Project TALENT: Infusing Technology in K-12 Field Placements
Through a Learning Community Model
Lorraine Sherry, RMC Research Corporation,
Abstract: TALENT is a 2000 PT3 grant at
TALENT (Teaching And Leading for Educational Needs with
Technology) is a 2000 Preparing Tomorrow’s
Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) Implementation grant funded by the U.S.
Department of Education. TALENT’s purpose is to infuse instructional technology
into the teacher preparation program at
In order to empower all educators in the teacher preparation program – including university faculty both in Education and in other departments where teacher candidates take their undergraduate and subject area courses, K-12 master teachers, and university supervisors of student teachers – TALENT designed, developed, and delivered weeklong institutes and full day workshops that focused on integrating technology into teaching and learning. Topics were tailored to the participants’ particular knowledge, skill, and interest level, and to their expressed needs. Typical tools taught ranged from PowerPoint, Web research, and Inspiration to digital video and virtual reality. K-12 teachers were trained along with university faculty in the institutes, and with university supervisors in the workshops. Thus, there was cross-fertilization of ideas among these three populations in the training programs.
In the next phase of its activities, TALENT began to forge links between the university supervisors, the K-12 master teachers, and the teacher candidates using a “triad” learning community model, in which each participant shared strategies and ideas about teaching with technology with the other two participants. The triad structure already existed at CSUF, but the concept of a triad that focused on technology infusion was unique to TALENT. In the TALENT model, a learning community could also consist of a larger team of master teachers, supervisors, and several teacher candidates who were placed at the same K-12 school and who shared a common goal, namely, simultaneous professional development for all parties. The work of each learning community was centered on a common set of activities, which were centered on technology integration within the cooperating school and which were negotiated by all members. Based on a successful field test and pilot test in 2001, the learning communities were fully implemented in 2002 and are being scaled up in 2003.
In both phases of their professional development activities, the project directors envisioned learning as social construction of knowledge within a community of practice (Vygotsky 1978; Lave 1991) in which each member shares with other members strategies and ideas about teaching with technology. Within the realm of the PT3 program, Carroll (2000) considered schools as connected learning communities of teachers and students, in which some participants were expert learners and others were novice learners, sharing information, supporting one another’s learning processes, and constructing a common base of understanding and shared skills. Engestrom (1996; 1998; 2001) pushed the limits of this viewpoint by envisioning communities of practice as Activity Systems in which individuals intentionally used tools or technologies to create or transform objects or concepts in order to bring about a desired outcome. In an Activity System, any given individual’s actions take place within a sociocultural framework that includes the learning community, together with its norms and conventions and the social roles or division of labor that characterize individual actions within local collaborative activities.
Activity Theory provides the conceptual framework for this paper. The basic difference between traditional Social Learning Theory, as characterized by Lave and Wenger (1991), and Activity Theory, as defined by Engestrom, is Engestrom’s emphasis on the transformational nature of collaborative endeavors. In describing communities of practice, Wenger (1998) stated,
The primary focus of [communities of practice] is on learning as social participation. Participation here refers not just to local events of engagement in certain activities with certain people, but to a more encompassing process of being active participants in the practices of social communities and constructing identities in relation to these communities. (p. 4)
Whereas the notion of communities of practice involves transforming the individual, Activity Theory also includes the concept of organizational learning. “Activity Theory suggests that collective developments occur when, through their actions, people reinterpret their environment, rebuild their activities, and reconceive of themselves” (Blackler, Crump, & McDonald 2000, p. 296). “As new activities arise, it changes the system, and perhaps new contradictions arise” (Engestrom, 2002, informal discussion at AERA).
Moreover, the third generation of Activity Theory expands the basic model to include two interacting Activity Systems with a potentially shared object as its minimal model (Engestrom 1998). In an informal discussion at AERA 2002, Barab stated: “Activity Theory must be expanded when examining systems that are evolving communities of practice over time. The evolution of the system parallels the evolution of the individual.” In response, Wells added, “To understand any one node in an Activity System, you must look at the other Activity Systems that are linked to it.”
Let us apply this concept to the two Activity Systems under consideration here: the School of Education and the cooperating K-12 school, in which expansive learning, a cyclical process of cognitive development (Bruner, 1966) with cognitive dissonance and contradictions leading to epistemic learning, is “complemented with movement along the horizontal dimension – with sideways movement between the various Activity Systems and actors involved” (Engestrom, 2001, p.2). Describing two interacting Activity Systems with a partially shared object, Engestrom states that boundary crossing actions are always two way interactions:
There are more or less sharply marked and penetrable boundaries between Activity Systems occupying a divided terrain…this new focus demands that we reformulate expansive learning actions as boundary crossing actions. The ideal-typical sequence of such actions may be something like this:
· Questioning, challenging and rejecting existing practices across boundaries;
· Analyzing existing practices across boundaries;
· Collaborative, mutually supportive building of new models, concepts, artifacts or patterns of conduct across boundaries;
· Examining and debating suggested models, concepts, artifacts, or patterns of conduct across boundaries;
· Emulating and appropriating new ideas, concepts, artifacts, or patterns of conduct across boundaries;
· Negotiating, bartering, and trading of material or immaterial resources related to new ideas, concepts, artifacts, or patterns of conduct across boundaries;
· Reflecting on and evaluating aspects of the process across boundaries; and
· Consolidating the outcomes across boundaries. (Engestrom, 2001, pp. 4-5.)
