Teaching and Learning Forum 2000 [ Proceedings Contents ]

Teaching learning technologies to K-12 teachers

Stephen R. Kessell
Science and Mathematics Education Centre
Curtin University of Technology
    In cooperation with the Education Department of WA, Curtin established a new "learning technologies" postgraduate program in June 1999. Currently 170 K-12 teachers are enrolled in this part time course, which is taught entirely via the WWW and CD-ROMs. Successful completion allows each student to receive a Graduate Certificate, or alternatively, the credits may be applied towards a Postgraduate Diploma, Masters degree or professional doctorate. Originally developed to meet the Education Department's professional development needs, especially for teachers outside the Perth metro area, it has already attracted many teachers from independent and Catholic schools, the eastern states and overseas. Three North American universities have approached us with respect to "mirroring" the site at their institutions.

    Flexibility is the hallmark of this course. Teachers can start at different times, proceed at different rates and finish at different times. Teachers with different entry level skills, teachers with different needs, and teachers with different interests (i.e., those teaching different age groups and learning areas) are catered for; there is a variety of choices and opportunities to tailor the course to their own needs, background and interests.

    The two unit sequence Technology for Teachers includes both core materials, studied by all teachers, and a series of optional "streams" where teachers can study selected topics (such as Multimedia, Using Technology to Integrate Across the Learning Areas, Using Technology in Specific Learning Areas, Using Technology in Early Childhood Education, etc.) in greater depth.

    In Technology in the Classroom, teachers integrate appropriate learning technologies into their own teaching, prepare lesson plans that utilise multimedia and the Internet, and present a teaching portfolio. They also complete a single optional stream, choosing from amongst: Using Technology to Promote Constructivist Approaches to Teaching and Learning; Developing Leadership Skills in Technology; Gender Issues in the Use of Technology; Assessing and Changing IT Learning Environments; or Teaching and Learning Principles for Technology Rich Classrooms.

    Regardless of those individual choices, however, all teachers completing the course successfully will be able to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of a range of information technologies appropriate to the teaching and learning outcomes of the Curriculum Framework, as well as the confidence and competence to use appropriate learning technologies in their day to day professional lives.

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Introduction

This program was established to assist the Education Department of Western Australia's strategy to improve learning, teaching and management through technology (as described in its Plan for Government School Education 1998 to 2000). This Learning Technologies project is the most recent of several education initiatives, which have government funding of $100 million over four years [http://www.eddept.wa.edu.au/centoff/t2000/index.html].

Following the announcement of this initiative, several learning technologies professionals, including members of the Educational Computing Association of Western Australia, expressed concern that a "boxes and wires" approach was likely to fail if teachers did not receive adequate professional development. This problem is especially acute in remote areas, where access to appropriate professional development ranges from inadequate to nonexistent.

What are "Learning Technologies"?

Learning Technologies are the various forms of information technology (IT) which are used to improve student learning. Learning Technologies encompass: Learning Technologies are an integral part of teaching and learning programs, and are expected to facilitate the development and improvement of outcomes in all learning areas (not just "Technology and Enterprise"). They are tools to achieve an outcome, not an outcome in themselves. Let's not forget that! Success will be shown by what teachers and students achieve and can do, not by the number of machines sitting in classrooms. This program sits very nicely with the new Western Australian Curriculum Framework, especially with respect to integration and connectivity across the learning areas and outcomes.

Development of the program

Following extensive discussions with Education Department officials over a nine month period, the decision was made to create a new postgraduate course that would: The Education Department advertised (in its publication School Matters of May 1999) that it would fund 100 teachers to complete the course, and provide each of these teachers with a laptop computer and appropriate software. In early June, it selected the 100 participants from an applicant pool of more than 300.

The purpose of the course

The purpose of the Graduate Certificate in Learning Technologies is to get all participants "up to speed" as competent, confident and professional users of personal computing hardware, software and networks. This will allow them to use these tools to: While the uses are different in each example, the skills required to accomplish these uses overlap considerably. At the conclusion of the Graduate Certificate program, teachers should be confident and competent users of IT in all of these areas.

Course goals

An overriding concern in the creation and delivery of the course has been to meet the needs of teachers with diverse background, IT skills, and teaching responsibilities. A TEE physics teacher, a middle school society and the environment teacher, and a pre-primary teacher clearly have different needs, as do the experienced Internet surfer and the novice. The traditional in-service, professional development, or university course -- which is paper based and linear -- has little hope of meeting such needs. A modular, interactive, non-linear multimedia course, provided on the World Wide Web and CD-ROM, can.

Course structure

Successful completion of the course leads to the award of a Graduate Certificate from Curtin University of Technology. Alternatively, the credits earned may be applied towards a Postgraduate Diploma, Masters, or professional doctorate.

The two semester sequence "Technology for Teachers"

Technology for Teachers is a pair of new subjects developed specifically for this program. Technology for Teachers is presented via both the World Wide Web and on a CD-ROM; no campus attendance is required. By presenting via networked multimedia, we can accommodate a much wider range of backgrounds and interests; no two teachers will follow exactly the same "path" through the subject. The subject includes: The recommended length of this sequence is two full semesters; however, some students finish sooner, and some require additional time to complete the subject.

There are nine modules in the Technology for Teachers units. They cover the role of learning technologies, case histories, traditional vs. constructivist classrooms, teacher productivity tools, effective teaching and learning in the one-computer classroom, evaluation of educational software, effective use of the WWW, and social impacts of IT.

