(TNS) -- In December, the U.S. Department of Education released the fifth iteration of its National Education Technology Plan, a sweeping vision of how technology should be used in schools. The plan criticizes the current state of teacher-preparation programs, saying that across the board, they are failing to prepare teachers to use technology effectively. Instead of a stand-alone course on educational technology, the report said, programs should incorporate educational technology in all courses. New teachers should be ready from day one to select and use apps and tools that support their states' learning standards, department officials decreed.
If teacher-prep programs have generally been behind the digital curve, however, several education schools have taken deliberate steps in recent years to better integrate technology into their curricula and cultures. Here are some examples.
In 2006, the faculty at Saint Leo University's school of education noticed that for the second year in a row, alumni were marking technology in the classroom as an area in which they were ill-prepared after graduating. Technology, the school's leaders decided, must become a keystone of the teacher-prep program.
Now, every methods course embeds educational technology, and the school has two fully modernized teaching classrooms, complete with interactive whiteboards, iPads, document cameras, and other digital-learning tools.
In addition, Saint Leo students can receive a backpack of digital tools to take with them on their student-teaching assignments. The backpacks include iPads, a MimioTeach interactive-whiteboard device, and an LCD projector.
Faculty members are also being asked to expand their use of instructional technology, said Candace Roberts, the chairwoman of the education department.
"If you're going to be a teacher of teachers, you want to show them that you're always learning," she said. "Our students are going to struggle with the very same thing: 'Do I really want to take a risk in front of my students if I'm not positive it's going to go perfectly?' "
Roberts said the department sends faculty members to conferences to stay abreast of cutting-edge technology. The school's newest tech addition is Google Glass, which professors and students are using to experiment with bringing virtual reality to the classroom.
About five years ago, the University of Michigan's education school revamped its curriculum to give it a stronger technology component.
The school incorporated the International Society for Technology in Education's five Standards for Teachers into the curriculum, aligning them with standards from the Partnership for 21st-Century Skills, a framework that prioritizes technology and problem-solving skills. And instead of a one-credit-hour, three-week module on educational technology, students now take an ed-tech course every semester in which they learn theories and have a clinical component to practice skills.
"Instead of having a quick avalanche of teaching with technology, they get a nice, slow marinate," said Liz Kolb, a clinical assistant professor.
The curriculum focuses more on big-picture application than on specific tools. "We found that the teachers learned how to use tools quickly, but they didn't know what was an effective and ineffective use of the tools to meet learning goals," Kolb said.
The school has also devised a framework for students to measure how to use the technology "in a way that makes sense for your learners," she said.
Kolb said the changes in the curriculum have prepared some alumni to work as tech specialists or in blended-learning classrooms.
Last fall, the Dominican University of California's teacher-preparation program underwent a transformation aimed at better training its students in ed tech.
"We realized that the K-12 schools, in many ways, are ahead of higher ed. in terms of instructional technology," said Elizabeth Truesdell, an associate professor at the school.
The education school implemented a 1-to-1 iPad program with the high school teacher-candidates this year. Aspiring teachers learned how to use the tablets for lesson planning, flipped-classroom instruction, and communication with students.
Ten faculty members received iPads to integrate applications into their own courses.
By the 2017 spring semester, officials hope to expand the iPad program to multiple-subject and special education teacher-candidates.
The school is now looking to provide tech-oriented PD to teachers already in schools, particularly those in lower-income schools.
To create an example unit on heart health for high schoolers, an aspiring teacher at Clemson Universityteamed up with a classmate studying health care. Together, they printed a 3-D heart and made a lesson plan about the physical and economic impact of being heart healthy by using Google Apps for Education.
That type of digitally-oriented interdisciplinary project has become a cornerstone of the revamped Clemson teacher-preparation program, according to officials there.
In 2013, the university decided to make the curriculum more technologically rigorous, said Danielle Herro, an assistant professor of digital media and learning.
Preservice teachers now must take a course on the foundations of digital media and learning that addresses topics like maker spaces, games and learning, and using social media. In 2014-15, the school added a unit on STEAM education—science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics—to encourage a transdisciplinary approach to address real-world problems. The class is open to students of all majors.
Clemson's education school also has digital labs that feature iPads, podcasting equipment, a fully stocked gaming room, maker space equipment, a 3-D printer, and beginner invention kits that utilize electrical circuits.
Forty years ago, Teachers College, Columbia University, launched a program that is thought to be the first educational technology graduate program in the world.
In the spring of 2014, Teachers College changed the program's name from the Communication, Computing, and Technology in Education Program to the Communication, Media, and Learning Technologies Design Program to reflect how it has evolved, said Lalitha Vasudevan, an associate professor and the program coordinator.
The program's goal is now both to prepare students to use and create digital tools to advance learning and to play a role in driving the conversation of how education can incorporate innovative technology.
The college also started a master's degree program in the design and development of digital games.
Teacher-prep programs tend to condition preservice teachers to be users of technology, Vasudevan said. "We make opportunities for graduate students to take on roles as designers and creators, in addition to users."
Coverage of trends in K-12 innovation and efforts to put these new ideas and approaches into practice in schools, districts, and classrooms is supported in part by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York at www.carnegie.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
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