In the case of TALENT’s learning communities, the “shared
object” – technology-infused instruction – could potentially generate a ripple
effect within both the learning community itself and within each of the two
organizations that are joined by the learning community, namely the
Figure 1: Interacting Activity Systems
Three interesting research questions emerge from studying
TALENT’s learning communities: By what process does change in an Activity
System take place? How does this differ
for connected, parallel Activity Systems such as a K-12 school and a
In TALENT’s professional development days for K-12 master teachers and university supervisors, and in the weeklong institutes for K-12 master teachers and university teaching faculty, the teachers engage in boundary-crossing activities at the university by participating in day-long or weeklong professional development activities along with the university faculty. In the learning communities, the teacher candidates and the university supervisors engage in boundary crossing actions at the cooperating school: they trade materials, ideas, concepts, artifacts, or patterns of behavior across the school-university boundary.
By empowering the university supervisors to create and
participate in learning communities, by empowering teacher candidates to
participate in “reverse mentoring” for their master teachers (Leh 2002), and by
placing teacher candidates in situations where their master teachers can model
best practices in pedagogy in local classrooms, TALENT is actively promoting
expansive learning among all members of the learning communities. However, in conducting case studies of PT3
grantees across the
Figure 2: Master Teachers Producing Change within the Cooperating K-12 School
Implementing TALENT’s Learning Communities
The first learning community was pilot tested in fall 2001 at a local elementary school, with one of the two TALENT co-directors as facilitator. Based on its success, TALENT then implemented and field-tested thirteen more learning communities the following spring, with a total of 51 master teachers, university supervisors, and teacher candidates. Early in the semester, the learning communities met to discuss and articulate their personal goals. Besides personal goals that reflected each member’s professional growth plan, each learning community also developed a shared goal and a common set of learning activities. Each community met periodically during the semester to discuss progress, obstacles, and any support needed to accomplish their goals. Grant personnel supported the learning communities with hardware, software, and guidance as needed.
By the end of the spring 2002 academic term, each community had developed technology-rich lessons, which were videotaped and documented. Nine of the learning communities, representing five participating schools, each developed and delivered a product that could be used for further educational purposes. These products were collected, discussed, and shared at a learning community conference in May 2002, chaired by the TALENT co-director. Teams submitted logs with date, activity, time spent, and comments or reflections. Each team submitted a hard copy of their finished product with examples of student work. Some teams included lesson or unit plans; step-by-step procedures or instructions for class activities; printed resources with illustrations, rubrics, quizzes, diagnostic reports, and reflections.
The second implementation phase began during the fall 2002 academic term, with a total of fifteen master teachers, six university supervisors, and fourteen teacher candidates at nine cooperating schools. Interviews were conducted with all participants in three learning communities at an elementary, middle, and high school in November 2002. Their final documentation and videotaped lessons were collected at a meeting attended by 69 old and new learning community members in February 2003 and was analyzed in order to provide triangulation of the self-reported data.
Throughout the evaluation of the learning communities, including the pilot test, field test, and implementation, a grounded theory approach was used. Patton states that the evaluator’s task is to generate program theory from holistic data gathered through naturalistic inquiry for the purpose of helping program staff and decision makers understand how the program functions, why it functions as it does, and the ways in which the impacts/consequences/outcomes of the program flow from program activities. (See Patton 1987, pp. 39-40.) Through interviews, observations of the videotapes, and analysis of the documents and products produced by the learning communities, the evaluation team attempted to answer the question (Chiero, Sherry, Bohlin, & Harris, 2003) posed by the TALENT project co-director: “What happens when you form learning communities among student teachers, university supervisors, and master teachers, and challenge them to find new ways to teach with technology?”
The learning community participants were enthusiastic about their experiences, developed a variety of resources, and collaborated to improve the technology expertise of all members. The most commonly reported change was readiness to infuse technology; for example, two teacher candidates said, “I think that because of this experience I would be more inclined to incorporate technology in my lessons,” and “I have more appreciation for technology than I had prior to doing this.” A university supervisor also reported, “The group worked well together. I feel confident both teacher candidates will use technology in their own classrooms.” One of the university supervisors reported that his master teachers’ impressions of CSUF had improved as a result of participating in the learning communities. In November 2002, a master teacher described her experiences during the 2001 pilot study:
I was in a learning community last year at [the pilot study elementary school]. Because of the work we did there, I had 12 other teachers there working on the exact same project, using digital cameras, doing the lighting. We videotaped our field trips last year. The students did a photo diary and compiled it to iMovie and showed it to the parents the last day of school. It involved writing as well as camera use. The other teachers were really interested in what we had done.
Since then, the master teacher moved to another elementary
school and became a change agent there, as well. Leadership skills also increased among
several other K-12 master teachers and teacher candidates. A master teacher reported, “This project is
now a regular part of our curriculum.
Also, one member never used technology in her class and is now showing
other teachers this project.” A teacher
candidate stated, “I have become more of a leader in my classroom as my master
teacher knows even less than I do about technology. I have had to really take the initiative in
getting things done for this project.
Besides achieving their
individual and group learning goals, the members of the learning communities
were also beginning to institute changes in roles, norms, and cultural climate
regarding the use of technology within the partner schools and the
There were early effects of the learning communities upon the K-12 students in the cooperating schools. A master teacher stated, “Our students are excited. They have used the digital pictures from field trips and the school site to develop memoirs and scrapbooks. Their interest in writing and reading has drastically improved.” Another master teacher reported, “By using the digital cameras and iPhoto, we are giving access to all of our students – our population is 99 percent free or reduced lunch. With the writing we are incorporating with the iPhoto program, our students are developing and enhancing their vocabulary.”
Triangulation With Documented Evidence
Activities and outputs
documented by the learning communities indicated that the students at the
cooperating schools used technology to enhance their learning and construct
products in a myriad of ways that ranged from traditional to constructivist
learning activities. Middle school
students created a six-page newspaper with three columns and digital photos,
using desktop publishing software.
