The Pain and Ecstasy: Pre-service Teacher Perceptions On Changing Teacher Roles and Technology
Pennsylvania State University
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Pennsylvania State University
307 Keller Building/ University Park, PA 16802 USA
Understanding pre-service teacher perceptions of computer technology has been the focus of much research (e.g., Savenye, 1992; Koohang, 1989; Downes, 1993; Summers, 1988; Diegnueller, 1992). They have been asked about the likelihood that they will use computers in their future classroom, their feelings of competence, their understandings of the relationship between technology and change, how often they have used technology in their methods courses and a variety of other related questions. In this exploration, we sought to understand their reactions to a particular image of learning environments. In the process, we gained insight into their reflections on a reality of a substantially changing teacher role in relation to dynamic educational systems. These systems are continuously implementing increasing numbers and types of information technologies.
Pre-service teacher technology courses often focus on basic skills and extolling the virtues of using technology in the classroom. Extensive demonstration of advanced technology is often accompanied by strategies for integrating technology into the classroom as a tool. More infrequently, these courses try to propel pre-service teachers toward powerful uses of technology in which learners access information on their own to answer questions often of their own making and then build solutions using the technology at their disposal. Even more rarely, such courses ask pre-service teachers to question the future role of technology and their relation to it in critical ways. This is in stark contrast to more traditional forms of integrating technology into classrooms which often take the form of using word processors to write reports required by the teacher on a topic chosen by the curriculum guide. Often, technologyís role is even further limited to a baby-sitter or entertaining option for those students who need remediation or have gained a reward. Many schools encourage these less powerful uses by allowing only one machine per classroom, or cordoning computers off in special laboratories.
Trying to move pre-service teachers to more open and powerful ways of using computers in their classrooms should be one of the main foci of any teacher preparation experience with technology. However, strategies such as students gaining access to information without the express dispensation of the teacher, or of creating their own questions without consulting curriculum guides can be difficult for many pre-service teachers to envision and accept. This is not surprising, since pre-service teachers are rarely asked to examine their practice, but rather to repeat practice that belongs to an obsolete educational system; a system that was based on an image of education that no longer serves the interests and needs of society (Reigeluth, 1993; Banathy, 1991).
A New Image
Pre-service teachers enrolled in four sections of an introductory technology course were asked to read the chapter entitled, "Visiting Day 2001 A.D." from the book Education and Ecstasy (Leonard, 1968). By way of a brief description, this 14 page reading describes in vivid detail a free-learning school based on extensive use of advanced technologies. The reading is important for pre-service teacher preparation because it offers a very specific image of free learning environments that powerfully employ technology. The critical elements of this reading which distinguish it from many traditional images of education are:
An example of this imagery is presented in the chapter entitled, "Visiting Day 2001." In this chapter, Sally's parents have come to school to visit and are seeking out Sally. They find her in what is called the Basics Dome where students of all ages are interacting with computers that have 6 foot displays. The displays interact with one another allowing for learner interaction with each other through the computer displays. These displays are configured around the circumference of the geodesic dome and make for a "literally stunning" effect. Sally's parents locate her and watch her interactions with the computer that has automatically taken up where they last left off in her learning. Sally directs the content of what is explored, through the example of early language development and spelling.
We catch a glimpse of the school before driving our electric down the ramp and into the underground parking lot. The sight, as always, pleases us-gleaming geodesic domes and translucent tentlike structures scattered randomly among graceful trees; (p 140)
It takes a while for the nervous system to begin processing; first, you have to surrender to the overwhelming sensory bombardment that comes from every side. There are, around us, forty learning consoles, at each of which is seated a child between the ages of three and seven, facing outward toward the learning displays. Each child sits at a keyboard, essentially less complex than that of an old-fashioned typewriter, but fitted with a number of shifts so that almost every symbol know to human cultures can be produced. The childís learning display, about ten feet square, is reflected from the hologram-conversion screen that runs all the way around the inner surface of the dome. The image appears to stand out from the screen in sometimes startling colors and dimensions. The screen is slightly elevated above the childís horizontal eye level so that everyone in the dome, by turning all the way around, can view all the learning displays. Each display joins the one on either side of it, so that the total effect is panoramic. And each has its own set of stereo speaker, joining in a panorama of sound. (p 147-8)
Thus, the Education and Ecstasy reading was selected for its powerful imagery. In almost science fiction-like detail, this chapter offers specific visions of the future of schooling. By describing a Basics Dome in which children can learn anything they choose beginning at age 3, the reading portrays an almost utopic image of the future of schooling. In Search of the Virtual Class (Tiffin & Rajasingham, 1995) and Nattering on the Net (Spender, 1995) also provide science-fiction like images, although as technology progresses, they do not seem quite as outrageous or far-fetched as Education and Ecstasy must have been in 1968.
