When it comes to education technology, the next generation of teachers is getting a steady supply of knowledge and practice. But like anything, technology must be integrated well to help students learn.
In today's teacher preparation programs, college professors balance technology with content and knowledge, focus on context, emphasize classroom practice and use appropriate technology tools for different tasks.
Here are some more details on these four key elements that make up today's digital teacher preparation programs -- programs that give students a chance to learn about and practice teaching in a supportive environment so that when they start teaching full-time, they're better prepared for the challenges that lie ahead:
While not all prep programs teach the Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge (TPACK) framework by name, they do teach the concepts it contains to their students. And that involves considering how technology tools, teaching methods and subject areas fit together to accomplish a teacher's objectives.
"Technology should not be used just for the sake of it's a whiz-bang thing, but it should be used very thoughtfully," said David A. Slykhuis, president-elect of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education, and associate professor of science education in the College of Education at James Madison University.
Students at James Madison University do take an education technology course. But throughout their methods, instructional and practicum courses, they learn how to mix technology, pedagogy and content. They also reflect on and explain why they used a particular technology tool and whether it made the lesson better.
Not every teacher will work in a school with state-of-the-art technology, and their departments will give them different educational priorities. That's why it's important to teach basic principles to teachers that they can apply wherever they end up.
"The context within which teachers are going to work is going to vary considerably from school to school, school system to school system, community to community," said John K. Lee, co-chair of the Teacher Education Council of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education, and associate professor of middle grades social studies in the College of Education at North Carolina State University. "So teachers have to be aware of that in their preparation so they know they can't use a one-size-fits-all approach to using technology."
Instead of using technology in isolation, teachers can integrate technology into tasks they already have to do, such as planning lessons around state standards and department schedules. In this era of high-stakes testing, teachers have to try to get the most out of their projects in the classroom.
"It's much more difficult to focus on a big technology project that doesn't connect with the curriculum standards and the focus within the department, so it's really critical that they think about integrating the use of technology," said Mark J. Hofer, associate professor of educational technology in the School of Education at the College of William & Mary.
Instead of waiting until students are seniors, some teacher prep programs take students into the classroom starting their freshman year. This helps them see a classroom from a teacher's perspective and understand how what they're learning at college could translate to the K-12 environment.
At North Carolina State, freshmen start observing classrooms and continue doing so throughout their time in the teacher prep program. They don't actually teach until their senior year, when they start a one-year placement that includes full-time student teaching in the second semester.
"We can create experiences for them on campus, but we're never going to be able to replicate the speed of real life," Lee said.
Once they're in real life, students have a chance to integrate technology into their classroom. But which tools do they use?
That depends on the task.
"PowerPoints have done more to set teaching back than any other piece of technology," Slykhuis said. "I think PowerPoint's fine for presenting information. But I don't want my pre-service teachers to be presenting information. I want my pre-service teachers to be engaging the students in the content, to have them doing things, to have them learning through inquiry, and PowerPoint does not work for that. That's not its intention."
A better tool for inquiry-based learning in science would be probeware, Slykhuis said. This tool allows students to analyze data and ask questions about the results. Instead of getting bogged down in the technical details of creating graphs and figuring out how to put tickmarks on a particular axis, the probeware generates graphs from the data they take in real time.
In the social studies area, cellphones work well for teaching students how to conduct historical research and think like historians, Lee said. Most students have cellphones that have good enough cameras to read what they take a picture of. And when they take a picture of printed letters or other material, they're learning how to digitize physical artifacts.
But cellphones would not be a good tool for a number of other tasks, such as giving a short presentation. In this case, the screen size would not be large enough for students to read.
"That's exactly what we want teachers to understand — that some technologies work in some places and they don't in other places.'