Academic journal article Journal of Interactive Learning Research

Computer Conferencing and the Development of Habits of Mind Associated with Effective Teacher Education

Academic journal article Journal of Interactive Learning Research

Computer Conferencing and the Development of Habits of Mind Associated with Effective Teacher Education

Article excerpt

Today teacher educators emphasize the need for preservice teachers to develop certain habits of mind (like reflection) in order to be effective teachers. These educators are constantly searching for pedagogical strategies that can help teachers quickly learn, understand, and take to heart important dispositions. This article describes a three-year research project that explored the computer conferencing experiences of practicing teachers who were involved in a two year, nontraditional master's program. In this study it was found that web-based conferencing can provide a valuable pedagogical tool that reinforces content and encourages the development of important dispositions, but it can also perpetuate the very habits of mind that teacher educators want to change. This article illuminates the difficulties of implementing progressive strategies as researchers seek to understand how conferencing can provide added instructional benefit to programs that promote transformative teacher education.

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Many research studies focus on whether technology can be used in teacher education programs to develop skills in specific content areas (Harrington & Hathaway, 1994; Hollenbeck, 1998; Kiesler, 1991). Only a few studies, however, focus on how technology can be used to support the development of habits of mind conducive for effective teaching (see for example, Harrington & Hathaway, 1994). Today teacher educators emphasize the importance of moral decision-making and care, and they emphasize professional interactions with parents and collaboration with colleagues. This article describes a three-year research project that explored the computer conferencing experiences of practicing teachers who were involved in a two-year, nontraditional master's program that emphasized the development of dispositions. In this study, researchers were interested in understanding the meaning teachers made from the conference experience and ultimately what they took away from it as part of their professional development.

There were many variables that affected the students' attitudes about conferencing including their level of technology expertise, their feelings about written disclosures, and their relationship with the faculty and with each other. Ultimately, it was found that conferencing could be used to reinforce content and to develop habits of mind that positively influence teaching. But, it was also found that conferencing could reinforce habits of mind that can have a negative effect on teaching. Even among a well-intentioned faculty in an innovative program with a moral base it is possible to develop activities that can perpetuate (rather than disrupt) unexamined and unproductive assumptions in teachers. It was also found that although some students talked about the importance of habits of mind, they did not always demonstrate that in their actions associated with the conference site itself. For example, in this study some students said they had a better understanding of why it was important to collaborate and share dialog with colleagues. Often they felt it was more important to have a dialog with the professors in the conferencing site, rather than other teachers.

In the past, research on computer conferencing has focused on comparing online dialog with face-to-face interaction (Murphy, Drabier, & Epps, 1998), its impact on higher order thinking (Fabro & Garrison, 1998), or learners' perceptions of online learning (Broady-Ortmann, 2002; Leonard & Guha, 2001; Kim, Williams & Dattilo, 2002; Bronack, Kilbane, Herbert, & McNergney, 1999). Only a small number of research studies have focused on learning outcomes (see for example, Sharpe & Bailey, 1999). This article focuses on both learning outcomes and student perceptions, emphasizing habits of mind, like reflection and other dispositions. This article demonstrates how conferencing can provide instructional benefit to programs that are interested in transformational learning. …

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