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April 1, 1994
Vol. 51
No. 7

A Quiet Revolution in Teacher Training

In two Texas schools, prospective teachers are becoming active citizens in a technology-intensive community of learners.

In August 1992, a quiet revolution began in San Marcos, Texas. A band of collaborators implemented a plan to utilize technology in a total redesign of teacher education. The collaboration has also led to changes in teacher staff development, instructional strategies, and students' knowledge and attitudes about technology as a tool for their everyday lives.
The collaborators' basic premise was that for teacher training to be effective, it must occur in natural classroom contexts. By preparing future educators in real school environments that have been enriched through the active use of technology and teacher staff development, preservice teachers could practice, reflect, and learn in realistic, high-quality classroom models.
At first, the project concentrated technological capacities and training in two schools, Bowie Elementary in San Marcos and Highland Park Elementary in Austin. Each semester, 64 prospective teachers developed their educational technology skills and assisted in the two schools. The project now includes three additional school sites, and plans call for adding more.

The Technologies

The collaborators that devised this approach were the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District, Austin I.S.D., Southwest Texas State University, Region XIII Education Service Center, and Century Telephone Company. Together, these institutions formed the Center for Professional Development and Technology.
The Center has supplied each project classroom at Bowie Elementary with: a telephone, four computers, a printer, a laserdisc player, television connections, microphones, speakers, headphones, video digitizing boards, modems, and CD-ROM drives that are all networked with Ethernet software; and various software for elementary students, including Kid Pix, HyperCard, and Storybook Weaver.
Each of the initial project schools also have: a computer lab with 26 networked computers and an LCD display panel; and hook-ups to Internet and TENET (the Texas Education Network, which provides electronic mail, bulletin boards, and access to various educational networks, resource banks, and libraries across the state).
Further, three classrooms (at the university, Bowie Elementary, and the Gary Job Corps Center) are fully equipped with two-way, full-motion interactive television (ITV) interconnected by fiber optics. The classrooms are also equipped with video cameras (with pan, tilt, and focus features), videotape and laserdisc players, and a computer-video interface. This set-up is the only one of its kind in Texas.
Through the center director, project participants can also check out assorted technological equipment. The available hardware includes color scanners, camcorders, VCRs, and laptop computers.

The Training

In addition to such technological tools, the center has provided training to university students, teachers, parents, and students. University students meet with a technical consultant once a week for two hours of training on topics like word processing, graphics, databases, spreadsheeting, multimedia, and authoring presentations. Public school teachers, parents, and students may get training on these topics on different days. Additionally, public school teachers have been offered sessions of up to a week in length on using technology to support the writing process, teach critical thinking skills, and enhance cooperative learning.
The university students' technological training is coordinated with concepts taught in teacher education classes. For example, prospective teachers studying how to implement process writing also learn to apply technological resources during the process writing sequence. When these university students assist in actual classrooms, they can both see an amalgam of technology and instruction and bring their new knowledge to it.
This mix of training is clearly helping to create a community of learners. Adults and children work together and teach each other, all exploring the technological capabilities that have been placed within their reach. In short, the roles of teacher and student are becoming increasingly blurred and blended.

