PERSONALIZING TECHNOLOGY TO INTERRUPT THE RESISTANCE OF
As teacher educators working
primarily with White, middle class pre-service teachers in a rural setting, we
face challenges in preparing them for the shifting demographics and changing
student populations they will work with in the future. Similar to many colleges
of education, we have developed a stand-alone multicultural education course to
raise awareness of these issues and to develop knowledge and skills in working
with diverse students. Part of the challenge we face is our pre-service
teachers’ resistance to multicultural education; many see no need for this
subject as they feel they will not be teaching diverse students and that their
future White students do not need to learn about multiculturalism. This and
other forms of resistance are well documented in the literature
(Carpenter-LaGattuta, 2002; Piper & Garratt, 2004; Yeo, 1999). In addition,
even when there is recognition of changing demographics, educators in training
may lack cross-cultural knowledge, have little awareness of discrimination, and
feel unprepared to work with diverse students (Su, 1997).
There is also a
well-documented body of work that indicates that pre-service teachers need to
experience working with culturally diverse students in order to have a shift in
their attitudes (Sleeter, 2001). Field experiences, long recognized as a means
of teacher preparation through hands-on experiences, demonstrate promise in the
development of more positive attitudes to diverse students. Field experiences
are neither a panacea nor a simple solution for addressing these issues;
however, they do provide opportunities for overcoming resistance by making
multicultural education issues visible to pre-service teachers. They remove the abstract quality of
multicultural theories and become a pragmatic part of their conceptions of
teaching. While we recognize the
potential of field experiences, finding diverse classrooms for pre-service
teachers in the
The multicultural challenge
is neither a personal one, nor one limited to this location. What is at stake
is not something that can be defined as a simple objective or standard to be
analyzed and then met; rather, what is at stake is our democracy and the future
of those historically disadvantaged by race, ethnicity, class, and first
language, the very populations that our pre-service teachers have had few
opportunities, and in many cases little inclination, to interact with in their
education to date.
In this article we examine
an innovative project that links learning about diversity with increasing
technological skills, in particular, the use of Polycom cameras, the Internet,
and various software applications.
Technology can be a vehicle for connecting communities different in
race, class, ethnicity, and language and, hence, provides opportunities to
learn about people very different from ourselves. We discuss the various curricular elements of
virtual field experiences, and analyze data obtained from journals, reflective
writing, e-portfolios and surveys (see Phillion, 2003 for host teacher and
student learning). We illustrate that
for pre-service teachers the cultivation of human connections is of primary
importance and is enabled through technology (Malewski, Phillion, & Lehman,
While there is on-going
debate about what we can do to develop the capabilities of our teachers in
terms of working with diverse students, there is also acknowledgment that field
experiences demonstrate potential as a way to prepare future teachers for the
diversity and complexity of tomorrow’s classrooms (Goodlad, 1990). Wallace
(2000) found that field placements where pre-service teachers have the
opportunity to experience diversity first-hand enhance the ability to work with
and advocate for diverse student populations.
Sleeter (2001) reviewed a series of research genres in a search for what
demonstrates promise in preparing teachers to work with historically
underserved populations and found that field experiences that provide
cross-cultural immersion “seem to transform pre-service students and ground
them in contextually relevant knowledge” (p. 217). Field experiences in diverse contexts provide
opportunities for pre-service teachers to understand the importance of
multicultural ideas for effective teaching.
While more, early, and
diverse field experiences are recognized as important in trying to meet the
demand for more multiculturally competent teachers (Darling-Hammond, 1997),
many colleges of education, particularly those in rural areas like the one in
which we work, face challenges in placing students in schools that provide for
interactions with diverse student populations.
