Professional Learning

Preparing to Teach with Technology: Helping Students Reach Their Full Potential

A discussion on the methods for preparing teachers to use technology in their classrooms as a teaching tool.

January 31, 2007

Mary Hatwood Futrell

Credit: Abbie O. Smith, George Washington University

When I was a high school business teacher in Alexandria, Virginia, my school set up a computer lab, but we didn't know if students would use it. We thought a few kids might wander in periodically, but all types of students lined up to use the computers. They came from all programmatic areas -- general, vocational, and academic -- and included those who liked computers as well as those whom we didn't think would or who had very little knowledge of how to use them.

While we initially had concerns about some students creating discipline problems in the lab, there were very few problems. The students were more interested in learning how to become technologically literate than in disrupting the lab environment. So, I saw firsthand the appeal of technology for students who were and were not excelling in the traditional classroom.

We then had to ask ourselves, "Where are we going to find teachers to teach these kids?" We decided to take some of the students who demonstrated strong technological skills and use them as mentors to work with the other students, giving us more than enough "teachers" to go around. Our teachers worked with these "technology teaching assistants" to ensure access to the computers and to help them understand how to mentor younger students. We developed programs to train teachers, staff, and students to use computers to write short stories, solve math and science problems, and sometimes play games to help them learn various concepts.

1. Integrating Teacher Preparation and Educational Technology

At the George Washington University School of Education and Human Development, we are committed to preparing teachers who understand the power of technology to help all students achieve at their highest potential. At the same time, the new learning opportunities made possible through technology are also challenging our philosophy of education. Age-old questions once again emerge, such as who should be educated, what is the purpose of education, what are the social and political commitments to education, and what is a quality education.

We are still struggling to answer these questions and we must answer them. I believe that understanding and appreciating the critical role of technology in the learning process will help us answer those questions. We must provide training to prepare teachers, counselors, administrators, and teacher-educators to become more technologically literate and to help their students achieve the same goal.

Last year, for the first time, we began working across our Teacher Preparation and Educational Leadership departments. Our educational technology faculty is working with our teacher-educators to prepare them, as well as their students -- our future teachers, counselors, and administrators -- to be proficient with technology. All faculty members will be able to demonstrate their ability to teach via technology, because the best way to teach others is to demonstrate you can do it yourself. Currently, most faculty are at least competent using presentation software, word processing software, e-mail, and the Web.

As part of their certification requirement, all of our student teachers must go through training to integrate technology into their teaching. They must demonstrate their ability to effectively use technology as part of their teaching repertoire in a variety of settings, according to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards and increasingly to meet state certification requirements. They also use video cameras to tape themselves in the classroom, analyze their teaching, and become more reflective practitioners.

Further, a number of our student teachers are developing electronic portfolios to present samples of their teaching. These experiences ensure that our teacher candidates are prepared to work in technologically rich classrooms in the District of Columbia, Fairfax, Virginia, and Prince George's and Montgomery counties in Maryland or anywhere else in the United States. They will have the confidence to effectively use technology because they have had first-hand experiences demonstrating their own ability to use it and because they will have seen it used well on our campus, for administrative purposes (e.g., attendance and grading) as well as for teaching and learning.

George Washington student Antoinette Reynolds developed a WebQuest to include in her electronic portfolio.

Credit: Antoinette C. Reynolds

2. Technology Use on Campus and In Distance Learning

Our faculty members increasingly use Prometheus (an online system for course content and activities) to teach courses. A faculty member can place course syllabi and assignments online, administer tests, use video clips, and create chat rooms so students can interact outside of class as part of the course. Our teacher preparation and special education programs use Web-based instruction as a primary teaching methodology in five courses. (Example: Volcanoes WebQuest downloadable PDF file.)

We have distance learning programs where faculty members on the Main Campus teach students at our sites in Hampton, Richmond, and Loudoun County, Virginia. In addition, we have connected students in our Human Resource Development Program's Executive Leadership Program here in Washington with students in our Singapore program.

Two faculty members developed a Web-based tutorial to assist students in learning how to conduct scholarly reviews of the literature. Our museum and international education faculties collaborated with the university's library to develop Web pages to assist students' access to research.

