As an English teacher educator, one of my objectives is preparing English preservice teachers to use technology effectively in their future English language arts classrooms. This coincides with a second objective: preparing English preservice teachers to reflect on the pedagogical implications of their classroom decisions. For every “What should I do?” a teacher must ask, “Why should I do it?” Technology use in the classroom is no exception. As I teach my preservice teachers to ask these questions of their own practice, I must also consider them myself. What should I do to prepare future teachers to consider technology for their English classrooms, and why should I stress technology when the syllabus is already full?
My preservice teachers, after all, are familiar with technology by the time they reach me. They IM and text and chat; they Google and blog and game. They have used it during their own education and studied its use in education at large. They have also come to their secondary English methods class with a specific course in educational technology under their belts. After completing this two-credit course, they can create Web pages and WebQuests, manipulate Word documents and PowerPoint presentations, discuss the use – or lack thereof – of technology in today’s schools and identify the implications of digital literacy and the digital divide. All of this means they can competently complete the technological tasks required of them during the methods course, whether maintaining reflective weblogs, engaging in online discussions through WebCT, conducting an Internet search for short story lesson plans, or creating unit plans in an electronic portfolio.
These tasks meet pedagogical objectives, but they are also an effort to meaningfully incorporate technology into the English methods classroom, a way to answer the “what” as well as the “why.” By using these technologies in context, for a specific purpose and with a desired outcome, my goal is for preservice teachers to connect technology with issues of practice. Teacher educators recognize that preservice teachers need exposure to and experience with diverse technologies during their university preparation if they are to meet the demands of the 21st-century classroom (Bell, 2001; Pope & Golub, 2000; Young & Bush, 2004). Exposure and experience, however, do not automatically offer assurances that preservice teachers will view technology as a viable asset to teaching and learning once they leave the university. Without connecting technology to their practice and their students’ learning in meaningful ways, preservice teachers can easily dismiss their technology use during university preparation as abstract and impracticable.
Certainly, it does not help that teaching with technology is a complex issue, bound by issues of access, funding, support, and time for both students and teachers (Young & Bush, 2004). As the preservice teachers observe classroom teaching in local schools, they see these issues played out on a daily basis: what students do in the computer lab, what resources the schools offer, how students respond to creating a PowerPoint presentation, how teachers can avoid using technology while still teaching strong lessons.
When English teachers effectively integrate technology into their classrooms, however, they have the opportunity to engage students positively in the learning process. As the literature attests, technology can encourage students to work within and across multiple literacies, providing opportunities for new understandings and broader applications in the English classroom (Kim & Kamil, 2004; Myers & Beach, 2004; Patterson, 2000). The use of interactive technologies can support collaborative learning, within and beyond the English classroom (Carroll & Bowman, 2000; Hogue, Nellen, Patterson, & Schulze, 2004; Sipe, 2000). Certain technologies can also offer constructivist learning experiences (Coppola, 2004; Wenglinksy, 2005), where students are allowed, if not required, to construct their own understanding of the subject at hand in order to complete the technological task.
At issue, then, is how to prepare preservice English teachers to consider teaching in their future classrooms with the technology used and discussed in the methods course. How can teacher educators build preservice English teachers’ comfort with and comprehension of technology for teaching and learning? What technologies are making an impact in the English classrooms preservice teachers are soon to enter? How can preservice English teachers come to understand the benefits and concerns of implementing these technologies for student learning outside the context of an actual classroom? Concentrating on the specific technology of weblogs, this article explores these questions by addressing preservice teachers’ construction of a working pedagogy that includes the use of technology within the content area for both teaching and learning.
Technology as Part of Pedagogy
When preservice teachers reach the English methods course, the majority of their technological knowledge has been gained outside the context of their content area, making it imperative that the methods course link the technology to the teaching of English. Young and Bush (2004) offered this as a pedagogical issue: English teachers should be capable of choosing technology “based upon their own needs, goals, students, and classrooms, rather than the external pressure to fit random and often decontexualized technology applications into an already complex and full curriculum” (A pedagogical framework, ¶ 1). Their argument also applies to teacher educators. The technology integrated into methods courses must meet the needs of the students as well as the instructor, knowledgably chosen because it supports specific goals rather than because it happens to be in the classroom. This requires teacher educators to know the technology of which they teach. Just as articles are read before they are assigned, technology should be used before it is incorporated. Teacher educators can not only put together lectures integrating media but take part in online discussions (like those offered by the National Council of Teachers of English [NCTE]), read weblogs focused on issues of technology in teacher education (like the SITE Blog) or maintain a weblog themselves (like that written by Christopher D. Sessums directing distance education at the University of Florida’s College of Education). Editor’s note: Web site URLs are provided in the Resources section at the end of this paper.
