Using a Web-Based Professional Development System to Support Preservice Teachers in Examining Authentic Classroom Practice

Article excerpt

We have been exploring the potential of a web-supported professional development system, the Inquiry Learning Forum (ILF), that integrates videotaped classrooms and discussion forums for use in preservice science methods classrooms. This article examines pre- and inservice teachers' perceptions about using the ILF and how their participation in the ILF helped to enhance their teaching. Using specific naturalistic research methods, we discovered that preservice teachers placed high values on watching teacher practice through videos. Preservice teachers interacted with inservice teachers through asynchronous forums where they discussed videos of teacher practice. These methods served as a valuable tool to help them understand different learning theories and reform-based teaching practice used in a classroom. This article concludes with a discussion of the challenges encountered, lessons learned, and recommendations for other teacher educators who decide to incorporate a web-based professional development system into their courses.

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Over the past decade, many teacher educators have grown increasingly dissatisfied with traditional and individualistic approaches to teacher education and professional development. This dissatisfaction has lead educators to recognize that teachers need experience in collaborative learning communities where they are afforded the opportunities to articulate, reflect on, and share their teaching experiences with their peers (Barab, Barnett, & Squire, 2002; Grossman, Wineburg, & Wool worth, 2001). The emphasis on building collaborative learning experiences has sparked numerous efforts to transform existing teacher education programs into learning communities that link the learning of preservice teachers with experienced teachers and teacher educators (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993; Grossman et al., 2001; Putnam & Borko, 2000). These past interventions were premised upon individuals coming together as a group to develop relationships where its members wrestle with and construct notions of what it means to teach. In striving toward this goal, our team created a web-supported professional development system known as the Inquiry Learning Forum (ILF). The ILF was designed to support a diverse community of teachers in further exploring optimal ways to teach science and math. This article explores use of the ILF in two elementary science methods courses.

BACKGROUND

Over the past 20 years, the educational community has accumulated a wealth of information about how to improve teacher practice through preservice teacher training and follow-up professional development experiences (Lieberman, 1995). However, as Loucks-Horsley and Matsumoto (1999) noted, the knowledge base has been a significantly underutilized resource for teacher development; this has been primarily due to a lack of mechanisms to facilitate and sustain information sharing as well as access to distributed expertise such as other teachers, university faculty, and curriculum developers. For example, the primary means that most teachers use to distribute their expertise are brief experiences at inservice workshops at their schools or universities, summer institutes, or through their own reading of practitioner-oriented journals (Marx, Blumenfeld, Krajcik, & Soloway, 1998). However, recent developments in information technology tools have created new ways for individuals to communicate, share information, and experiences with one another (Dede, 2000). Information technology offers great potential for teacher training to enhance communication and sharing of teaching practices that many educators believe can fundamentally reshape the nature of teacher training. In the following section, we will briefly review recent technology-based strategies used to improve teacher training and professional development.

Technology to Support Teacher Development

The growth and use of the Internet has provided teacher educators with the opportunity to examine the usage of electronic networks for supporting preservice teachers' reflection on their pedagogical belief systems and teaching experiences. …