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Redefining Teacher Education Programs for the 21st Century

Failure to revisit professional development in light of new technology could render teacher training programs obsolete.

As we embrace technology, a new culture emerges that challenges the status quo of preschool-12 and postsecondary education and encourages a redefinition of its foundational elements. Curricular changes, professional development for faculty and staff, systems and structures, policies and procedures all must be revisited in light of the impact of technology. Without these changes, higher education programs to prepare teachers may become outdated, a concern I have that was recently reinforced by an encounter with a tech-savvy 2-year-old.

After attending a conference on the accreditation of teacher education programs, I boarded the airplane for my six-hour flight. On my row was a 2-year-old boy who sat in his mother’s lap enjoying the view from his window seat. As I settled in, I prayed silently for a peaceful trip. I had much reading and writing to do, so peace and quiet were essential for my productivity. Once we reached 35,000 feet, the mother gave a video iPod to the little boy. He turned it on, selected a movie, and settled into his mother’s arms for some viewing pleasure. I smiled at the mother and thanked God for the apparent blessing. When the movie ended, without assistance, the little boy found another one. Once again, he nestled in his mother’s arms and watched the movie, all while his mother slept peacefully.

As I continued writing, I wondered if the teacher candidates at Azusa Pacific University were being adequately prepared to work with this young toddler when he entered kindergarten. I imagined that the teacher would give him some building blocks and ask him to build a pyramid. I also imagined that the child would pull out his electronic device and, with unabashed excitement, respond by saying, “Check this out. I built a pyramid on this. It’s got a secret chamber. Bet you can’t find it!” My heart sank as I further imagined that the teacher would probably label this child as being disruptive and would have him tested for attention deficit disorder. He might even end up in a special education classroom and lose his excitement for learning.

I returned to my office the following day with renewed determination to ensure that our teacher candidates were adequately prepared to serve this next generation. I arranged for the School of Education (SOE) leadership team to visit Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., for a full-day orientation centered around using technology to undergird the curriculum. Our fall kick-off for all SOE faculty and staff included a review of the International Society for Technology in Education National Educational Technology Standards (ISTE-NETS). The Technology Committee developed goals and objectives that were included in the SOE’s strategic plan. A new Digital Teaching and Learning master’s program that complements both our hybrid and online Educational Technology master’s degree programs was developed. Professional development activities that covered social networks and other electronic media and devices such as Wikipedia, YouTube, iTunesU, Skype, SMART-boards, interactive whiteboard solutions and wireless response systems were scheduled. In addition, plans for our 21st-century digital classroom were implemented and should be operational by the end of this semester. Clearly, the emphasis on the effective use of technology readily spread throughout every facet of the SOE.

The results were both stimulating and enlightening. Most faculty and staff reported a feeling of invigoration and empowerment to better serve our students and our society. A few, however, require a little more encouragement. Nevertheless, enrollment in our technology-based programs increased, despite our failing national economic status. Looking beyond the obvious, we now realize that the introduction of technology into the educational process forges the development of a new culture that poses some interesting dilemmas and opportunities for preschool-12 and postsecondary education. It changes our way of communicating and the social rules that surround it. Our systems, structures, policies and procedures are being revised. Since the students are more assertive in operating these devices, and the professors know the desired learning outcomes, the partnering of the two creates a pedagogical shift. Lectures and regurgitated stock answers give way to a more collaborative learning process that produces meaningful dialogue often supported by tangible, media-rich end products. This has significant implications for what we define as scholarship. It affects our workload agreements, impacts our promotion and tenure processes, necessitates increased external and internal partnerships, and forces a restructuring of our budgets. Conversations around these topics are not for the faint of heart, but they lead to the establishment of a healthier 21st-century higher education organization.

Every time I see a child with an electronic toy, I am mindful of the demands the proliferation of technology places on teacher education programs. Eventually, all of higher education must respond to the resulting cultural shifts that encourage a redefinition of university foundational elements. Those that do may not languish in peace and quiet, but they will be relevant and sustainable 21st-century teaching and learning organizations. — Dr. Helen Easterling Williams is dean of the School of Education at Azusa Pacific University in California.

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