Ferdig, R. E., & Dawson, K. (2005). Technology and the deep play of intercultural teacher education:
A reflection on two seminal writings of Clifford Geertz. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 4(4). Available: http://www.citejournal.org/vol4/iss4/seminal/article1.cfm
Technology and the Deep Play of Intercultural Teacher Education:
A Reflection on Two Seminal Writings of Clifford Geertz
The selection of a seminal piece on intercultural issues in technology
and teacher education was challenging. Researchers interested in the field
come from numerous fields of study, including education, anthropology,
sociology, psychology, economics, business, international relations, and
communication. The two essays by Cliffort Gertz (1973a, b) discussed in
this paper come from the anthropological field to challenge readers with
important questions about what it really means to appreciate and model
intercultural education. Gertz’s essays established the terms deep
play and webs of significance. Two illustrations are provided
of how technology can be used in teacher education to address these issues:
Reading Classroom Explorer, which is a tool that can be used to promote
intercultural appreciation of pedagogical and student diversity; and K-12/university
professional development communities. The paper ends with a discussion
about culture, teacher education, and educational technology that recognizes
the challenges of multiple cultures and the role of thick description
to get at such cultures. When this mature intercultural view of educational
technology is realized, it is easier to see that the concept of a digital
divide is often oversimplified and should be related to processes of adoption
and diffusion of innovations (Rogers, 1995) through multiple cultures
Collecting and reflecting on seminal pieces of literature activities
provide the opportunity to proverbially “stand on the shoulders of giants”
with a route to broaden and deepen a field or knowledge base. However, selecting
a seminal piece for a special issue of Contemporary Issues in Technology
and Teacher Education on multicultural education was a difficult endeavor.
One challenge was the broad interdisciplinary interest in intercultural issues.
Schramm (1982) first described the history of the field of communication with
an oasis metaphor; Hammer (1989) followed later using the same metaphor to describe
the history of intercultural communication. The idea behind the metaphor is
that it highlights the origins of multiple participants, who come together from
various disciplines and fields to study these new ideas and, in doing so, provide
a fertile context for the process.
Those interested in intercultural issues come from numerous fields of study,
including anthropology, psychology, sociology, economics, business, international
relations, communication, and—of course—education. All come to the
oasis to partake in the discussion, but most return to their home fields; each
has a suggestion about what is seminal in building the core of knowledge in
the area. Some would suggest reading Edward Hall, others Margaret Mead; still
others would argue for Geert Hofstede or Fons Trompenaars.
The search becomes more complex when discussing the roles of technology and
teacher education in intercultural education. Does such an interest imply a
further understanding of one topic across multiple contexts or multiple issues
across various contexts? Can we understand, empathize, and respect others by
trying to understand how other cultures view our area of interest, or do we
respect them more by simply examining their practical implementations and research
efforts? Does a seminal piece in technology and intercultural teacher education
consist of one topic examined by multiple cultures, or is it a sampling of various
activities, research interests, and practical implementations from multiple
The aim was to select a seminal work that scaffolds and supports the knowledge
base of our field of information technology and teacher education by challenging
our current work and to provide insights into practical implementations and
theoretical developments. We have selected two essays from the seminal work
of Clifford Geertz (1973a, b). We present here commentary on some important
points from Geertz and the potential impact of his work on the use of technology
to promote intercultural teacher education. Two examples are then presented
of using technology to promote intercultural education.
The purpose of this paper is not to provide a literature review of all the
work that has been done in intercultural education and technology and teacher
education. Nor is the purpose to summarize theories of intercultural education.
Both these areas have a corpus of published work. For example, Merryfield (2003)
in this CITE
journal provides a concise view of her application of global, multicultural,
and intercultural theories in her current practice in multicultural and global
teacher education courses, and the editorial of
this special issue includes a summary of theoretical perspectives in this special
issue. Rather, the goal is to present seminal work and discuss how that work
impacts our views on technology and teacher education and to provide intercultural
perspectives on both topics.
