Can technology integration be taught?

This article from the Hechinger Report provides a somewhat sobering look at the state of technology integration in teacher preparation programs. Unfortunately, our teacher education programs have not kept up with the technological savviness of their students. Many years ago, when technology was first introduced into schools, there was an emphasis on teaching teachers (and preservice teachers, which I was at the time) how to use the tools themselves. The prevailing thinking was that teachers who knew how to use the tools would use them effectively with their students. We have now been proven wrong. As the tech-savvy millennials exit our universities and become teachers themselves, we are finding that their personal technology use does not translate into classroom technology use. We then look to universities to fill this gap.

I personally took two technology classes in my teacher preparation program in the early 90s. One of them happened in a classroom with little access to computers. The second was rather cutting edge at the time, taking place in a computer lab and providing some classroom-based examples of using technology in learning environments. Unfortunately, this amount of coursework related to educational technology is probably even rarer now than it was then.

In the HR article, teacher educators point to increased state-mandated requirements focused on reading and math instruction and a lack of national or state requirements with respect to educational technology as the reason that the topic gets shortchanged in teacher education programs. For example, Ball State, which is cited in the article, does not require any coursework in technology integration. Syracuse University, where I was a graduate student and teaching assistant, requires 3 credits of coursework in technology integration for students majoring in early childhood, elementary, or physical education. No other education majors have this requirement. Ideally, I believe, technology would be integrated into other methods courses rather than taught in isolation. Unfortunately, those who teach these methods courses would likely need a technology integration course of their own in order for this to happen.

A technology-using educator in the Hechinger article actually stated that while many student teachers did want to learn to effectively integrate technology, “You really can’t teach it.” This, thankfully, based on much research in the field (and research which I conducted myself), is simply not true. One of the most effective methods for teaching technology integration seems to be a design-based approach. A design-based approach focuses on working in collaborative teams to solve real-world problems using technology. This instructional approach has been found to have a positive impact on preservice teachers’ technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK). My research found no impact on preservice teachers’ self-reported TPACK, but significant differences in TPACK as evidenced in lesson plans between preservice teachers who were taught using a design-based approach and those who received more traditional technology integration instruction.

Interested in looking more closely at TPACK in preservice teacher education? I strongly recommend exploring the work of Mishra & Koehler out of Michigan State, as well as Harris & Hofer out of the College of William & Mary. While not as distinguished as these colleagues, you can also look at my dissertation, available for free online from the Syracuse University Library.