In effect, then, one component of the methods course is to build preservice teachers’ (and teacher educators’) technological pedagogical content knowledge or TPCK (Mishra & Koehler, 2006, n.d.). As Mishra and Koehler (2006) explained, the rapid change of current technology and the debate over technology’s use in schools require teachers to possess a working knowledge of technology for teaching and learning. This knowledge is specific, however, and defined by an
understanding of the complex relationships between technology, content, and pedagogy, and using this understanding to develop appropriate, context-specific strategies and representations. Productive technology integration in teaching needs to consider all three issues not in isolation, but rather within the complex relationships in the system defined by the three key elements. (p. 1029)
These complex relationships can be replicated in the English methods classroom, where preservice teachers are already considering the integration of pedagogy and content. Through past and present experiences, preservice teachers may possess the technical skills required to use technology, but they also need to understand the application of that technology in an English context (Pope & Golub, 2000).
Work with technology in the methods course provides preservice teachers with the opportunity to explore a specific technology’s “relationship to subject matter in authentic contexts” (Mishra & Koehler, 2006, p. 1045) while building their technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPCK). Preservice teachers can create assignments that incorporate weblogs, for example, and then consider the benefits and drawbacks of that usage for student learning in a collaborative setting situated for such exploration and evaluation. They also have the opportunity to consider the technology itself.
Although they may have experience with weblogs – to complete a course requirement, perhaps, or to communicate with friends – preservice teachers now need to consider the technology from a pedagogical viewpoint. As Parry (2006) explained, teachers must understand that reading and writing with weblogs requires students to “learn not only how to cite and link, but indeed to package their writings in a different way” (Why this matters in a blogging classroom, ¶ 3), whether determining the meaning of audience in a digital space or learning how to use Really Simple Syndication (RSS) to control the flow of information. (Carvin’s, 2004, What’s RSS and Why Should I Care About It? offers a clear explanation of RSS as well as examples of different aggregators.) By considering weblogs from a pedagogical and a technological standpoint, preservice teachers engage their evolving TPCK, making connections between teaching, technology, and student learning as they prepare to enter their own English classrooms.
Weblogs in General
Weblogs today are most often associated with online personal journals. At their inception in the early 1990s, however, weblogs were simply individually maintained Web sites containing hyperlinks to personally interesting information found on the Web with commentary accompanying those links (Blood, 2002). The publication of weblogs to a Web-based readership created a forum for individuals to express themselves to an outside audience on a continuous basis, encouraging “bloggers” to offer more explanation, description, and support in their postings. The addition of comment features to weblog templates provided a space for asynchronous communication between bloggers and weblog readers, creating a sense of community and supporting collaborative interactions between authors and readers.
The continuous development of free and user-friendly weblog platforms – among them Blogger, Xanga, LiveJournal, and eBloggy – contributed to the evolution of weblogs, as creation and maintenance became independent from the knowledge of hypertext markup language (HTML) coding and, therefore, more accessible to the novice computer user.
The present day weblog-as-journal is only one version of the weblog. Individuals continue to alter the form to suit their needs, keeping the basic blueprint but changing the details. The continuous revision of one’s “personal version of the weblog format, dictated by purpose, interest, and whim [reveals that the] weblog is infinitely malleable and may be adapted to almost any end” (Blood, 2002, p. 8). Today, weblogs are news outlets, course discussion sites, group support systems, community bulletin boards and individual issue platforms, as well as personal journals and hyperlinked Web sites. This flexibility of format and the relative ease of creation, as well as the ability to incorporate hyperlinks and video or audio content, encourage educators to consider weblogs for classroom teaching and learning. The educative potential of weblogs also supports consideration of their use in English language arts instruction.
Weblogs, like other asynchronous communication technologies, enable participation within and beyond the classroom with access to an Internet-connected computer (Järvelä & Häkkinen, 2002; Mayer, 2002; Whipp, 2003). The delay required of participation beyond physical walls encourages students to extend their thinking on and consider their responses to classroom-initiated topics, supporting the development of critical and reflective thinking (Black, 2005; McDuffie & Slavit, 2003; Sliva, 2002). Weblogs provide a purposeful approach to writing, requiring students to write conscious of an audience and supporting the meaningful application of voice, mechanics, and goal (Bull, Bull, & Kajder, 2003; Kajder & Bull, 2004). Weblogs also support collaborative knowledge creation, whether students are sharing individual weblogs, posing questions through the comment feature, or working together to create a community weblog (Riel & Fulton, 2001; Shoffner, 2005; Weiler, 2003). Lastly, as a collaborative or an individual effort, weblogs support student engagement with multiple literacies, as students work with written, visual, and audible texts in a nonlinear environment (Jetton & Dole, 2004; Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, & Cammack, 2004).
