A Habit of Collaboration: Using Technology While Building Professional Relationships during Teacher Preparation

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

We present two new components of our teacher preparation program designed to promote technology use and foster professional collaboration. The Student Technology Advisor (STAR) program partners education students and faculty campus-wide to aid in the adoption of teaching technologies. Initial indicators are positive for professional development among both the faculty, as they adopt new technologies, and our education students, who develop the collaboration skills we hope will serve them as they launch professional teaching careers. The student teacher blog, designed to allow collaboration among student teachers, has also shown some potential to encourage dialogue, though initial findings are more modest and require that we reconfigure the media and our course requirements for optimal participation.

INTRODUCTION

Beginning in fall, 2009, Emory & Henry College students enrolled in the undergraduate course "Technology and Instructional Design" were partnered with faculty from across the campus. The explicit objective was for the pair to approach instructional design problems with appropriate emerging technologies, including online collaboration tools. At the same time, students enrolled in clinical field experiences were asked to use a blog to support one another toward professional growth. These programmatic changes represent a new direction, and new potential, for teacher preparation. Two questions emerge. First, does partnering with students encourage faculty to adopt new teaching technologies? And second, when undergraduate coursework requires students to work collegially with faculty and each other using online collaboration tools, are graduates more likely to use those tools for their own professional development?

BACKGROUND

The inversion of expertise in technology use, particularly online social networking, has created a unique synergism for students collaborating with faculty. Young people grew up with computers, cell phones, and the internet. Most faculty members did not. The relative facility with technology generally reflects this generational difference. According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, nearly all teens go online (95%), and two-thirds of them use social networking sites. Among those over fifty, 70%-80% go online, and only 10%-20% of those use social networking sites. (1) Our students generally embrace and use technologies before we do. They are in a position to help later adopters.

Of greatest significance to this project, young people engage with each other online. They create and maintain networks of contacts. They create content in the form of text, images, and video to share with this online community. Content creation by teenagers continues to grow, with 64% of online teenagers ages 12 to 17 engaging in at least one type of content creation, up from 57% of online teens in 2004. (2) We have asked students to provide a boost to faculty who are striving to use instructional technology, and we have simultaneously asked students to use online collaboration tools for their own learning and professional development.

A constructivist conceptual framework is helpful for articulating the value of learners posting, sharing, and responding to one another via an online forum such as a blog. Given such a framework, we see learning best accomplished by engaging students in constructing knowledge through acquiring, generating, analyzing, manipulating, and structuring information. (3) Collaborative activities enhance learning by allowing individuals to exercise, verify, solidify, and improve their mental models through interacting with others and sharing their thoughts, ideas, and information.

Collaboration among teachers is hindered by a legacy of teacher isolation. Addressing this legacy is among the potential benefits for pre-service and in-service teachers using technology to build collegial support for professional development. …