Education and Ecstasy emerges at the nexus of Summerhillís free learning experiment (Neill, 1960) and the wave of advanced technologies developed in the late 60's. Leonard clearly points to the necessity of this connection, "the computer and the free school were destined for marriage, and it didn't take them long to get together." (p. 144). Conveniently dated 33 years from it's original writing (Leonard, 1968), the Chapter entitled "Visiting Day 2001" escaped criticism from contemporary educators by assuring that such visions would not in fact take place until after the current cadre of new teachers had completed their careers. As long as oneís personal identity and future career is not at stake, it can be enjoyable to take such an imaginary, intellectual journey. Asking pre-service teachers to consider an image that may take place in two short years (e.g. "Visiting Day 2001") is quite a different intellectual exercise than posing that same image to teachers who will surely retire before it comes into being.
The image offered focuses on the child's experience, and the teacher's role is only briefly mentioned as a guide. This transition from "sage on the stage to guide on the side" is a common call in teacher education literature, particularly that literature associated with technology implementation. Most recently, for example, Van Dusen & Worthen (1995) write,
The role of the teacher changes dramatically in the well-managed ILS (integrated learning system) classroom. Teachers are still responsible for students' learning, but rather than being dispensers of information they become guides to the learning process. They act as facilitators and organizers of learning activities... (p. 32).
Because of this very different role for teachers in these new systems of learning, little focus is directed at the teacher in the Education and Ecstasy reading.
There are aspects of this vision that could be interpreted as a misuse of technology and power. We expected students to react to these aspects of the vision very strongly, as infringements on student rights or boundaries. An example of this is Ongoing Brain-wave Analysis (OBA) and Direct Brain-wave Manipulation (DBM). The following excerpt describes these aspects of the vision.
An even more important development of the 1980s was the application of Ongoing Brain-wave Analysis (OBA) to Computer-Assisted Dialogue (CAD)... Certain experimenters began attaching brain-wave sensors to learnersí earphones, so that their wave patterns could be fed directly into the computer for ongoing analysis and immediate influence of the dialogue. (p 146)
...it will be many years before DBM has anywhere near the subtlety and specificity of CAD through the usual sense channels. Then, too, I just donít like the idea of bypassing the senses, the sources of ever-present joy. (p 147)
As a result of reading this provocative image of future education, the question of what students would react most strongly to became the central focus of this open-ended exploration of pre-service teacher attitudes. We chose to focus on their reactions to the image in terms of their development of a critical consciousness because in our experience with the data, it emerged as the most interesting aspect of pre-service teacher attitudes. Thus we asked, can pre-service teachers change their role without first critically examining their current role as teachers. Can they step towards tomorrow if they donít know where they are now?
Developing a Critical Consciousness
In order to prepare teachers to move towards meaningful and powerful uses of technology, we must help them to develop a critical consciousness. Critical consciousness "refers to the way we see ourselves in relation to knowledge and power in society... and to the way we act in school and daily life to reproduce or to transform our conditions"(Shor 1992 p129). If pre-service teachers are not encouraged to critically examine their role as teachers and how that role influences and is influenced by the educational system they are part of, then they will be unable to think outside of the current ways of being and doing that pervade our schools. Therefore, as teacher educators, it is our responsibility to introduce and cultivate critical consciousness in future teachers.
