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Identifying Institutions that Prepare Elementary Teachers to Teach Technology Education: Promoting ESTE Awareness
Charles C. Linnell
Research has established some of the benefits of elementary school technology education (Kirkwood & Foster, 1997; Kieft, 1997; Scobey, 1968; Zuga, 1999). The challenge is to prepare technologically literate elementary school teachers with the knowledge and skills needed for including elementary school technology education (ESTE) into their daily curricula. Many educators, administrators, and researchers--at least those in the technology education community--stress the importance of a technologically literate society (Dyrenfurth, Hatch, Jones, & Kozak, 1991; Gagel, 1997; International Technology Education Association, 1996; Lewis & Gagel, 1992; Pucel, 1995). However, not all education professionals agree on what technological literacy is, and even those who do often have different opinions of the nature of technology education and its strategies for implementation. A possible solution to this confusion may be to include ESTE classes in the university curricula of future elementary teachers. Introducing technological concepts and activities to preservice elementary education majors will reinforce efforts for the creation of a population of technologically literate schoolchildren.
Using and understanding technological processes is not a recent phenomenon in elementary curricula. Starting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, industrial arts literature has documented the importance of including technological, hands-on activities and concepts into the elementary classroom via elementary school teachers (Dewey, 1916; Zuga, 1996). Since there is no definitive list of institutions that include ESTE courses, the author has attempted to create one by: (a) identifying programs that are widely associated with ESTE due to publications and presentations by faculty and (b) searching the Industrial Teacher Education Directory (Bell, 1998-1999) for institutions that offer ESTE courses. The author's list is also based on personal knowledge through involvement as a member of the executive board of the Technology for Children Council (TECC).
All of the identified institutions have courses that endow future elementary teachers with the strategies and skills to include technology education activities in their future classrooms. This investigation seeks to identify these institutions, compare and contrast their technological concept courses, and present the findings to build a consensus among elementary education and technology education professionals who will facilitate current efforts to create technologically literate elementary teachers and, ultimately, technologically literate elementary students.
Inservice activities are often used to demonstrate and introduce technological activities to elementary teachers (David, 1997). However, educational change theory suggests that in order for teachers in the field to adopt a new teaching strategy, their concerns about the knowledge required and their abilities to implement the innovation must be addressed (Linnell, 1992). The term concerns is crucial because, in order for a new educational innovation to be implemented into schools, teachers must feel confident about their abilities (Fuller, 1969). Most inservice can take place during the school year and/or summer vacation, and the teachers are usually given renewal or graduate credit as an incentive to attend. Inservice courses are a valuable way for teachers in the field to learn new classroom skills and pedagogical techniques, as well as to be exposed to the latest educational theories and practices. However, it is important to encourage future elementary teachers to implement ESTE. Encouragement can be accomplished by introducing them to technological concepts and practical classroom applications and strategies early in their college careers.
Current Status of Technology Concepts Courses
Most elementary education majors are scheduled into a set curriculum starting with their first semester in college. It is rare that a technology education methods class--or even a class that includes technological concepts--is required or even available. However, some institutions do include technological concepts and hands-on activities in teacher education and other curricula. For purposes of clarification, a technological concepts course prepares students to use, understand, apply, and correlate technological concepts and skills in their future teaching assignments. The elementary technological concepts courses included in this investigation are offered in university technology programs. These courses have varying philosophical orientations and titles. Kieft (1997) states that "since different philosophies exist at different teacher education institutions, one single approach will not be suitable for all elementary school technology approaches" (p. 276). Methods also vary in the way technological concepts are presented. These differences and similarities will be discussed for comparative purposes. It is reasonable to assume that the course name reflects the philosophy of the instructor(s) or designer(s) of the course. Table 1 shows the course names, as well as the institutions offering them, that have been identified in this investigation.