Middle school students watched a video about conducting Internet
research, used the Google search engine to answer four questions for a
mini-treasure hunt, evaluated two pre-selected Web sites using a provided
rubric, and took a quiz based on the information they learned. First grade students read and recorded facts
about trees while navigating through an interactive Web site in one of the four
independent learning centers, used KidPix to draw and label a diagram of a
tree, and saved their pages for later printing.
Working in four different learning centers, second grade students used Map
Quest to get step-by-step directions to a specific destination, took a short
computer walk through the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, and created
a topographic map of
Videotapes produced by the learning communities provided the most compelling evidence for technology infusion in the cooperating schools. Several teacher candidates in the fall 2001 pilot test of the learning communities videotaped themselves as each one taught a different lesson about technology to second graders. These age-appropriate lessons were integrated into a second grade science unit about ants. Each successive lesson built on the information in the preceding lessons, indicating that the unit was a true team-based activity. In each lesson, the teacher candidates were poised and confident with the technology. Students paid attention to the teacher candidate and were engaged in the activities at hand. Teacher candidates used a lot of questioning strategies, and in each case, many students raised their hands. Students demonstrated that they had learned both the vocabulary and function of the technologies that they were expected to use in their assignments by correctly identifying parts of the computer and computer accessories, by demonstrating proper fingering for keyboard practice, by raising their hands and answering a question, or by completing a test. Despite the diversity of the students in the classes, here were no differences in the attention paid to individual students by gender, ethnicity, or language proficiency.
In the first lesson, second grade students were introduced to the computers that were available in the library media center. All or nearly all of the children had computers at home, so the teacher candidate elicited their prior knowledge about computers. When asked what the computers were used for, most of the children said they used them to play games or to draw pictures. They were familiar with a mouse and cursor, but they had never used a keyboard. Realizing that these initial computer experiences were not aligned with the standards-based education expected at the school, and that students needed to be introduced to activities that were more appropriate to school, the teacher candidate asked them how they would use a computer at the job of their choice when they grew up. Typical responses were, “If I were a policeman, then I’d need to know how to use a computer to file reports to the Police Department,” “If I were a nurse, I would need to use a computer to keep track of my patients and how they are doing,” and “I know I will go to college, and I will have to write a lot of papers, so I need to know how to use a computer.” When asked how many students planned to go to college, all of them raised their hands.
Next, it was important for the students to associate a proper technical name with each piece of equipment. Part of this activity meant unlearning previous concepts such as using the word “disc” to refer to a variety of different storage media. Students had to identify the similarities (used for storing information) and differences (read-only versus read-write, size, capacity, portability etc.) between a 5¼ inch floppy disk, a 3½ inch high-density disk, and a compact disc (CD-ROM); and between a hard drive and a floppy drive. By the end of the lesson, all students were using the proper terminology to identify and describe the objects located on the front desk.
In the next lesson, presented by the second teacher candidate, students were given scale drawings of a keyboard. Keys were color coded to match students’ fingers, for example, pink for the “pinkie,” green for the “green thumb,” and gold for the ring finger. The teacher explained, “I labeled the keys for the ring finger in gold because that’s the finger that people wear their gold wedding rings on.” Students practiced placing their fingers at the home position and then were asked to identify which finger corresponded with which letter on the keyboard. They demonstrated their knowledge by raising the correct finger.
In the third lesson, the students were introduced to Alpha Smarts. The teacher candidate asked, “What’s the difference between an Alpha Smart and a regular keyboard?” One student said, “There’s no mouse, so you can’t draw pictures with it.” The teacher candidate said, “Yes, that’s because we will use Alpha Smarts only for writing and spelling activities.” Students placed their fingers in the home position on the keyboard and proceeded to type out their assigned spelling words. At the conclusion of the lesson, the teacher candidate congratulated the students on finishing their spelling list and advised the class, “When you have free time, practice your spelling on the Alpha Smarts. You can also do this when you get a chance to use a computer. You will have access to a word processor. That will help you build up your typing speed, which you’ll find very helpful later on in school.”
The final session featured each second grader creating a PowerPoint slide with their name, topic, a picture of an ant, and text that summarized information on a specific topic. Students entered information into PowerPoint from their handwritten papers that summarized their Internet-based and library-based findings from research on ants. Topics comprised ant body structure, life cycle, habitat, and other topics covered in the science unit. The children were particularly enthusiastic about importing clip art with detailed features of an ant’s anatomy. Since each student chose a different topic, the individual slides were then incorporated into a class PowerPoint presentation that summarized the results of the entire class’s research. Information found on the Internet is typically written in language characteristic of seventh grade and above, not second grade. However, the text in the student-created slides presented evidence that the students understood the concepts in the science unit. For example, in the “Ant Habitat” slide, the second grader included the text: “Ants don’t live in cold places.” This is a qualitatively different learning outcome from factual recall, such as simply listing the body parts or stages of the ant’s life cycle.
Classroom management often poses a problem in classrooms with limited equipment and requires strategies such as heterogeneous grouping with a team leader, pairing a computer literate student to work with a less experienced student, rotating student roles, planning related activities for the rest of the class to work on in other areas, and having clear guidelines for what behaviors and products will be expected of students. (Burkhart, 1998). That was not the case in the videotaped classes. All students worked individually on a computer and remained on task throughout all three lessons and the final activity. This was partly due to the teacher candidate’s familiar remark, “Okay students, your eyes on me, please,” when students’ attention needed to be gained, and partly to the fact that there were sufficient computers in the library media center for each student to work individually. Even when the students expressed obvious surprise and delight as they imported their first piece of clip art, this did not result in chaos or disruptions, and all students remained on task.
