Teaching teachers for the future

This article was written and posted by David Jones in his weblog


The following is a bit of a summary and initial reflection on the Teaching teachers for the future project that is currently underway in Australia as part of the Australian Government’s Digital Education Revolution (DER). The project

will ensure future teachers can provide every Australian student with the best learning opportunities in an increasingly online world.

. This article gets a little more specific when it says

As its name suggests, the Teaching teachers project ultimately aims to enhance and support the way pre-service teachers are taught at universities, making sure that ICT is incorporated in education curriculums at all higher education institutions.

I’m looking at the DER as part of an assignment for a course that is part of the pre-service teacher education I’m currently engaging in. As someone who is going to be teaching next year (I hope), I’m interested in what the DER and the TTF project are trying to achieve. In particular, I’m wondering whether it will work or be yet another failed large-scale project around technology integration. As I am, by nature, a pessimist/realist I am somewhat doubtful of its chances.

What will the TTF do?

This is based on the initial November 2010 announcement on the ALTC website, I do wonder how much has changed. It is meant to be a 18 month project. Ahh, but the ALTC’s involvement only lasts until the end of 2011 when it closes.

Oh dear, this is a bit funny. This article suggests that the ALTC’s role in this project is to

drive change and ensure the long-term sustainability of the project.

Given the same article suggests that ALTC closes at the end of 2011 – 6 months before the project finishes – what does this say about the long-term sustainability of the project?

With an initial focus on English, Mathematics, Science, and History (which, if I remember correctly, are the first subject areas being implemented in the new national curriculum) and involving a range of players from across the sector (ALTC, Council of Deans, AITSL, etc) – the number of project participants seems likely to increase potential challenges to success, as well as providing benefits – the project seems to be focussing on three components.

  1. Add explicit ICT dimensions to national graduate teacher standards.
    These standards have been released. These elaborations are essentially clarifications/expansions on the existing national graduate teacher standards that include mention of how ICTs help support/achieve those existing standards. For example, one standard is

    Demonstrate knowledge of teaching strategies that are responsive to the learning strengths and needs of students from diverse linguistic, cultural, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds.

    and the ICT elaboration is

    Demonstrate the ability to match digital resources and tools with teaching strategies in ways that are responsive to students’ diverse backgrounds

    I find myself troubled by this whole notion of standards and ICT elaborations. Partly this is to do with the notion of defined standards. While I recognise the need/purpose, I’m not sure of its efficacy in practice. I also wonder about what does “ability” mean in this context?

  2. Develop digital ICT resources for English, Maths, History, and Science.
    The description of this component includes

    a national collection of digital resources that provide pre-service teachers, teacher educators and teachers with rich professional learning and digital “anywhere, anytime” exemplar packages

    I understand the need for exemplars as a path for learners to appreciate and understand what is possible, but I do wonder how sustainable this is. Why are we building yet more resources, aren’t there enough already out on the web, in the learning federation? What happens 12 months after the project is complete and technology has moved on and the developed resources start to lose their currency?

  3. Establish a “National Network of ICT expertise” that will drive systemic change in ICT curriculum and pedagogy in Teacher education.
    This appears to involve getting expert ICT practitioners employed specifically within Education Departments to encourage the integration of ICT into courses.Mmm, how sustainable is this going to be. Will it change the capabilities of the academics already in universities that are responsible for the training of student teachers? If not, what happens when the seconded folk return to schools? How are you deemed to be an accomplished educator? Does being a teacher that is effective in using ICTs in teaching mean you are the best person to change ICT usage in pre-service teaching?A large constraint for these folk will be the existing support for ICTs within universities. At least some I’m aware of are focusing very much on cost-minimisation in terms of e-learning, and this doesn’t bode well for what I see as some of the aims of this project.


The bigger problem

Collins and Halverson (2009, p. 145) write

We are dealing with a mature, stable system of education designed to adapt to gradual change, but ill-suited to embrace radical change. The pace of technological change has outstripped the ability of school systems to adapt essential practices.

While they write about K-12 education, I see the same problems within universities and I wonder whether the above components of the TTF project will be sufficient to modify the mature, stable system of education within universities.

Especially given when the initial focus is on a subset of courses, rather than entire practice.

Of course the other more personal problems is that when/if these components are successful in changing teacher education, I’ll be a practicing teacher and won’t benefit from the change.

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