Integrating Technology in Teacher Education Programs:
Lessons from the Teaching Teleapprenticeships Project

Laurie Thomas
Ann Larson
Reneé T. Clift
James Levin

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Action in Teacher Education , Winter 1996, Volume 17, Number 4, 1-8.

Issues such as how, when, and why we should provide future teachers with expertise in the use of technology and the Internet are questions that are beginning to dominate discussions of initial and continuing teacher preparation. A recent report issues by the United States Congress, Office of Technology Assessment (1995) devotes two chapters to the importance of professional learning. The journal of the Association of Teacher Educators, Action in Teacher Education, and the journal published by the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, Journal of Teacher Education, have devoted entire issues specifically to technology and teacher education. In addition, numerous listserves and bulletin boards are available to teachers and teacher educators who wish to share ideas about subject matter content, teaching practice, student achievement, and even the uses and abuses of technology.

Embedded within most of these discussion are questions and concerns about blindly committing time, money, and long range plans to a phenomenon that is not well understood. Empirical researchers, policy analysts, and teacher education administrators are attempting to process information about information rapidly enough to make thoughtful recommendations to legislators, education administrators, teachers, students, and parents. For some of us, who are teacher educators as well as researchers, this has meant engaging in a form of action research as we attempt to integrate technology into our instruction and study its impact at the same time.

For the past three years, the four co-authors have worked together in a research team on a project funded by the National Science Foundation called Teaching Teleapprenticeships. Teaching Teleapprenticeships are interdisciplinary, cross departmental interactional frameworks, developed and evaluated in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. These frameworks center around a model that extends the traditional face-to-face apprenticeships currently used in student teaching settings by using electronic networks. Through network interactions and resource sharing, this model brings together the university coordinators, student teaching supervisors, school district instructors, preservice teachers, and public school students. The Teaching Teleapprenticeships (TTa) project provides Macintosh PowerBooks and software to preservice program participants. Instructional and technical support is available in the computer lab and TTa Project office, both located in the College of Education. Graduate students and faculty in these sites are available to provide ongoing, daily support in person, by e-mail and by telephone. Teaching Teleapprenticeships also offer resources to faculty and students in the College of Education who are not involved specifically in teacher education programs.

The TTa project objectives are to:

  1. examine the ways in which the teleapprenticeships can provide a diverse set of real instructional experiences that enhance learning to teach;
  2. study the kinds of skills which students and faculty will need to operate effectively as teachers in such interactions on educational networks;
  3. examine the impact of state-of-the-art communication tools and resource servers on the interactions among teacher education participants; and
  4. explore ways to involve student teachers as mediators of network-learning frameworks.
We have worked with professors, teaching assistants, preservice, and practicing teachers to infuse technology into authentic interactions with K-12 teachers and students in ways that are integrated into their education courses.

Based on our own data and the publications of others who are using technology within their teacher education programs we have learned a great deal about the potential of technology to support teacher education, along with the unique problems that arise when technology serves as a foundation for enhancing student teachers' learning. Our data were collected in a large data sweep during which we individually interviewed pre-service students, along with elementary and secondary student teachers. In addition to the interviews, we also collected a record of all the electronic mail sent and received by the students and copies of any extra software used by the student. A qualitative analysis of the students' interview responses to their perception and use of technology along with their actual log of use resulted in some recurring common issues and themes. Analysis of our data, our ongoing literature reviews, plus conversations with other teacher educators who are incorporating technology into their programs has enabled us to identify and elaborate upon three factors that have a strong impact on the quality and character of participants' use of technology. In the following section we discuss each of these in detail.

Factors Affecting Technology Use

The first category is, quite obviously, one's access to technology. For us, however, access is defined broadly to include the opportunities all participants have to utilize technology -- students, teacher educators, classroom teachers and children and adolescents. The second category concerns the nature of training and ongoing support for learning about technology and, simultaneously, learning about the educational potential of technology. The final category deals with the social and instructional context that encourages (or discourages) both learning more about and using technology.

Access. Several investigations have found that loaning equipment and providing ongoing support promotes technology use among professors, students, and teachers (OTA, 1995) and can encourage social, collegial, and professional development activities. However, unless students have ongoing technical support, the advantages may be lost (Schrum, 1993). It has been our experience over three years that making equipment available is far from sufficient. The importance readily available, consistent, and expert help cannot be overemphasized. A non-threatening climate of support is essential for novice computer users and for continued sustained use of technology.