The Seminal Reading: Geertz (1973)
Clifford Geertz, now professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study
in Princeton, New Jersey, is described as follows:
Clifford Geertz has conducted extensive ethnographical research in Southeast
Asia and North Africa. He has also contributed to social and cultural theory
and been influential in turning anthropology toward a concern with the frames
of meaning within which various peoples live out their lives. He has worked
on religion, most particularly Islam, on bazaar trade, on economic development,
on traditional political structures, and on village and family life. He is
at present working on the general question of ethnic diversity and its implications
in the modern world. (Clifford Geertz, n.d.)
His numerous essays have been produced and reproduced throughout the world.
They are commonly found in anthropology, sociology, and qualitative methodology
classrooms internationally. We have selected two of his chapters as seminal
pieces for our students in multiple classes because of the way in which his
writing promotes a respect for diversity and multicultural appreciation.
Geertz (1973b) and Deep Play
The first of his essays discussed here is entitled, “Deep Play: Notes
on the Balinese cockfight.” In “Deep Play,” Geertz (1973b)
described the cultural experience of cockfighting that he and his wife observed
as anthropologists in Bali in 1958. Cockfighting, with the exception of a few
events, was illegal in Bali at the time. His first observation of the cultural
event was disrupted by the police. Instead of staying and telling the authorities
who they were, he and his wife ran away with the locals; in doing so, they became
enculturated into the community. “It led to a sudden and unusually complete
acceptance into a society extremely difficult for outsiders to penetrate”
With this newfound acceptance into society, Geertz began an exploration of
the cockfights in detail. In doing so, he discovered that cockfighting was such
an intense portrait of Bali life that Balinese compared heaven to the mood of
a man whose cock has just won and hell as the metaphysical and social suicide
of the loser (p. 421). Not all cockfighting was considered this important, however.
Rather, Geertz suggested that there were times—what he called “deep
play”—when both parties in the cockfight entered a relationship
likely to bring net pain (p. 433). Geertz found it interesting that, although
some might argue this deep play is unethical, Bali men passionately and repeatedly
partook in these activities. As such, cockfighting—and the bettors who
participated—formed a “socio-moral hierarchy” (p. 435).
What sets the cockfight apart from the ordinary course of life, lifts it
from the realm of everyday practical affairs, and surrounds it with an aura
of enlarged importance is not, as functionalist sociology would have it, that
it reinforces status discriminations (such reinforcement is hardly necessary
in a society where every act proclaims them), but that it provides a metasocial
commentary upon the whole matter of assorting human beings into fixed hierarchical
ranks and then organizing the major part of collective existence around that
assortment. Its function, if you want to call it that, is interpretive: it
is a Balinese reading of Balinese experience; a story they tell themselves
about themselves. (p. 448)
Geertz described the Balinese and their cockfights, in part, to ask the question,
“What does one learn…from examining culture as an assemblage of
texts?” (p. 448). What happens when these cultural forms can be treated
as imaginary works built out of social materials (p. 449)?
In the case at hand, to treat the cockfight as a text is to bring out a feature
of it (in my opinion, the central feature of it) that treating it as a rite
or pastime, the two most obvious alternatives, would tend to obscure: its
use of emotions for cognitive ends. What the cockfight says it says in a vocabulary
of sentiment—the thrill of risk, the despair of loss, the pleasure of
triumph. Yet what it says is not merely that risk is exciting, loss depressing,
or triumph gratifying, banal tautologies of affect, but that it is of these
emotions, thus exampled, that society is built and individuals put together.
Attending cockfights and participating in them is, for the Balinese, a kind
of sentimental education. What he learns there is what his culture's ethos
and his private sensibility (or, anyway, certain aspects of them) look like
when spelled out externally in a collective text; that the two are near enough
alike to be articulated in the symbolics of a single such text; and—the
disquieting part—that the text in which this revelation is accomplished
consists of a chicken hacking another mindlessly to bits (p. 449).
