education (SFE) literature offers another framework in which to understand and interpret student teachers' experiences with computer technology in learning to teach. This distinct field of educational study refers to the cultural phenomena that underlie any society's educational ideas and practices and to the interdisciplinary field of study that was developed to engage school practitioners in the study of those cultural phenomena (Tozer, 1993). The relationship of school to the broader context of society itself is examined in SFE study. SFE draws from scholarship in history, philosophy, and sociology of education as well as from comparative education, gender studies, aesthetics, anthropology, economics, and politics of education. Such study should help develop preservice teachers' abilities to use their understandings of cultural phenomena to interpret and evaluate education aims, practices, and problems (Tozer, 1993), thus helping them become responsible and able decision makers. Opportunities for preservice teachers to understand and critically examine relationships between technology and its uses and meanings in classrooms should be nurtured by constructivist approaches and SFE lenses in teacher education programs.
Data sources from the 1994-95 YLP taken from the larger study for this paper include: multiple open-ended questionnaires from 45 YLP student teachers at various stages throughout their 1994-95 program; in-depth audio taped and transcribed biographical interviews with two student teachers in the 1994-95 YLP; and transcribed field notes taken during eight months of observation in strands of the YLP.
Technology means computers ... to make life easier.
New, innovative, electronic means of transferring information.
Use of computers and other machines to make everyday life easier and occupations more efficient.
Computers that are used to expose people to an interactive style of learning.
In the classroom, I mainly see this as using computers to their fullest potential.
Students' responses ranged from beliefs that technology makes life easier, to befuddlement about the ways technology has influenced society and their lives, to excitement about the role of technology in education. Only one student in forty-five indicated skepticism that technology is relied on too heavily and questioned the pace of life when technology becomes an integral part of society:
Star Trek. Computers! Computers! Computers! Faster! Faster! Faster! A trap. What happens when the power is out? Nothing. We rely on technology too much.
Interestingly, most responses did not include student comments about their relationships to technology -- as if technology is an outside societal element to which they are adapting. No personal experiences or anecdotal comments were shared by student teachers when asked to describe or define technology. A question about the overall effectiveness or level of satisfaction student teachers had with a specific technology strand in the YLP drew the following responses from some teacher education students. This strand was in the form an approximately one-hour enrichment seminar on Friday afternoons as part of the regular YLP curriculum and instruction methods block.
It depends on who it is aimed towards...it is great for those who do not know how to use it, but not for me.
I didn't have time on my own to explore what was taught so I didn't learn much ... We simply don't have time to experiment with the great things that we were introduced to. I love having the Powerbook and I find it useful. But I don't have time to look around on the network.
I have learned about things for teaching I had no idea existed!! It opened my eyes to what is out there.
I appreciate being able to learn about computers ... as well as practical strategies to use them for teaching purposes.
Thank you for introducing us to technology. I feel more comfortable using it in the classroom. The opportunity to have and use the Powerbook left me with a great deal of technological experience.
I have changed my view about technology. Prior to YLP experiences, I had no interest in e-mail or multi-media. Now it's so amazing that I want to learn more about it!
I have had so much experience with word processing and e-mail. I'd never had a chance to use gopher, World Wide Web, ERIC, etc.
I want to take a vacation with my Powerbook to explore all that is available!
Students, for the most part, were enthusiastic and flexible about new learning in computer technology. Issues of time appeared frequently as student concerns. Because of the rigorous academic expectations in the YLP, and the three practicum experiences throughout the school year, many students indicated that computer technology use was not high on their priority lists unless it was to word process a paper for an instructional block or a lesson plan for their cooperating teacher and supervisor. Numerous students expressed negativity about university instructors not being attuned to the "reality" of technology use in the elementary schools in which they were fulfilling their practica.
The fact is that hardly any schools have the technology they are teaching us.
Technology is out of place in this program. This seems over my head a lot of times, and it seems to be things that I don't know are going to be helpful. If I cannot afford a computer on my teacher's wages, and my school is too poor to afford it, I'm not going to use it.
Technology is a lot of fun, but I am having trouble making "real world" or classroom connections.
While the ideas in this course are good, they [instructors] have no idea of where teachers in the schools really are.
The computers are very interesting ... e-mail is wonderful, but I would like to see more AV equipment lessons/demonstrations, and more things that we actually see in classrooms.
