Academic journal article Journal of Technology and Teacher Education

Technology-Enhanced Project-Based Learning in Teacher Education: Addressing the Goals of Transfer

Academic journal article Journal of Technology and Teacher Education

Technology-Enhanced Project-Based Learning in Teacher Education: Addressing the Goals of Transfer

Article excerpt

Teacher educators have a twofold concern regarding transfer because of the dual goals inherent in teacher education. Certainly a primary goal is to have teacher candidates transfer what they learn in teacher preparation courses to their future classrooms and professional lives, but an equally important secondary goal is to enable candidates to facilitate their students' transfer of what they learn in K-12 classrooms to their future lives. The purpose of this article is to describe a project, funded by the Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to use Technology (PT3) initiative, that addresses these two goals through the use of technology-enhanced project-based learning in teacher education methods courses. The first section of the article provides a rationale for the selection of project-based learning as a particularly appropriate instructional methodology to address transfer, and the second section describes the project and how technology has been infused to enhance project-based experiences.

THE PROBLEM OF TRANSFER

The really important dependent variables in education are not located in classrooms. Nor are they located in schools. The really important variables are located outside schools...It's what students do with what they learn when they can do what they want to do that is the real measure of educational achievement. (Eisner, 2001, p. 370)

Certainly the assumption underlying our educational system is that the knowledge gained in school will be available in the future and will be applied to the solution of new problems as they arise both in school and in real life situations. Yet as early as 1929 Whitehead brought to our attention the existence of "inert" knowledge, or knowledge that can be recalled when specifically prompted but is not used spontaneously, even when relevant in a problem-solving situation. Furthermore, Whitehead (1929) claimed that in schools, information is particularly likely to be presented in ways that make it inert. Since then an increasing body of research has shown that the way knowledge is presented to students in school and the kinds of operations they are asked to perform with it often result in students "knowing" something but failing to use it when relevant (Lebow & Wager, 1994).

A Closer Look

Early educators believed that the mind could be trained with mental exercise much like the body could be trained with physical exercise. Subjects like Latin and geometry were taught more for the logical thinking they engendered than for their practical application, the assumption being that if the mind were properly trained, knowledge and skills would automatically be applied when needed.

The notion of transfer of training through mental discipline was widely accepted in our culture until early in the 20th century. At that time two educational psychologists, Edward Thorndike and Charles Judd, challenged this assumption but themselves carried on a running debate regarding the nature of transfer. Thorudike (1913) proposed an "identical elements" theory, while Judd (1939) held that generalizations, not identical elements, were transferred to new learning situations. Cognitive psychologists today generally side with Judd, but they point out that he did not adequately state the necessary conditions of transfer. Nonetheless, it was Thorndike's theory that predominated at the time, and that theory initiated considerable research to determine what elements are essential in transfer situations and under what conditions transfer is most likely to occur. Early work identified the essential elements as specific facts and skills that bore a strong resemblance across situations, and the essential condition was practice, lots of practice. These ideas can still be found in current learning theories, and if the only concern were transference of basic skills, the problem of transfer would not be so troublesome. …

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