What should teacher educators know about technology? Perspectives and self-assessments

October 2020

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education. 2020, Vol. 95.

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Building upon the development of the Teacher Educator Technology Competencies (TETCs), the authors, a multi-institutional and international group of teacher educators with expertise in educational technology and teacher education research, sought to provide an account of teacher educators’ self-reported technology competencies that can serve as a foundation for further research and initiatives designed to support teacher educators as they prepare prospective teachers to use technology.
They also aimed to advance understanding of teacher educators’ perceptions of the relative importance of various competencies and to share feedback from the field regarding which competencies might be missing from the TETCs. Knowledge of teacher educators’ perceptions of the TETCs and their technology competencies can inform efforts to frame and facilitate professional development, anticipate opportunities and challenges for the use of the TETCs, and suggest whether or how the existing TETCs defined by Foulger et al. (2017) should be used or modified.
Therefore, this mixed-methods study was guided by the following research questions:
1. How do teacher educators assess themselves on the TETCs?
2. What do teacher educators report as being the most and least important TETCs in relation to their work?
3. What are the relationships between teacher educators’ assessment of their TETCs and years of teacher education and K-12 teaching experience, subject matter, and grade level of teachers prepared?
4. What do teacher educators report as being important to their work that is not reflected in the TETCs?
5. How does nominating a TETC as being among the most and least important relate to teacher educators’ self-assessment of competency for that TETC?

Research method

To examine teacher educators’ competence with educational technology and their perspectives on the TETCs, the authors created an anonymous online survey using a commercial survey tool.
The survey’s design was informed by the TETCs themselves, prior literature on educational technology (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010), and quality criteria for online surveys (Dillman, Smyth, & Christian, 2014).
The survey included closed- and open-ended items.
Six items gathered respondents’ demographic information and information about their roles as teacher educators.
In this article, the authors focus on responses to a set of items that asked respondents to rate themselves on the TETCs on a 5-point Likert-type scale 1 with scale points that ranged from “Not competent” to “Highly competent”.
They also focused upon three open-ended prompts that probed respondents’ perceptions of the TETCs and how they relate to their work.
Data collection was undertaken for approximately two months.
In total, 336 teacher educators responded to the survey.
Most responses came from U.S.-based teacher educators, though some were from teacher educators in other countries.

Findings and discussion
The participants in this study considered themselves broadly competent in their use of technology.
The sample appeared to rate themselves more competent than did the sample of Norwegian teacher educators who participated in Instefjord and Munthe’s (2017) study.
This sample reported relatively high levels of competence with technology is intriguing considering the body of research that suggests many prospective teachers leave their teacher education programs unprepared to use technology in innovative ways (Angeli & Valanides, 2009; Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010; Tondeur, Kershaw, et al., 2013).
Teacher educators may sometimes be sufficiently technologically competent, but barriers may not allow them to leverage that competency to maximum effect.
Almost a fifth of the participants indicated that a particular TETC was not as important because of the content they taught or because other teacher educators were responsible for addressing it is consistent with Tondeur, van Braak, Siddiq, and Scherer’s (2016) recent suggestion that some teacher educators, even if they generally endorse the value of technology, may not consider it compatible with their subject area or teaching methods. Furthermore, teacher educators may not just need technology competencies but also various supports to make use of those competencies (Nelson et al., 2019), as has been shown to be the case for K-12 educators (Inan & Lowther, 2010).
While teacher educators’ technology competencies matter, those competencies are not the sole factor influencing their prospective teachers’ future technology use.
Teacher education programs could take a multi-pronged approach that is, for example, intentional about technology integration across teacher education curricula and includes technology-rich clinical experiences with high-technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK) mentor teachers.
Within the context of the general technology competence that teacher educators reported, the authors noted differences by experience, grade level, and subject matter.
Broadly, teacher educators with more experience at the K-12 and higher education levels reported greater competence regarding particular aspects of using technology.
Teacher educators with more K-12 experience reported more competence for differentiating instruction; addressing legal, ethical, and socially-responsible use; and leading with technology.
Perhaps teacher educators developed these competencies at least in part through working in K-12 settings.
Consistent with prior research from K-12 contexts (Liang et al., 2013), participants with more higher education experience reported being less competent at applying basic troubleshooting skills.
Teacher educators who prepare prospective teachers at all levels and, generally, those who prepare teachers for upper-grade levels (i.e., middle and high school) reported greater competence overall than those who prepare teachers at lower-grade levels (i.e., early childhood and elementary).
Moreover, those who teach technology and science and math education-related courses reported greater competence, overall, than those who prepare teachers in non-STEM fields.
What teacher educators considered most and least important was also noteworthy and adds insight to the original Delphi study Foulger et al. (2017) convened to develop the TETCs.
This study’s respondents had diverse opinions regarding which TETCs were or were not important to their work.
This likely reflects, to some extent, the diversity of teacher educators’ roles.
Teacher educators within and across institutions have various assigned responsibilities that might lead to them prioritizing particular competencies.
For example, the work of some teacher educators is more associated with particular academic content areas, and such individuals might see the first TETC as more important given its mention of “content-specific technologies.”
Conversely, not all teacher educators see themselves as teaching primarily or at all in “online and/or blended/hybrid learning environments,” and such respondents would thus be unlikely to prioritize that TETC.
Therefore, a lack of unanimity regarding which TETCs were most important could reflect diverse job types more than fundamental disagreements in the profession regarding the importance of different competencies.
Respondents did not seem to universally concur that all teacher educators need to be highly competent with every TETC. While it may be a laudable goal for all teacher educators to possess such a diverse set of competencies, pragmatic consideration of the many demands placed upon teacher educators may require that some individuals prioritize acquiring or advancing particular competencies over others.
Teacher education programs may opt to be strategic in developing distributed competence among their faculty (see Di Blas, Paolini, Sawaya, & Mishra, 2014), such that multiple faculty across a program achieve high levels of competence in each of the TETCs but not expecting every individual to become a master of all 12.
While educational technology experts played the leading roles in the creation of the TETCs, the TETC authors noted that experts in various content areas would be critical to the TETCs’ adoption (Foulger et al., 2017).
The authors’ large sample allowed them to draw on the perspectives of many such content area experts.
Consideration of what is not represented in the TETCs and was suggested by participants as important provides an example of the value of such perspectives.
The topic of social justice, for example, may be especially important as technology is used in more parts of our lives and in education; societal challenges and inequalities may be perpetuated through technology rather than mitigated by its use (Nagle, 2018; Noble, 2018), and teacher educators should arguably be competent in preparing prospective teachers to use technology in ways that do not harm already marginalized groups and exacerbate achievement and opportunity gaps.

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Updated: Sep. 23, 2020