At the same time, the need for multicultural competencies is becoming
more urgent. Many schools in states
In addition to the lack of
experience in multiculturally affirming contexts, many pre-service teachers
question the relevance of multicultural ideas; many have lacked opportunities
to think critically about cultural difference and inequality (Britzman, 2003;
Gresson, 1995; Kincheloe, 1991; Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1997; Takaki,
1993). In particular, Yeo (1999) notes
that many pre-service teachers feel there is no need to understand diverse
populations as they expect to teach in their hometowns, predominantly White and
rural areas, after graduation. The demographics of the areas they plan to teach
in, however, are changing and diversifying at a rapidly increasing rate
(Futrell, Gomez, & Bedden, 2003; Glazer, 1997). Teacher educators are challenged to
illustrate the immediate relevancy of multiculturalism in ways that help future
teachers recognize that in many areas around the country the makeup of public
schools is undergoing dramatic changes that call for the ability of teachers to
work in a range of cultural contexts.
One of the most common responses to the multicultural challenge has been to require a multicultural course within the teacher education program. These courses, however, often focus on scholarship and literature from the field of multicultural education and fall short of providing opportunities for building personal relationships with students who are different in race, gender, nationality, and first language (Lowenstein, 2003; Malewski, Phillion, & Lehman, 2005). In our work we have found that one way to make theory relevant, to make abstract ideas more concrete, is to utilize field experiences as opportunities to build affective bonds between pre-service teachers and students whom they are more increasingly likely to work within their careers as educators.
In order to generate the
type of bonds that get beyond racial, ethnic, and language classifications—that
illustrate the nuances of the people behind labels such as Hispanics, ENL
(English as a New Language), or refugees—we recognize that our pre-service
teachers need experiences working with diverse students coupled with
opportunities to reflect upon the significance of the interactions. At the same time, programs such as our own
have the limitations of not being located in geographical areas with
significant diversity. Non-traditional
field experiences, using the power of interactive technologies, show some
promise for ameliorating that dilemma (Phillion, 2003). Below we discuss some limitations of ways
technology has traditionally been used to prepare pre-service teachers. We then describe a project in which we used
technology in creative, imaginative ways to develop strong affective
relationships between pre-service teachers and students in a diverse inner-city
school, in an attempt to address issues of cultural difference and social and
of Traditional Uses of Technology in Teacher Education
At the present time,
however, there is little teacher education literature available to provide
practical, successful examples that link learning about diversity and learning
about technology and little literature that addresses videoconferencing as a
means of creating diverse field experiences for pre-service teachers (Edens,
2001; Phillion, 2003; Phillion, Johnson, & Lehman, 2004). The following sections
of the article describe a project that links diversity and technology in a
non-traditional field experience.
Technology and Diversity Project
To bridge the gap we used
two-way videoconferencing to allow our pre-service teachers to observe
inner-city classrooms and to interact with teachers and students in diverse
classes they would not be exposed to in their local area. Technologically
mediated observations of distant classrooms are not new; they have been in use
since the 1950s to develop observation skills of pre-service teachers (Abel,
1960; Hoy & Merkley, 1989). The technologies, however, were expensive and
difficult to maintain whereas videoconferencing technologies in use today are
more flexible and cost-effective. More importantly, for the goals of our
project, today’s technologies provide interactive, two-way communication that
offers opportunities for pre-service teachers to lead lessons and work
collaboratively with teachers, to tutor small groups using mini-cams at each
site, and, of particular note, to provide pre-service teachers the opportunity
to observe teachers knowledgeable in regards to the needs of urban communities
and students from diverse backgrounds (Phillion, 2003).
project has been conducted nine times over 5 years (and is on-going); it has
grown from one section of 11 students to numerous sections involving up to 52
pre-service teachers. All of the pre-service teachers involved were enrolled in
their first block of education courses. Each semester the project had different
pre-service teachers who connected with a series of different classrooms, and
incorporated a variety of different activities.
However, there were common elements that were integral to each: an
initial community building activity, an on-site visit, a series of eight
connections in which pre-service teachers developed activities that enriched or
extended the curriculum (on which we later elaborate), reflection through
dialogue and writing, and a final activity that came to be known as the “Social
Justice Project.” In the sections below we draw from different semesters to
illustrate key elements of the project.
