Whittier, D. (2005). The teacher as software developer. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 5(1). Available: http://www.citejournal.org/vol5/iss1/general/article2.cfm
The Teacher as Software Developer
The Teacher as Software Developer is the name of a program integrating
technology instruction, curriculum, and field experiences in teacher preparation.
In an introductory education course for all undergraduate education students,
a required technology lab links to a one-day-a-week prepracticum. Preservice
students produce a Web site or “software” for their supervising
teacher, who is their "client,” and the supervising classroom
teacher directs them to authentic curriculum objectives. Preservice teachers
learn about software while learning about teaching, lesson planning, curriculum,
and technology. Supervising classroom teachers’ gain an opportunity
to experience designing and using software with their own students and
curriculum and access to the preservice student produced Web sites after
the student has completed the lab. Evidence of the program’s success
comes from student survey data and student reflections. Despite the program’s
productivity, it remains an island of instructional technology.
The Teacher as Software Developer is the name of an innovative
program synthesizing technology instruction, curriculum content, and field experiences
in teacher preparation. It stands for the organizational framework of an introduction
to technology lab required of all undergraduate education majors at Boston University.
Since introducing this program in 1998, students have benefited from the transformation
of technology instruction at our School of Education. Prior to its introduction,
there were, at best, good faith attempts at isolated versions of technology
instruction. Technology instruction for the inexperienced preservice undergraduate
was a largely futile exercise in imagining what software would look
like in a classroom. At worst, it was an exercise in putting technology mastery
first, and leaving content to chance. Through The Teacher as Software Developer
program, technology instruction has become an agent and a catalyst for our undergraduate
preservice teachers learning about lesson planning, teaching, curriculum, and
technology. This article provides a description of the Teacher as Software Developer
program and how it fits into the undergraduate curriculum for preparing teachers.
The Teacher as Software Developer program describes both the arrangement of
project-based learning in our introduction to technology lab and the planned
outcome of the lab, other coursework, and field experiences that comprise the
teacher preparation program. That is, preservice teachers who successfully complete
the introduction to technology lab are well on their way to becoming teachers
who can produce instructional software customized to their own classroom. The
program does not refer to teachers writing code for Microsoft or some other
computer-oriented activity. It does refer to teachers who are capable of developing
their own instructional Web sites and other multimedia resources using a variety
of authoring instruments available today and who are comfortable with their
students doing the same.
The Teacher as Software Developer program describes the conceptual framework
of a technology lab that is integral to the fundamental education course required
of all undergraduate education students. SED ED 100, Introduction to Education,
is a major six-credit course that education students typically take in their
first or second year at Boston University, well before they take methods courses,
which they take typically in their third year. ED 100 orients students to the
teaching profession and includes critical, introductory instruction in "teacher
competency, philosophical concepts applied to education, schooling as a societal
system in itself, including character education, curriculum, administrative
organization, learning principles, the emergence of the educator in society,
and the education of special populations in schooling" (Boston University
Undergraduate Bulletin, 2004-05). Students taking ED-100 are also required to
take concurrently SED ED 101, our introduction to educational technology lab,
and to participate in a one-day per week field placement in the classroom of
a local school.
The program was established in 1998, after several semesters of unsuccessfully
attempting to link the introduction to technology directly with the broad introduction
to the teaching profession course. The transformation occurred through linking
the introduction to technology lab to the prepracticum field placement required
of each student. This arrangement, referred to as the Teacher as Software Developer
program, has proven vastly more productive in helping students learn about teaching
and technology. Evidence for this conclusion comes from observing the projects
the students produced. Before the Teacher as Software Developer program, students
were either addressing broad philosophical and cultural topics from the lecture
course that were too difficult to be realized in the limited context of the
lab, or they were addressing some imagined application in the classroom for
which they had insufficient experience to envision. Because of the difficulty
of achieving these objectives, the content of the student projects tended to
drift, taking a back seat to technical competency. Given these content obstacles,
far too many projects ended up as “travelogues,” rather than educational
software. Although students were able to demonstrate sufficient technical mastery,
the projects were not well grounded in realistic classroom applications. Linking
to the prepracticum overcame these obstacles.
The prepracticum placement assigns students to be in a classroom one full day
a week. The Teacher as Software Developer program builds upon this fieldwork
in the introductory technology lab by requiring that assignment work done in
the lab serve the prepracticum classroom. In the lab, students learn basic technology
and curriculum integration skills, and because they are producing resources
for use in the classroom, they are in the position of being a “Teacher
as Software Developer.” Based on a simple agreement between the preservice
teacher and the supervising classroom teacher, the design builds on the premises
of project-based learning (Moursund, 1999). The lab counts as 10% of a student’s
grade in the six-credit ED-100 course, which although considerably less grade
value than the level of work required in the lab that meets one hour per week
for the entire semester, is an improvement over the zero credit status it carried
until fall of 2003.
