Using Electronic Journals to Facilitate Reflective Thinking regarding Instructional Practices during Early Field Experiences

Article excerpt

Introduction

Continuing advances in computer technology have impacted the lives of people throughout the United States and around the world. Similar to the impact of technological innovations developed by Thomas Edison over a century ago, these computer advances have transformed the entire fabric of society. Such changes have revolutionized education at all levels of the teaching and learning process. Opportunities for improved delivery of instruction exist and teacher education programs need to prepare future teachers with the skills needed to succeed in a changing society (Myers, Miels, Ford, and Burke, 1997).

Loras College recently became a laptop campus. A number of computer servers provide general interactive and instructional computing for the academic and administrative community. Access to the system is provided via a campus wide, wired and wireless network that is connected to the Internet. Academic instruction is delivered in electronic classrooms and all full-time undergraduate students are provided a laptop computer, software, support and training to widen their educational experience (Loras College, 2005).

Faculty members in the Division of Education viewed the transformation of the college learning environment as an opportunity to enhance the elementary education teacher preparation program. There was a desire to make productive use of the improved technology available and the early field experience components could be provided an overall "purpose" (Myers, 1996, 233) beyond completing isolated exercises for separate methods courses assignments and in turn, facilitate cohesiveness, additional instructional opportunities, and direction. The major aim of these program changes was to increase, as John Dewey (1969) described, the educative value of experience in the classroom.

Focusing the Early Field Experiences

Bridging the gap between theory and practice has long been an essential aim of teacher education programs. Field-based experience has traditionally been considered a valuable and essential component of teacher education. Ishler and Kay (1981) found that nearly all teacher education programs in the United States included some type of early field experience. In their discussion regarding practice of teacher education programs, Katz and Raths (1992, 381) referred to "the emphasis on mandated early field experiences...".

In the initial phase of the elementary teacher education program at Loras, students enrolled in Introduction to Reflective Teaching are presented with the components of professional practice as identified and documented through empirical studies by Danielson (1996). The components are organized into four general domains which are: Planning and Preparation, The Classroom Environment, Instruction, and Professional Responsibilities. This framework provides a foundation for the subsequent teaching activities of pre-service teachers.

The intermediate phase of the program requires completion of two early field experiences. The Reading, Language Arts, and Mathematics methods courses are taught concurrently during the Clinical I semester while the Science, Social Studies, and Reading Across the Curriculum courses are taught concurrently during the Clinical II semester. The clinical experiences provide an opportunity for pre-service teachers to be actively engaged with children and an environment which facilitates reflective thinking. Activities of the preservice teacher include observing, assisting the classroom teacher, as well as planning and teaching lessons in the concurrent methods courses subject areas.

In recent years, teacher preparation programs have incorporated electronic communication via computers between college supervisors and pre-service teachers (Thomas, Clift, and Sugimoto, 1996 and Wade, Allison, and Stevens, 2000). In an effort to enhance the early field experiences, an electronic weekly journal assignment was added to the existing program requirements. …