Geertz ended his essay by suggesting that the culture of people is really an
ensemble of texts, texts which are themselves ensembles (p. 452). He suggested
that on whatever level we decide to read these texts, societies and lives contain
interpretations that one has to learn how to get access to.
An immediate response to a read of Geertz is that teacher education is an assemblage
of texts. As such, these cultural forms, built out of social materials, must
be presented in such a way as to be read by future teachers. Unfortunately,
that reading may not get at the depth of what Geertz’ writing has to offer.
We have previously argued that teaching and, thus, learning how to teach is
a complex domain (Ferdig, Roehler, & Pearson, 2002). Technology has been
cited as a potential tool in reducing this complexity (Ferdig & Roehler,
2003; Spiro, Coulson, Feltovich, & Anderson, 1988; Spiro, Feltovich, Jacobson,
& Coulson, 1992). However, one begins to see the recursive complexity in
preservice teachers' learning to teach with technology while being appreciative
and respectful of intercultural perspectives. In other words, there are texts
within the culture of becoming a teacher, texts that must be legitimately and
actively read and acted upon during enculturation into the community of practice
(Lave & Wenger, 1991). There are also texts that involve teaching with technology,
using technology to learn about teaching and learning, and surrounding all of
these, multiple-culture interpretations on these texts.
Therefore, acknowledging the importance of these multiple texts in such an
ill-structured domain, we leave this first piece with two important sets of
- How can we build technologies that work within education to help teacher
educators present the complexity of the culture that exists? How can we provide
windows into various communities of experience so that our future teachers
can learn the stories of their and other cultures? How do we provide access
to these stories and the multiple interpretations that follow?
- The first question presumes that cultures already exist, and they do. These
texts and interpretations exist, and we must find ways to provide future teachers
access to them. However, cultures and subcultures are also continually being
created, particularly because of the opportunities that technology presents
(i.e., online communities of learning that bridge multiple cultures). How
do we find ways to understand and appreciate intercultural issues when new
cultures are being created by the work we are doing inside of technology and
Geertz and Thick Description
Many readers are also familiar with another essay by Geertz (1973a) entitled,
“Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture.” In
the essay, Geertz argued that, although there are various definitions to the
word culture, he believes in a concept of culture that is semiotic.
Believing with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance
he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of
it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive
one in search of meaning. It is explication I am after, construing social
expressions on their surface enigmatical. (p. 5).
His essay is about ethnography—the thing that social anthropologists
do. Ethnography, he argued, is interpretive. It is interpretive of the flow
of social discourse and tries to take that discourse and set it in perusable
terms (p. 20). To do good ethnography, he argued for the importance of “thick
What the ethnographer is in fact faced with—except when (as, of course,
he must do) he is pursuing the more automatized routines of data collection—is
a multiplicity of complex conceptual structures, many of them superimposed
upon or knotted into one another, which are once strange, irregular, and inexplicit,
and which he must contrive somehow first to grasp and then to render. And
this is true at the most down-to-earth, jungle field work levels of his activity;
interviewing informants, observing rituals, eliciting kin terms, tracing property
lines, taking a census of households…writing his journal. Doing ethnography
is like trying to read (in the sense of “construct a reading of”)
a manuscript—foreign, faded, full of ellipses, incoherent, suspicious
emendations, and tendentious commentaries, but written not in conventionalized
graphs of sound but in transient examples of shaped behavior. (p. 10)
This essay, and Geertz’ arguments in it, refer us back to the first essay.
If cultures consist of multiple texts, then to find a way to read these texts
(or to construct a reading of them) is the only way to gain access to that culture
or those webs of significance. This context (p. 14) is what Geertz
argued must be thickly described in order to be read.
The importance of this essay—and thick description—is that it provides
a way for us to expose a culture’s normalcy without reducing its particularity
(p. 14). More importantly, it supports the notion that the goal of intercultural
education need not be answering the deepest and most philosophical of questions.
Rather, it is to “make available to us answers that others…have
given, and thus to include them in the consultable record of what [people have]
said” (p. 30).