As with any instructional decision, however, educators must consider the educative challenges and consequences of weblog use in the classroom (Bruce, 1999). Weblogs are dependent on access to both a computer and the Internet, resources that may not be readily available to students at home or to teachers in the classroom. Weblogs are also dependent on the teacher’s ability to effectively incorporate them into student learning. As Kajder (2003, 2004) has explained, technology is a tool, not a goal, for instruction, requiring teachers to think critically on how weblogs will affect teaching and learning. Ferdig (2007) presented a succinct rationale to any technology’s incorporation in the classroom when he stated,
I am not convinced that technologies have any inherent ability to be pedagogically-sound or doomed to classroom failure; I believe they have affordances and constraints which make them more or less useful to any teaching and learning context (Ferdig, 2006). Social software provides opportunities, both bad and good, for our future teachers and for their students. It is crucial that the educational technology and teacher education community understand how these tools can be, and are being, used. (p. 6)
In their book “But Will It Work With Real Students?”: Scenarios for Teaching Secondary English Language Arts, Alsup and Bush (2003) provided a list of practical questions for preservice teachers to consider when incorporating technology into the English classroom. A modified version of these questions, specifically attuned to weblogs, offers preservice teachers pedagogical guidance as they consider the technology’s use in their content area – in effect, supporting the construction of preservice teachers’ TPCK.
As modified for weblogs, the criteria offered by Alsup and Bush (2003) would read as follows:
- Why do I want to use weblogs?
- To support instructional goals or state objectives? To provide students necessary experience with technology? To engage appropriate literacy or critical thinking skills?
- How can weblogs enhance my ability to reach curricular goals and meet content standards?
- By requiring the application of multiple literacies? By providing an authentic writing space? By engaging students in collaborative work?
- Are my students capable of handling weblogs? How much previous experience have they had with technology, in general, and weblogs, in particular?
- What have students told me? What have I observed? How would I assess students’ past experiences with technology in my classroom?
- How comfortable and knowledgeable am I with weblogs?
- Have I used weblogs before? Can others guide me from their experiences? Have I considered the benefits and challenges of utilizing weblogs? How are other educators using weblogs in and out of the classroom?
- What weblog technologies are available to me?
- Have I examined different weblog software? Have I considered different weblog applications? Will school filters allow access to free weblog host sites?
- What am I teaching my students with weblogs?
- Writing skills? Technology applications? Collaborative work? Knowledge construction? Critical thinking? Individual reflection?
- How am I going to assess the weblogs?
- For completion? Against specific objectives or standards? Using a rubric? Holistically?
- How will the school environment affect my use of weblogs?
- In a computer lab or in the classroom? Every day or once a week? During class or at home?
By engaging with the issues surrounding weblog use before they begin teaching, preservice teachers have the opportunity to consider the place of this particular technology in their teaching and their students’ learning. Additionally, preservice teachers can use these criteria to evaluate current applications of weblogs in the English classroom. The resulting discussion allows preservice teachers to see the praxis of technological possibility and classroom applicability, further supporting development of their TPCK.
As preservice English teachers consider the educative value and challenge surrounding weblogs in their future classrooms, they also need to explore the application of weblogs in current classrooms. Practicing teachers are using weblogs in a variety of practical and innovative ways, for student learning and for their own teaching (See Appendix A).
Educators on the web are also using weblogs to disseminate information on educational technology, to connect educators to various resources, to explore issues of technology adoption and implementation, and to showcase new applications. Preservice English teachers (and teacher educators) can explore these weblogs, using the information, discussion, and resources provided by these edu-bloggers to further develop their TCPK. (See Appendix B)
In teacher education, weblogs are often found in the form of individual reflective journals (Bull et al., 2003; Dodge & Molebash, 2004; Shoffner, 2006; Stiler & Philleo, 2003). Using weblogs in this manner may support preservice teachers’ comfort and facility with the technology itself but may not, in turn, engender a view of weblogs as a viable technology for the English classroom. As practicing English teachers and edu-bloggers demonstrate, however, weblogs are present in English classrooms, making consideration of this technology a necessary topic for the methods class. The questions for technology implementation provided by Alsup and Bush (2003) are also a valuable topic for the methods classroom.