All students also select (at least) one specialist "stream" to pursue in detail during the past six weeks of the subject. Options include:

Concurrent with their study of the core modules, students: Formal assessment is continuous, and includes: There is no formal written examination.

The follow on subject "Technology in the Classroom"

The subject "Technology in the Classroom" follows "Technology for Teachers", and involves each teacher applying the skills, concepts and methodologies learned in "Technology for Teachers" in their own classrooms over one or two terms. The Technology for Teachers sequence must be completed successfully before this final subject is started.

Technology in the Classroom provides teachers with the supported opportunity to design, implement and evaluate the use of IT, multimedia and the Internet in their own classrooms -- to plan, to try out, the find out what works and what doesn't work, and what can be done better next time. Technology in the Classroom lets teachers put into practice what they learned in Technology for Teachers. Teachers may also pursue some further study in their Technology for Teachers "stream", if desired.

In order to help teachers further with this important task of applying skills in the classroom, each teacher will explore, via a WWW and CD-ROM module, (at least) one of the following technology related educational research areas:

Each teacher thus has the opportunity to work with SMEC/Key Centre staff members who are internationally known for their particular areas of research. Formal assessment for "Technology in the Classroom" will include a teaching plan laying out how technology will be utilised to enhance learning opportunities and student outcomes, and the construction and submission of a teaching portfolio. There is no formal written examination. The planning and delivery of these technology enhanced lessons, experiments and/or projects is done in close cooperation with their colleagues enrolled in the course and with SMEC/Key Centre staff.

The recommended length of the subject is one semester; however, some teachers may well be able to complete it in less time, and some may require longer.

Other resources provided

In additional to receiving personal accounts on the course WWW site, and all course materials on CD-ROMs, all teachers also receive:

Results and feedback to date

The one hundred Education Department supported teachers started in program in June 1999. Most will complete the Technology for Teachers sequence early in 2000.

Since June, an additional seventy teachers have joined the program; some are from Catholic and independent schools, some are self funded teachers in the public system, and some are from the eastern states and overseas. We anticipate up to 500 additional teachers starting the course in 2000.

Progress

None of the one hundred Education Department funded has dropped out of the course (two self funded teachers did withdraw). Approximately 75 percent are "on target" with respect to modules covered and assessment submitted; the remainder anticipate catching up over the summer holidays.

Our gravest concerns in presenting such a course exclusively via the WWW and CD-ROMs, with no face to face contact, were student isolation, lack of discussion / exchange of ideas, lack of timely feedback, and teachers getting stuck in technical quagmires [My widget won't work and I don't know how to fix it...]

Thanks to the course bulletin board, email and chat room facilities, nothing could be further from the truth!

More than 5000 bulletin board messages have been posted since June in more than 20 different fora; the teaching staff would receive perhaps seventy email / telephone messages on a typical day. [The phones / email / bulletin board are staffed by one of us from approx. 8 am-midnight Monday through Friday, and Saturday and Sunday evenings.] Most teachers report that we have been able to "solve" their problems in less than four hours. The vast majority report that the interaction with teaching staff and others students is much better than in any other mode of study that they have ever undertaken!

Feedback

A small sample of unsolicited feedback to date (December 1999) includes:

Impacts on teachers use of learning technologies in their own classrooms

In September, an Education Department official, who is also a student in the course, posted a request on the course bulletin board, asking if students were "really able to apply, in their own classrooms, what they were learning in the course".

She received a large number of replies over the next two weeks, and they were all extremely favourable. Sample comments are included in a longer version of this paper available at [http://www.curtin.edu.au/curtin/dept/smec/gc/longer_paper.html]

One of the students, Rosemary Horton, is a teacher librarian at Trinity College in Perth. She wrote a short article on the course for the Catholic Education Office's TechTalk magazine (November 1999), which is available at [http://www.curtin.edu.au/curtin/dept/smec/gc/trinity.html]

By the way, NO negative comments or feedback have been received to date.

Three lessons learnt to date

Firstly, we envisaged the course as being taught via the WWW; providing all course materials on CD-ROM was almost an afterthought. We have learned that the CD-ROM is invaluable, especially for those in remote areas where WWW access is slow, unreliable and/or expensive. Many students study primarily from the CD-ROM, and go online only when they need to access other WWW sites.

Secondly, while we appreciated that developing such a course from scratch, and trouble shooting the problems of 170 remote teachers, would be time consuming, we did not appreciate just HOW time consuming it would be! This has proved to be a HUGE undertaking.

Thirdly, we have been overwhelmed by the encouragement, positive feedback, and word of mouth recommendations from the participating teachers. Clearly most prefer this approach to any other form of on campus or distant study available.

The future

Because of the encouragement from current students, would be students and the Education Department, we will offer a "short version" of the course (one semester) in 2000. Incentives include: We suspect there is a huge untapped audience for this course, in both the eastern states and overseas. Three North American universities have already approached us regarding their offering a "mirror site" for the course at their institutions.

Acknowledgements

I am very pleased to thank the participating teaching staff, including Jeff Watkins, Sue Trinidad, James Gwinnett and Ian Gaynor, as well as the overwhelming support I've received from the Education Department of WA, SMEC Director Professor Barry Fraser, and especially the participating students.

Please cite as: Kessell, S. R. (2000). Teaching learning technologies to K-12 teachers. In A. Herrmann and M.M. Kulski (Eds), Flexible Futures in Tertiary Teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 2-4 February 2000. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2000/kessell.html


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