Profiles for technology-literate teachers

Part 2 of my review of the National Educational Technology Standards was a reading of the standards for technology-literate teachers, NETS for Teachers. I've been thinking about technology's role in education for years, since the early 1990s, not with the perspective of an educator but as a concerned citizen (just to give some background, I consider myself a social liberal and fiscal conservative, though I always vote in favor of school bond measures, and I don't have children of my own). I've also been using some form of technology in my own area of work, research, and education since the late 1980s and have seen enough examples of how it's been immensely helpful and how it's been extremely unhelpful. I even remember my first experience with a computer in a classroom… a "Trash-80" playing games of the non-educational sort. So I've been immersed and thinking about technology for a long time.

Regarding the NETS for Teachers, I have to reiterate what I said about the NETS for Students. These guidelines are great in principle. But the devil is in the details. NETS breaks up its standards for teachers into 4 profiles corresponding to the "four phases in the typical preparation of a teacher"

  1. General preparation
  2. Professional preparation
  3. Student teaching and internship
  4. First-year teaching

Currently, I'm in the middle of phase 2, professional preparation. Now, overall, the items listed for each profile is vague. It's purposefully vague, but probably too vague and lacking examples. Let's take the first item under profile 1,

Upon completion of the general preparation component of their program, prospective teachers [should] demonstrate a sound understanding of the nature an operation of technology systems

First of all, this point is grammatically incorrect. Not a good way to begin a set of standards. That aside, what is a "sound understanding"? Does it mean understanding operating system software? Does it mean understanding how to turn on a computer?

I'm also struck by item #15,

Exhibit positive attitudes toward technology uses that support lifelong learning, collaboration, personal pursuits, and productivity.

Gee, that's great. But I think a healthy dose of skepticism and moderation also is an indicator of being technology-literate (both also satisfy item #1 in that knowing when technology is not needed demonstrates a sound understanding of the nature of an operation of technology systems, e.g., is it really worth it to fiddle with the LCD projector to put up a couple of slides when the whiteboard would do?). I'm sorry, but this one reads to me like NETS is trying to push a certain dogma. There are instances where technology is overkill (e.g. "death by Powerpoint") and even detrimental (e.g. watching streaming multimedia of a hike in the woods instead of hiking in the woods).

Now, I don't mean to imply that technology doesn't have a place in education. I think it does. PubMed, Google Scholar, PLoS, are just some examples. But I also don't like the effect of having all this bureaucracy and codification of things, namely, that we've gotten to a point where someone has to create standards. Wasn't technology supposed to make life easier and better? It seems like it's made our lives more rigid in a lot of ways. And believe me, it's also created a lot more work, for me at least, than I was promised it would alleviate. Technology is great. I just wonder if we need to spend so much time and energy thinking about it. I mean, was there a National Educational Mimeograph Standards back in the 1970s? Did we wring our hands about whether the new crop of teachers were filmstrip-literate?

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