Spring 2002 Videotapes
In spring 2002, two pairs of teacher candidates, representing two learning communities placed at the same elementary school with the same master teacher, each presented their lessons. Another teacher candidate had her students give their final presentations on George Washington, using PowerPoint. By this time in the academic year, the second graders were used to working with computers, had developed better typing skills and used correct fingering, and were familiar with entering information into forms and using the tab key. They were given more opportunities for self-directed learning, in contrast with the more structured lessons presented in the pilot test of the first learning community. There was more prompting and coaching and less direct instruction by the teacher candidates. Activities were more interactive, and there were more problem-solving activities. For example, a lesson in drawing trees addressed both visual and textual learning. It revealed how the children were concretizing their tacit assumptions about trees and then correcting their errors in content as well as in their drawings.
At the end of the videotape, the video camera turned to the audience of teachers, parents, and students who had been watching the presentations by the teacher candidates and their students. The university supervisor asked the children about their experiences in creating their presentations, while the teacher candidate remained off to the side. The supervisor asked the students, “I think that all of you learned a lot, but did you have a good time doing it?” The students unanimously said, “Yes, it was fun,” and then described what they liked best about the projects.
Fall 2002: Building on Success
The flexible learning community structure that developed in
spring 2002 continued into the fall with thirteen new learning communities
consisting of fifteen master teachers, six university supervisors, and fourteen
teacher candidates at nine participating schools in
Eight master teachers, five credential candidates, and three university supervisors submitted completed survey forms. The most commonly reported personal goals (N >10 responses) were to create sustainable lessons, units, or learning environments for infusing technology into the curriculum; to increase proficiency in planning, designing, and implementing technology-based learning experiences; and to explore teaching strategies for using technology to enhance student learning. Some common goals included introducing technology-based learning to the students and the school; integrating technology into content-based lessons; teaching the children to make their own PowerPoint presentations; introducing students to creating computer generated art; and preparing the student teacher for her future as a teacher using technology.
Survey respondents identified six ways in which they learned from one another to increase their technology skills: observation (primarily observations of credential candidates), modeling (primarily modeling by credential candidates), individual mentoring and coaching (by TALENT co-director), discussing and evaluating strategies for teaching with technology, constructive feedback on one’s own use of technology, and constructive feedback on one’s own teaching with technology.
Survey participants were first asked what impact participation in the learning community had on them. The most frequently reported impacts involved increased proficiency in creating lessons, units, and technology-based learning experiences for students and exploring teaching strategies for using technology to enhance student learning. These reflected the most frequently reported personal goals. Finally, participants were asked to describe any impact of their learning community on other colleagues who were not part of their learning community. Ten participants answered this question with 30 percent reporting little or no impact and 70 percent reporting moderate to profound impact. Impacts included having another teacher request a credential candidate to teach her class a lesson on PowerPoint; using digital images created by the students as a cover for the school yearbook; greater use of the computer lab; and greater interest among other teachers in creating lessons or units for their own classes that incorporated the use of or centered around technology.
These self-reported data were validated by the interview statements of the learning community members in the mini-case studies, as well as in informal conversations with participants at the February 2003 meeting of old and new learning community members. The snowball effect of the learning communities spreading throughout the school, and reaching out to new schools, was informal and generally occurred by word of mouth rather than by any schoolwide change agency activities on the part of the learning communities. Where principal interest and support were reported, schoolwide effects were found to a greater extent.
One of TALENT’s objectives was to increase leadership skills among the credential candidates. Four master teachers and four credential candidates commented about how their technology leadership skills changed as a result of participating in their learning community. Their responses indicated that they saw an increase in leadership skills as an increase in comfort, confidence, and competence in using technology, rather than in change agency (i.e., trying to promote changes in roles, responsibilities, practices, or culture within their learning community or school.)
As the grant’s funding period drew to a close, an explanatory case study approach (Yin, 1994) was used to assess the progress and impact of the learning communities. There were two research questions for this qualitative study:
· What evidence exists to show the impact of TALENT on the technology and leadership skills of the learning communities; and
· To what extent has TALENT increased the placement of credential candidates in classrooms that facilitate technology-enhanced learning?
The unit of analysis was each learning community at three randomly selected cooperating schools:
· A large high school with one learning community consisting of one university supervisor, two master teachers, and a credential candidate who taught classes for both master teachers;
· A middle school with a traditional triad consisting of one university supervisor, one master teacher, and one credential candidate; and
· An elementary school at which a single university supervisor was in charge of three learning communities: two pairs consisting of one science teacher and one credential candidate each, and one pair consisting of a literacy teacher and her credential candidate.
The propositions matched the research questions, namely:
· Implementing learning communities at the school will increase technology skills and leadership skills for members of the learning communities; and
· The learning community approach will increase the placement of credential candidates in classrooms that facilitate technology-enhanced learning.
Assessing the academic achievement of the K-12 students was beyond the scope of the study.
High School Interviews
At the high school level, the emphasis was on building Web sites for keeping students informed about assignments and reporting student grades. According to the master teacher, “Students will have easier access to their assignments if they miss class. The Web site retains information, so they won’t have to ask us trivial questions if the information is posted there.” Another master teacher added, “The students are a little more involved now in the process of checking their grades and using those results to keep up with their work.” The teacher candidate explained, “It’s so our students can have easier access to what’s going on in the classroom. It’s also to keep their parents posted and well informed so the students won’t have any excuses, saying, ‘I didn’t know this was due.’” During the pilot and field tests of the learning communities, there was little effect on the university supervisors. During the fall 2002 implementation, this changed: “We talk, but not all of us can do technology. But the more of us that can do it, and the more I can incorporate mentoring others in my department, the better.”