Table 1 Institutions with Elementary Technology Concepts Courses Institutions Course Name University of British Columbia Design & Technology Education for Elemen. & Middle School Teachers Queen's University (Canada) Technology in Society: An Elementary School Perspective Central Connecticut State University Technology Education in the Elementary School University of Georgia Creative Activities for Teachers Ball State University Technology Education for the Elementary Grades Eastern Michigan University Technology Education for Children Bemidji State University Teaching Technology in the Elementary Grades The College of New Jersey Technology Education for the Elementary School Valley City State University Inventions and Innovations The Ohio State University Elementary School Technology Ed. California University of Pennsylvania Teaching Technology in the Elem. School Millersville University Teaching Technology in the Elem. School Clemson University Arts and Creativity for the Elem. Child Utah State University Tech. Ed. for Elementary Schools James Madison University Elementary Technology Education Virginia Polytechnic Institute Tech Ed. for the Elementary School University of Wisconsin - Stout Technology for Elementary Children
Instructors from the institutions that include aspects of ESTE in their courses were contacted by telephone and asked a series of questions. The questions, developed by the author, are shown in Table 2. After the answers were analyzed, observations were made. The hope was that these questions and observations would inspire a dialogue among teacher educators and teachers in the field. Instructors were also asked for a copy of their elementary concepts course syllabus. Examining the syllabi provided a way for the author to identify and compare different methods of elementary technology instruction.
Table 2 Telephone Interview Questions
- When and how often is your course offered: fall, spring, summer, or other?
- What is the level of students: undergraduate, graduate, teachers in the field?
- Are the students elementary education or technology education majors?
- Is the course required or an elective?
- Are hands-on activities an integral part of your course? Is there a laboratory setting?
- Do other faculty from your department or other departments/disciplines work with you on a collegial basis? If so, How?
- Does your department provide ESTE inservice for elementary teachers?
- What methods do you recommend for teaching technological concepts to future elementary teachers?
- What factors do you think would help Elementary School Technology Education become a standard part of the elementary curriculum?
Some of these courses were found to have more than one instructor. If this was the case at a specific institution, only one instructor was interviewed. The anonymity of individual respondents was maintained. For each question, the responses have been examined and combined into a general statement that the author feels summarizes the instructors' responses.
The technology concepts courses at these institutions were offered to different student populations at different times of the year. The category other indicated that the course was offered at random times. The location and semester in which the technology concept courses were offered are indicated in Table 3.
Table 3 Institutions with Elementary Technology Concepts Courses and Schedules Institution Fall Spring Summer Other University of British Columbia X X Queen's University X Central Connecticut State University X The University of Georgia X X X Ball State University X X X Eastern Michigan University X X Bemidji State University X The College of New Jersey X Valley City State University X The Ohio State University X California University of Pennsylvania X X X Millersville University X Clemson University X X X Utah State University X James Madison University X Virginia Tech X University of Wisconsin - Stout X X X
Although some institutions include both technology education and elementary education majors in their ESTE courses, the responses to the telephone questionnaire indicated that the majority of the students were elementary education majors. Some of the courses, workshops, and/or inservice sessions were offered to differing populations and at different times, that is, technology education majors, elementary undergraduate students, graduate students, graduate students combined with undergraduate students, and teachers in the field.
Question 4 asked if the course was required or an elective. The responses to the question indicated that the majority of the ESTE courses at the identified institutions were electives. Only five institutions had a required ESTE course. At the time this study was conducted, one instructor said that the university's course was possibly going to be changed to an elective due to the heavy required course load on elementary education majors. Having a required technology concepts course in a preservice elementary education curriculum was rare. Each course, at its respective institution, was reported to satisfy either a state/province mandate or to meet a specific requirement for a designated academic major. For example, two of these courses, offered at Clemson University and the University of Georgia, satisfied the course requirement in art for elementary majors.
With regard to the structure of the ESTE courses, all respondents said that they included some form of hands-on, doing, making, problem-solving, and designing activities in their elementary technology concept courses.
