Teaching: Prepare and Connect
Goal: Professional educators will be supported individually and in teams by technology that connects them to data, content, resources, expertise, and learning experiences that can empower and inspire them to provide more effective teaching for all learners.
Teaching today is practiced mostly in isolation. Many educators work alone, with little interaction with professional colleagues or experts in the outside world. Professional development typically is provided in short, fragmented, and episodic workshops that offer little opportunity to integrate learning into practice. A classroom educator's primary job is understood to be covering the assigned content and ensuring that students test well. Many educators do not have the information, the time, or the incentives to continuously improve their professional practice from year to year.
Not surprisingly, half of freshly minted teachers leave the profession within the first five years (Ingersoll and Smith 2003). These conditions exist because our education system and the institutions that prepare educators often fail to give educators the tools to do their job well. Our education system holds educators responsible for student achievement but does support them with the latest technology the way professionals in other fields are supported. Although some preservice programs are using technology in innovative ways (Gomez et al. 2008), widespread agreement exists that teachers by and large are not well prepared to use technology in their practice (Kay 2006). As a result, the technology of everyday life has moved well beyond what educators are taught to and regularly use to support student learning.
Meanwhile, policymakers and education leaders point to a lack of effective teaching and the need for greater accountability among teachers as the key to fixing education in America. Although the expectation of effective teaching and accountability for professional educators is a critical component of transforming our education system, we also need to recognize that we must strengthen and elevate the teaching profession. This is necessary to attract and retain the most effective educators and achieve the learning outcomes we seek for all learners.
Just as leveraging technology can help us improve learning and assessment, technology can help us better prepare effective educators and increase their competencies throughout their careers while building the capacity of our education system to deliver effective teaching. Technology can do this by enabling a shift to a new model of connected teaching.
The Practice of Connected Teaching
In connected teaching, classroom educators are fully instrumented, with 24/7 access to data about student learning and analytic tools that help them act on the insights the data provide. They are connected to their students and to professional content, resources, and systems that empower them to create, manage, and assess engaging and relevant learning experiences for students both in and out of school. They also are connected to resources and expertise that improve their own instructional practices, continually add to their competencies and expertise, and guide them in becoming facilitators and collaborators in their students' increasingly self-directed learning (Figure 3). Like students in the learning model described earlier, teachers engage in personal learning networks that support their own learning and their ability to serve their students well.
Figure 3. Connected Teaching Builds New Competencies and Expertise
In addition, as learning environments become more complex, connected teaching supports educators in managing the multiple dimensions of curricular instruction. Commercially available and open-source learning management systems are already used widely in universities, and their use is expanding in K–12 settings. Such tools allow educators to coordinate course materials, syllabi, assignments, discussions, and more in a central location for students.
Teachers at George J. Ryan Junior High School in Queens, N.Y., for example, saw improved literacy outcomes in their first year of using an online writing workshop environment. The environment creates virtual classrooms in which educators and students can interact in new ways with course content and with one another. It features a room where students can post writing samples, hold discussions, and find animated content objects linked to quiz data, feedback, and grading. Face-to-face training provided to educators ensured that they could use the environment effectively.
Other online environments also allow broader participation in a student's learning. School administrators can join virtual classrooms for a window on the progress of a given class. Parents or members of other partner institutions can log in for a virtual tour through a class project or contribute materials to the environment.
In connected teaching, individual educators also create their own online learning communities consisting of their students and their students' peers; fellow educators in their schools, libraries, and after-school programs; professional experts in various disciplines around the world; members of community organizations that serve students in the hours they are not in school; and parents who desire greater participation in their children's education.
Episodic and ineffective professional development is replaced by professional learning that is collaborative, coherent, and continuous and that blends more effective in-person courses and workshops with the expanded opportunities, immediacy, and convenience enabled by online learning. For their part, the colleges of education and other institutions that prepare teachers play an ongoing role in the professional growth of their graduates by partnering with schools and organizations that provide engaging and relevant learning experiences throughout the entire course of their careers.
