Educational Technology & Society 2(3) 1999
ISSN 1436-4522

Issues Related to Technology in Teacher Education Programs and K-12 Public Schools in Texas

Deborah V. Jolly
Research Scientist
College Of Education, Texas A&M University
804 Harrington Tower
College Station, Texas 77843 U.S.A.
Tel: (1) 409 862 7021
Fax: (1) 409 862 6573
Email: Djolly@coe.tamu.edu

Trina Davis
SCR*TEC Texas Coordinator
College Of Education, Texas A&M University
Harrington Tower
College Station, Texas 77843 U.S.A.

Arlen Strader
Network Administrator
College Of Education, Texas A&M University
Harrington Tower
College Station, Texas 77843 U.S.A.

Jon Denton
Executive Associate Dean for Research
College Of Education, Texas A&M University
Harrington Tower
College Station, Texas 77843 U.S.A.


ABSTRACT

This paper describes the support systems, financial support, current use of technology, and infrastructure issues at selected institutions of higher education (IHE) and in K-12 public schools in the State of Texas, United States. Discussion is provided on how current practitioners in public schools and institutions of higher education that prepare pre-service teachers for these schools match regarding technology. In depth discussion is provided on two surveys--one of higher education institutions and one of public schools--along with a discussion of the findings as they relate to the ability of institutions of higher education to support K-12 schools through the preparation of future teachers well equipped to use and comfortable with current and emerging technologies.

Keywords: Higher education, pre-service teacher education, use of technology



Introduction

Projections show that, in the United States, two million new teachers will be needed in the next ten years (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). Current wisdom holds that the current rate of technological change is phenomenal, as never before seen in history. For example, computing power keeps improving and expanding, doubling the processing power every 18 months; a literal explosion of computing power. The rapid advances in telecommunications technologies through the expansion of the Internet have some futurists baffled as to where this all might lead. And public schools across the country continue to spend billions and billions of dollars on educational technology with the hopes of improving student achievement.

With the important need for more teachers and the rate of technological advancement, it is no wonder that schools are looking to hire teachers that are technologically savvy and comfortable with technological change. Traditionally, U.S. schools have looked to institutions of higher education to provide leadership in new ways of doing things. Today more than ever, institutions of higher education hold great responsibility to provide leadership for the infusion of technology into U.S. schools and to model appropriate use of the technology in their own teaching situations. How are U.S. institutions of higher education measuring up to the challenge? How are U.S. public schools doing in adapting to the new rigors of the new technologies?


Purpose

Recently, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE, 1997) called for increased focus on technology in teacher education programs, citing the need for technology to move from the periphery of teacher preparation to the center of teacher preparation. Recognizing that indeed "some colleges of education are in the vanguard of introducing technology into teacher preparation," NCATE reported that "Ömost schools of education have not yet fully integrated technology into their teacher preparation programs" (1997: v). NCATE has now called for "vigorous action" to integrate technology into pre-service teacher education programs to provide the knowledge base in technology and technology integration for future teachers. With this in mind a survey entitled, Technology and the Pre-service Teacher Education Program: A Survey of Colleges, Schools, and Departments of Education, was conducted at teacher education programs at both public and private institutions of higher education in Texas to: (1) determine how and to what degree instructional technology is being incorporated into teacher preparation; and (2) determine the status of technology support to faculty and students provided by institutions of higher education.

Four years ago in Texas, the 74th Texas State Legislature passed three acts (House Bill 2128, Senate Bill 1, House Bill 85) that thrust the development of technology into the public schools of the state. From these bills significant efforts to build technology infrastructure in Texas have been enacted through: the hundreds of non-competitive grant opportunities provided by the stateís Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund (TIF) Board; the hundreds of individual school districtís funded by competitive TIF grants; the many competitive federal flow through technology dollars in the stateís Technology Literacy Challenge Fund (TIE); and the many applications from school districts for E-Rate discounts. The purpose of the second survey, Levels and Use of Technology in Texas Public Schools: 1998 Survey, was to determine the changes in Texas public schools regarding technology infrastructure, financial support for this infrastructure, staff development related to technology, and use of the technology infrastructure.