Middle School Interviews
The common goal of the traditional triad at the middle school was to “put more technology to work in the classroom” and to create a student-centered project that could be reused in subsequent terms. The individual goal for the master teacher was to learn to use PowerPoint, whereas the teacher candidate was more interested in creating better lesson plans, building better rapport with the students, giving students clear directions for using digital cameras and iMovie, creating a manual for a reusable lesson plan, and leaving a working module for the master teacher by the end of the academic term. The university supervisor envisioned a more systemic approach:
The common goal is student achievement, such as using PhotoShop to make a yearbook, or some other student-centered project. And my individual goals are to see technology used more in the classroom; for teachers to acquire the knowledge of how to use technology; and for teachers to have successful experiences with technology that will encourage the district to provide more equipment and technology resources…The teacher candidates whom I supervise are creating sustainable units, and those units will be ready to use next year. Having observed the initial presentations of classroom units, I am very excited about their progress. I was there yesterday when the TALENT administrators brought over a CD burner, and the student teacher is ready to start putting the students’ movies together today. The team seems to be working really well together.
Elementary School Interviews
The learning community activities at the elementary school – a new school this year – were conducted on a much larger scale than at the other two case study schools. A single university supervisor was in charge of three learning communities at the school: two pairs consisting of one science teacher and one teacher candidate each, and one pair consisting of a literacy teacher and her teacher candidate. One of the science teachers participated in the pilot test of the learning communities, created a project with her original team, shared it with her colleagues at her prior school, and felt very comfortable leading the efforts of the learning communities at her new school. She was perceived as a change agent and a leader by all members of both science learning communities. In contrast, the literacy teacher was perceived as an experienced teacher by her teacher candidate, and the literacy teacher stated that working with her teacher candidate helped her build her own comfort and confidence with technology. Although the three learning communities emphasized computer literacy and experience for teachers and students alike, their common goal was to create student-centered projects for curriculum-related thematic units, using technology as a tool to support student learning. The highlight of the science units on marine animals was a field trip to the Monterey Aquarium. Each fifth-grade student wrote a report about his or her chosen animal, produced high quality digital photographs of the animal in either the natural or captive environment, and gave an oral presentation about the animal. Finally, the students selected their twelve favorite photographs, and using calendar creation software, customized a calendar for their parents as a Christmas present from the class.
Outreach and Scalability
Information about the learning communities spread by word of mouth and began to scale up in spring 2003. In February 2003, TALENT hosted a luncheon meeting of old and new learning community members, with nine of the fall 2002 learning community members giving presentations to the spring 2003 participants about the promising practices that they had developed. During that meeting, three additional schools decided to join TALENT’s learning communities, bringing the total to about 20 potential learning communities for spring 2003, the final year of TALENT’s PT3 grant.
Concerns about how the learning communities could be sustained once the grant funding was over stemmed from the resulting loss of release time for coordination and the loss of funds used to provide stipends to participants. One of the TALENT co-directors receives one-quarter release time per semester for TALENT activities, including supervising learning communities. In addition, a graduate student assists with some of the school contacts. Coordination of the learning communities requires initial meetings with interested participants to discuss potential projects, periodic meetings with communities to assess progress, and availability to answer questions and provide support as needed. By spring 2003, the number of learning communities had reached the maximum that the TALENT co-director could coordinate effectively. In order to include larger numbers of communities, more time would need to be made available for coordination or the amount of support would need to be reduced. For CSUF, which places hundreds of student teachers each semester, a feasible alternative might be to implement limited numbers of learning communities at different schools each semester rather than attempting to increase the number of communities. Another scalability issue is how to ensure that interested master teachers have a student teacher placed in their classroom. In addition, a student teacher might be unprepared to assume this additional responsibility.
Cross Case Analysis
A cross case analysis was performed on the three schools selected for the mini-case studies. Although TALENT’s overarching goals for the learning communities were to develop leadership among members and to engage in deep dialogue about promising practices in integrating technology into curriculum and instruction, the differences in the ways that the three schools approached these goals was as varied as the personalities and school settings that characterized each learning community. Moreover, the available technology varied from one participating school to the next; this was one factor that impacted decisions by a learning community about a project to pursue.
The structures varied from a traditional triad to three separate learning communities, each sharing the same university supervisor. This reflected TALENT’s goal of keeping the learning community structure flexible and responsive to the needs and opportunities of the participants at each cooperating school. In general, the teacher candidates’ individual goals were oriented toward exploring various strategies for using technology to support student learning, whereas the master teachers’ goals were go increase their familiarity and proficiency with technology tools so they could integrate them into their curriculum and instruction. Likewise, common goals and goals for student learning reflected the foci and priorities of the respective schools. For example, at the high school, the Web pages were designed to address absenteeism and increase student responsibility. At the middle school, the emphasis in using iMovie-based projects was on increasing student motivation, attention, and skills. At the elementary school, the focus was on standards-based instruction and parental involvement in and support for their children’s classroom activities.
Important differences were found in leadership and empowerment. The activities of the learning communities were driven by all possible permutations of the participants, depending on which participants had the most expertise with technology or exhibited the greatest amount of leadership skills. At the high school, the university supervisor and master teacher drove the activities; at the middle school it was the university supervisor and the teacher candidate; and at the elementary school it was one master teacher in the two science learning communities and the teacher candidate in the literacy learning community. In contrast with the general tendency for TALENT’s master teachers who participated in the weeklong professional development institutes for university faculty to “be ahead of” the faculty, no common pattern of leadership or change agency emerged from the learning communities. The one exception was the consensus among the teacher candidates, namely, that they intended to carry their technology expertise and teaching strategies into the schools where they would eventually seek permanent teaching positions.
Individual changes in teaching practices were reported by all learning community members in all three cases. In some cases, the participants achieved their stated individual goals, whereas in other cases there were fortuitous and unintended consequences associated with their newfound knowledge and skills. For example, at the elementary and middle schools, the intent was to build technology awareness and comfort and to explore new options for using technology with students in the classroom. However, at the high school, the participants’ successes in building and using their Web sites with their students resulted in improved time management and planning skills, a result that apparently surprised these teachers as they reflected on the personal changes that they experienced as a result of their participation in their learning community.