Connected teaching also enables our education system to augment the expertise and competencies of specialized and exceptional educators through online learning systems, online courses, and other self-directed learning opportunities, providing effective teaching where it is not otherwise available.
Connecting With Students to Personalize and Motivate Learning
Connected teaching offers a vast array of opportunities to personalize learning. Many simulations and models for use in science, history, and other subject areas are now available online, including immersive virtual and augmented reality environments that encourage students to explore and make meaning in complex simulated situations (Dede 2009). To deeply engage their students, educators need to know about their students' goals and interests and have knowledge of learning resources and systems that can help students plan sets of learning experiences that are personally meaningful. For a more extensive discussion of personalized learning, see the Learning section of this plan.
Although using technology to personalize learning is a boost to effective teaching, teaching is fundamentally a social and emotional enterprise. The most effective educators connect to young people's developing social and emotional core (Ladson-Billings 2009; Villegas and Lucas 2002) by offering opportunities for creativity and self-expression. Technology provides an assist here as well.
Digital authoring tools for creating multimedia projects and online communities for sharing them with the world offer students outlets for social and emotional connections with educators, peers, communities, and the world at large. Educators can encourage students to do this within the context of learning activities, gaining further insights into what motivates and engages students—information they can use to encourage students to stay in school.
Connecting to Content, Expertise, and Activities Through Online Communities
Many of the technology-based learning resources available today prompt learners to engage with advanced content and authentic activities, which are facilitated when educators orchestrate access to content, experts, and activities of many kinds through online learning communities.
Online learning communities break through educators' traditional isolation, enabling them to collaborate with their peers and leverage world-class experts to improve student learning. Online learning communities also permit the coordination of teams of educators within a school, between a school and homes, and among schools, museums, community centers, and other settings that can support a student's learning. Educators are no longer limited by where they teach or where they lead, nor are they required to deliver teaching as solo practitioners.
For example, through an online learning community, an educator can bring guest speakers located anywhere in the world into student learning. The class can watch the speaker and interact live while the speaker delivers a lecture, demonstrates a scientific experiment or a musical technique, or leads a guided virtual tour of a museum exhibit. A recording of the event can be archived for later viewing or uploaded to a website that hosts free educational content. (For an example of an online learning community built around deep content expertise, see the sidebar on connected teaching in K–12 mathematics.)
Connected Teaching in K–12 Mathematics
The Math Forum (http://mathforum.org) is an online community that supports a connected teaching approach to improving K–12 mathematics education. The Math Forum, based at Drexel University's School of Education, receives between 2 million and 3 million online visits per month.
For educators, the Math Forum website provides valuable instructional resources, including Math Tools, a searchable community library of interactive lessons, activities, and support materials. Educators also can consult a library of articles on current issues in mathematics education and discuss challenges in online forums (Teacher2Teacher). Educators pose questions, which are answered by program associates, who then post the thread for public comment.
Parents can find information about math summer camps and get help explaining concepts. Students can send letters to Dr. Math; between 200 and 300 trained experts are behind the collective identity of Dr. Math.
Problem of the Week, a particularly popular feature on the site, is a subscription-based service. Students around the world submit answers online to the Problem of the Week, annotating their answers with step-by-step explanations. Expert mentors then reply to the submissions, guiding students if necessary to find the right answer.
Math Forum also has been used to support preservice teacher education. In 2004, for example, preservice teachers in two education programs in Oregon used Math Forum's Problem of the Week to practice responding productively to assignments submitted by middle school students. As preservice teachers practiced giving constructive feedback to students, mentors provided guidance and support to improve the feedback. Through this hands-on experience, the preservice teachers learned what kinds of feedback most effectively guided students to the correct answers.
Growth of such online learning communities that foster deep expertise has been limited because they exist outside the formal structure of funding and certifying educator learning. So even though participating in Math Forum may be better for educators than most of the other professional learning experiences they are offered, time spent using online resources like Math Forum does not relieve them of their obligations to attend other programs to meet district and state requirements.
