Lajeane G. Thomas

Lajeane G. Thomas

Lajeane G. Thomas is a professor of curriculum, instruction, and leadership at Louisiana Tech University who has helped prepare teachers for the 21st century. She is a past president of the International Society for Technology in Education and a longtime chair of its accreditation and standards committee. Thomas directed ISTE’s National Educational Technology Standards Project, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology grant, and served on the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education’s technology task force, which developed the report “Technology and the New Professional Teacher: Preparing for the 21st Century Classroom.”

Matt Bolch spoke with Ms. Thomas about her take on edtech.

MB: How have technological advances in k-12 classrooms changed the way teachers are taught at the college level?

LT: Technology, in a few short years, has "almost suddenly" become ubiquitous. Advances in the information, communications and creative opportunities and possibilities using smaller, more affordable technology sources has added a factor that was missing for so long—access to powerful yet affordable technology resources for increasingly larger segments of our population—and thus, has

provided opportunities to explore and use technology for learning and creativity in many ways and for many purposes—education, industry, business, entertainment, communications and social interactions.

This explosion of technology-based access to information has been embraced by youth, who have made it their own. It is our teachers who must "corral" this youthful enthusiasm for "all things technology" and guide today's and tomorrow's students to the many ways technology can be applied for learning, research, decision-making and communications, etc.

For universities to remain viable for preparing new educators, there must be access to technology and online resources at least at the level of those found in schools; and Colleges of Education must ensure

that the schools, classroom teachers and sites for candidates’ observations, student teaching and internship experiences occur in schools that provide candidates with opportunities to practice the

application of technology skills to support student learning in the field. Technology-based knowledge and skills for promoting student learning should be integrated throughout the candidates’ education

coursework and school-based student teaching/internships.

Teacher candidates sometimes are assigned to schools where exciting technology resources (electronic white boards with response systems; carts of laptops for one-to-one or two-to-one access; or electronic

microscopes)are present in the classroom. Although candidates may have used these resources in their teacher preparation program, there is no substitute for experiencing these tools with a classroom of children. The interactive nature of student learning is punctuated by the wise application of these types of interactive technologies. Teacher candidates research and explore use of new technologies, plan lessons applying school-based technology resources during their internships and/or student teaching, and thus learn more about additional effective teaching and learning strategies through collaboration with their supervising teacher. The candidates often provide valuable material and examples for use of these technologies working hand-in-hand with their university supervisor and/or k-12 supervising teacher.

MB: What changes still need to be made?

LT: In most cases, university education faculty have technology resources allowing them to create presentations, word process documents, develop spreadsheets and databases, develop and assess online electronic portfolio for storing/assessing candidate work; some form of online course-based information delivery/response/grade system; and perhaps, whiteboard technology (with or without k-12 learning packages and/or response indicator systems). Most university faculty have in their office electronic resources to communicate via computer-based technology with candidates; possibly, a small assortment of learning software resources for their own subject matter/teaching area; or, perhaps instead, access to a software library of resources in a central location or online; and browser software to access the worldwide Web of resources.

K-12 teachers and university teacher educators have long recognized the importance of providing technology-based educational resources, and models of effective teaching supported by technology. With modern technologies and online resources for teachers, teacher educators and their candidates can view and discuss movies or webcasts of:

--k-12 classroom teachers facilitating learning with technology in their own classrooms;

--expert teachers or faculty facilitating students’ learning of subject-matter in a way that challenges and inspires candidates to participate, learn and create such experiences for their own students; and

--have access to online training in use of the technology and learning resources to create their own course-based materials. I have seen in recent years the growth of technology use across school and

university educators increase dramatically, as technology and resources for teaching and learning have become more available.

Additionally, time and again, it has been shown that the greatest single factor in technology adoption in schools is leadership. If the principal sets expectations that technology will be used effectively for student learning, provides necessary technology, time and leadership (in the form of support, for example, identifying or hiring a school-based technology facilitator to support teachers in their quest to apply technology resources for promoting student learning; providing targeted training and time for professional development connecting technology use directly to curriculum through sound learning strategies) huge strides in school-wide student learning can be achieved—even on standardized tests.

The impetus for adopting new learning strategies for Colleges of Education must also stem from wise leadership. Deans and department chairs, who provide leadership for Colleges of Education, are ultimately responsible for ensuring that their programs are in line with state program development and evaluation criteria; national accreditation requirements; and current research on methods, strategies, assessments and resources for effective teaching of P-12 students. The overarching criteria from these three sources indicate that teacher preparation programs must require their candidates to use technology effectively to promote student learning as is appropriate for each grade range and subject area that they will teach.

MB: In your opinion, is k-12 learning these days more about knowing how to find information or about the information itself? And is this a good thing?

LT: In my opinion, k-12 learning still may be more about the information itself, in as much as classroom student learning discussions and assessments often ask a preponderance of knowledge-level questions focused on one correct answer—failing to engage the student in flexing his/her higher order thinking skills. It is the learning exercise and assessments of the learning that determine the level of learning/thinking required to respond appropriately. However, advancements in technology have put the world's knowledge at the students’ fingertips. If information technology is available, students’ search skills are honed, and the student recognizes which information is important to the quest involved —finding information, finding in-depth interpretations and models or examples illustrating or exemplifying the concept, evaluating the sources of information provided and/or drawing conclusions from the information—then use of technology tools can provide access to a broad spectrum of information during the search, facilitating a much richer understanding of the information set than is possible when the student is focused only on choosing the correct multiple choice answer or providing an isolated answer to a specific question.

I guess the answer to—“and is this a good thing?”

To locate a correct answer to a complicated question can require much higher levels of thinking and reasoning to accomplish and explain than a strictly knowledge level question—thus, I answered “No,” because we need to promote activities/questions that elicit higher levels of thought to solve. All too often questions in discussion and on classroom assessments tend to be able to be answered with one word or a single phrase requiring minimal higher order thinking skills.