The Buddy System and
Virtual Connections to Enrich
In the 5 years in which this
project has been underway, pre-service teachers have had the opportunity to
engage in a variety of activities. They have taught math lessons on graphing;
used games to teach scientific principles; presented on inventors, such as Ben
Franklin, using skits in English and Spanish; and even created a virtual
reading center where pre-service teachers led a literacy lesson for students
who rotated through the center (see Phillion, 2003; Malewski, Phillion, &
Lehman, 2005 for additional information). Pre-service teachers also prepared
interview questions for the teacher on her career and for the children in the
class on the characteristics of a good teacher and a good student. All
activities had the dual purpose of getting to know the students and their lives
and enriching current curriculum being taught in the class.
In the third year we aimed
to use two-way videoconferencing to address pre-service teachers’ interests in
working with individual, as well as small groups of students. In a second computer lab on campus, we set up
a separate camera and linked to a desktop Polycom camera in the host school and
became a part of the subject area centers that students rotated through on
daily basis. While the majority of
pre-service teachers observed the larger classroom dynamics or gave lessons to
a larger group of students on a subject like reading or social studies, two or
three pre-service teachers worked with a few host students on more detailed
lessons that included meteorology, physics, and science. These lessons were enhanced through
application-sharing technology that allowed the transfer of control between
sites. Pre-service teachers would
illustrate the effects of changing weather patterns via web-based applications
and then turn control over to the host students who could then manipulate the
weather patterns and observe the impact.
To create appropriate
lessons, pre-service teachers worked with the host teacher on the subject areas
with which host students needed the most assistance. One problem students were having involved
spatial relationships, nation-states, and geographical boundaries. To approach geography, pre-service teachers
put together cultural information from different countries and geographic
locations and relate it with specific contextual understandings. Control over
the lesson was shared between pre-service teachers and host students as they
explored the cultural styles and intellects, as well as the geographic
locations of a number of countries. Pre-service
teachers learned they could use the geography lessons as a vehicle for
developing lessons in other content areas and in future connections worked with
host students on poetry, writing, and literature using themes that arose out of
the different countries they had previously studied.
One semester the cooperating
elementary teacher was preparing to teach in
As a culminating activity
the “food” group did a lesson on preparing sushi via videoconferencing, while
the teacher conducted food preparation with the students in their classroom.
Thus, a variety of enrichment lessons were created, adding to the teacher's
curriculum while giving the pre-service teachers a chance to learn about and
work with diverse elementary students. The teacher and faculty member who had
participated in videoconferencing over several semesters deemed the
Reflection on Experiences
through Dialogue and Journal Writing
teachers wrote journals after all field experiences. They also completed four projects: an
educational autobiography, an educational philosophy paper, various web-based
assignments, and a web portfolio.
Pre-service teachers were encouraged to focus on the life experiences of
their buddy both in and out of school so that they might better understand how
students are impacted by social contexts and economic, political, and
educational issues that might at first seem unrelated. Of particular relevance,
deeper understandings between buddies helped sustain virtual field experiences
as pre-service teachers who were more invested in their relationships reported
in journals being more excited about the two-way video connections.
of the greatest benefits of this type of interaction that surfaced in
pre-service teachers’ writing was their realization that they had initially
underestimated the abilities of the students.
One student commented, “I imagined students who really did not want to
be at school.” Another noted, “The
students exceeded above and beyond my expectations.” One indicated surprise
that “they (the grade-two students in the school) were so smart that I do not
know how I will be able to keep up with them.”
By relating previous expectations to actual experiences, pre-service
teachers began to question their own stereotypes about students from different
backgrounds different from their own.
Social Justice Project
As the semester continued, the
pre-service teachers found ways to incorporate the book drive into the
videoconferencing sessions as a method of fostering excitement about reading in
the students. They brought in stacks of books, used them as a backdrop for
video connections, and signed copies of books and sent them to the students.