The principle that learning outcomes are more important than where and when the learning takes place should be applied to educator learning just as it should to student learning.
Connecting to Serve the Underserved
Unfortunately, we do not have enough effective educators in many places, including those where we need them most. The shortage of effective educators is especially evident in the STEM areas that are vital to our economic prosperity. A prime example is high school physics: More than 1 million high school students take a physics course each year. Of the educators hired to instruct them, only a third hold a degree in physics or physics education. Many of the other educators who are asked to teach physics (usually in addition to other subjects) have not been trained in how to teach physics concepts and might have limited understanding of those concepts themselves (Hodapp, Hehn, and Hein 2009).
Moreover, the least effective educators are most likely to be teaching in schools serving students from homes that are economically and educationally disadvantaged. Limited access to excellent teaching is a source of inequity in our education system (Darling-Hammond 2010). A recent study found that students in urban and suburban high schools can choose from between three and four times as many advanced mathematics courses (which typically earn extra credit in the college admission process) as students in rural schools (Graham 2009).
Connected teaching can make it possible to extend the reach of specialized and exceptional educators through online learning activities made available to students in every zip code. When a school is unable to attract educators qualified to teach courses that its students need or want, students should be given the option of taking the course online. Many schools have found that K–12 students taking online courses benefit from having an educator on site who keeps track of their progress and provides encouragement, however, that staff member does not need the depth of content expertise of a person solely responsible for teaching a class.
Preparing New Educators and Ongoing Professional Learning
Technology is a powerful enabler of 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 preservice teacher preparation programs.
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 colleges of education and postsecondary institutions generally to draw from advances in learning science and technology to change what and how they teach when they prepare teachers, keeping in mind that everything we now know about how people learn applies to new teachers as well. (See sidebar on integrating technology into teacher preparation.)
Integrating Technology Into Teacher Preparation
The UTeach program at the University of Texas at Austin is designed to bring more mathematics and science majors into teaching. Participants enter the program in their junior year and graduate with both a bachelor's degree in a STEM field and a teaching certificate. UTeach interweaves technology throughout its course and practicum offerings. Early in their course work, UTeach preservice teachers use technology to find information and to communicate with their professors and with each other. They post lesson plans online and take online assessments. More advanced courses build on these experiences and involve the instructional use of technology within the content areas the preservice teachers will teach. UTeach preservice teachers have multiple opportunities to use technology with students in the field both before and during student teaching.
A different kind of example comes from the alternative teacher certification program at Northwestern University. Northwestern's program uses video and computer technology to capture classroom interactions during interns' summer teaching placements. Peers, mentor teachers, and university faculty review video excerpts with the teaching interns, providing analyses of the teaching and learning and helping to scaffold reflective discourse about classroom practice. In this way, technology helps teaching interns make connections between the language and concepts of the teacher education program and the real practice that occurs in classrooms.
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 workweek for professional learning than 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 et al. 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 provide continuous supports through models of educator learning that blend face-to-face and online experiences. Technology-supported informal learning communities can connect teachers to university experts in content domains and in pedagogy.
Connecting With Exemplary Practices
Technology can support professional learning by making the practices of exemplary educators accessible to other educators (Fishman 2007; Richardson and Kile 1999). With today's video-sharing tools, for example, outstanding demonstrations of teaching practice can be captured and annotated. Educators can view and analyze their practice and then innovate and customize new ways to refine their craft in light of new insights. Resources such as Teachers.tv can be used to make the act of teaching visible, helping the entire community better understand effective teaching practices. (See sidebar on Teachers.tv.)
Teachers.tv is a collection of multimedia resources developed and disseminated in the United Kingdom with the mission of spreading best practices in education as broadly as possible among the entire community involved in student learning—not only those who work in schools, but also parents and district leaders.