YLP student teachers were asked to think about whether computer technology changes conceptions about what it means to teach and to learn. Some of their responses include:
Finding information through encyclopedias and dictionaries is so different from using multimedia encyclopedias.
Children must be technologically literate. They must be surfin' on the net. If not, it becomes a differentiation between the haves and the have nots.
If computers ever become prevalent enough in classrooms nationwide, teaching and learning may be more focused around learning how to access information rather than learning factual data. I don't foresee this any time soon, though.
Technology opens the doors to new ways of teaching and learning.
Technology is just another vehicle for learning. Technology is no good without other vehicles as well.
Technology opens up a world of opportunities in the classroom. Computers also motivate children.
It would be wonderful if all classrooms had or had access to the latest hard and software which could show students concepts in a way teachers never could.
On a questionnaire, approximately one fourth of the YLP student teachers left the question about technology and its relationship to teaching and learning blank, drew a line through the space for an answer, or wrote a question mark in the space. Several commented later that they had not thought much about how or if computers change our notions about teaching and learning and did not want to take time during the class period in which the questionnaires were completed to think about such a "complex question".
Syrie and Katia were two YLP student teachers interviewed about their experiences with technology in learning to teach. In these in-depth interviews, Katia and Syrie spoke more thoughtfully and critically about technology than student teachers did in general throughout the year during methods class discussions, in student teaching seminars, and in written responses soliciting their feedback at numerous times throughout the year. Both Syrie and Katia revealed more of what might be called SFE perspectives regarding technology and its relationships to educational settings in the in-depth interviews. For example, both student teachers talked about a culture of technology at the University of Illinois as strongly influencing their inclinations to become competent in using technology as future teachers.
Syrie: There seems to be kind of an underlying presence of technology for almost anybody you talk to. In any college, in any program ... Everybody is e-mailing. Everybody is using word processing. There are groups of people who use technology more and are more technical than other groups depending on their college. Science and engineering majors ... I'd say we're one of the colleges who still isn't as much ... at the upper end of the spectrum yet. I think we're getting there.
Katia: The university is so focused on technology. Especially in engineering. Like the supercomputing center. It's obvious that the university has decided to focus money on technology. It even filters out into the community. That's why many of the schools [elementary and secondary] here have technology. There are probably so many old computers that can be passed around. And so many schools have the perfect opportunities to use technology because of the university.
Katia: I think it was so enriching to work in the [university computer] lab. It was a twenty-four hour lab. I worked on a Power Mac[intosh]. I think the opportunity to have technology at your fingertips is thrilling. The surroundings were so neat ... I saw people doing things and downloading stuff. I played those interactive games and scanned things. I was in the lab working so many hours that I just picked up how to do so many things. And what sort of opportunities there are. And if I ran into problems, I would ask someone there for help.
Syrie: I'm glad that I have been exposed to technology. I wish I'd been exposed to it more. I wish I had more practical experience now that I'm really into education. At first, I felt pressured in different situations. I was forced into using computers because I was on this campus where everybody is using them and we were expected to. I remember in my speech comm[unications] class. We had to type out our speeches. So you go to the computer lab tonight and you get into this program. The instructor talked to us like everybody knew what she was talking about. And that everybody knew everything about computers and used them all the time. And I was just kind of like ... What?! What are you talking about?
Both of these student teachers perceived education students as using technology less and for less sophisticated tasks and projects than university peers in other fields such as engineering, science, and music. They both expressed feelings of accomplishment with acquired knowledge about technology but compared themselves to others as less competent. Katia's circle of friends included Engineering majors who she perceived to be extremely competent in the use of computers. Syrie described her boyfriend, an engineering student, as being the person from whom she knew she could most count on for technical support when she ran into difficulties with word processing or e-mail assignments in the YLP.
In response to a question about what sensibilities teachers need to have in order to be responsible technology users in their classrooms, Syrie expressed concern around the value of face-to-face interaction between a teacher and a student.
It may depend on the instructor's views on how much computers can and should be used in the classroom. I think there still needs to be the personal contact on a high level. I think the mistake some teachers make is just turning the education over to the computers. It's kind of, "sit down in front of the computer with this program and learn this". This is something that student teachers need to learn is to balance the approach. Kids, no matter how important computers become in our society, will always need that personal aspect. They need reassurance and instruction from their teacher, an adult figure ...Katia shared a concern she had about how people project identities in "electronic conversations" and spoke about technology's influence on her thinking about the meaning of knowledge in an elementary classroom.