Without thinking outside of what is, we cannot move into what could or should be in education and society. Shor (1992) describes four qualities of critical consciousness: power awareness, critical literacy, permanent desocialization, and self-education/organization. Essentially, these mean that we must promote the practices of examining power structures, deep reading of the texts around us, stepping outside the artificial limits of society, and promoting responsibility for making society fair and equitable in all students. Of course, this means that we as educators must also develop this consciousness.
Developing a critical consciousness allows one to examine the world around them in such a way as to reveal the power structures that influence our daily lives. Some power structures are more easily seen than others. We are familiar with issues of patriarchy and capitalism, but how often do we stop to think about how these systems of relationships really impact our lives? Educational systems are not immune to power structures. Teachers, administrators, and students all exist within a web of power relationships. As educators, we need to make sure that we are encouraging relationships that are just and equitable. In order to affect change, we must first know how the current systems work together to maintain the status quo.
The world around us is full of meanings, wrapped around one another like the layers of an onion. The surface layers are easily examined, but include only a part of the whole. In order to understand the world around us, the surface layers must be peeled back. We need to look past the "easy answers" to reveal the deeper meanings. As educators, we need to help our students to consider the world around them, and to keep considering until they are satisfied that they have found the truth.
Once we have looked more deeply at the world around us, we can step outside of the bounds that society builds around us. These boundaries are not always clearly visible, and often guide our beliefs and behaviors without our knowledge. "If the artist does not perfect a new vision in his process of doing, he acts mechanically and repeats some old model fixed like a blue print in his mind." (Dewey, 1934, p 50) The same is true for educators. Unless we can create a new vision of education that begins outside society's boundaries, we are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past. By helping pre-service teachers to examine, critique, and step outside of today's educational system, we are promoting educational change. It is within this epistemological framework that the study was conducted.
Reactions and Reflections
74 students in an introductory technology course participated as part of their class requirements. Participants were pre-service teachers in their junior and senior year. Most participants were majoring in special education and exercise science (the two majors for which the course is required). Gender composition was approximately 70% female and 30% male.
Based on this reading, the participants were asked the following two questions:
These questions were presented at the end of a set of questions to be answered from other course readings. Seven line returns formed the space available for their written response. A few participants word-processed their responses.
Responses to these questions were transcribed into a single file that was then coded by two raters. An interrater reliability score of .7616 was obtained and all discrepancies were reconciled. Content analysis was conducted at the phrase through paragraph levels (Weber, 1990). Data was analyzed for meaning at various levels including phrases, sentences, and paragraphs although all data was not analyzed at all three of these levels. Instead, codes were assigned to a phrase, sentence, or paragraph as a coherent idea become evident in the data. The initial coding scheme that emerged from data analysis is described below and accompanied by exemplar quotes from participant papers. Percentage results are synopsized in Table 1.
Positive view of the lack of structure
The reading lays out a clear lack of structure that goes hand-in-hand with the free learning concept.
A total of some 800 children between three and ten are enrolled in Kennedy, but on a typical morning only about 600...are on the school grounds.... Children can come when and if they please; thereís no problem at all if parents wish to take their children on extended trips or simply keep them home for something thatís going on there.... While children are on the grounds, they are absolutely free to go and do anything they wish that does not hurt someone else. (p. 141)
The first principle of free learning is that if an environment fails to draw or to educate, it is the environmentís fault, not the learnerís fault. ...In fact, "asymmetry" is highly valued. Will Hawthorne (the principal) becomes quite excited when a young child resists the temptations of the Basics Dome for a year or two. Such a child may turn out to be so unique that much can be learned from him. (p. 154).
Some pre-service teachers liked the lack of structure and pointed to that as something that was appealing to them. In these cases the power of self-direction and motivation were the most commonly cited reasons for liking a lack of structure.
The most appealing aspect of this vision is that it was based on student interest and free-learning. The students could explore their own interests and learn what they need and want to learn.
Negative view of the lack of structure
On the other hand, many students were quite disturbed by the basic free learning nature of the school image presented. In most cases, such concerns were related to a student's ability to get out of a lot of work or people's inherent tendencies to be lazy.
Extremely way too much freedom in the system. No structure so children were not forced to attend. Makes skipping an education entirely too easy.