The station's programming is available through a variety of media platforms. It is broadcast via Internet all day, everyday and via traditional television for a few hours per day on several stations. Once a program has been broadcast, the content is archived on the site in a searchable library of downloadable videos. Links to the videos can be found on a number of frequently used websites, including that of the Guardian newspaper and both YouTube and iTunes.
Programs ranging in length from 15 minutes to one hour target different members of the educational community. For example, broadcast content in the first week of December 2009 included programs on teaching math, English, and science concepts at the primary or secondary level, a program on effective uses of assessment, a program for district leaders on special needs students, and general-audience programs on Asperger's syndrome, healthy eating, and youth and crime.
Teachers.tv seeks to show, not just tell, how and why best practices work. The regularly scheduled programs "Classroom Observation" and "Great Lesson Ideas" show K–12 teachers' best practice modeled by first-rate teachers in the context of actual classroom instruction. Similarly, a program on special needs students takes viewers inside schools that have been serving that population exceptionally well.
On the Teachers.tv website, users can log in to a community portal where they can find and store the content most relevant for them and discuss their practices with other educators. Teachers also can become "associates" of the station, serving as liaisons between schools and parents and the station. The associates offer suggestions for topics and give first feedback on content.
Connecting With Other Professionals
More than two decades of research has demonstrated the importance of collaboration among teachers. When teachers make their work public and examine each other's work, the quality of their practice and student outcomes improve (Lieberman and Pointer Mace 2010). Social networking technology provides a platform for making teachers' work public, with opportunities for both local and global communities of practice.
Communities of practice provide a strong mechanism for promoting ongoing growth from novice preservice educators through expert master educators and offer opportunities for the engagement of a broad range of participants from outside formal education (Wenger, White, and Smith 2009). Successful learning circles also can bring together educators and students to deepen learning (Riel 1992).
PBS TeacherLine is one example of an online system that engages teachers in collaboration and builds professional community. PBS TeacherLine, long a provider of online courses for teachers, is now focusing on making online courses more interactive to help educators build their own communities of practice. Online courses of 15 or 30 hours are designed as interactive environments in which an expert facilitator communicates best practice approaches and helps educators share ideas. Educators in a course share resources by creating digital portfolios and participating in facilitated discussions.
The Department of Education also is acknowledging the need for communities of practice for educators by funding design research on online communities of practice to learn more about what types of content and interactions will compel people to participate and will provide useful supports for professional educators. This project also includes the development of at least six online communities to leverage the use of educational technology to improve teaching, assessment, learning, and infrastructure in schools. Communities of practice funded by the Department will scaffold best practices, ensuring teachers are highly effective and connected to data, resources, content, and expertise.
Career-long Personal Learning Networks
A transformative idea in the preparation and professional learning of educators and education leaders is to leverage technology to create career-long personal learning networks within and across schools, preservice preparation and in-service educational institutions, and professional organizations. The goal of these career-long personal learning networks would be to make professional learning timely and relevant as well as an ongoing activity that continually improves practices. These networks and other resources would enable educators to take online courses, tap into experts and best practices for just-in-time learning and problem solving, and provide platforms and tools for educators to design and develop resources and share them with their colleagues.
As we move into an era when colleges of education will be held accountable for the effectiveness of their graduates, these institutions can use personal learning networks to provide ongoing support once their graduates enter the workforce. An example of this is TFANet, a website provided by Teach for America (TFA) for all its new educators. TFANet offers valuable resources for educators and opportunities for TFA teachers to connect and share ideas. This resource exchange also enables TFA teachers and alumni to share, rate, and download successful lesson and unit plans, data-tracking tools, and classroom management strategies.
Using technology in these ways for ongoing professional learning for educators will require rethinking the use of time-based measures of attainment rather than competency-based measures. Strictly time-based measures do not allow professional educators to take advantage of the many new opportunities that online learning offers by being able to transcend time and space.