Methodology instructors have cited this essay as an important backbone in the
why of qualitative research and also the how (thick description). We, too, have
used this writing to talk about technology and teacher education (Ferdig &
Weiland, 2002). We have argued that thick description is a timely metaphor for
our relatively young field. Although we agree with the call for more systematic
and ambitious studies of the effects of technology innovations in the classroom,
we worry about the major trend within our field to focus solely on the cognitive
domain of the relationship between technology and pedagogy. “Research
is missing that reflects other domains of inquiry, and thus, needed accounts
of the emotional and social development of students new to educational technology
are not available” (Ferdig & Weiland, 2002, p. 428). That is not to
suggest that cognitive studies are fruitless; it is merely a trend with inevitable
boundaries and limits. We are also not suggesting that attempting to understand
technology and teacher education through affective, social, and emotional studies
is an unique perspective—simply a rare one (Jones & Paolucci, 1998).
Geertz’ notion of thick description provides an important and timely
reminder of the importance of a multimethodological approach to explore, appreciate,
and tell the stories and texts of multiple cultures working inside of technology
and teacher education. However, the essay also leads to two important questions:
- What are the ways in which we can use technology to present a thick description
of various webs of significance within teacher education?
- How do we provide opportunities for our students to present their
interpretations of both their own cultures and other cultures they encounter
as they begin to explore these webs?
Examples from Teacher Education
The importance of Geertz is the fact that his seminal writing still challenges
us with important questions about what appreciating intercultural education
really means. He also provides important and timely questions for those researching
technology and teacher education. In the next part of the paper are provided
two examples—the Reading Classroom Explorer and Professional Development
Communities—showing how technology can be used in teacher education to
address these important issues. Following that is a discussion about culture,
teacher education, and educational technology.
Reading Classroom Explorer Tool
It is difficult to ensure that teacher candidates will be placed in a classroom
during their practicum or internship where their mentor teacher will demonstrate
exemplary literacy instruction. Even if their lead teacher demonstrates strategies
reflecting the reform-oriented practice the teacher candidates learn about in
their studies, there is no guarantee that the classroom will represent the diversity
that students will undoubtedly face in their teaching position (Ferdig &
Roehler, 2003). The Reading Classroom Explorer or RCE, available online at http://www.eliteracy.org/rce,
is a hypermedia environment that was created to address these issues (see Figure
|Figure 1. Screen capture from the home page of Reading
RCE contains over 200 video clip excerpts from both the Center for the Study
of Reading “Teaching Reading: Strategies from Successful Classrooms”
series of videotapes and three newly developed video clips cases expanding on
the series. After logging into RCE, users have the opportunity to select movie
clips using one of four methods (see Figure 2). First, they can select clips
using the school the clip was taken from. Therefore, a teacher candidate can
follow multiple instructional practices of a teacher in Harlem or a teacher
in Hawaii. Second, a user could select a movie by a theme, which is a broad
overarching categorization of clips—something similar to a table of contents
at the beginning of a book. Users might select “classroom management”
or “assessment.” A third option is to select videos using the index,
or keyword, system. The site has over 200 keywords, such as “small group
reading” or “word wall.” A final approach is to search the
transcripts of the movies for certain text.
Once users select a movie clip, they are brought to a page where the clip begins
streaming (the movie begins playing a few seconds into downloading and then
continues to download in the background; see Figure 3). The movie is also accompanied
by a number of other features. First, because it is often difficult to hear
students in classroom settings, a transcript of the movie is provided. The students
also can take notes of the movie in their notebook, either free writing or capturing
text from the transcript. If they are unsure of what to think about the movie,
guiding questions are provided to focus their viewing. If they are still unsure
what to think, clicking a simple search button will return the notes from other
users who have watched that clip and agreed to share their thoughts and opinions.
If they still are unsure of how to assess the clip, a list of articles is provided
(some linked directly) for them to read about the topic presented in the video.
|Figure 3. Screen capture
from movie clips page of the RCE.