Since ESTE courses were usually offered by a technology department as service courses, and the majority of the students were from other academic areas, seeking and getting collegial interaction and input would seem to be a priority. However, some of the instructors indicated that they felt there was not much collegiality with other faculty from different departments. Among the respondents to the telephone interviews, five instructors said that they collaborated with math and/or science faculty in their institutions. Two instructors interviewed for this study said that they worked with a small number of elementary education faculty members to develop elementary technology correlation activities.
Seven (almost half) of the institutions in this study provided ESTE inservice for elementary teachers. The telephone survey responses revealed differences in course designs, populations of teachers attending, and combinations of college students and teachers attending the elementary ESTE inservice activities.
When asked what methods these instructors recommend for teaching technological concepts to future elementary teachers, problem-solving was the most frequently mentioned strategy. The second was designing and constructing projects that would correlate with the established elementary curriculum.
Question 9, which asked these instructors to identify what would help ESTE become a standard part of the elementary curriculum, received the strongest responses. The opinion most often stated was the need for national, state, and local educational standards for including ESTE into the elementary curriculum.
Based on this inquiry it appears that only five universities in the United States offer technology concepts courses for elementary education and technology education majors throughout the academic year. Overall, there is a very small number of programs that prepare teachers to implement elementary technology education. Furthermore, judging from the conversations with the instructors, even some of these programs are in jeopardy. Some of the reasons given include:
- Lack of distinction made by school administrators and others between educational technology and technology education.
- Lack of ESTE implementation in schools.
- Lack of inclusion of ESTE in national, state, and local educational standards.
The "learn by doing" approach is evident in all of the course syllabi examined. Respondents note that there are many different ways to facilitate the teaching of technological concepts. For example, three respondents base their ESTE courses on the British Design & Technology curriculum. Some say that they adapted traditional machine and tool environments in order to help the participants acquire skills in basic tool identification and knowledge of machine and tool processes. Others stress creative problem-solving and include designing prototypes and using inexpensive materials, such as cardboard, to build models. All of the respondents indicate that the students taking the elementary technology concepts courses have opportunities to develop skills with appropriate ESTE activities in laboratories with large work areas and work surfaces.
The collegiality question appears to spark some heated replies. Some respondents seem open to working with faculty members from other academic areas and some are not. Most of the instructors indicate that they are on their own developing curriculum and designing elementary and technology education correlation strategies. They note that math and science faculty believe some technological concepts are specific to their disciplines and that technology educators are infringing on their domain by teaching technological concepts. This confusion may stem from lack of clear communication and hesitancy to alter or change the status quo. Developing exemplary preservice elementary technology education curricula that are open to inclusion of other disciplines, open to advice and change, and proactive in seeking participation of faculty from math, science, and elementary education will create a greater understanding among faculty and teachers about how ESTE can benefit young schoolchildren.
Some of the respondents to the telephone interviews say that they believe in the value of long-term inservice for teachers in the field. One instructor believes it is important for the elementary teachers to realize that ESTE would not be a totally new responsibility for them but would, ultimately, enhance what they teach by correlating technology with other elementary subjects. Another instructor feels that bringing elementary students and their teachers to visit the elementary technology concepts course at the university has been very effective. This approach gives the technology concepts course students an opportunity to interact with elementary students, and the elementary teachers return to their classrooms with valuable elementary technology experiences.
Almost all of the participants in this investigation believe that working with future teachers to develop skills for including technological concepts and activities into specific elementary subject areas is one of their prime objectives. For example, the importance of university students actually attending an elementary school and facilitating an ESTE activity with elementary schoolchildren subsequent to designing the activity as part of their coursework is supported by comments from eight instructors. All of the institutions that use this strategy report positive results: the preservice students gain confidence in a school setting and are able to observe the positive effects of integrating technology activities with elementary subjects.
Content validity of curriculum integration activities is, however, an issue that must be addressed. Welty (1997) stresses that it is important for teachers to assess the merit of an interdisciplinary learning activity by asking these questions:
- Are the concepts and skills being associated with the integrating theme, problem, or experience essential elements in the curriculum?
