Teaching teachers for the future

The following is a bit of a summary and initial reflection on the Teaching teachers for the future project that is currently underway in Australia as part of the Australian Government’s Digital Education Revolution (DER). The project

will ensure future teachers can provide every Australian student with the best learning opportunities in an increasingly online world.

. This article gets a little more specific when it says

As its name suggests, the Teaching teachers project ultimately aims to enhance and support the way pre-service teachers are taught at universities, making sure that ICT is incorporated in education curriculums at all higher education institutions.

I’m looking at the DER as part of an assignment for a course that is part of the pre-service teacher education I’m currently engaging in. As someone who is going to be teaching next year (I hope), I’m interested in what the DER and the TTF project are trying to achieve. In particular, I’m wondering whether it will work or be yet another failed large-scale project around technology integration. As I am, by nature, a pessimist/realist I am somewhat doubtful of its chances.

What will the TTF do?

This is based on the initial November 2010 announcement on the ALTC website, I do wonder how much has changed. It is meant to be a 18 month project. Ahh, but the ALTC’s involvement only lasts until the end of 2011 when it closes.

Oh dear, this is a bit funny. This article suggests that the ALTC’s role in this project is to

drive change and ensure the long-term sustainability of the project.

Given the same article suggests that ALTC closes at the end of 2011 – 6 months before the project finishes – what does this say about the long-term sustainability of the project?

With an initial focus on English, Mathematics, Science, and History (which, if I remember correctly, are the first subject areas being implemented in the new national curriculum) and involving a range of players from across the sector (ALTC, Council of Deans, AITSL, etc) – the number of project participants seems likely to increase potential challenges to success, as well as providing benefits – the project seems to be focussing on three components.

  1. Add explicit ICT dimensions to national graduate teacher standards.
    These standards have been released. These elaborations are essentially clarifications/expansions on the existing national graduate teacher standards that include mention of how ICTs help support/achieve those existing standards. For example, one standard is
    Demonstrate knowledge of teaching strategies that are responsive to the learning strengths and needs of students from diverse linguistic, cultural, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds.

    and the ICT elaboration is

    Demonstrate the ability to match digital resources and tools with teaching strategies in ways that are responsive to students’ diverse backgrounds

    I find myself troubled by this whole notion of standards and ICT elaborations. Partly this is to do with the notion of defined standards. While I recognise the need/purpose, I’m not sure of its efficacy in practice. I also wonder about what does “ability” mean in this context?

  2. Develop digital ICT resources for English, Maths, History, and Science.
    The description of this component includes
    a national collection of digital resources that provide pre-service teachers, teacher educators and teachers with rich professional learning and digital “anywhere, anytime” exemplar packages

    I understand the need for exemplars as a path for learners to appreciate and understand what is possible, but I do wonder how sustainable this is. Why are we building yet more resources, aren’t there enough already out on the web, in the learning federation? What happens 12 months after the project is complete and technology has moved on and the developed resources start to lose their currency?

  3. Establish a “National Network of ICT expertise” that will drive systemic change in ICT curriculum and pedagogy in Teacher education.
    This appears to involve getting expert ICT practitioners employed specifically within Education Departments to encourage the integration of ICT into courses.

    Mmm, how sustainable is this going to be. Will it change the capabilities of the academics already in universities that are responsible for the training of student teachers? If not, what happens when the seconded folk return to schools? How are you deemed to be an accomplished educator? Does being a teacher that is effective in using ICTs in teaching mean you are the best person to change ICT usage in pre-service teaching?

    A large constraint for these folk will be the existing support for ICTs within universities. At least some I’m aware of are focusing very much on cost-minimisation in terms of e-learning, and this doesn’t bode well for what I see as some of the aims of this project.

The bigger problem

Collins and Halverson (2009, p. 145) write

We are dealing with a mature, stable system of education designed to adapt to gradual change, but ill-suited to embrace radical change. The pace of technological change has outstripped the ability of school systems to adapt essential practices.

While they write about K-12 education, I see the same problems within universities and I wonder whether the above components of the TTF project will be sufficient to modify the mature, stable system of education within universities.

Especially given when the initial focus is on a subset of courses, rather than entire practice.

Of course the other more personal problems is that when/if these components are successful in changing teacher education, I’ll be a practicing teacher and won’t benefit from the change.

References

Collins, A., & Halverson, R. (2009). Rethinking education in the age of technology: The digital revolution and schooling in America. New York: Teachers College Press.

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3 thoughts on “Teaching teachers for the future

  1. Peter Albion

    It’s not so easy to find up to date material about TTF on the web at present. I’m not sure why that is but I suspect it is that most of those involved are busy trying to catch up to the ambitious timeline that was delayed by the need to get the project signed off before beginning.

    ALTC continue to provide some services while they exist but their role as lead agency has been picked up by Education Services Australia. The project was conceived by a group initiated by the Council of Deans of Education but it was thought safer to put the lead outside the university sector which struggles to know when to cooperate and when to compete – both are required by the political masters at different times.

    The ICT ‘elaborations’ to the graduate standards in component 1 have become ‘dimensions’ but are likely to see further refinement. There is some concern about trying to compartmentalise something that needs to be holistic. Time will tell how that proceeds.

    The first set of exemplars for component 2 will be up and available for trial in the next few weeks. Attempts were made to locate and use existing resources but suitable materials that had appropriate licensing were not found.

    In our case (USQ) we hope that the work being done by the experienced ICT educators will inform ongoing change to courses and assist teacher educators with getting up to speed.

    The project is ambitious but it is needed and it is opening up lines of communication across the sector. Some of those lines have existed for a long time but there were also pockets of isolation that may be opened up in this process. I’m hopeful that there will be lasting benefits.

    Reply
    1. davidtjones Post author

      G’day Peter,

      Thanks for taking the time to reply. I must agree with your observation about the difficulty of finding up to date information about the TTF online. I spent most of yesterday morning searching to find what I did.

      I take your point about people being busy actually working on the project, but it also makes me wonder if this might be a symptom of a deeper problem. It strikes me that there might be a potential disconnect between the TTF and its underlying assumptions and the nature of the “digital world” that the TTF and the DER more broadly are meant to be preparing teachers and students for.

      i.e. it’s arguable that if the TTF/DER “got” the “digital world”, then the projects would be actively engaged online in a range of places. That there would be a plethora of information about the TTF and its components freely and actively being constructed via various online communities. Instead, what I find tends to be completed press releases, publicity statements and research outputs.

      There aren’t any open blogs, wikis, twitter accounts etc that are showing the working of these projects and allowing interested, but not directly involved, folk to engage and comment. The closest I’ve gotten is a couple of blog posts from teachers who had been involved in some of the standards meetings. It’s this same lack of engagement with the “digital world” that seems to underpin much of the work of Education Services Australia in developing authoritative repositories.

      There seems to be a focus on generating best practice and standards, rather than engaging, interacting etc.

      Even with those reservations, it is a positive move to see such an interest in this area. It will at least get some folk talking. I hope it succeeds (at some level) in spite of my reservations.

      David.

  2. Pingback: Teaching teachers for the future | UOC UNESCO Chair in e-Learning Blog

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