Both surveys were then compared to see if the Colleges of Education in Texas were indeed keeping pace with the advances in technology to the same degree as the K-12 schools and consequently would be able to keep pace with providing the pre-service experiences in technology to teachers entering the profession.


Technology At Institutions Of Higher Education In Texas (IHE Survey)

Through the work of the South Central Regional Technology in Education Consortia-Texas (SCR*TEC-TX) mail-out survey entitled, Technology and the Pre-service Teacher Education Program: A Survey of Colleges, Schools, and Departments of Education was distributed to all the deans of the Colleges of Education across a five state region (Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas) in February 1998 (for purposes of this study Texas data was extracted from the group data from the other four states). Approval of the data collection process by Texas A&M Institutional Review Board for Human Subjects in Research was attained. Responses from the Texas sampling ranged from small private institutions of higher education to large state sponsored institutions of higher education and included both public and private institutions. A follow-up second mailing was conducted along with follow-up telephone calls to institutions not responding to the queries in the mail. The response rate averaged 60% for Texas IHEs and focused on particular indicators of technology integration in their Colleges/Schools/Departments of Education. Survey questions were grouped around seven major topics:

Group 1 Institutional information/general technology course information

Group 2 Status of technology support

Group 3 Technology skills of pre-service teachers

Group 4 Hardware technologies faculty members use in teaching methods courses

Group 5 Hardware technologies pre-service teachers required to use in courses

Group 6 Software faculty members use in delivery of methods courses

Group 7 Software pre-service teachers required to use in methods courses


Discussion And Conclusions From the IHE Survey

In general, Colleges of Education reported an increased level of support for technology but still felt that support for technology in their college was meager at best. In addition, this reported increased level of support meant many things to different institutions. For example, one IHE saw the installation of computer labs for faculty use as support while another IHE already equipped with computer labs saw technical assistance and training given to faculty as increased support. Access to and use of the Internet by both faculty and students, along with administrative support and encouragement for the use of technology were rated as adequate but still needing more time and attention.

Colleges of Education were asked about technology skills that might be important to teacher education majors and were asked to respond with their perception of the adequacy of general skills training currently received by pre-service teachers. The respondents felt that pre-service teacher skills were currently adequate in their ability to operate a computer system, to use software and tools that were directly related to their own professional use such as productivity tools along with databases, word processing, and spreadsheets. Respondents reported that pre-service teachers were beginning to use multimedia in projects although, for the most part, they were not required to do so. Other more advanced skills were reported as being marginal.

In response to the queries regarding faculty members using certain hardware technologies and software technologies, the majority of responses indicated a general low level of use by faculty. The exceptions to this were in the use of the VCR in instruction and the use of word processing, spreadsheets and presentation software where responses were in the middle to high range. Respondents felt that these technologies and programs had been around long enough to develop a comfort level.

In response to information regarding pre-service teachers being required to use certain hardware and software technologies, the majority of responses were well within the low use category. The exceptions to this were the pre-service teacher use of the computer and interactive video disc, along with the use of word processing, presentation software and web-browsers where responses were in the middle to high range. Pre-service teachers were not required by the faculty to use certain technologies in their teacher preparation programs but many of these pre-service teachers actually had the skills to use advanced technologies and software and many times did without being required to do so.

A complete report and breakout of responses to the Technology and the Preservice Teacher Education Program Survey (1988) can be found on the South Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium-Texas (SCR*TEC-TX) Web site (http://www.coe.tamu.edu/~texas/) along with links to parallel study (1997; http://www.itrc.ucf.edu/other/seirtec/results.html) completed at the SouthEast and Islands Regional Technology in Education Consortium (SEIR*TEC) region, which includes the South Eastern United States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.


Levels And Use Of Technology In Texas Public Schools: 1998 Survey (K-12 Survey)

In 1996 the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) with technical support from the SCR*TEC-Texas, conducted a survey of the technology infrastructure in all public schools in Texas (SRC*TEC-TX, 1998; (http://www.coe.tamu.edu/~texas/). Over 82% of the 1,043 school districts in Texas participated in that survey effort. Since this 1996 survey provided invaluable information to key policy makers in the state, the decision was readily made to repeat the study again in 1998.