Both a positive and negative view of lack of structure in the same response
Since this is a comparative coding, it was assigned at the response level rather than Weberís more precise phrase, sentence or paragraph levels. A response in this case was typically two paragraphs in length. This code was assigned when a single respondent evidenced positive and negative feelings about structure. The example provided comes from a single respondent.
In some cases, participants displayed a clear internal conflict about the amount of structure present in the school image. They both liked the lack of structure and disliked it.
I found the same aspect disturbing and appealing. I was really confused about the loose structure of the school. ....I think to a certain degree, that there needs to be some kind of structure in every school to meet certain goals....I also thought the idea of loose structure was good to a point. It allowed for more exploration on the students' part, something I wish I always had a chance to do.
Negative view of this new teacher role or lack of personal contact
Because the role of the teacher was not the focus of the reading, some students felt that the teacher's role was in jeopardy or minimized too much. A lack of personal contact between adults and learners was often the main reason for a negative view of the teacher role. But in some cases, fear of their own future role changing too dramatically contributed to this negative reaction.
The role of the teacher seemed almost non-existent, the students were so busy in their stations 'discovery learning' that there almost seemed to be no need for the teacher.
I did not like the idea of no classroom (I would never have a JOB!)
Negative view of potential or real misuse of technology
In some cases, participants identified the highly versatile nature of technology as dangerous. The reading described some "other" schools that use direct brain wave manipulation to create efficient learning and this sort of misuse of technology was frequently identified as the most disturbing aspect of the vision.
I'm not so sure I like the idea of having a computer connected to the child's brain-waves. The whole story reminded me of 1984.
Positive view of the Efficiency aspects of technology
Some participants found the efficiency of the vision appealing. Ranging from the ability of a school to track learners through electronic identification badges to the computer's ability to immediately update a learner's program and individualize their experience, participants were taken with efficiency aspects of the reading.
An aspect that was appealing was the vast amount of information that could be covered in such a short amount of time.
Each response was analyzed for the presence of these themes. Any response might have presented several of these themes or none at all.
Structures and Teacher Roles
It was expected that the pre-service teachers would focus on the technology aspects of the vision, resisting the obvious physical changes to the educational system. It has been assumed that it is the introductions of technologies, which educators may not be familiar or comfortable with, that have caused the implementation problems so often observed. However, most of the pre-service teachers in this exploration were more concerned with the free learning idea and the impact that this lack of structure had on their future roles as teachers.
The role of the teacher consequent to this image is extremely low profile. Very little mention is made of the educators in this reading. Typically, the role of the teacher is more of a guide or a co-learner such as in the following example:
We notice a group of around seven of the older children with two of the educators in impassioned encounter near one of the biggest trees.... (p. 141)
The reading recognizes the likely reluctance of teachers to change their own identities as educational leaders in the classroom. In the following quote quite an interesting future history is offered. With hindsight being 20/20, we can see that this reluctance is much stronger, more like recalcitrance:
It was not until the late 1960ís and early 1970ís that real free-learning schools began springing up here and there, and it was only then that educators could start learning about education. The first such schools were crude affairs. For one thing, the educators of that day found it very difficult to give up the idea of teacher-led classes at certain periods.... (p. 142)
The results of this open-ended query of pre-service teachers were in some cases expected and in other ways they were surprising. As mentioned, it was expected that they would react strongly to the changes in technology, both positively and negatively. We expected that they would be highly concerned about "ongoing brainwave analysis" for instance, and that they would be enchanted by the bells and whistles of the Basics Dome. Naturally, one would anticipate caring educators to express concern over the manipulation of childrenís brainwaves. We also expected the positive acceptance of the high tech nature of the image because of the constant barrage of positive rhetoric around technology and education (Carr & Bromley, 1997; Carr, Fullan & Schied, 1998).
It was also anticipated that learners would have a strong reaction to the combination of technology and free learning. Because pre-service teachers tend toward a positive view of technology and tend to abdicate agency to the technology, and are increasingly being exposed to new, student-centered learning theories such as constructivism, one would expect a positive view of technology and free learning. Thus, where technology can be linked with free learning, there is more power and the possibility that it will assimilate into mainstream education.
