Pushing through #dissertating

My workflow was interrupted last week with a trip to the university and now it is time to take up the traces once again and continue to plough this field and sow these seeds.

I notice this clarity of purpose is starting to imbue the work as a matter of course rather than a sentence by sentence battle of wills. I wonder if I can write a conceptual summary.

My thesis is concerned with the lack of preparation of teachers’ information and communication technologies (ICT) in the field of Canadian teacher education. Canadian teacher education signifies a greater problem, the lack of preparation of teachers’ ICT perspectives and practices. It is this greater lack that contributes to the situation in the field of teacher education in Canada. Additionally, the lack of teacher ICT preparation is not limited to Canada, but has been reported for decades in educational institutions around the world. The problem is recognized by UNESCO, which authored ICT Competency Standards for Teachers in the form of a framework, policies, and instructional modules.

The problem I am addressing is one that was identified by Larry Cuban in his landmark study, “Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom. Cuban identified three key elements to the lack of engagement on the part of teachers: 1) historically the field of education has not placed great emphasis on our human involvements with technology, particularly in the ways human learning and teaching are shaped by technology; 2) teachers did not play a part in the deliberations or decisions that led to the introduction of digital technologies into educational venues, they do not share a common vision of what it means to use digital technologies in their professional contexts; and 3) teachers do not feel adequately prepared to re-cast their teaching practices through the incorporation of digital technologies within their educational institution, nor their professional cultural beliefs and values.

The background of the problem shows educational researchers reporting a continuing problem with teachers’ and teacher educators’ uses of ICT: 1) a lack of congruence between ICT policy frameworks and day to day teachers’ practices; 2) the use of ICT in the service of traditional learning activities; and 3) the absence of innovative uses of ICT that actually change teachers’ and students’ roles and responsibilities as learners. The background of the problem also shows how these issues are also found in teacher education programs.

The background of the study reports our research experiences from a two-year pilot study that preceded the implementation of the three year full study reported in this thesis. The focus of the two-year pilot study was to introduce ICT mentoring to teacher educators as an in-class service to support their uses of ICT. As teacher educator mentors, we were involved in observing teacher educators’ instructional designs and offering suggestions for enabling, enriching, or enhancing learning through the use of digital technologies. After these consultations, we supported the teacher educator as he/she learned to use digital technologies, and learning to teach with digital technologies in their teacher education courses. Concurrently, the pilot study also worked with the teacher candidates. The teacher candidates spent time with the research team in the computer lab, learning with, about, and through, the uses of digital technologies. They were encouraged to develop their own instructional resources that utilized ICT to enable, enrich and enhance learning. When these teacher candidates went out on their extended practicum, they had the services of the research mentors available on request. Research mentors attended their classes in their practicum schools and supported their fledgling uses of ICT in these varied contexts.

We learned several important lessons from this study, which we incorporated into the design of the full study. First, if teacher candidates do not have an opportunity to learn to use ICT, and develop their own instructional designs that incorporate ICT, they are not likely to use ICT on their extended practicum. The schools in our local school districts did not have an even distribution of ICT resources at every school site, nor did they have timely, appropriate support for teaching with ICT in school settings. Without exception, the elementary sponsor teachers overseeing our teacher candidates’ practicum teaching were not regular users of ICT. In fact, we had at least one instance where one of our teacher candidates’ was prevented from using the ICT instructional design because her sponsor teacher did not want her to set up expectations of the students that the sponsor teacher would not be able to continue after the practicum was concluded.

Second, we learned that teacher educators in the teacher education program were not regular users of ICT in their teaching. Those teacher educators who did use ICT were most likely to use it for powerpoint lectures. There were no examples of innovative uses of ICT for teaching and learning demonstrated by the teacher educators. Moreover, when offered the services of the research mentors, several teacher educators were enthusiastic to challenge their regular teaching practices to try using ICT. That said, of those teacher educators who were enthusiastic to try new ICT practices, their efforts needed to be ‘shoe-horned’ in to their existing curriculum and teaching. There was no systemic provision or requirement to prepare teacher candidates’ to learn to teach with, through, and about, ICT. Interestingly, we found the teacher educators who already used ICT for powerpoint lectures were unlikely to be interested in more innovative uses of ICT. They believed they were already accomplishing that in their practice. We also found teacher educators who were not only resistant to using ICT out of fear because their own skills and knowledge were so undeveloped (one teacher educator did not use email), we also found teacher educators who believed the use of ICT in society was a problem and they did not see a value in using it in their teaching practice.

Third, the policy conditions for the use of ICT were not conducive to innovative uses of ICT. Provincial educational policy did not require ICT skills or knowledge for teacher accreditation. Although provincial educational instructional resource packages included limited uses of ICT, these were not required for course completion, thus, the IRP aspect of provincial curriculum did not mandate ICT curriculum as a requirement in the teacher education curriculum. At the level of the Faculty of Education, there was no ICT policy articulated for the preparation of teacher candidates. The informal policy at the Faculty level was to have individual departments and teacher educators include ICT on a case by case basis. Thus, there was no Faculty level policy compelling teacher educators to include ICT as a required component of their courses or their teaching and instructional design. At the level of the teacher education program, ICT proficiency was not a requirement for being hired as a teacher educator. Additionally, ICT proficiency was neither an admissions criteria, nor a graduation requirement for the teacher candidates.

This is the basic rationale for my thesis.

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