When the signed books arrived at the host school, pre-service teachers used the
opportunity to provide interactive reading lessons on social studies, math, and
science. In particular, they designed
the lessons to allow host students occasions to showcase their new book to the
rest of the class while pre-service teachers conducted a lesson. Through
actions developed out of virtual field experiences that encouraged altruism and
empowerment, pre-service teachers had the opportunity to envision themselves as
capable educators, that is, they worked to build community by helping students
and their families gain self-direction and an understanding of the conditions
under which they live. In other semesters, similar projects were developed by
pre-service teachers; all focused on increasing affective bonds between
pre-service teachers and students and ameliorating an existing problem in the
classroom to which they were connected (such as a teacher lacking resources to
engage in an activity that required multiple copies of a book or a teacher
needing math manipulatives).
In response to the
dissonance between their assumptions and their findings, many pre-service
teachers, through guided self-reflections, began to question their beliefs
about teaching and learning with diverse groups of students. In journals and
electronic portfolios they indicated they had expected badly behaved students
and used terms like “surprise” to convey their reactions to the well-managed
classroom. Pre-service teachers also learned to prepare materials aimed at
communicating with students in both English and Spanish, and learned to work
with students using videoconferencing equipment. Every semester some
pre-service teachers expressed an interest in working with diverse groups of
children when they became teachers.
Journal entries indicated
that pre-service teachers began to see technology as a tool that could be used
for teaching as well as enhancing their own and others’ learning, personal
productivity, and communication. The pre-service teachers quickly adjusted to
the technology and learned how to manipulate the equipment. Perhaps the most
important outcome from the use of two-way videoconferencing was how pre-service
teachers established communities, making connections by forging strong personal
relationships with the cooperating teacher, the students, and their peers. They
maintained regular dialogue with the cooperating teacher in preparation for
each session as well as in debriefing after each observation. Regular dialogue also took place between the
pre-service teachers and the students throughout the course of the field
experience through “The Buddy System” and interactive nature of the curriculum
and pedagogy. In addition, pre-service teachers learned to work together in
groups and in partnership with the faculty member and classroom teacher in
order to prepare and teach lessons to the students via the Polycom technology
and to launch their “Social Justice Project.”
This project also connected the students to the outside community in
order to complete the book drive. Most importantly, the connections made with
the teachers and students in
The development of
communities became apparent through the rich and varied group discussions after
each session, as well as the students’ regular journal entries. It must be noted, however, that pre-service
teachers also expressed concern over the insufficient opportunity to have
real-time interactions with teachers and students at the partner school. The
videoconferencing technology was also a concern for pre-service teachers. The
Internet was sometimes unreliable and on occasion provided unclear video and
audio between Purdue and the elementary school. Delays, disconnections, and
pixilated images during more than one virtual connection made it difficult to
observe lessons and interact with students. The opportunity to observe subtle
facial expressions and the detailed aspects of instructional techniques
utilized by the classroom teacher were often diminished by less than optimal
Considering all factors, however, virtual field experiences help meet the multicultural challenge of educating White pre-service teachers in rural settings about diversity and equality in relation to the students they might someday teach. We do not claim that virtual field experiences are a panacea but find that, if structured purposefully to engender affective bonding, they can provide meaningful, practical opportunities to inform future teachers on how to educate an increasingly diverse citizenry, one that will require teachers capable of attending to cultural differences and the complexity of issues impacting classroom learning (Sehr, 1997). If we as teacher educators take multiculturalism seriously and understand its relationship to preparing future teachers, then we must heed Dewey’s (1916) call that the best way to understand democracy is to experience it; similarly, the best way for pre-service teachers to understand issues of diversity and equality is to have practical experiences in classrooms that make multicultural literature relevant. It is our belief that the innovative use of technology to provide practical teaching experiences in diverse classrooms has promise for educating pre-service teachers on how to respect, care for, and affirm the abilities of “other people’s children.”
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JoAnn Phillion, Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum
& Instruction at
Malewski, Assistant Professor, Department of Curriculum & Instruction at
Richardson, Assistant Professor, Department of Curriculum & Instruction at
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