Preservice teachers should evaluate specific technologies against the given criteria in order to develop a working knowledge of that technology’s place in the English classroom. Preservice English teachers need exposure to the uses, implications, and challenges of weblogs while in the methods class in order to consider the technology’s potential for teaching and learning. Through development of weblog-based assignments, discussion of the issues surrounding weblog use and analysis of current practitioner and edu-blogger weblogs, preservice English teachers have the opportunity to explore and evaluate weblogs as instructional tools (Ferdig, 2007; Young & Bush, 2004) while expanding their TPCK as English educators.
Alsup, J., & Bush, J. (2003). “But will it work with real students?:” Scenarios for teaching secondary English language arts. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Bell, L. (2001). Preparing tomorrow’s teachers to use technology: Perspectives of the leaders of twelve national education associations. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online], 1(4). Retrieved October 10, 2007, from http://www.citejournal.org/vol1/iss4/currentissues/general/article1.htm
Black, A. (2005). The use of asynchronous discussion: Creating a text of talk. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online], 5(1). Retrieved May 21, 2007, from http://www.citejournal.org/vol5/iss1/languagearts/article1.cfm
Blood, R. (2002). The weblog handbook: Practical advice on creating and maintaining your blog. Cambridge, MA: Perseus.
Bruce, B. (1999). Challenges for the evaluation of new information and communication technologies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 42(6), 450-455.
Bull, G., Bull, G., & Kajder, S. B. (2003). Writing with weblogs: Reinventing student journals. Learning & Leading with Technology, 31(1), 32-35.
Carroll, P. S., & Bowman, C. A. (2000). Leaping fire: Texts and technology. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online], 1(2). Retrieved October 10, 2007, from http://www.citejournal.org/vol1/iss2/currentissues/english/article1.htm
Carvin, A. (2004). What’s RSS and why should I care about it? Retrieved September 28, 2007, from the Digital Divide Network Web site: http://www.digitaldivide.net/articles/view.php?ArticleID=68
Coppola, E. M. (2004). Powering up: Learning to teach well with technology. New York: Teachers College Press.
Dodge, B. J., & Molebash, P. (2004, June). When teachers blog: A preliminary report. Paper presented at the National Educational Computing Conference, New Orleans, LA.
Ferdig, R. E. (2007). Editorial: Examining social software in teacher education. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 15(1), 5-10.
Hogue, D., Nellen, T., Patterson, N. G., & Schulze, P. (2004). CyberEnglish. English Journal, 94(2), 70-75.
Järvelä, S., & Häkkinen, P. (2002). Web-based cases in teaching and learning: The quality of discussions and a stage of perspective taking in asynchronous communication. Interactive Learning Environments, 10(1), 1-22.
Jetton, T. L., & Dole, J. A. (Eds.). (2004). Adolescent literacy research and practice. New York: Guilford Press.
Kajder, S. B. (2003). The tech-savvy English classroom. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Kajder, S. B. (2004). Plugging in: What technology brings to the English/language arts classroom. Voices From the Middle, 11(3), 6-9.
Kajder, S. B., & Bull, G. (2004). A space for “writing without writing.” Learning & Leading with Technology, 31(6), 32-35.
Kim, H. S., & Kamil, M. L. (2004). Adolescents, computer technology, and literacy. In T. L. Jetton & J. A. Dole (Eds.), Adolescent literacy research and practice (pp. 351-368). New York: Guilford Press.
Leu, J., Kinzer, C. K., Coiro, J. L., & Cammack, D. W. (2004). Toward a theory of new literacies emerging from the Internet and other information and communication technologies. In R. B. Ruddell & N. J. Unrau (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (Vol. 5, pp. 1570-1613). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Mayer, D. (2002). An electronic lifeline: Information and communication technologies in a teacher education internship. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 30(2), 181-195.
McDuffie, A. R., & Slavit, D. (2003). Utilizing online discussion to support reflection and challenge beliefs in elementary mathematics methods classrooms. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online], 2(4). Retrieved October 10, 2007, from http://www.citejournal.org/vol2/iss4/mathematics/article1.cfm
Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054.
Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (n.d.). TPCK for technology integration: A wiki on technological pedagogical content knowledge. Retrieved May 16, 2007, from http://www.tpck.org
Myers, J., & Beach, R. (2004). Constructing critical literacy practices through technological tools and inquiry. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online], 4(3). Retrieved October 11, 2007, from http://www.citejournal.org/vol4/iss3/languagearts/article1.cfm
Parry, D. (2006). The technology of reading and writing in the digital space: Why RSS is crucial for a blogging classroom. Retrieved May 16, 2007, from the Blogs for Learning Web site: http://blogsforlearning.msu.edu/articles/view.php?id=6
Patterson, N. G. (2000). Hypertext and the changing roles of readers. English Journal, 90(2), 74-80.