Once access to equipment and knowledge is obtained by all teacher education participants, the nature of access changes somewhat. Access begins to mean the ease with which e-mail and discussion groups can facilitate information exchange and problem solving. Our data document that students, professors, and teachers all value e-mail for easy access to instructors, supervisors, student teachers, and peers because it offers an additional form of communication (Thomas, Clift, & Sugimoto, 1995; Sproull & Kiesler, 1991). Professors and teachers also value e-mail because it saves time and money. For example, students in their practicum sites can e-mail their methods course instructors about specific questions regarding assignments, meeting times, or pedagogical or classroom management concerns. Reflective journal dialogues sent to supervisors via e-mail allow preservice students to receive feedback immediately rather than waiting for the supervisor to make the next observation in the practicum site or between weekly on-campus seminars. As one secondary English student teacher reported, "It (e-mail) is quick. If I would have a problem and need to get hold of my professor, I know that I'm not going to have to wait for him to wade through a bunch of papers for that day, and I will get an answer the next day." In addition, students can communicate with cooperating teachers via e-mail about the next day's lesson plans or share reflections about the previous day's teaching. Linda, a secondary math student teacher, used e-mail to communicate with her cooperating teacher in the construction of a quiz for the next day's class. Iterations of the quiz were sent back and forth between the two with suggestions and comments on each version. Linda then reported taking the final version to the school the next day and printing it for classroom use.

Finally, access also came to mean a forum for the discussion of controversial topics in university courses and seminars. We found evidence that supports others' work suggesting that smaller sub-cultures or personal spaces in which students can interact outside of face-to-face meetings were created (Barnes, 1993; Varela, Thompson, & Rosch, 1991; Harrington, 1994). In one of the elementary teacher education programs at the University of Illinois, students described e-mail as helping them discuss ethnicity-related topics in a social studies methods course. They described face-to-face situations as being too threatening at certain points in the dialogue and valued e-mail as a safety zone in which dialogue flowed more freely. In a secondary mathematics course, an instructor described a situation where two preservice teachers wanted to discuss multiculturalism as it relates to the teaching of mathematics during the weekly on-campus seminar. The supervisor did not view multiculturalism as separate from the teaching of mathematics and so encouraged the preservice teachers to discuss the issue on the class e-mail reflector in subsequent dialogue.

Training. For us training is not synonymous with a course on computer based technology. The Teaching Teleapprenticeships data suggest that modeling by instructors, incorporating technology in content related assignments, and providing an "on-call" support staff comprises a training model that increases the use of technology among teacher educators, as well as their students.

Modeling of technology use by instructors and teachers is very important to the students (NCATE, 1993; Widmer & Amburgey, 1994). According to the OTA report (1995), the majority of teacher education faculty do not model technology use to accomplish objectives in the courses they teach, nor do they teach students how to use information technologies for instruction. Seldom are students asked to create lessons using technologies or practice teaching with technological tools (p. 165). In our project, modeling occurred on a broad scale in university based classroom s (such as how to use e-mail on a reflector or how to download information from the World Wide Web) and also in individual relationships between peers, field-based teachers, and university faculty. For example, one elementary cooperating teacher, after receiving a technology grant, devised a personal electronic teaching portfolio. After sharing her portfolio with three student teachers placed in her room, they too prepared an electronic teaching portfolio and, in subsequent student teaching placements, taught additional teachers in their preparation of electronic portfolios. Students reported that they also value opportunities to share specific classroom applications and experiences with mentors. In one of the secondary science student teaching cohorts, one technology-proficient student downloaded specific science experiments for classroom use from America On-line (AOL) and e-mailed the files to the other science student teachers who then printed out the information and used the experiments or kept them for future resource. These examples, plus numerous others suggest that modeling became a multi-directional activity. Users, no matter what role group, served as models for others as ideas were shared across campuses and classrooms.

In our project, as in several others, we found that training not connected to subject matter or immediate instructional purpose was not valued by students (Thompson & Schmidt, 1994). Several researchers have documented the importance of faculty demonstrating the use of technology in classroom instruction which are linked directly to subject matter (Brownell, 1991; Schmidt et al., 1994). One of the co-authors, then teaching prospective secondary English teachers, paired the preservice teachers with students in a rural high school English class and served as peer editors on the high schoolers' writing assignments all sent via e-mail. Analysis of the feedback from both university and high school students suggests that the prospective teachers were able to learn about technology use, high school students, and the evaluation of students' work in an integrated manner. All participants, including the co-author, were very excited about the practical use of technology to promote learning for students and for prospective teachers.

When the prospective teachers only saw technology used as a tool, they were seldom able to incorporate technology into their own curriculum (Howard, 1994; Tashner et al., 1991). Secondary student teachers in content specific methods courses where professors and teaching assistants did not tie technology use into the course syllabus described not being comfortable with incorporating technology into their secondary classroom instruction. In one science cohort of student teachers, use of electronic mail was not a required component to the course and as a result, the student teachers reported not using the Internet much at all.

We are suggesting then, an expanded definition of the term training for technology in preservice education courses beyond that of the traditional didactic or autonomous course model. Inadequate and inappropriate training continues to be a barrier to the implementation of computer technologies. Training in technology use must coincide with course goals and be seen as an integral course component.

Context. Context, in the Teaching Teleapprenticeships project, was not defined as a computer lab, nor as a work station. Context included the program in which prospective teachers worked, the faculty with whom they worked, and the school settings in which they began practical applications of technology in teaching. While our project had some control over access and training, the contexts in which prospective teachers worked varied within districts and, in many cases, within buildings.