RCE contains two discussion forums—one for the class of teacher candidates
and their instructor and a second for all RCE users to allow either within class
or between class communication. There is also a paper submission tool, which
allows teacher candidates to use video evidence to document their claims and
arguments. They can then submit that paper to their instructor, their peers,
or to all RCE participants.
RCE allows preservice teachers to get behind the scenes of a classroom, to
understand context, teacher’s goals, and student reactions, and to more
deeply understand the teaching of reading and writing. It brings the real classroom
into the university while scaffolding the novice by providing teacher candidates
with classroom teachers’ comments on their teaching, as well as other
students’ reactions to video environment. In other words, the development
of RCE is an attempt to provide exposure to diverse teaching environments for
teacher candidates while helping them develop tools to analyze and understand
what they are observing. The environment broadens teacher candidates' knowledge
of teaching reading and expands the repertoire of experiences from which they
form a teaching philosophy.
Reading Classroom Explorer and Geertz
A large body of research has already been published on the success of using
RCE in preservice teacher classrooms (Ferdig & Roehler, 2003; Ferdig et
al., 2004; Ferdig, Roehler, & Pearson, 2002). Readers who are interested
in the outcomes should refer to earlier publications.
RCE is presented here in an attempt to define how technology can be used to
promote intercultural understanding in teacher education, particularly based
on the challenges and questions from Geertz’ writings. Perhaps one of
the most beneficial aspects of RCE is the ability to look within and across
cultures. Providing multiple videos of one classroom sheds light and provides
insight—dare we say thick description—into the practices
of that complex community. Conversely, a teacher candidate can take one activity
(e.g., small reading groups) and look at it across pedagogically and student-diverse
teaching communities by comparing videos across multiple schools.
Culture—or diversity of thought and opinion—is not simplified for
teacher candidates who use RCE; rather, it is “complexified” in
a simple way. In other words, students begin to explore the community of practice
known as teaching literacy. As they begin their exploration, they are introduced
to various practices within one classroom. They are then introduced to these
concepts across multiple classrooms. As they digest these issues, they are provided
with multiple questions to promote new insight into potentially familiar topics.
They are also given access to articles supporting or refuting the uses of various
literacy practices. Finally, they have the opportunity through the discussion
forum, paper sharing, and note sharing to find out what others thought about
the same videos they saw. They begin to see complexity of thought even with
classmates with whom they have shared classes and ideas. These activities allow
them to begin to see the stories of teachers, the stories of others, and their
own story or interpretation of what it means to be a teacher.
For much of the use of RCE, students are evaluating existing classrooms and
cultures. They are using the thick description RCE provides to determine their
interpretation of the classroom event. However, as they begin to share these
ideas with colleagues (defined as classmates, members of the same cohort, or
RCE members writ large), they begin to develop their own sense of community
online. Because it is written, it affords the benefits of conversation and interaction
while allowing them to become meta-analytic and metacognitive about their interpretations
(Ferdig & Roehler, 2003). Results of RCE use indicate that experimental
groups have a significantly higher appreciation for the depth of knowledge related
to teaching and learning, a heightened awareness for the intertextuality of
teacher education practice, and an increased appreciation for both pedagogical
and student diversity (Ferdig & Roehler, 2003; Ferdig et al., 2002; Ferdig
et al., 2004).
Professional Development Communities
Over three decades ago John Goodlad (1970) argued that K-12 schools and teacher
education programs must simultaneously improve their practices through mutually
beneficial partnerships. Years later he used the term “simultaneous renewal”
to refer this concept (Goodlad, 1994). In their simplest forms, K-12/university
partnerships bring the two entities together to support development of both
in-service and preservice teachers (Osguthorpe, Harris, Harris, & Black,
1995). The field of Information Technology and Teacher Education (ITTE; Willis,
Thompson, & Sadera, 1999) advocates the use of such partnerships to support
development of technology-using teachers.