Pope, C. A., & Golub, J. N. (2000). Preparing tomorrow’s English language arts teachers today: Principles and practices for infusing technology. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online], 1(1). Retrieved October 11, 2007, from http://www.citejournal.org/vol1/iss1/currentissues/english/article1.htm
Riel, M., & Fulton, K. (2001). The role of technology in supporting learning communities. Phi Delta Kappan, 82(7), 518-523.
Shoffner, M. (2005, March). “If you write it down, you have to think about it”: Incorporating weblogs into pre-service teachers’ reflective practice. Paper presented at the annual conference of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education, Phoenix, AZ.
Shoffner, M. (2006). “We don’t have the liberty of being brainless”: Exploring pre-service teachers use of weblogs for informal reflection. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Sipe, R. B. (2000). Virtually being there: Creating authentic experiences through interactive exchanges. English Journal, 90(2), 104-111.
Sliva, J. (2002). Developing a mathematical community using an electronic discussion forum in an elementary mathematics methods course. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online], 2(1). Retrieved October 10, 2007, from http://www.citejournal.org/vol2/iss1/currentpractice/article1.cfm
Stiler, G. M., & Philleo, T. (2003). Blogging and blogspots: An alternative format for encouraging reflective practice among preservice teachers. Education, 123(4), 789-797.
Weiler, G. (2003). Using weblogs in the classroom. English Journal, 92(5), 73-75.
Wenglinksy, H. (2005). Using technology wisely: The keys to success in schools. New York: Teachers College Press.
Whipp, J. L. (2003). Scaffolding critical reflection in online discussions: Helping prospective teachers think deeply about field experiences in urban schools. Journal of Teacher Education, 54(4), 321-333.
Young, C. A., & Bush, J. (2004). Teaching the English language arts with technology: A critical approach and pedagogical framework. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online], 4(1). Retrieved October 11, 2007, from http://www.citejournal.org/vol4/iss1/languagearts/article1.cfm
eBloggy – http://www.ebloggy.com
National Council of Teachers of English – http://www.ncte.org/member/community/listservs/119605.htm
Christopher D. Sessums blog- http://elgg.net/csessums/weblog
SITE Blog – http://www.siteblog.org/
English Literature 12 (http://dcsenglish.edublogs.org/): An English teacher in Canada communicates with his students through a class weblog, much like a community bulletin board. Posts explain how to stop spam, provide a student’s notes on an Atwood short story and thank students for a successful class.
Madness in the Method (http://mrscaldwell0.edublogs.org/): Using a class weblog, a high school English teacher in Alabama encourages her students to engage in discussion and extend their thinking beyond the physical classroom. Recent postings have analyzed cartoons for satire, examined modern movies for thematic connections to Frankenstein and provided tips for writing research papers.
Mr. Watson’s Class Pages (http://mrwatsonsclasspages.blogspot.com/): A Hawaiian teacher’s weblog provides students with directions for papers and projects, some of them completed in weblogs and wikis. Students’ individual weblogs are hyperlinked from the class page.
Miller’s English 10 Classroom Blog (http://millersenglish10.blogspot.com/): A teacher in Connecticut maintains a homework weblog for his students, assigning blog prompts, providing guidelines for commenting and encouraging his students to consider the technology skills they need in today’s world. This weblog also serves as a portal to students’ individual literature-based weblogs and literature circle wikis.
2 Cents Worth (http://davidwarlick.com/2cents/): David Warlick utilizes a weblog to present his views on a range of technological issues of interest to educators, among them podcasting and new literacies.
Moving at the Speed of Creativity (http://www.speedofcreativity.org/): Through his weblog, Fryer explores such technological driven topics as digital storytelling, literacy and weblogs in the classroom.
Secondary Worlds (http://secondaryworlds.com/): In his weblog, Robert Rozema discusses technology in English from the perspective of an English educator utilizing the technology, with multiple posts on topics such as multimedia and simulations.
The 21st Century Schoolhouse (http://literaturecirclesintheclassroom.blogspot.com/): Christian Miller, who maintains Miller’s English 10 Classroom Blog (mentioned above), considers the meaning and impact of technology for students and teachers in a personal weblog. He considers such relevant topics as teachers learning about technology, students’ reactions to technology and the dilemma of incorporating technology in the classroom.
Weblogg-ed (http://weblogg-ed.com/): Will Richardson, one of the original edu-bloggers, maintains a weblog that serves as a rich resource for educators. In addition to covering a wide range of topics, Richardson provides numerous posts related to weblogs, including best practices with weblogs, weblog theory and links to educator weblogs.