The technology resources taught in the lab have changed over the years as technology
has evolved. In the current form, preservice students agree to produce a Web
site for their supervising teachers using Dreamweaver. The Web site must include
both instructional and assessment components (which are what we refer to as
"software") for technology-infused lessons. The Web was chosen because
of its easy accessibility and revise-ability, which overcome two major historical
obstacles teachers have faced in using technology-based resources. Dreamweaver
was chosen because of its currency as Web-authoring software.
To get started producing their Web sites, the preservice students are instructed
to think of their supervising teachers as their "clients" for this
lesson/software. The supervising classroom teachers agree to see that the lesson
addresses carefully selected, authentic curriculum objectives at the appropriate
time, approximately 8-10 weeks into the semester. Even though the agreement
itself is simple and clear, only careful targeting and specific support ensures
that these experiences are productive.
While the purpose of the program is to support the learning of the preservice
teacher, anecdotal evidence suggests that benefits also accrue to the supervising
classroom teacher. These benefits appear to occur through providing the in-service
classroom teachers experience in designing and using software with their students
in their particular classrooms and focused on their particular curriculum objectives
without having to take the time to produce it themselves. Through accepting
responsibility for directing their preservice teacher to appropriate objectives,
the supervising teachers gain the assistance of energetic undergraduates who
bring the supportive environment of the university-based instructional technology
lab to the agreement. Part of the explanation for this benefit may be that most
teachers did not learn to prepare technology-infused curriculum resources in
their teacher preparation programs. It is difficult to have time to learn and
time to construct their own instructional software while being responsible for
their classroom, let alone have the resources of the university to draw upon.
The Teacher as Software Developer program aims to prepare teachers to produce
these types of resources before they have responsibility for a classroom.
It also works toward preparing future teachers to work in partnership with instructional
technology specialists, much in the way they are working with classroom teachers
in the program.
By taking seriously the task of directing the preservice teachers to appropriate
curriculum objectives, participating teachers have the opportunity to gain valuable
experience in using software as a piece of their instruction. Additionally,
supervising classroom teachers’ may benefit from being able to continue
to use the student produced Web sites after the preservice teachers have completed
the technology lab. Many teachers have reported that these resources are valuable
and have requested continued access to them. In response, we are building a
searchable Web database of URLs, and we are looking for support to collect data
on how supervising teachers are continuing to use their student-produced Web
Putting teachers in the driver's seat of software design forms a theoretical
framework for the program by overcoming two primary causes for the failure of
software and technology-based materials to support learning. The first of these
problems results from overemphasizing software as a stand-alone product not
sufficiently integrated into the processes and methods that teachers employ
to help students learn. Historical analysis of many failed attempts to include
technology in the classroom shows that technology materials designed by nonteachers
overly emphasize generalized content transmission instead of specific learning
by individual students (Saettler, 1990). Emphasizing products over process describes
the emphasis on products comprised of generalized content produced by nonteachers,
as opposed to products that support and fit closely with classroom processes.
Emphasizing products that support process means to support specific learning
by individuals who have strengths and weaknesses and who need to interact with
new ideas in order to assimilate them, which is the kind of thing teachers do
routinely. The result of emphasizing products without regard to process is ultimately
the low productivity of technology in the classroom (Cuban 1986, 2001; Dockterman
1988). The Teacher as Software Developer program avoids the pitfall of putting
products over process by making teachers the principle architects of software.
This puts teachers in charge of ensuring that the software complements their
teaching style, is carefully adapted to the needs of their particular students,
is focused on the goals of their curriculum, and is carefully integrated into
the flow of learning activities in the classroom.
The second common cause for the failure of software to support learning is
poor alignment between the educational objectives and content of the software
and the curriculum objectives of that individual teacher and his or her particular
class of students. Even with state curriculum standards, teachers know that
their instructional strategies will work best when they match their own strengths
to the strengths and weaknesses of their students. It is very difficult for
nonteachers, unfamiliar with the great variety of students and teaching styles
common in schools, to design and produce software that will meet the needs of
an individual teacher teaching in an individual school. This is the lesson that
comes through so powerfully in the research of Cuban (1986, 2001) and the historical
analysis of Saettler (1990). The Teacher as Software Developer program addresses
this weakness by allowing teachers to direct the development of software for
their students, while consuming very little precious time. At the same time,
the program gives a preservice teacher an early opportunity to produce, implement,
and evaluate software in support of curriculum and instruction and, hence, be
on their way to becoming a teacher as software developer. Molding software to
fit perfectly into the flow of instruction in the classroom can then be the
foundation for the habit of turning to technology as a lively and flexible teaching
Another key point about the Teacher as Software Developer program is that,
because this is an introductory course, students have four years to learn about
integrating technology and their teaching. Of course, to take advantage of that
window of opportunity, there would need to be further, systematic instruction
in the design, development, and evaluation of educational software. Plans at
Boston University include the introduction of a required lab on universal design
and assistive technology that would follow the introductory lab, as well as
a lab attached to methods courses and a requirement for utilizing technology
during student teaching. These labs and requirements would comprise a comprehensive
and systematic approach to preparing teachers to use technology. Unfortunately,
the four years are currently unrealized potential as to date; there are no formal
requirements for further instruction and practice in utilizing technology beyond
the introduction to technology lab. Some faculty members require technology-infused
assignments and others do not, meaning that continued development of curriculum
and technology integration competencies are not systematic.
