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Convergence of Technology and Diversity: Experiences of Two Beginning Teachers in Web-Based Distance Learning for Global/multicultural Education

Article excerpt

Schools are institutions that reflect changes in society. One of the most significant social developments over the past two decades is the ubiquity of technology. A fundamental element of life in the information age is the integration of computer technology into nearly every conceivable aspect of life, from transportation, communication, finance, and education. To say that people have become dependent on computers and related technologies such as the Internet is to state the obvious. Schools have increasingly come to rely on technology to support instruction and operations. Rationales for this move vary but generally speak to the need to prepare students to function in a technology-rich, information-based society. Young people, now referred to as digital natives since they have only known a technologically, plugged-in society, have great familiarity with tools like email, instant messaging, and the Web and rely heavily on these for stimulation, communication, and, indeed, learning.

Teacher education also reflects larger social developments as these institutions are necessarily focused on the needs of P-12 students along with current and future teachers. Institutions for teacher education have incorporated learning tools such as computers, email, the Internet, learning software, databases, and multimedia formats to prepare candidates to work in the technologically enabled environment of the classroom, clearly one of the most significant developments in the preparation of beginning teachers over the last two decades. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) standards include 65 references to technology, most of which center on the teacher candidates ability to employ instructional technology effectively with P-12 students. A simultaneous development also of great significance, though of a different character, has been the widespread incorporation of diversity and global themes in teacher preparation. NCATE standards are replete with references to teaching diverse learners (42 in total) and diversity represents one of the six standards used to measure the quality of teacher preparation institutions. "One of the goals of this standard is the development of educators who can help all students learn and who can teach from multicultural and global perspectives that draw on the histories, experiences, and representations of students from diverse cultural backgrounds" (Professional Standards, 2002, p. 32). Since NCATE is the accrediting body of over 575 institutions that produce approximately two-thirds of all beginning teachers nationally, the emphasis on technology and diversity is pervasive in teacher preparation.

Teacher educators have also started incorporating distance learning in the preparation and professional development of teachers. Distance learning, while not a new addition to the educational landscape, has changed substantially due in large measure to the use of personal computers and their requisite tools (i.e., email, instant messaging, and the Web). Web-based courses allow for interactivity, multimedia/ multilingual integration, and multiplatform capacity in synchronous and/or asynchronous formats all within a ubiquitous learning space, the Web (Hartman, 2002). Significant growth of Web-based distance learning courses has occurred in teacher education units and, in some cases, teacher educators have led this effort (Hartman).

We are witnessing a time of convergence in teacher education, where ideas that were previously viewed separately are beginning to be seen in light of each other. Perhaps this pattern indicates how the information age has altered knowledge constructs while simultaneously providing avenues to transcend and challenge established disciplinary boundaries. Whereas global/diverse perspectives were typically of interest to the sociologically minded faculty/teacher candidate and technology the domain of math and science, this is increasingly less the case. …