We found that, overall, elementary classrooms provided more opportunities to use technology than secondary classrooms (Larson, 1995). This relates to the factors of both access and training in that the student teachers often followed the model for technology use set by their cooperating teacher. From our data, elementary classrooms had more computers and elementary teachers had begun incorporating technology into their own instruction. Secondary field experiences offered opportunities for technology use but not as consistently as elementary settings. Perhaps this disparity can be attributed to secondary teachers having different content preparations with different students different hours of the day, fewer opportunities at the high school level for team planning and teaching where knowledge and experiences can be shared, larger secondary student populations, and professional development opportunities at the secondary level which are tied more to content and individual teacher choice than at the elementary level. Or, perhaps this disparity could result from decisions to place high school and middle school computers in labs, as opposed to classrooms. This suggests that further study of the contexts for learning to teach is warranted.

Aside from this global difference, we also found differences between buildings. When hardware and software were not readily available at the school, technology use was unlikely and caused frustration among professors, teachers, and students who wanted to use technology. For example, an elementary school in one program at the University of Illinois experienced major difficulties in connecting to the network. This inhibited the student teachers' use of the computer for Internet exploration and e-mail use. Students at this school spoke in interviews and wrote in semester program evaluations about repeatedly trying to gain access without success. They conveyed frustrations in the amount of time devoted to failed attempts and described an eventual "shutting down" of student teachers' and teachers' desire and willingness to use technology because of technical barriers.

We also found that when elementary student teachers moved from a high use technology environment to a low use technology environment, they often quit using technology for instructional purposes and give up trying to use technology (Sheingold & Hadley, 1990). In one of the elementary programs, students are given three student teaching placements during the academic year. While some still used technology as a tool outside of their classroom experience (for methods course assignments, gradebook management, and server resources), they described these disparate environments as causing high levels of frustration. They felt that they were prevented from learning to use technology fluently throughout the academic year.

Elementary student teachers whose cooperating teachers used the classroom computer strictly for parent news letters, lesson planning, assessment, and gradebook management were less apt to use the computer as a resource for curriculum planning or to explore other software for use with their students. These differing uses of technology have led us to distinguish between technology use simply as a tool and technology use as a teaching tool or a resource and feel strongly that student teachers need opportunities to see, use, and implement technology at both levels in their student teaching placements.


The Office of Technology Assessment report (1995) divided teacher education instruction in technology into three areas:
  1. discussion/demonstration;
  2. technology practice; and
  3. professional practice.
The third level, professional practice, is the most critical level of engagement. Although student teachers need to practice teaching with technology, the OTA report revealed that while half of recent teacher education graduates reported being prepared to teach with technology in drill and practice, tutorials, games, and writing and publishing centers, less than one in ten felt they could use such formats as multimedia packages, electronic presentations, collaborations over networks, or problem-solving software. In our work with the Teaching Teleapprenticeships project, we have found that when technology topics are infused throughout meaningful, contextualized experiences in university and school settings, student teachers are more apt to embrace, model, use, and incorporate technology into their instructional planning and classroom organization. We have also found that learning to use technology while also learning to teach is a multi-directional experience.

When we began our project we thought of a teleapprenticeships as a modern version of the classical meaning of apprenticeship -- a novice learning from a master craftsperson. We envisioned that novice teachers would learn from scientists, mathematicians, and teachers from all over the world. We assumed that e-mail and navigational software such as Eudora, Netscape, and Mosaic would enable our prospective teachers to ask questions, read responses, and prepare more increasingly sophisticated lessons. We also assumed that prospective teachers would begin to incorporate telecommunications and CD-ROM technology into their instruction.

Our initial metaphor of apprenticeship, inferring a hierarchical relationship of a limited number of persons, has been transformed into a notion of new learning communities. With this expanded perspective, we have learned much about necessary factors in the forms of access to hardware, software, and human resources; training that encourages continued learning and the integration of technology use into ongoing instruction; and relationships among these elements and the social contexts in which learning occurs for all participants, not just prospective teachers.

In many teacher education institutions, the first attempts at preparing students in technology use have been in separate courses focusing on technology. These courses, often introductory in nature, usually emphasize computer skills. Although such courses provide an introduction to the use of technology as a tool for learning to teach, many educational technology instructors and teacher educators now contend that the key to providing optimal technology experiences for preservice students is to incorporate the use of technology into all or most education courses using an infusion model (Topp et al., 1994). It is our experience that an infusion model better facilitates and encourages learning because it provides experiences that situate technology use as an instructional resource not simply a tool for extension of basic skills. Technology infused in teacher education may serve to develop in students more ethical and responsible knowledge, skills, and dispositions in technology use in learning to teach as opposed to a view of technology as a separate and autonomous element, disconnected from specific subject matter. Based on our analysis we recommend that teacher education technology policies avoid a "piecemeal", or "add-on" approach to the implementation of technology into teacher education programs. We also recommend that implementation plans consider all teacher education participants--students, university faculty and school based faculty--as both teachers and learners in the exploration of this new form of communication


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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. RED-9253423. The Government has certain rights in this material. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.