K-12/university partnerships designed to facilitate technology use take many
forms, including restructuring traditional student teaching experiences (Strudler
& Grove, 2002), modifying methods courses to include field work (Glazewski,
Berg, & Brush, 2002), and developing separate technology-based field experiences
(Dawson & Nonis, 2000; Schmidt, 2001, Nonis, & O'Bannon, 2002). Each
of these strategies provides important partnership examples aligned to national
standards (Thomas, Porter, Taylor, & Kelly, 2002) and accreditation requirements
(National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 2005).
However, such authentic experiences may not be adequate for the K-12 schools,
K-12 teachers, preservice teachers and university faculty members involved (Dawson,
2005). Are schools able to consider technology’s place in their vision
or mission? Are K-12 teachers provided with an opportunity to reflect on the
potential technology brings to their curriculum? Do preservice teachers have
an opportunity to explore how technology is intricately woven into the culture
of a school? Are faculty members able to make sense of the multitude of data
to which they are exposed? While we do not claim an affirmative answer to each
question and the myriad of others we must ask ourselves as conscientious change
agents, we believe that Professional Development Communities (PDCs) provide
structures in which these questions are explicitly addressed and confirmatory
answers more likely.
The University of Florida and the School Board of Alachua County currently
support eight PDCs built on national standards (Holmes Group, 1995; Thomas,
1999), state standards (Florida Department of Education, 1996; Florida Education
Standards Commission,1999), teacher education research (Wilson, Floden &
Ferrini-Mundy, 2001) and literature in higher education (Boyer, 1997). The PDCs
are essentially K-12/university partnerships designed around the universal themes
of student achievement and accommodating diverse learners and school-identified
improvement themes (i.e., assessment, technology integration, data-driven instruction,
etc.). Members of each PDC also undertake systemic inquiry (Dana & Silva,
2003) that intersects universal and school-specific themes. Inquiry results
are networked throughout each community so that prospective teachers, practicing
teachers, administrators, and teacher educators learn from each other to improve
the education of all students. Technology integration is a component of the
PDCs, and interdisciplinary integration of educational technology is an area
of specialization in one PDC.
Professional Development Communities and Geertz
It has long been recognized that the worlds of university-based teacher education
programs and K-12 schools are vastly different cultures, often at odds with
each other but similar in their mission to support student achievement in K-12
classrooms. PDCs provide each culture a lens, and frequently a walkway, into
the other. K-12 teachers become teacher educators while university faculty members
become immersed in the work of a classroom teacher. Likewise, preservice teachers
have an opportunity to become part of a school-based community, a community
beyond their university-based cohorts and a community that begins an enculturation
process that will continue throughout their careers. Such cultural exchanges
expand webs of significance – to use Geertzian terminology – and
opens access so that cultural interpretations and understandings are possible.
The inquiry-stance taken by members of these communities only serves to further
support interpretation and understanding.
Yet, unlike Geertz’ experience with the Balinese cockfights, members
of these cultures often begin to flow freely to and from each other’s
worlds. In fact, preservice teachers eventually situate themselves within the
culture of schools and many school-based teachers and administrators become
adjunct instructors and doctoral students in teacher education programs. More
importantly, a transformation happens at the intersection of these cultures.
A new culture is formed; a culture that is a mix of the original university
and K-12 mores, a culture that serves to promote the simultaneous renewal espoused
by Goodlad so many years ago.
As educational technologists working with the field of ITTE, this merger provides
us with great opportunities. Technology can be and frequently is a common pillar
of support for PDCs. It provides a framework for discussion between the university
and K-12 cultures. It also becomes a tool we can use within the community to
support intercultural exploration as exemplified by RCE, as well as a tool to
allow individual exploration of cultures residing within and outside the PDC
confines. Likewise, a hybrid culture provides us with the data to provide thick
descriptions to our field and the context within which to integrate our missions
of teaching, research, and service (Boyer, 1997).
Culture, Technology, and Teacher Education
These two examples of Reading Classroom Explorer and Professional Development
Communities demonstrate the possibilities of using technology within teacher
education to promote intercultural understanding. We have selected these two
not as sole examples in a broad literature review, but rather as exemplars of
different uses of technology. RCE is a tool used to promote intercultural
appreciation of pedagogical and student diversity in literacy instruction. There
are other examples of such tools (e.g., CTELL, see Kinzer, Labbo, Leu, Teale,
2002; CaseNEX, see Gartland, 2001) that promote similar objectives and goals.