However, perhaps the most surprising result was the negative reaction to the lack of structure that free learning affords. While some pre-service teachers saw this as a powerful learning motivator, others reacted stridently to the changes in their future role as teacher, expert, classroom manager, and controller of kids.
Table 1 presents the frequency results of the analysis of participant responses. It is important to make clear that each response was only counted one time in any given category even if two separate phrases or sentences were given related to a category. For example, a response was categorized as evidencing a positive view of the lack of structure, a negative view of the lack of structure and possibly both. Thus the frequencies are based on total number of responses and percentage is of the total number of responses.
Table 1. Frequency of participant responses
Instead of concern for possible misuse of technology, which was the least frequently cited difficulty with the reading, or other negative reactions to the technology, the reactions focused on control, discipline and the laziness of students. The participants were clearly disturbed far more by the "free learning" idea presented in the writing than they were by the increase of and possible misuses of technology. They were also more energized by the positive effects of this freedom than by the efficient use of human potential via the technological tools. In other words, they felt more strongly about the underlying educational processes than they felt about the technology.
So, perhaps most striking about their responses was the conflict they apparently feel between their desires to see students engaged in their own learning--responsible and motivated--and the image they have of what a teacher is supposed to be and do. Based on Lortie's (1975) apprenticeship of observation, these students have a clear image of what they expect their role will be in the future school. They are nearly outraged when they are presented with images that conflict with their vocational expectations,
The most disturbing fact is the impersonalness. The students are being spoon fed information and they don't have to "work." I would think this would cause the students to be unrealistic in their thinking and where are the teachers? Why am I here?
...it seemed to put down teachers and what they bring (or don't' bring) to the classroom.
Other statements indicated their discomfort with teaching this way,
There also seems to be given to the students a lot of freedom. Will this idea of free learning eventually replace the importance that a teacher has in the classroom?
I guess the change aspect is what gets me. I wasn't taught in this way and I'm not sure how comfortable I'd be teaching in this way.
Conversely, a few participants specifically said they would like to learn in this way.
It would have been nice if I were still in school! Instead of study halls you could do what you wanted.
Their comments in terms of the teacher role reflect some interesting interpretations of the functions teachers play in schools.
Like a cheerleader at a basketball game motivates the fans to get excited and help the players play harder, a teacher is not only a facilitator but a motivator to the children.
Teachers are needed for guidance--not all students are motivated to learn on their own.
I found it to be very disturbing that there were no teachers. Because of this the students could come and go as they pleased.
So it appears that many respondents saw the role of the teacher as motivator, guide and controller of behavior. Pre-service teacher reactions to the amount of structure evident in the reading seem to relate to the control that they envision themselves having in their future classrooms as teachers. The categories related to structure can, therefore, be seen as a special case of teacher role. Their ideas about the impersonal nature of the vision also speak to their images of teachers and what it is that teachers do in the classroom. Many respondents saw the role of the teacher as the dispenser of information and the controller of curriculum. In fact, underlying this conception of learning which eschews learner freedom is a model of coercive learning (Kohl, 1976) or even worse, of near "undeclared warfare between the adults and the children." (Kohl, 1976, p. 75).
Learning is not necessarily fun, but the children need to learn to do things that they don't necessarily want to do for their own benefit. In this article the children were given too much responsibility for their own learning.
It allows kids to neglect areas that they don't find exciting to them, so you could not be sure they were receiving basic skills. And it seemed to focus on being showy and exciting, almost tricking kids into learning.
It would appear that many respondents were attached to the role of the teacher as they had experienced it as students; they want to teach as they were taught. In considering issues around change, this would lend support to the ideas forwarded by Fullan (1991) or Jenlink (1997) that suggest change begins in each individual because change necessitates major shifts in personal identity within any dynamically changing system. Thus, in order to effect broad change in education, teachers' conceptions of themselves in relationship to the educational system, will necessarily have to change and this is something that can only be accomplished within each teacher. This is the development of critical consciousness.
The issue of pre-service teacher perceptions of their future role and the rigidity with which they hold to these beliefs of what a "teacher" is, have primary implications for change in public schools. We know that we teach the way we were taught but is there any way to transcend a definition of "teacher" that is so strictly limited by our self-referential nature? Can pre-service teachers move beyond their own perceptions to create new visions of what teachers can be in the future? Will developing a critical consciousness help teachers create these new visions of education?
