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Preparing New Educators and Ongoing Professional Learning

Technology is a powerful enabler of 21st century learning, but educators still must teach. They must support their students’ engagement with technology resources for learning, highlighting the important subject matter content, pressing students for explanations and higher-order thinking, tracking their students’ progress, and encouraging their students to take more responsibility for learning. This requires deep transformations of teaching practices. These transformations must begin in the places where our education system is preparing new professionals: colleges of education and other teacher preparation institutions and organizations.

Young teachers are similar to their students in that they have grown up in a world where laptop computers, cell phones, and handheld gaming devices are commonplace, and homes are filled with computers, TVs, digital video recorders, and game consoles. They are as comfortable interacting with digital devices and accessing the Internet as their students are. Still, this does not mean they understand how to use the technology of their daily lives to improve their teaching practices. Helping them develop this understanding is the job of pre-service teacher preparation programs.

Today, however, there is tremendous variation in how new teachers are prepared and what they are being prepared to do with technology (Pellegrino, Goldman, Bertenthal, & Lawless, 2007). Although some pre-service programs are using technology in innovative ways (Gomez, Sherin, Griesdorn, & Finn, 2008), widespread agreement exists that teachers are by and large not well prepared to use technology in their practice (Kay, 2006).

The best way to prepare teachers for connected teaching is to have them experience it. All institutions involved in preparing educators should provide technology-supported learning experiences that promote and enable the use of technology to improve learning, assessment, and instructional practices. This will require teacher educators to draw from advances in learning science and technology to change what and how they teach, keeping in mind that everything we now know about how people learn applies to new teachers as well.

The same imperatives for teacher preparation apply to ongoing professional learning. Professional learning should support and develop educators’ identities as fluent users of advanced technology, creative and collaborative problem solvers, and adaptive, socially aware experts throughout their careers.

Research shows that U.S. teachers have less time in their work week for professional learning than do their counterparts in countries where students have the best performance on international examinations (Darling-Hammond, 2010). Increasing the time for our educators to engage in professional learning will require processes that cross time and space boundaries.

Educators can be engaged in professional learning not only when attending formal workshops or other activities outside the classroom, but also in the very act of teaching, which can offer a rich source of information to inform professional growth (Ancess, 2000; Borko, Mayfield, Marion, Flexer, & Cumbo, 1997; Kubitskey, 2006). When interwoven with daily activities, professional learning allows learning about techniques and materials for teaching that can be directly applied with students. In this process, providing continuous supports for examining, revising, and reflecting on instruction is essential to improving educator practices that affect student outcomes. Technology can help to provide continuous supports through models of educator learning that blend face-to-face and online experiences.

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