An initial draft of the survey instrument was developed based on the 1996 instrument and critiqued by key Texas educators and business representatives convened at a focus group meeting in early 1998. The instrument subsequently underwent several revisions that incorporated suggestions this group. The final version contained 32 items clustered under four headings: policy (5 items); districtís current technology infrastructure (10 items); use of technology (10 items); staff development related to technology (7 items). Although the distribution of the survey was targeted to the superintendent of schools, directions at the beginning of the instrument encouraged the superintendent to direct the survey to the districtís technology director for completion and remittance.

The items were then integrated with the Web Survey Builder, a software program enabling the survey to be completed and submitted over the Internet if the district chose to do so. A mark-sense or optical scan paper version was developed by National Computer Systems (NCS) for distribution to each school district in Texas. Approval of the data collection process by the Texas A&M Institutional Review Board for Human Subjects in Research was attained.

A second mail-out consisting of a personalized reminder cover letter from the Executive Director of TASA to the superintendent, a mark sense survey instrument, return mailer, and a descriptive statistical summary of the initial 450 responses for each survey item was mailed with first-class service to non-responding school districts. After the second mailing was completed reminder telephone calls to the remaining non-participating districts were made. Offers to send a third instrument, as well as encouragement to submit survey information electronically, and offers to fax the survey to districts for completion, were made through the telephone contacts.

Data received through electronic submissions were verified with respect to the district name and/or district-county identification number. These data were then organized into EXCEL files. As completed mail-in surveys were received, they were verified with respect to district name and identification number and checked with respect to readability by the machine scoring equipment. Batches of 40-50 mailed surveys were delivered to Tests and Measurements Services for processing at a time. Resulting electronic data files from this process were then concatenated with the electronically submitted data for processing with the Web Survey Builder. As noted earlier, this software enables data to be partitioned and analyzed with respect to different geographic and school size classifications enabling customized reports for each reader. Simple cumulative summaries (frequencies and percentages) are provided by this software, but additional statistical analysis using the SPSS statistical package were conducted.


Discussion And Conclusions from the K-12 Public School Survey

The changes in the telecommunications infrastructure in the public schools across Texas has changed dramatically across the three years covered by the study (1996 survey to the current 1998 survey). Public school districts reported spending significantly more for their technology infrastructure in 1998 as compared to 1996. A reasonable hypothesis is that federal and state funding have affected technology infrastructure of school districts through over 1,000 various grants awarded to Texas schools during the past three years. In large measure these awards have targeted rural, and once isolated communities. As a result, the number of classroom computers, the nature and amount of professional development in technology, the type of connectivity to the Internet, and the classroom technology applications of teachers and students are comparable across the stateís schools regardless of district size or location.

The increased expenditures have resulted in greater professional development in technology. Three years ago, 266 school districts reported they provided at least three staff development activities on technology during the year to their teachers. In contrast, during the past year, 619 school districts reported providing three or more technology based professional development experiences to teachers. Topics that have received much attention across these schools are Internet applications, in-depth instruction on software applications and content-focused applications for their classrooms. These findings suggest that Texas schools are exceeding the average of nine hours of training in technology offered by school districts to their professional staffs cited by the Education Commission of the States document (ECS, 1998). Yet in the sense of how much more is there to be accomplished, the data suggests that in 1998, some 163 school districts reported have either no staff development (27 school districts) or limited opportunities (1 or 2 sessions) for technology training.

The expenditures for technology infrastructure have had a marked effect on the number of campuses and classrooms with Internet access. In 1996, over 80% of the school districts reported no Internet access in their classrooms, while in 1998, less than nine % of the districts reported "no Internet access." Although there are a sizeable number of classrooms that are not linked to the Internet, it is remarkable that so much connectivity has occurred in just three years. In the near future, infrastructure funding opportunities will hopefully enable virtually all of the remaining classrooms to become connected to the Internet. On a related issue, the number of computers per classroom that can operate on the Internet appears to be one. This is an area of need for future technology grants that funding sources hopefully will address.