It should be noted that the population for this investigation was made up primarily of special education and physical education majors. While there is no clear evidence that these groups tend toward more structured models or images of their roles as educators, there is some anecdotal evidence from the students historically enrolled in this course, who report that behaviorism, classroom management, discipline and control over students is emphasized in their preparation. If this were the case, it could account for the high focus on lack of structure found in the study. In addition, the population tended to be early in their preparation (juniors and sophomores) and therefore their tendencies toward critical consciousness might be affected positively during their preparation period, but not evidenced in this study.
The reading that is used as the material for this inquiry is dated 1968. Although a new edition dated 1981 was published, no change in the chapter of interest was made. The lack of material recency may have impacted the findings here and we suggest that future research consider one of the more recent images such as those presented in In Search of the Virtual Class.
Finally, pre-service teachers were asked to offer only a few comments on their reactions to the reading. The paper allowed only a few carriage returns for those who hand wrote responses. For those who typed their responses, they were given a sense of how long the response ought to be, based on the space offered to them on the reaction sheet. Therefore, the brevity of the responses might have truncated the studentsí reactions keeping them from airing other opinions focusing only on the most important issues to them. On the other hand, this forced focus might be seen as strength of the study as it may have created a sort of valued response.
Suggestions for Teacher Education
The findings of this exploration are reflected even more clearly in terms of pre-service teachersí perceptions of change (independent of technology) in Harrison, Lang & Musial's (1986) exploration of perceptions of democratic/humanistic schooling and human potential. Their exploration found that university students reject the notion of their own enrollment in a democratic/humanistic public school and that in-service teachers teach a number of behaviors that are seen to help their students in the real world but which are not, by their own admission, necessarily the "best or ideal for children to learn." (p. 81). This exemplifies Friereís semi-transitive state (Friere, 1973). This partially empowered level of consciousness recognizes the power of humans to learn and change, but looks only at the surface meanings and pieces of the whole. Thus, teachers can at the same time say that something is wrong, but reinforce it as the way things happen. Critical consciousness and critical teaching seeks to make what "is" the same as what "should be" in education and society (Shor, 1992). Without examining the current educational system, and their role in it, educators run the risk of reinforcing a system that may run counter to their moral and pedagogical beliefs.
Harrison, Lang & Musial (1986) suggest that teachers have a strong social functional lens through which they identify the primary purpose of education as preparing students who are successful in society. And they point out that in-service and pre-service teachers strongly advocate preparing learners for the reality of the world as it is rather than preparing them for an ideal world which doesn't exist. They conclude:
The reverse, in their perception would be to prepare students for a society which does not exist and the end result would not be idealistic adults who successfully improve or reform the existing social order, but rather unrealistic adults who would experience frustration and failure in their attempts to change an unyielding society. (p. 81)
In understanding pre-service teacher perceptions of their changing role, it is important to recognize their limited perspective of the school as an agent of social change, their role as a change agent within the school and community, and the necessity of developing for themselves and in their students a critical consciousness. As long as teacher perceptions are limited by the underlying assumption that the purpose of schooling is primarily vocational, we cannot expect dominant, sometimes rigid, mindsets and visions of "teacher" to yield to visions such as those presented in Education and Ecstasy. Therefore, as teacher educators it is vital that our efforts in preparing future teachers to face a dynamic educational system include close critical examination of the purpose of schooling, the role of learner and learning, and the role and place of teachers.
Presenting images that offer rich combinations of powerful uses of technology and changing roles for teachers is one of the most important suggestions based on this work. Illustrating the ways in which technology might assist these changing teacher roles needs to be an important consideration in the selection or creation of such images. It is clear that these sorts of readings strike chords in pre-service teachers with sometimes unexpected results, but clearly with strong resonance. It is important to present technology as integrally tied to these conceptions of empowered learning, free learning, learner-centered environments, critical pedagogy and shifting teacher roles. If technology continues to be relegated to the back of the room reward or remediation instead of a vehicle to change teaching practice, very little will change in classrooms with the advent of the computer revolution.