Despite these differences, there were some remarkable similarities among all three of the learning communities. Overall, all reported that their teams worked well together, shared expertise, and made good progress and continuous improvement in their activities and intended outcomes. Across all three cases, there was sharing of ideas, synergy and strong professional relationships, sustainable products and processes, a feeling that the participating master teachers could depend on one another and on future teacher candidates for continued technical support, and the intent of the credential candidates to use their newfound knowledge and skills in their future teaching positions.
All learning communities initially held regular meetings, generally once a week. Initial meetings comprised brainstorming, goal setting, selection of promising strategies, and building consensus on a common goal. These regular meetings continued in those learning communities that worked closely together on a single project as in the elementary school. However, where individuals were progressing at their own speed, such as at the high school, the face-to-face meetings were gradually supplanted with periodic e-mail messages in which participants had successfully added a new feature to their Web sites and were asking the other members for feedback and critique on these improvements.
Impact was highly dependent on the availability of the requisite hardware and software to carry out those activities. Participants valued the support provided by both TALENT and the university supervisor in overcoming these challenges. Impact on the participating school and university was also similar across the three cases. Since the school and the university represented a pair of parallel Activity Systems with a shared object, namely, the learning communities with their various participants, goals, projects, and products, and since the use of technology as a teaching tool changed the ways in which the intended outcome of increased student achievement was brought about, one might expect to see changes in both the school and the university. However, this was not generally the case, except for one university supervisor who was also a methods professor at the university. The non-teaching university supervisors saw themselves as technology advocates and facilitators, which represented a change of vision from the 2001 to 2002, but the actual changes in their own practice were minimal. As expected, any impact on the teaching faculty in terms of familiarity, proficiency, or usage of technology; perceived effectiveness of technology as an aid to instruction; perceived value of technology for increasing student achievement; restructured courses or required class projects for teacher candidates using technology, came from TALENT’s weeklong institutes rather than from the learning communities. There was some impact on the school in terms of emerging awareness, but little early exploration or use of teaching tools outside of the learning communities. The one exception to this trend was the elementary school science teacher who had already acted as a change agent in her prior school and was continuing to set an example of effective technology use for her colleagues at her new school.
The consensus across all three cases was that the learning communities were valuable in that they brought about a greater school-university connection, more bonding and continuing support among the participating master teachers, and sustainable school lessons, units, and activities. All three schools intended to continue the work begun in the fall 2002 learning communities and to sustain it in the spring term and beyond, even though the teaching topics would change as the school year progressed and as new credential candidates replaced the previous ones. The TALENT co-director, who facilitated the learning communities, stated:
The learning community activities spread by word of mouth, usually through the master teachers who were involved in the program. The university supervisors are getting involved now. During our first pilot test last year, it was hard to involve them, but now I know that in a couple of cases they are key participants and driving forces.
Early attempts to establish learning communities by informing and encouraging university supervisors met with limited success, perhaps as a result of two factors. First, a master teacher is not compensated financially for having a student teacher in his or her classroom, and supervisors seemed reluctant to ask for an additional commitment. Second, some supervisors might have felt that with their level of technology expertise, they would not be able to contribute to the community. Once master teachers expressed enthusiasm for the idea, supervisors were very willing to participate. A description of the expertise each member would bring to the community and what each would gain from the experience was added to the initial paperwork. Because expertise was not limited to technology skills and knowledge, supervisors had an integral role to play. Each successive semester, new supervisors participated and in many cases became the impetus for the formation of new communities. Two university supervisors commented:
I’m amazed at our progress! We started off slowly. Only [one of the master teachers] had experience with technology. He knows PowerPoint and he uses it in his classes all the time. It’s not that we were phobic; just that we were hesitant because of the time commitment involved. Really, looking back at the experience, I did more than I ever thought I could have done.
[One of the master teachers] was experienced, but I think he picked up a sense of inspiring himself to go beyond what he even thought he could do. For the rest of us, we had nothing to begin with, but the learning community experience got us over our initial hump to create Web sites that we could use with our students. Now I can’t imagine teaching without using a Web site, and I’ve only had the Web site for a month or two.
Moreover, principals were now becoming involved in the
learning communities that continued in their schools, and a principal from
another school district inquired whether teacher candidates from other
We’ve made a good dent in field placements, adding new schools each term. [There is] a new school that’s associated with the learning communities. The student teacher at [that school] had her kids do portfolios, and I’d call her a student teacher leader. Her supervisor also played a great role in the success of the learning community there. Both of them met with the principal one Friday, and the principal asked, “What equipment are you using?” “An old Mac.” “Do you want a new one?” “Yes.” “OK, I have one in a box.” And the principal brought it to her classroom on Monday. Her master teacher didn’t even ask for any money because she thought there wasn’t any stipend. The principal was very enthusiastic about the project. In fact, several principals wanted to come to today’s meeting and were supposed to be here – they were scheduled.
It seems clear that the proposition, “the learning community approach will increase the placement of credential candidates in classrooms that facilitate technology-enhanced learning,” was supported by the evidence gathered from TALENT learning communities. Goal sheets indicated that many participants were novice- or non-users of technology in the classroom. The development of projects determined by each community to be appropriate for its students provided authentic examples. Sharing of projects among participants added to their repertoire. Videotapes and samples of student work provide additional evidence that the learning community experience increased the use of technology in classrooms where CSUF teacher candidates do their student teaching.
Additional Data from the Fall 2002 Learning Communities
Other data collected from the fall 2002 learning communities included products (lesson plans, CD-ROMs, videotapes, iMovies, PowerPoint presentations, and student-created documents with graphics), goal statements, activity logs, and reflective postings. Additionally, surveys were mailed to all fall 2002 learning community members who were not interviewed as part of the mini-case studies.
