I read an article today in the Chronicle of Higher Ed today that told about U.S. education secretary, Arne Duncan’s, concern about the need for teacher colleges to improve. His message was aimed at graduate schools around the nation that provide teacher preparation programs, indicating that they are outdated and need a refresh.

As I read this article, I clearly see that it’s vague and makes no effort to identify how the programs need to be updated.  But it left me thinking about a comment that was left on the VoiceThread I shared with you all in a recent blog post.  I received a comment on the first slide of a VoiceThread I shared from Maryanne Bergos, who shared with us that she teaches a fully online class for pre-service teachers that introduces them to a variety of free web 2.0 tools that hold potential for teaching and learning (VoiceThread being one of them).  “Hmmm…what a great idea,” I thought!  After hearing Maryanne’s comment, I became quite enthused as I imagined an entire movement of exciting new curriculum lighting up around our country inspiring young, new educators about the possibilities that emerging web 2.0 tools (free web 2.0 tools) hold for them and their students.

Then, a couple days later, I read Duncan’s article.  There’s such a gap between these two feelings I have right now.  I’m not exactly sure where Maryanne is teaching but hopefully she’ll come back and leave a comment and share more with us here and maybe some others will enlighten us about your own teaching program and how “current” they are.  What are your reactions to Duncan’s message? If you are part of a teaching program or have graduated from one recently, do you feel it is in need of a refresh and, if so, in what way?  And then the next question would be, “If the program is current — is the school you are teaching at outfitted with current technology and ready to support your 21st century teaching skills?” 

But today I want to take this question into our colleges and universities, suggested already by the humorous video that greeted you at the start of this blog post.  Teaching programs produce educators who generally enter our K-12 educational system.  But what about all of our professors in higher education who enter college classrooms with generally no understanding of instructional methods whatsoever?  This is not a personal criticism of a college professor, although I could bet my laptop there will be many who will read this and take it that way.  This is an objective criticism of the training and hiring process in hiring education from an individual who has experienced it firsthand.  We have fostered a system of higher education that welcomes subject matter experts into our college classrooms who rarely have any understanding of pedagogy beyond the skills they have observed in their own “training” throughout their undergraduate and graduate careers which, I would bet, are primarily still comprised of lectures.  I won’t go into my “lecture” rant here.

So, as I reflect on Duncan’s call to refresh teaching programs throughout our nation, I beg us to widen this circle of inquiry and reflection and ask, “How would the quality of our college teaching change if a teacher training course was required at the master’s level for every discipline?”  I’m referring to a history student earning a master’s degree, a math student earning a master’s degree, a chemistry student earning a master’s degree, etc.

I leave you with one final story that I think about probably way too much.  In 1999 I graduated with my master’s degree in art history.  At the time, I knew I wanted to teach at the community college level that that’s just what I went on to do.  However, my roommate, we’ll call her Allie, chose to continue on for PhD.  She was admitted to an excellent program in New York.  Nine arduous years later she completed that PhD degree.  She called me to enthusiastically share that she had obtained a sabbatical replacement position at a college in New York, a very competitive position that she was very excited about.  I rejoiced in her excitement.  Wow, she worked hard for this!

However, what dismayed her and left her chilled to the bone was the fact that the department that she’d be teaching in had its classrooms equipped completely with digital projectors and she was expected to build her lessons with digital images, although the college was not providing any for her.  In her years of training as a student teaching assistant, Allie had only taught with color slides.  The classrooms at this college had no slide projectors and she had none of her own.  She had always relied upon the collection of her graduate institution.  But now she was on her own.

She was an analogue art history professor stranded in a digital art history world.  Allie had no clue how to locate digital images or how to prepare digital presentations.  What she had was over $120,000 in debt and a PhD degree that qualified her to teach.  But was she prepared to teach?

As I think about Allie’s situation, I can only imagine the realities of new grads who, in this dire job market, land a job (does that still happen?) and find themselves teaching online.  Heck, I imagine veteran college instructors making this transition too and feel the same way.  Imagine that cold, hard reality.  Sure, if you’re a full-time faculty member, they likely have access to a faculty development center, and hopefully it has online training fully integrated (but I know for a fact many do not).  In fact, We know from the recent APLU-Sloan survey (that did not include community colleges in the sample) that 4-year faculty are dissatisfied with the support they receive for teaching online and support includes online pedagogy training and instructional design assistance.  But imagine how this dissatisfaction grows if you are a part-time instructor

According to the 2009 Community College Center for Student Engagement survey, 67% of community college faculty are part-time instructors.  That’s an enormous percentage of the faculty teaching within the two-year institutions across our country.  We also know from the annual Sloan-C surveys that that the rate at which students at two-year colleges take online classes is about double that as in four-year institutions. More than one-half of all students enrolled in two-year institutions are taking one online course (this data was recently confirmed for me in an email exchange with Jeff Seaman from Babson Research, although the data was not included in this year’s Sloan survey report, Learning on Demand).  Hmm.  Seems to me that there’s a pretty significant argument here for putting out a call for updating the teaching skills of our college instructors.

The question becomes…who is the advocate for this lofty call within higher education?  How do we, as a nation, improve the teaching preparation of our college professors for the 21st century to include face-to-face, hybrid and online instruction?

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