Growing Demand for Skilled Online Instruction
As online learning becomes an increasingly important part of our education system at all levels, this creates both the need and opportunity for educators who are skilled in online instruction and the demand for greater knowledge of the most effective practices. As we implement online learning, we should make sure that students' learning experiences address the full range of expertise and competencies as reflected in standards and use meaningful assessments of the target competencies. Crucial to filling this need while ensuring effective teaching are appropriate standards for online courses and teaching, and a new way of approaching online teacher certification that functions across state lines.
Closing the Technology Gap in Teaching
The technology that enables connected teaching is available now, but not all the conditions necessary to leverage it are. Many of our existing educators do not have the same understanding of and ease with using technology that is part of the daily lives of professionals in other sectors and with this generation of students. The same can be said of many of the education leaders and policymakers in schools, districts, and states and of the higher education institutions that prepare new educators for the field.
This gap in technology understanding influences program and curriculum development, funding and purchase decisions about educational and information technology in schools, and preservice and in-service professional learning. Too often, this gap prevents technology from being used in ways that would improve instructional practices and learning outcomes.
Still, we must introduce connected teaching into our education system rapidly, and for that we must rely on the organizations that support educators in their profession—schools and districts, colleges of education, professional learning providers, librarians and media specialists, and professional organizations. We also must call on education leaders and policymakers to remove barriers to connected teaching and provide incentives and recognition for educators who demonstrate effective teaching in a connected model.
Reaching our Goal
Professional educators will be supported individually and in teams by technology that connects them to data, content, resources, expertise, and learning experiences that enable and inspire more effective teaching for all learners.
To meet this goal, we recommend the following actions:
3.1 Expand opportunities for educators to have access to technology-based content, resources, and tools where and when they need them.
Today's technology enables educators to tap into resources and orchestrate expertise across a school district or university, a state, the nation, and even around the world. Educators can discuss solutions to problems and exchange information about best practices in minutes, not weeks or months. Today's educators should have access to technology-based resources that inspire them to provide more engaging and effective learning opportunities for each and every student.
3.2 Leverage social networking technologies and platforms to create communities of practice that provide career-long personal learning opportunities for educators within and across schools, preservice preparation and in-service educational institutions, and professional organizations.
Social networks can be used to provide educators with career-long personal learning tools and resources that make professional learning timely and relevant as well as an ongoing activity that continually improves practice and evolves their skills over time. Online communities should enable educators to take online courses, tap into experts and best practices for just-in-time problem solving, and provide platforms and tools for educators to design and develop resources with and for their colleagues.
3.3 Use technology to provide all learners with online access to effective teaching and better learning opportunities and options in places where they are not otherwise available and in blended (online and offline) learning environments.
Many education institutions, particularly those serving the most vulnerable students and those in rural areas, lack educators with competencies in reaching students with special needs and educators with content knowledge and expertise in specialized areas, including STEM. Even in areas where effective teaching is available, students often lack options for high-quality courses in particular disciplines or opportunities for learning that prepare them for the modern world. Online learning options should be provided to enable leveraging the best teaching and make high-quality course options available to all learners.
3.4 Provide preservice and in-service educators with professional learning experiences powered by technology to increase their digital literacy and enable them to create compelling assignments for students that improve learning, assessment, and instructional practices.
Just as technology helps us engage and motivate students to learn, technology should be used in the preparation and ongoing learning of educators to engage and motivate them in what and how they teach. This will require synthesizing core principles and adopting best practices for the use of technology in preparing educators. Technology also should be an integral component of teaching methods courses, and field experiences rather than treated as a discrete skill distinct from pedagogical application.
As online learning becomes an increasingly important part of our education system, we need to provide online and blended learning experiences that are more participatory and personalized and that embody best practices for engaging all students. This creates both the need and opportunity for educators who are skilled in instructional design combined with knowledge of emerging technologies. Crucial to filling this need while ensuring effective teaching are appropriate standards for online courses and teaching and a new way of approaching online teacher certification.