Fall 2002 Products
At the February 2003 meeting of old and new learning communities, members of the fall 2002 learning communities provided nine videotapes of teacher candidates teaching technology-enhanced lessons during their field placement; nine folders with final products including lesson and unit plans, CD-ROMs with videos, sophisticated graphics produced using PhotoShop, and PowerPoint presentations produced by the teacher candidates and their students; and logs with activities and reflections. Nine of the thirteen learning communities gave formal presentations on their activities and projects, including creating Web sites for reporting grades and accessing course documents and assignments; keyboarding and other standards-based lessons for third graders; using PhotoShop to design a collage cover for a class “memory book;” using Accelerated Reader with reading buddies for first and third graders; using a PowerPoint presentation on nutrition to support a traditional lesson for second graders; using digital cameras to document student work for a unit on ocean animals; using Learning Village Web software and laptop computers to support learning anywhere anytime for sixth graders; and using PowerPoint in grades four through six for students to give a presentation about themselves using clip art, word art, text boxes, and backgrounds.
The spectrum of teaching strategies observed in the videotapes ranged from didactic instruction to facilitating collaborative learning and group processes. Technology was used either as a teaching aid or as a resource for student learning. Although the girls tended to be shyer than the boys, especially in the upper grades, and although there were hearing impaired students in one of the classes, no differential treatment was given by the teacher candidates to any of their students. Throughout all of the videotaped sessions, the students were well behaved and on task. Classroom management was efficient and effective, regardless of whether the students participated in whole-class activities, in pairs, or whether they worked individually on computers. The teacher candidates were poised, confident, and sure of their content matter.
Most teams submitted logs with date, activity, time spent, and some comments or reflections. Each team filled out a goal sheet listing both the learning community’s common goal and each member’s individual goals. Individual goals for the fall 2002 learning communities spanned gaining familiarity and proficiency with specific types of hardware and software programs, using technology in lessons, teaching computer skills to students, having students create technology-based projects, and supervising teaching and learning activities. A few excerpts from reflective postings by teacher candidates included the following:
Professional growth statement: My focus for my project will be that of electronic portfolios. This is an area in which my knowledge will not only benefit my master teacher as well as myself, but also the students and their parents or guardians. My learning and construction of electronic portfolios will allow my master teachers to gain a fresh perspective on an assessment tool that is becoming increasingly important in academics. It will also allow my students to gain a better understanding of how technology can be used, but more importantly, will allow them to gain pride and confidence in their work when they are able to display their best pieces in an exciting and interesting manner.
Progress report: I put the lesson plan together by creating a basic slide show about myself. I wrote down the steps in order, and then transferred information onto the lesson plan. This may be more difficult for some students. I tried to break every step down to the easiest detail. The lesson will have to be thoroughly explained.
Reflective statement: Reflecting back on the lesson, I would conclude that students really enjoyed this lesson. I had the opportunity to get some feedback from the students, and the majority of them said that the reason they liked the lesson was because it was so interactive. They felt that they actually had a role in the lesson itself.
Following the presentations given at the February meeting of old and new learning communities, the spring 2003 learning communities met as teams to discuss potential group projects and common goals. In many cases, the new learning communities included teachers and university supervisors from the fall 2002 learning communities.
Insights on Leadership from Learning Community Surveys
The responses to the learning community surveys echoed the same similarities and differences as were found in the mini-case study interviews of the high school, middle school, and elementary school. Synergy, team-building skills, and conflict resolution skills were apparent among all of the interviewees. However, since one of TALENT’s four goals was to develop leadership skills among its teacher candidates, an additional question was included in the surveys that specifically addressed leadership. The overall trend indicated that the survey respondents perceived leadership in the form of individual growth and adoption of technology – along with competence, communication skills, and a visionary perspective – three of the leadership skills identified in TALENT’s original PT3 grant proposal. Typical comments from master teachers included:
[My leadership] skills improved. I constantly try to infuse technology in all of my lessons and I share my ideas with my colleagues whenever possible.
I am trying to use more technology in my classroom. My goal is to next year have one unit technology-based.
Profound. I have another tool to teach and produce better lessons to inspire my students.
Similar statements were gathered from the teacher candidates:
Growth! Experience. Thus, I know what is effective and what may not be effective for a positive learning experience.
I became more receptive to the idea of using more technological devices in my lessons. I felt more comfortable using technology with most or all of my lessons.
Changes Brought About By the Learning Communities
To reiterate, changes in an interacting pair of parallel Activity Systems could be explored by searching for changes in their respective learning communities or communities of practice, with their corresponding norms and conventions, social roles or division of labor, and structures and policies. Although there were no changes in structures or policies at either the university or the cooperating schools, changes were apparent in the roles of the learning community members, who generally acted as co-learners rather than experts or novices. More importantly, the cultural norms of the schools began to change as the learning communities themselves began to scale up. Leadership skills also began to emerge among the teacher candidates.
Roles and Social Structure
The division of labor, i.e., the generally accepted roles of its members, defines the social structure of an Activity System. In a typical student teaching triad, the K-12 master teacher and the university supervisor are generally considered the experts, and the teacher candidates are generally considered the novices. By creating learning communities in which each member is a novice in some areas (e.g., pedagogy) and an expert in other areas (e.g., technology), and by empowering each member to engage in joint productive activities with a clear goal in mind, the social structure of the learning community as an Activity System was disturbed. A sudden reversal of traditional roles can cause discomfort and a disturbance within an Activity System. According to Engestrom (2001), this discomfort can have a positive effect on learning because it results in cognitive dissonance. The initiative and leadership reported by the teacher candidates indicated that there were some role changes taking place within the learning communities.