E-mail is a dangerous thing in a way. Because it allows you to be someone you're not. And, it depends on the kind of person you are. If you're a verbal person in writing rather than in speaking, I think it can be dangerous. because you can just use this persona. I see that so much with my friends. They try to write these things to look so cool ... so mysterious and dark. And you can think through what you want to say. You can erase something and not send it. You can be selective. And you can be more open because you're not writing to anything. It's not a "real" person. You're not judging their reactions. And they have time to digest the thought. People need to learn that e-mail is not the same thing as having a conversation.
The realm of knowledge is no longer confined to books ... and to what you can get your hands on. Rather, it is something much larger. And probably limitless in terms of its scope. Children will have a much larger understanding of this ... so it's necessary for teachers to keep up on it. The multimedia approach to gaining access to ... the World Wide Web or Mosaic ... is one way to keep children motivated and excited about learning.
Both of these student teachers raised some critical issues, particularly Katia, when pushed to think about answers to SFE types of questions regarding their experiences with technology. Such questions were asked toward the end of each student teacher's interviewing sessions. However, many of these kinds of issues did not naturally come up in anecdotes and experiences Katia and Syrie described throughout the course of the interviews when they shared their biographies, early experiences with computer technology in their schooling, and use of computers in university and teacher education experiences. On several occasions, some probing was undertaken to push Katia and Syrie to think about SFE relationships between computers and people, computers and schools, computers and students.
YLP student teachers learned to interact with professors, supervisors, cooperating teachers, and teaching assistants in instructional block courses and with each other through e-mail to clarify assignments, lesson planning, discuss readings, and facilitate group projects. Student teachers developed curricular activities and lessons that explored characteristics of telecommunications. Opportunities for exchange of ideas with cooperating teachers were extended with telecommunications use. Student teachers subscribed to and accessed listservs. They appreciated connections to other student teachers in the country through these forums and were overwhelmed by the amount of messages they received and filtered on a daily basis from such listservs as Presto. Many student teachers felt "caught" with listservs. They wanted to subscribe to them but felt time restrictions did not allow them to use the chats and discussions very fully. They also saw time as a barrier for being selective and filtering out wanted versus unwanted messages.
Although e-mail was important to them, student teachers did not view telecommunications as a replacement for more preferable face-to-face communication with peers, cooperating teachers, supervisors, and methods course instructors. They viewed e-mail as another form of communication -- not to displace personal interaction but chosen so as not to compromise the intimacy which comes from face to face human dialogue. Interestingly, student teachers found e-mail preferable at times when it was, for example, inconvenient or impractical to contact others by telephone or in person. During crises, student teachers wanted face-to-face communication, not e-mail. Many students described e-mail as a positive outlet as in a social studies methods course where discussions around issues of diversity and equity generated some debate and were perceived as controversial arenas in which levels of discomfort might arise. Student teachers described their comfort levels and willingness to engage in dialogue enhanced when they used e-mail for expanded and mediated dialogue with each other and with their social studies methods instructors. They saw face-to-face situations as potential barriers because student teachers felt inhibited to share thoughts and feelings spontaneously about student-described "controversial topics". They wanted opportunities to have dialogue in which they could think ahead about their comments and react in like manner to others' e-mail messages.
Frustration with barriers such as technical problems; attitudes of resistance to technology use from cooperating teachers, peers, or themselves; and displacement from university resources such as on-campus computer lab sites during their practica in local public schools were also important issues. Settings in which people share their knowledge of technology promotes greater use and enthusiasm for student teachers. When hardware and software are not readily available, technology use is unlikely and causes frustration. Student teachers talked about how difficulties in connecting to the network inhibited their use of the computer for Internet exploration and e-mail use. They conveyed frustrations in the amount of time devoted to failed attempts and described an eventual "shutting down". When student teachers moved across three practicum places -- in different classrooms and sometimes in different schools during the YLP -- and moved from high technology environments to low technology environments, they quit using technology for instructional purposes and gave up trying to use technology. Students described these disparate environments as causing high levels of frustration, and they were discouraged from using technology fluently throughout the academic year. This fragmentation was a tremendous barrier for some student teachers.
