WMU News

WMU takes steps to improve teacher training in technology

Oct. 9, 1997

KALAMAZOO -- Western Michigan University is one of three Michigan universities leading state-funded projects to improve the technological training of future teachers.

Working with the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency (formerly the Kalamazoo Valley Intermediate School District) and a $150,000 Goals 2000 grant, WMU's College of Education has designed an initiative to ensure that graduating educators will be fully-prepared to utilize technology in the classroom.

Goals 2000 is a federal program which provides money to states and communities to implement education reforms designed to raise student performance. Through Goals 2000, the Michigan Department of Education awarded the funds to the regional service agency and WMU. The two are working cooperatively to connect teacher education programs on campus with those that occur in field-based training.

Michigan State University and Wayne State University are operating similar teacher technology initiatives under Goals 2000 funding. The three universities plan to share information as their projects proceed, and their work could lead to dramatic and positive changes in the way Michigan educators are trained.

"The great impetus for much of this is coming from the K-12 community," says Dr. James J. Bosco, director of the Office of Educational Technology in the College of Education and leader of the WMU project. "K-12 leaders in this state and many other states are saying colleges and universities need to make sure teachers coming out of education programs are substantially more adept at using information technology effectively in the classroom than they are at present.

"Effective use goes beyond knowing how to surf the Internet or use a word processing program," he continues. "It really goes to the question of how do we use this powerful tool to make the learning environment in classrooms better?"

A primary focus of the WMU initiative is to dispel the idea that technology training for teachers can be treated as a stand alone course, similar to the audio-visual courses often required of education majors in years past. Instead, Bosco says the new goal will be to "lace" computers and technology throughout the entire education curriculum, including them in methods courses as well as those in content areas. In other words, education majors will learn how to use computers to enhance all aspects of their curriculum, whether they plan to teach math, science, history or English.

"In the last five years there's literally been hundred of millions of dollars in bond issues that have been passed in this state to allow K-12 school districts to acquire technology," says Dr. Frank Rapley, dean of the WMU College of Education. "In many cases, schools are acquiring local area networks, computers in the classrooms and all kinds of applications software without the adequate training to use it. So the ongoing professional development of teachers and the preparation of beginning teachers in technology has become a much bigger issue for us."

Bosco, who serves on a state committee to write new technology standards for entry-level teachers, says one of the key ways to teach education students how to use computers and technology in the classroom is for higher education faculty to use it to enliven their own college classroom learning environment. Bosco sees this "modeling" already happening on the WMU campus and he hopes to harvest that potential as part of this new initiative.

"We're not at the zero point on this," he says. "There are some great, creative things being done by our faculty with regard to technology. But, in most cases, these are often isolated. We want to tap into that inventiveness of our faculty and perhaps make it a formal part of the process."

In order to ensure that the methods taught to students are eventually implemented or tried in the classroom, project leaders will work with education majors who are part of WMU's Intern Teaching Program. This collaborative partnership, already established between WMU and nine school districts in Southwest Michigan, will provide access to real-life teaching situations where faculty from the respective school districts serve as mentors. These faculty will work in teams with WMU faculty and students to infuse technology into their classroom experience.

Another major element of the initiative will involve the WMU College of Education adapting a set of entry-level standards for those who wish to enroll in the teaching curriculum. These standards might require knowing how to use e-mail, surf the Internet and perhaps master some general word processing. Those without the skills will be given a path to attain them. Bosco doesn't expect this to cause major problems as entering students are increasingly more computer literate than their predecessors.

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