Even though the value of the Teacher as Software Developer program is focused
on learning to make instructional software, its benefits go beyond learning
computer competencies. By helping preservice teachers learn about appropriate
computer software in the context of learning about essential teacher concerns
such as curriculum, lesson planning, and assessment, technology becomes an agent
for learning about teaching. In this way, the program not only educates prospective
teachers but also models the integration of teaching, curriculum, assessment,
Evidence of the success of the Teacher as Software Developer program comes
from student self-assessed survey data and from student reflections on their
experiences in their classroom placements. For example, one freshman wrote,
"The technology lesson I did with Mrs. W's first grade class was probably
one of the best experiences of my life. I learned many things about myself ...
because it showed me that I have what it takes to be a decent teacher"
(Student Paper, 1999). Another wrote,
This past Wednesday was the day I presented the [KidPix] slideshow to the
students on the 'moose' (computer attached to a TV). I have never seen anything
hold their attention for as long of a time. They waited in anticipation for
their slide to come up. After viewing the slide show once, we had each child
come up and read his/her poem to the class. It was wonderful to see the pride
on their faces as they read their poems. (Student Paper, 1999)
More excerpts of student reflections are accessible on our Web site at http://emt.bu.edu/TasSD.
Cooperating teachers at the Alcott Elementary School in Concord, Massachusetts
helped Boston University faculty test and refine the Teacher as Software Developer
program in the context of a Massachusetts Department of Education Technology
Literacy Challenge Grant (1998-2000). Preservice teacher participants completed
surveys during the fall 1999 and spring 2000 semesters of the program’s
implementation to determine its impact upon the preservice teacher’s competencies.
An instrument developed at Boston University based, in part, on International
Society for Technology in Education (2002) National Educational Technology Standards
for Teachers and, in part, on a similar self-assessment used in 1999 in the
Boston Public Schools (Boston Public Schools, n.d.) measured the preservice
teacher’s self-assessment of their technology skills (Part 1) and what
they knew about technology and curriculum integration (Part 2). Results of “Part
2: Supporting Teaching and Learning With Technology,” which focused on
technology and curriculum integration, showed that participating School of Education
student’s reported an average growth of over 38% (n = 49) from
their precourse self-assessment to their postcourse assessment.
Participants’ preprogram scores on Part 2 ranged from 0% to 85% (median
27%, n = 28) and postprogram scores ranged from 23% to 100% (median
69%, n = 21). No data were collected on these students after the completion
of the program. The survey instrument is available through the research section
of the Teacher as Software Developer Web site.
Figure 1. Second Grade New England Native Americans
The success of this program derives not only from successfully integrating
the talents of student teachers with the wisdom of supervising teachers, or
from its assuring that the substance of the learning must always prevail over
the dazzle of the technology, but also from steadfast attention to the nuances
of each lesson. Without this last ingredient, the Teacher as Software Developer
program would not be so highly regarded by our students, university colleagues,
and cooperating teachers. The Teacher as Software Developer program has shown
how all teachers, young and old, can learn the most effective and most appropriate
use of technology. Examples of preservice teacher produced instructional Web
sites include a site supporting a second grade classroom social studies curriculum
on New England Native Americans (http://ed101.bu.edu/studentDoc/Fall04/nikki06/index.html;
see Figure 1) and a site of “personalized reading activities” for
a second grade class (http://ed101.bu.edu/studentDoc/Spring04/gilberts/site/index.html).
Despite the productivity of the Teacher as Software Developer program, it remains
an island of instructional technology, as there are currently no other required
technology courses or labs in the four-year undergraduate experience of training
to become a teacher. Most methods faculty members have introduced technology-infused
assignments, in many cases stimulated by participating in the Boston University
PT3 grant project focusing on faculty development (Whittier & Lara, 2003),
but there is no further systematic education in effectively using technology
in teaching. In addition, the use of technology is not required in the fourth
year student teaching experience. This may also further erode success at effectively
integrating technology into teaching (Strudler, McKinney, Jones, & Quinn
Although the Teacher as Software Developer program has proven productive in
helping preservice teachers to have an early experience of effectively using
technology in support of instruction and in providing cooperating teachers with
instructional resources both during its production and after the software producer/preservice
teacher has moved on, its long-term impact is yet unknown.
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