Along with role changes came changes in norms, or “the way we do things around here.” For example, team teaching was evident in the fall 2002 videotapes. Students were engaging in hands-on activities that incorporated PowerPoint, Alpha Smarts, and the Internet. Since success breeds more success, some of the cooperating schools enthusiastically invited more learning communities into their midst. Following the initial pilot test of the learning communities, the project co-director extended an invitation to about thirty individuals to learn about the fall 2002 learning communities, and over eighty persons signed up for the luncheon meeting. Near the end of the fall 2002 academic term, a university supervisor commented:
It’s always good for the universities and the public schools to try to work towards a common goal, or else it’s the children who are going to suffer when we’re so isolated and we have different approaches to our goals. I see this as the beginning of collaboration for public schools and universities to work towards the betterment of education for the children. In the past, universities and schools had different approaches. The universities would talk to the student teachers. Then the student teachers would enter the classrooms, and they often saw different things that the schoolteachers found that worked with their students. It’s not often that we see the different facets of education working together like they do in the learning communities.
The TALENT co-director concurred:
There has been real enthusiasm for the learning communities, not just to gain expertise in technology, but also to have the schools collaborate with the university on an even footing.
Although there were no formal activities that focused on building leadership skills among the credential candidates, the TALENT co-director monitored the activities of the learning communities closely. She shared her experiences with the other TALENT project staff, who found that, in practice, “leadership” is a multi-faceted concept that was difficult to measure. Based on her observations and interactions with members of the learning communities over the past two years, the TALENT co-director realized that leadership was, in fact, being addressed, but not in the formal way that was initially envisioned.
Two of the leadership skills identified in the original TALENT PT3 grant proposal, namely, team-building skills and skills in conflict resolution, were evident in the interviews with the members of the three mini-case study learning communities. Survey data from learning community members in the other schools validated this finding. Survey responses from master teachers indicated that they felt they had increased their skill set for teaching and producing better lessons using technology; were more comfortable asking their colleagues to use technology in the classroom; planned to have one unit of technology-based learning the following year; and would try to infuse technology into all of their lessons and share their ideas with their colleagues whenever possible. The credential candidates felt they were more technology-savvy than originally envisioned; felt more comfortable about their proficiency and leadership skills in technology; learned what is effective and what may not be effective for a positive learning experience in the classroom; and became more receptive to the idea of using more technology in their lessons. Data from credential candidates’ e-portfolios supported these statements and provided additional evidence of growth in competence, communication skills, a visionary perspective, and other indicators of emerging leadership.
One form of leadership is taking the initiative to further one’s own education and professional development to develop competence and to become a better instructor. A second path is identifying obstacles and challenges to teaching and devising strategies to overcome them, especially when building the types of communication skills that are necessary in dealing with a diverse student population. A third form of leadership is developing a visionary perspective and becoming both a role model for one’s students and a co-learner with one’s peers. Statements in teacher candidates’ electronic portfolios provided evidence of these three types of leadership.
Since the teacher candidates were nearing the end of their teacher preparation program when they joined the learning communities, and they had not yet been inducted into the teaching profession, whatever change agency might be apparent in their team-building skills had not yet matured to the point that they were ready to become change agents within their future schools. However, professional growth statements from some of the teacher candidates provided early evidence that they were envisioning their own leadership as communal relationships (Rost, 1993) or influence relationships (Gardner, 1995), as witnessed in this statement by a teacher candidate:
[In seminars and other professional development opportunities] the interaction allowed me to bounce ideas off of peers and to receive advice from peers, sometimes even criticism, but all of those things helped me to grow as a professional. My path towards teaching will require similar professional growth opportunities where I can learn about the latest teaching tools and methods and get ideas and help from my peers and superiors. [I attended one conference] for which I earned a nice letter of thanks for my participation as a facilitator.
It is apparent from responses to open ended questions in the surveys, interviews with learning community members, and additional evidence from credential candidates’ e-portfolios that the proposition, “implementing learning communities at the school will increase technology skills and leadership skills for members of the learning communities” held true for the credential candidates and for some of the other members of the learning communities.
Scalability and Sustainability
Information about the learning communities spread by word
of mouth during Years 2 and 3 of TALENT’s PT3 grant, and the activities began
to scale up in spring 2003. Based on the
interest shown in the fall 2002 and spring 2003 learning community meetings,
there are plans to use TALENT’s PT3 grant continuation funds to facilitate a
fall 2003 learning community initiative.
We are anxious to see how the learning communities may be sustained
throughout and beyond Year Four; but even if they end in a formal sense, we
predict that the changes brought about within the interacting Activity Systems
of the cooperating K-12 schools and the
Looking at where the learning communities were a year ago, we’ve come a long way in terms of increased comfort. Would these people ever use technology if they hadn’t been in a learning community? We have no formal partnerships with any districts for the learning communities – it’s all voluntary participation. Based on the response to our invitation to today’s lunch meeting, 100 people want to do learning communities, but not all of them could come today.
For their part, the TALENT learning community facilitators streamlined the processes of application, goal setting, participation, communication, and accountability, based on their own observations and feedback from participants. They have also been active in increasing outreach and awareness about the learning communities to additional schools in their area. The TALENT co-director added,
We’ve tried to make the learning communities a bit more structured, but not so structured as to lose flexibility. We want to make the progress happen more smoothly, and that means dealing with logistics and the management piece. For example, we now have separate sheets for individual goals for each person. We now ask what they’d bring to a learning community in the way of skills and resources… Information about the learning communities spreads by word of mouth. People have seen what others are doing, or they heard about it from a master teacher, and they want to know more about the learning communities. Some learning communities are quite self-sufficient. For others, implementation depends on the stipend. Our support has helped, for example, being able to let them borrow digital cameras, a projector, and resources including software – things they said that they want to learn more about. Today we added three new schools.
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