The Use of Wireless Technology to Augment Problem-Based Learning in Special Education Preservice Teacher Training

Article excerpt

This study examines the use of wireless laptop technology to support the application of problem-based learning (PBL) in a special education methods course. This field based course used a progressive disclosure process in weekly seminars to address issues posed in a case study. Eight scenarios, all related to the case, were presented to upper level undergraduates in the methods course seminars. These preservice teachers were divided into groups of five for scenario analysis and surveyed, following course completion, regarding the use of wireless laptop technology in support of the PBL process. The survey results showed that the students used the laptops immediately to research those learning issues associated with each case scenarios. In addition, the students modified and improved the existing framework for the PBL process to eliminate the need for a scribe to transcribe group discussion comments. The survey further indicated that the use of wireless technology in the class enhanced student participation and satisfaction.

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As the nation continues to advance through the first decade of the twenty-first century, there is a growing need for its teachers to not only be expert in content knowledge, but to also possess the critical thinking skills necessary to make in-field decisions that are vital to the education of individual students and entire classrooms. It has been recommended that to prepare students to succeed in today's post-college work environment, undergraduate education must foster high-level skills in communication, computation, technological literacy, and information retrieval; in the ability to arrive at informed judgments; in the ability to function in a global community; in technical competence in a given field; and in the ability to deploy all of the above to address specific problems (Wingspread Conference, 1994). Indeed, with regard to preservice teacher education, the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) (1993) established standards that focus on assessment and analysis of the instructional setting, the implementation of teaching approaches appropriate for that setting, and the evaluation of the effectiveness of these methods to support decision making in conjunction with lesson planning and implementation.

Teacher education must evolve, therefore, to maintain its relevance in preparing the teachers of the new century. Instructional methods in higher education that worked ten or twenty years ago may no longer be sufficient to provide preservice teachers with these needed analytical skills. Those innovations necessary for significant instructional improvement will tend to be disruptive to the standard operating procedures of most educational institutions as they are currently structured. Christenson (1997), Moore (1999), Christensen, Raynor, and Anthony (2003), and Christensen and Raynor (2003) all speak to the nature of improved technology and its impact on organizations, their structure, and their operation. Such innovations become significant when they are an improvement over existing practices and thereby change individual behavior (Prewitt, 2001). For example, while the traditional lecture-based approach is an efficient method of transferring knowledge to large numbers of undergraduates, it does little to promote the development of process skills to compliment content knowledge (Duch, Groh, & Allen, 2001). One pedagogical approach that has shown evidence of fostering analytical and critical thinking skills in undergraduates is problem-based learning (PBL).

PBL is a pedagogical approach that encourages students to apply critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and content knowledge to real-world problems (Levin, 2001). Based on a constructivist foundation, PBL promotes active, integrated, and cumulative learning. It is a teaching approach based on the principle of using problems as the starting point for the acquisition of new knowledge (Lambros, 2004). …