- Would we be studying the content if we were not trying to integrate the curriculum?
- Will learning be genuinely enhanced by integrating the concepts, in contrast to teaching them separately?
- Are we maintaining the integrity of specific disciplines in our representation of their content in the integrating learning experience?
- Will the integration of concepts and skills provide students a unique perspective that would not be possible without integration?
- Is the whole (e.g., total experience) greater than the sum of its parts (e.g., discipline specific experiences)? (pp. 178-179)
One instructor stresses that reading activities in elementary schools could be a basis for integrating technological activities. Reading is an important foundation for all elementary students, so what better means to introduce developmentally appropriate technological activities then by integrating them with past and present technological innovations? The instructor points out that having a "resident technologist," who understands the culture of the elementary school and is a facilitator of technological concepts and activities, could be a way to alleviate the concerns of the elementary teachers.
Although few in number, there are some states and provinces continuing efforts to include elementary technology education in their education standards (these include Florida, Pennsylvania, British Columbia, and Ontario). The provincial curricula for the two included Canadian universities are moving toward requiring technology education in the elementary curriculum. The instructors from these two universities maintain that proactive communication with government and educational decision-makers is not only important but mandatory for establishing ESTE in curriculum standards. Both Canadian universities stress the importance of quality inservice for elementary teachers in order to create confidence-building experiences in both the content and processes of technology. These instructors have also indicated that nearly all of the ESTE activities in elementary schools are taught by elementary teachers who have had a course/courses or inservice with technological concepts at their respective universities.
All the respondents feel that clarifying the definition of technology is a very important element in any elementary technology education course. Nine of the fifteen instructors believe that if ESTE is not already present in the elementary curriculum standards, a strong, proactive effort is needed to present technology education to teachers and policy makers as a creative, relevant method of infusing technology concepts with elementary subjects.
Foster (1997) has examined the philosophies and approaches of ESTE and has found that there continues to be no general agreement among practitioners and university faculty about how ESTE should be implemented. However, with the growing interest in ESTE, as demonstrated by the increasing number of articles, presentations, and workshops at professional meetings, that attention is becoming focused on practical ESTE implementation and correlation strategies.
Educational innovations are not easily or rapidly assimilated into public school curricula. The debate about how to implement technology education in the elementary school is ongoing and will continue. A related challenge is achieving consensus among educational policy-makers about the value of including ESTE concepts and activities in elementary classrooms. The Standards for Technological Literacy recently released by the International Technology Education Association (2000) will, hopefully, prove dynamic enough to allow for curriculum flexibility and local educational association adaptation. Change agents who are attempting to implement ESTE must be flexible when implementing these educational innovations and strategies; likewise, proactive teachers and change facilitators, who are aware of the positive benefits of ESTE, should be employed.
Outstanding elementary technology education laboratories, such as Terry Thode's program at Hemingway School in Ketchum, Idaho, provide important technological learning experiences for young students (Kirkwood, 1997). However, having a technology education lab in every elementary school is not financially or politically practical. It does make sense to prepare new elementary teachers to teach technological skills and concepts. In many different states, elementary teachers are correlating creative technological activities with elementary subjects with much success (D. Wagner, personal communication, October 1, 1999; Wright & Foster, 1999). If future and current elementary teachers understand the value of correlating technological skills and concepts with elementary subject areas and they have access to the appropriate training, resources, and activities, then they will create an environment in which children are comfortable using and understanding technology.
University technology education classrooms and labs are excellent environments to implement ESTE concepts and teaching strategies. Technology faculty in colleges and universities are already using some of the teaching techniques discussed in this paper, such as problem-solving, design and technology, cooperative learning, and others. If we are to realize the goal of technological literacy for all, then dynamic technology teacher education programs must include a commitment to ESTE preservice and inservice training. The result will be a population of technologically literate elementary school teachers and children.
Charles Linnell is Associate Professor in the Technology and Human Resource Development Department at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina.
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