The Results

Project participants constantly search out new ways to integrate technological tools into the learning environment. They are using the tools to increase personal productivity, communicate with one another and with distant audiences, and combine various technologies to produce more powerful equipment configurations. Here are some specific ways that technology has been put to work.
Telephones. Students use classroom phones to carry out research and gather data. Teachers call one another to coordinate joint activities. Parents call teachers to find out about their children's progress. Students and teachers call parents when students have broken classroom rules.
Students have evidently learned that the shortest distance to a point is often a telephone line. At a recent meeting, Bowie teachers viewed a training videotape of 3rd graders who were confounded by a research problem; it called for identifying the favorite brand of cookie among 3rd graders in Texas. One project teacher declared flatly, “That wouldn't be my class. They'd get the phone book and be on the phone talking to a cookie company or somebody.”
Computers. Word processing is a common computer application used in project classrooms. Elementary students use word processing to do writing assignments (like journals), university students and classroom teachers use it to construct lesson plans, and university faculty go online to write and revise their reports.
One project teacher pairs limited-English students with highly fluent students. Together at the computer, the two write and illustrate stories and poems. Not only do the writers use language to compose, but they also learn and use a lot of technical language as they design their projects and discuss how to use sound, color, visual effects, and other embellishments.
Teacher Laura Adams believes that word processing builds confidence. In her words: The computer can be an equalizer for all students in the classroom . . . [and if a student] doesn't like what is there, the delete button can erase things quickly. . . . Once the child does attempt something on the computer, it looks good. Those things give children the confidence to try language and maybe overcome the fears and inhibitions they have about writing and using language.
Multimedia. Bowie's students have extended their computer-related learning far beyond word processing, however. One class has created a class book with a computer slide show. Some students use the computers to communicate with pen pals in another city. Others create posters and illustrations for their research reports or share their research through multimedia projects.
For example, one group of students used HyperCard software to create a multimedia presentation on the history of San Marcos. The presentation includes maps, photographs, old newspaper articles, and other primary sources of information. Another group's multimedia presentation showed the similarities and differences between frogs and toads. This presentation, which features the croaks of both creatures, became a road show that was shared with kindergarten students at another campus.
Networks. With networks, like Internet and TENET, students and teachers can gather information and correspond with other students and teachers. Students in Susan Kasper's 5th grade class, for instance, use these networks to delve into encyclopedias, find research in ERIC, use CNN news, and conduct searches for current data on weather, earthquakes, and NASA projects. Through the network KidLink, this same class joined others in a virtual travel experience. All the participants described what they could see outside their windows and shared a three-day itinerary for a tour of their towns.
Kasper has found applications of electronic bulletin board technology for her own professional work. Before designing her lesson plans and units, she solicits teaching ideas from teachers across the country. In a mentoring effort, she has enlisted other teachers and university students to correspond electronically with at-risk students in Arkansas. And, building on the notion of the old Route 66 television series, she and a colleague from Austin are interacting with people who live and work along the old coast-to-coast highway. The information gathered will be used to construct an interdisciplinary multimedia unit.
Interactive television. Curtis Wubbena's 4th graders like to use interactive television to teach. In doing so, the students add a new communication tool to their repertoire, refine their communication and presentation skills, and deepen their understanding of topics sufficiently to teach them to others.
Wubbena's students have used ITV to demonstrate the procedures of process writing, from the brainstorming and webbing stages through several drafts to a final product. The students eagerly await their next ITV project, which will revolve around ecological concerns.
Through this ITV application of technology, not only are students in other classes able to watch and learn from their peers, but faculty and preservice teachers in the ITV classroom at the university can also watch, listen, and learn. The interactive features of the technology enabled the various audiences to question Wubbena's students and receive immediate answers. This contact with 4th graders helps to make theory real for the university students.
The ITV classroom was used in a different way when a community volunteer taught a lesson on decimals in aviation. The demonstration was also beamed back to the university so that students and faculty there could see another way to link academic concepts to the real world.
At Bowie Elementary, the ITV system has also carried staff development presentations on such topics as cyberspace, critical thinking skills, telecommunications, and the one-computer classroom. Faculty and students at the university participated in these sessions.

The Evaluation

  • The project had the desired effect. University students gained confidence in using technology for personal productivity and for instructional enhancement.
  • Technology alters teaching. Project teachers report more independent student work, a transition to more student-centered classrooms, and more cooperative efforts among students.
  • Technology can serve teachers. Regardless of current skill levels, teachers see the technological skills that they have learned as very applicable to their job requirements. They use available technology to produce parent letters and reports, complete lesson plans, and produce instructional materials. In addition, one teacher noted, “I used the modem and encyclopedia a lot for my own personal research.”
  • Technology invigorates learning. Elementary students believe that after technology was incorporated into their classes, the classes were different and more fun, assignments were done faster and better, and more resources were available. Teachers apparently agree. One said that students “were especially excited about coming up with their own things to do.” Another teacher found that “the computer especially helps the slower kids, getting them excited about learning and introducing other avenues for them.”
  • Parents support the use of technology. Parents were well aware of the technological advances that their children were using, and parents believed that the children were achieving more academically than in past years. One parent said, “My child cannot be more enthusiastic about school and learning than she is now.”

Pat Curtin has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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