We are also working with veteran teachers throughout the area in the rigorous process of becoming nationally certified through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. As part of the certification process, these teachers must demonstrate effective technology use with their students and submit that evidence to the National Board for assessment in the format of electronic portfolios and videotapes of their classes. We're using the same technologies of the Internet to support them in their efforts to become nationally certified. Instead of coming to campus to participate in the support program for national certification, they can simply communicate from their home or school via computer.

3. Supporting the Career Switch to Teaching

There is a tremendous shortage of teachers in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia (as there is throughout the United States). Historically, it has not been uncommon for resource-poor districts to struggle to find new teachers, but in my 30+ years of teaching, this is the first year in which the wealthiest school districts also could not find enough teachers. At The George Washington University, we are working to meet the teacher shortage by training professionals who are mid-career changers preparing for the classroom. Allow me to cite a few examples.

We have a group of about thirty returning young Peace Corps volunteers who want to go into teaching. Some of them taught when they were abroad and others found they liked working with young people in Africa, Latin America, and Eastern and Central Europe.

From day one of their eighteen-month program, much of their time is spent in the classroom, observing, being mentored, and working with students. These former Peace Corps volunteers are very committed and talented and have a very successful rate of graduation and placement.

The Fairfax Transition Program is another example. Professionals in our Fairfax Transition Program often come from fields with higher incomes but are looking to work with young people and provide a service to society -- what they call "meaningful work." We have partnered with the Fairfax County (Virginia) schools for these students to work as permanent substitutes in classrooms during the day and make the transition into student teaching. They teach during the day and attend our seminars and methodology courses in the evenings.

Based on the success in Fairfax County, we now have a similar program in Montgomery County, Maryland. There, about a third of the students are lawyers who want to work with kids. If these teacher candidates successfully complete the program and do well in their student teaching, they are guaranteed jobs in the Montgomery County schools. They also spend a large percentage of their time in the classroom, working directly with students and with master teachers.

Through all of our teacher preparation programs, including our Secondary Education Program (known as the DELTA Program) and now our D.C. Teaching Fellows Program, our goal is to provide a very realistic teaching experience. Our student teachers are in classrooms teaching students with a variety of learning styles, experimenting firsthand with a variety of teaching strategies, learning how to develop and analyze a lesson, acquiring classroom management skills, and working collegially with experienced master teachers.

4. The Power of Technology for All Learners

I'm amazed when I go into schools and see our student teachers using technology, for instance, in science departments. In Alexandria, Virginia, our student teachers are working in a planetarium at the school site. Inside the planetarium, it's like being out under the stars, even though it's broad daylight outside. In Fairfax County, I've seen our student teachers and their mentor teachers with children in the library, doing research, teaching lessons, and providing remediation and enrichment experiences for students -- all through the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning.

I continue to be very impressed with the students' ability to use technology as they work in teams and solve problems. Sometimes the teachers are mainly there to add pointers or help students having difficulty. I visited a school in Prince George's County where the students were involved in Project 2061's mathematics and science assignments. The students worked in teams and used the computer to help them solve integrated math and science problems, such as finding the length of a building's shadow at different times of day.

Other assignments involved determining how long it would take a car driving at a certain speed to reach an intersection before the light changed or designing a quilt patch using different geometric figures, such as circles, squares, triangles, and rectangles. Students used the computer to determine the size and design of their quilt project and then write the paper explaining their work.

I have continued to witness the excitement I saw decades ago when I was teaching: students eager to use computers and excited to teach and learn from each other. Perhaps most important, technology can support and enhance students' creativity. Whether that occurs depends upon the availability of technology, but, most important, it depends upon the confidence and the competence of today's teachers to integrate technology into the learning process. It's critical that all teachers -- from those just entering the classroom to our teaching veterans -- use these tools effectively to keep our students' excitement about learning alive.

Mary Hatwood Futrell, Ed.D., has been the dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development (GSEHD) at George Washington University since 1995. Her expertise includes teacher development, national certification of teachers, national standards, and violence in schools. Futrell also is co-director of GSEHD's Center for Curriculum, Standards, and Technology (CCST).

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