What makes these tools unique is the fact that the technology is being used
as the lens from which preservice teachers can observe and explore intercultural
PDCs, conversely, have been provided as an example of how technology can be
used in a process that is designed to promote intercultural understanding
and pedagogical and student diversity. Professional development communities
do not necessarily have to use technology within the process, but its use can
promote the aforementioned goals. The PDCs are one such example; other such
communities are emerging as researchers and practitioners realize that separate
technology-based field experiences are not enough to make technology a significant
component of teaching (Dawson, 2005).
Both examples support the notion that technology can be used to promote intercultural
perspectives in teacher education, referencing the ideas and challenges brought
forth from a reading of Geertz. However, this is not an easy task for a number
of reasons. First, there are multiple cultures that exist in attempting to integrate
intercultural education. For instance, there is a strong teacher education culture,
as well as a culture of ITTE, let alone the cultures of both of those situated
within different countries, languages, and contexts. In addition, returning
to the metaphor of the oasis, educational technology is situated within various
disciplines in university settings. Therefore, even with the same goals, objectives,
and proposed outcomes, we are attempting to merge multiple cultures that may
be ill-defined in and of themselves.
Second, although these cultures do exist, one outcome of our work is the production
of new cultures (or subcultures), particularly with the advent of online teaching
and learning. We are trying to provide multiple perspectives on various issues.
As we participate in this endeavor, we are creating a new culture of technology
learners and teachers—a perspective that must also be accounted for in
the process. Thick description is a way to get at existing cultures, but it
is potentially an ideal way to build new cultures or at least to recognize cultures
that have evolved or adapted as an outcome of our work.
Third, we have yet to mention the notion of the digital divide. If the digital
divide is a distinction between the haves and the have-nots, one could argue
these are distinct cultures. If technology becomes a way to learn about these
cultures or a process in which we study or develop these cultures, we need to
pay strict attention to disenfranchised cultures or those cultures that become
underprivileged because of our work.
However, this is really a simplification of the digital divide. A reading of
Geertz might encourage us to consider more than just simple technical access
as the digital divide. We suggest reviewing the notion of the digital divide,
keeping interpretation and the notion of webs of significance at the forefront
of our analyses. This would encourage exploration of the digital divide from
multiple perspectives, including but not limited to gender, race, ethnicity,
age, special needs, and teacher preparation. Perhaps more importantly, a reading
of Geertz would lead us to define deep play for the parties involved
in the technology use. In other words, are there times when the relationship
between the user and the technology stands to bring net pain? This relates to
the notion of unintended consequences and the importance of different values
that each culture places on various technologies and how that value is exchanged,
transformed, abandoned, or strengthened with the diffusion of innovations (Rogers,
In addition, when this mature intercultural view of educational technology
is realized, it may be easier to understand that the concept of a digital divide
is often oversimplified. Reform activities to address digital divides, including
those in teacher education and professional development communities, can be
informed by understanding of processes of adoption and diffusion of innovations
(Rogers, 1995) through multiple cultures and intercultures.
This leads us to our final consideration—the diffusion of innovations
and the importance of cultural considerations. Rogers (1995) stated that the
process of adoption and diffusion of innovations has proven consistent over
time, throughout disciplines and across cultures. Therefore, we need to remember
that any type of diffusion of technological tools or processes (e.g., RCE or
a PDC) is a time-consuming endeavor that directly attempts to impact the culture’s
existing webs of significance.
Funding for the exemplary current practice discussed in this paper were partly
developed under a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary
Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education. However, these contents do
not necessarily represent policy of the Department of Education, and you should
not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.
Boyer, E.L. (1997). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate.
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Dr. Richard E. Ferdig
University of Florida
Dr. Kara Dawson
University of Florida