With so much progress in connecting school classrooms to the Internet, how are teachers and students using the information highway? First, in 1998 between 10 and 20 percent of the districts reported that more than 75 percent of their students accessing the Internet in class. This suggests that both teachers and their students are in the initial stages of employing this technology at the instructional level. Second, for these early adopters, accessing email and web-browsing are the most common applications reported for teachers, while web-browsing and research for class assignments are the most common student applications. As the availability of workstations per classroom increase, the nature of the applications may change for both teachers and students.

Findings associated with the type of professional development being provided across the 20 Texas intermediary service agencies (Educational Service Centers/ESCs) for teachers and technology coordinators were remarkably consistent. Across the ESCs, Internet applications and in-depth software skill development were the most cited topics for professional development for teachers. The most cited topics identified for technology coordinators appeared to be more inclusive, including emphasis on hardware applications, technology planning and grant procurement. This information coupled with the fact that ESC staff are the most common provider of technology staff development suggest a well developed network across the 20 ESCs in Texas with respect to the nature of offerings for technology staff development.

In terms of telecommunications connectivity reported by school districts, two findings were particularly interesting. First, the most cited connectivity to school districts is T-1 lines across the 20 ESCs. And second, in most cases, the ESC is the Internet provider. The survey items addressing connectivity were not addressed by 37 percent of the districts, suggesting that either a change is "in the works" or information was not available. The bandwidth being accessed by school districts responding to these items is quite varied, but with the districts being so different in terms of student enrollment these differences are expected, especially if classroom applications of the Internet are planned. It is also interesting that wireless technology is being experimented with across the state.

The final research question sought information about technology applications across school districts of different size and type. Because the type of school was closely correlated to the size of school, there was great uniformity in the findings. Further, this information was not too different from aggregating all of the data into a single classification. One inference from the uniformity of findings is that because the computers/classroom with access to the Internet is so limited little can be determined by partitioning the data by school type, school location or school size. This finding also suggests that future grant applications addressing technology infrastructure may well consider the workstations/classroom with Internet connectivity as a funding requirement.


General Conclusions

Substantial technology infrastructure changes have occurred in Texas public schools over the past few years. The extent and breadth of these changes discussed above speaks volumes about how state and federal funding to local schools are impacting schools. Although we have a long way to go, much progress has occurred. In fact Texas schools are looked upon as being very progressive with their infrastructure and the innovative uses of the technology in the state.

However, currently Colleges of Education are limited in their ability to provide substantial pre-service training in cutting edge technologies. This study found that there were many "islands of excellence," but for the most part the needs of teachers in the field were for rapidly advancing staff development and training in technical areas of educational technology that the faculty of education were not yet able to provide. Colleges of Education are still internally focused on their own needs, gearing up their systems, and are not yet able to really focus on pre-service teacher education program technology needs. The colleges themselves are coping with issues related to training their own faculty and staff, accessing equipment for their college, and infusing technology into their teaching situations. In addition Colleges of Education are just now beginning to plan to go beyond only offering a required general technology course(s) for pre-service teachers. They are now looking more toward integrating the technology throughout the pre-service curriculum and pre-service experience. Faculty professional development in technology as it relates to their content expertise area is beginning to show up more and more. Important to jump-start this effort are dollars being made available to retool and rethink. As seen in the K-12 survey of Texas public schools the investment in technology through funding seems to be paying off for public schools. Hopefully the most recent focus on funding for Colleges of Education for technology will reap the same benefits.


References

  • Education Commission of the States (ECS) (1998). Harnessing Technology for Teaching and Learning, Denver, CO: ECS.
  • National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) (1997). Technology and the new professional teacher: Preparing for the 21st century classroom, Washington, DC: NCATE.
  • South Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium-Texas (SRC*TEC-TX) (1998). Technology and the Preservice Teacher Education Program Survey, College Station, TX: SRC*TEC-TX, http://www.coe.tamu.edu/~texas/
  • SouthEast and Islands Regional Technology in Education Consortium (SEIR*TEC) (1997). Technology and the Preservice Teacher Education Program Survey, Orlando, FL: SEIR*TEC, http://www.itrc.ucf.edu/other/seirtec/results.html
  • United States Department of Education (1999). Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology, Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

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