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Preparing New Teachers for Digital Age Students

What must be done to ensure that college education programs produce new teachers who meet the needs of today’s students? In this post we address the issue and offer some possible solutions.

The lack of adequate teacher preparation is one of the biggest challenges facing K-12 schools that want to move to technology-enhanced instructional models. While most districts continue to seek new and better ways to provide instructional technology professional development to their teachers, competing demands make it difficult to prioritize teachers’ time for this work, which means it often gets insufficient attention.  

A commonly held belief is that schools’ technology integration issues are generational and that younger teachers — those raised with digital technology— will have the inherent proficiencies to seamlessly weave technology-enhanced instruction into their classrooms. Unfortunately that’s not proving to be true. Though these younger teachers are more digitally skilled in their personal lives and are likely more adept at using tech-based administrative tools, they aren’t necessarily any better than their older colleagues in developing students’ essential digital age skills.

So, yes, school districts must continue to develop and offer high quality technology-infused professional development. And yes, they must work to better prioritize time for their teachers’ participation in these offerings. But shouldn’t school districts expect (and rightfully so) that new teachers, fresh out of teacher education programs, come prepared to teach with technology? In this new era, shouldn’t digital age skills be an integral part of teachers’ preservice programs? I say an emphatic “yes” to that too. But much remains to be done.

My personal experience, corroborated by research, shows that most teacher education programs don’t adequately address the instructional technology needs of preservice teachers. Teacher colleges’ reasons for this are many, but they echo similar issues as those in our K-12 schools:

  • Teacher education programs exist in silos. Preservice math teachers focus on math pedagogy, science teachers focus on science pedagogy, etc., and significant technology integration within each of these disciplines remains scarce.
  • A sizeable number of professors in schools of education never taught in K-12 classrooms where technology was infused in daily instruction. As a result, they’re challenged in preparing their preservice teachers to do so.   
  • Instructional technology courses are taught in isolation and usually only as a general methods course. And given the credit demands of preservice teachers’ majors (often driven by state requirements), a technology methods course may not even be required.
  • Teacher education programs often don’t view their role as driving change in K-12 schools, but instead, they slowly react to the needs and demands of the K-12 teacher market.
So what’s to be done? If preservice teacher education programs continue to inadequately prepare their students to teach in digital era classrooms, and school districts can’t effectively catch these teachers up when they’re hired into their schools, how are we going to have a workforce of teachers ready to fully address the new essential skills of their students? There are no easy answers here, but the stakes are high and serious attention is needed. So here’s a start for what I believe must be done:

  • Colleges must alter their teacher education programs so that instructional technology is no longer just covered in a methods course, but instead woven into each course in a student’s major.  
  • Professors within teacher education programs must be given the necessary support and impetus to retool themselves to train preservice teachers who can embody and teach these new essential digital skills.
  • Education schools should have fully-equipped learning labs that provide hands-on experiences in using a wide range of digital tools, maker space equipment, gaming resources, 3-D printing and the like.
  • School districts should partner with their local and in-state teacher education programs to cooperatively develop essential digital skills courses for both preservice and in-service teachers.
  • And when necessary, school districts should join together and make vocal their expectations to their state departments of education and their higher ed counterparts about producing new teachers ready to meet the needs of our digital era students.