Issues around what may be termed social foundations dispositions, the relationship of technology in schools to the larger society, were not as pervasive or evident in student teachers' perspectives as one might have hoped although they are offered more readily and appear more substantive in in-depth interviews with two YLP student teachers. Discussions about technology as promoting inequity; technology as a marginalizing or stratifying behavior management tool in classrooms; gender issues surrounding technology; technology as deskilling versus empowering teachers; and technology use as grounded in values or a position on technology (Howard, 1994) were not concerns of the vast majority of YLP student teachers. These topics or issues were not discussed to any degree in most YLP instructional blocks or in supervisors' seminars with student teachers. Conversations are needed about whether this lack of SFE articulation is a stages of professional development issue where student teachers' levels of concern are mainly constructed around technical and tool/resource issues or whether what appears to be a collective lack of vision and conversation are a programmatic oversight. Those working in teacher education programs need to examine whether we guide our preservice teachers to view technology as a set of tools used and directed, or does what we do in programs help them construct a view of technology as having its own intentionality? If the latter, and I argue that it should be this view, then discussions of technology in teacher education contexts should include an examination of technology's existential impact on teachers and learners.
Ihde's work has much to offer in challenging teacher educators to examine the potential role of technology in teacher education. Technology, in Ihde's view, first mediates our experience by way of coming between self and the world. In various ways "I-as-body" interacts with the environment by means of technologies. As instruments mediate our experiences, they also transform our experiences and can be understood as having "intentionality". In this sense, technology is more than doing. It becomes a way of being. Its very use changes the user.
Relating this to the work of teacher educators, we need to explore: What worldview is being developed through preservice students' technology use? How is teaching changed? Are we rethinking notions about knowledge construction and learning processes? How are these preservice teachers' university course experiences altered? Are we challenging students to think critically about the choices made in using technology? About the impact on their elementary and secondary students? Examining technology as a "way of being" influences the questions one might ask regarding technology within the context of education (Ihde, 1990). In this way, one looks beyond the effect of technology use and begins to examine how such use might mediate students' lives, what meanings students attach to the educational experience as a result of technological mediation, and what implications those meanings have for teaching and learning.
Although in the Year-Long Project, teacher educators articulate a vision, among other visions, of preservice teachers being educated in their professional studies to gain knowledge and experiences in the social, historical, and philosophical foundations of education which includes an understanding of classrooms and schools as social systems and the impact of technology and societal changes on schools (Abramson, 1994), it appears from this study that we have more work to do in meeting this challenge. Preparing future teachers to meet the challenges and expectations of a complex technological and global world must include knowledge of technology as both a tool/resource in professional practice and a change agent in educational settings. Such preparation must come from a range of course work and settings within teacher education programs.
An infusion model appears to better facilitate and encourage learning and critical questioning in that it provides experiences that situate technology use, rendering it more than a tool for extension of basic skills. Technology infused in teacher education programs may serve to develop in students more ethical and responsible knowledge, skills, and dispositions as opposed to that which occurs when technology is a separate and autonomous element, disconnected from specific subject matter, classroom experiences, and school and society relationships.
Technology education in teacher preparation should ideally challenge preservice students to build new understandings beyond the technical about the relationship of technology in schools to society and the connection of that relationship to democratic life. Certainly, one task of teacher education is to guide preservice teachers to understand the implications of technology in education. Technology is linked to transformations in real groups of people's lives, jobs, hopes, and dreams. As Michael Apple reminds us (1991), lives may be enhanced or marginalized by technology. Wise choices about the appropriate place of technology are fundamentally choices about the kind of society we shall have, the social and ethical responsiveness of schooling to the majority of our future citizens, and to the teachers who work in schools. Preservice teachers' understandings of technology as affecting their students' lives politically, economically, and educationally will help define how technology is used in their teaching (Apple, 1991). Teacher educators need to pay more care and attention to such a perspective.
Therefore, it seems of particular value in teacher education to understand what may be happening to preservice teachers' constructions of teaching and learning given the emphasis being placed on technology in today's universities and schools. Indeed, some preservice and inservice teachers may find their professional learning experiences enhanced by new technologies. But beyond this, we must examine what happens to classrooms, teachers, and students differentially in technological contexts. If technology use in educational settings is examined uncritically, what uses then might technology have in classroom practice? Teacher educators must push for more dialogue around such questions. We must also push for more contextualized technology experiences in content studies, methods, and foundations courses in which teacher education students may develop critical lenses through which to make judgments about the role of technology in their life and work and in that of their students.
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