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Educating the educators

As the pace of technology in teaching accelerates, does the task of educating the educator become more complex?

Digital, software, hardware, apps, e-learning, webinars, data analysis, innovation, blended learning.  There’s a lot for new teachers to learn. And it can be daunting. But should institutions be focusing on the tools or the pedagogy?

All too often, says AUT’s associate professor Andrew Gibbons, the key assumptions and the political drivers around the teaching of technology need to be unpacked. The focus in teacher training he says needs to be on the relational, not the material and concrete of reshaping the educator as an ICT-literate professional.  That he says may be pushed by vested interests.

Those vested interests, which include stakeholders such as computer, telecommunication and multimedia industries, are often valued over those of others such as diverse communities, their teachers and parents and children in the emphasis on getting educators ‘up skilled’.

The big paradox for teacher education is that the type of people who gravitate to teaching tend to be people whore are not technology oriented.  “If you are really competent with new media [schools] are not going to suggest teaching,” says Gibbons.

Relying on the instructional technical section is a thing of the past, says Gibbons. There are too many technologies to teach these days, says Gibbons, and they’re moving too fast.  What’s more important is how it can be used in the classroom.

“We teach how to build your interest into an analysis of any new media and how it fits with their school culture, their community’s expectations and their pedagogical goals.” The focus needs to be on questions, not technological solutions, says Gibbons.

Education Aotearoa also spoke with teacher educator Peter Maslin of BTI who sees a wide variety of confidence levels among trainee teachers.

They use digital technology to browse and connect, says Maslin. But many of his students have little confidence in how to use digital technology to create, construct and curate learning experiences.

It’s an issue facing all of New Zealand’s teacher training institutes. The way around this is to tease out the student teachers’ interests in new media. “We know we are doing our job as a teacher education institution if we can open up the student teachers to the opportunity that they can learn from their students.  That is a great attribute.”

The big mistake is to teach hardware, software and specific platforms that may be out of date by the time they hit classrooms as first year teachers. The importance of new media is how it is going to encourage effective teaching, says Gibbons.

Techno literacy, he adds, isn’t just about understanding not just how to use something, but why you might use it. The focus needs to be on how to assess and use new tools, which will come from left field as many of those in use today have.

Instead of showing them how to use an interactive whiteboard, for example, the key is to pique their interest in technology and how that can be used within a school’s community.

“The relationship between any new media and how it is going to encourage effective teaching.”

If ever there was a competency where the Māori concept of ako is relevant, says Gibbons it is the teaching of technology. In ako the student teachers learn to understand they are at the same time a student and a teacher, he says.

It’s what Maslin sees on the ground with his students who are taught to look for reciprocal relationships is the safe space of a classroom where digital technology can be modelled. Each can learn from the other.

In fact, says Maslin, traditional methods that focus on digital technology as a tool are in many cases leading to a loss of confidence.

Teacher training, he says, needs to concentrate on: 1. developing the person themselves who teaches, 2. developing a pedagogical skill set that is understood as serving the learner, and 3. encouraging the reflective cycle for development.

“We have a strand of courses that run throughout our programmes that specially engage our students in discovering who they are as a teacher, what this means for their practice and how it connects and contributes to them being both professional and wise teachers within the 21st century NZ education context [in which] they feel called to teach.

“As a result it is important to connect beginner teachers not only to digital technologies that are of use in the classroom but the digital thought process that underpins this so they can best design, facilitate and collaborate with students and communities in which a school is based to engage the optimum learning experiences for students.”

The other fear, says Gibbons, is by focusing on a particular commercial technology such as Mathletics the teachers become disconnected from students’ learning and outsource their pedagogy to the corporate providers.