The “wicked problem” of technology and teacher education: Examining teacher educator technology competencies in a field-based literacy methods course

July, 2020

Source: Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 36:3, 185-200

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The Teacher Educator Technology Competencies (TETCs) are deeply entangled with enacted practice, teacher identity, teacher educator and teacher candidate knowledge, and first- and second-order barriers to technology integration.
In order to illuminate this entanglement, tis paper provides a rich portrait and a nuanced and granular examination of teacher educator experiences when enacting the TETCs.
More broadly, examining the teaching of teacher educators reminds us of the complex problem of teaching, specifically teaching with technology - a problem that necessitates complex answers.
This portrait conveys the complexities of practice; the struggle and joy of enactment; and the challenges and practicalities of the embodiment of the TETCs.
In this paper, the authors illuminate teacher educators’ experiences implementing – or perhaps we should amend this to state: attempting to implement – their TETCs.

Modes of Inquiry
The authors investigated the experience of a literacy methods teacher educator developing her TETCs at a mid-size public university in the mid-atlantic, where the College of Education was exploring new ways to integrate technology across its curricula.
Two faculty members with degrees in educational technology, Marie and Rob, worked with the Dean to develop a Cognitive Apprenticeship Model (CAM) meant to develop TETCs.
Rob served as the coach for the first cohort of CAM participants.
Pamela, an Assistant Professor of Literacy, volunteered to be the first participant in the program.
In the second semester of the CAM, Pamela met with Rob at the start of the semester and chose to focus exclusively on TETC #3.
They felt TETC #3 emphasized integration of technology, pedagogy, and content – something that Pamela saw as necessary for the success of her cross-discipline literacy students.
Rob observed Pamela teaching her field-based course in the middle school and provided feedback.
Pamela journaled her experiences.

Data collection and analysis
This vignette evolved from a larger study that used qualitative methodologies, including self-study and case-study to investigate a CAM when used to develop TETCs.
Data were collected over four semesters of 16 weeks each.
The methodology of this study acknowledges the role of vignettes inherent to case study (Stake, 1995).
In addition to case study methodology, self-analysis and reflection were used as they are relevant to self-study (Samaras, 2010).
The authors collected data from informal interviews, participant journal reflections, and pre- and post-observation conferences.
These varied sources allowed them to triangulate data by “offering opportunities for deeper insight into the relationship between the inquiry approach and the phenomenon of study” (Patton, 2002, p.248).

Findings and Discussion
The findings from the vignette (informal interviews, journal reflections, post-observation conferences and feedback), suggest that the wording of TETC #3 is both vague and potentially unmeasurable. This is unsurprising, given research into practice-based teaching, which suggests that scholars walk a fine line attempting to identify effective teacher educator practices.
In this study, Pamela found the TETCs as a whole to be both vague and overwhelming.
There are 12 TETCs with, on average, 3 subsections each, which creates a significant number of competencies to be developed and mastered.
However, it is unclear from the language of the TETCs whether they were grounded in theories of teaching, learning, or technology (Krutka, Heath, & Willet, 2019).
Without the lodestone of theory, the authors found it particularly difficult to determine competency.
Reading the vignette, the authors could presume that Pamela did in fact “support the development of the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of teacher candidates as related to teaching with technology in their content area” (Foulger et al., 2017, p.432).
The word “support” implies contributing to development, and perhaps it could be argued that Pamela did, in some ways, contribute to the development of knowledge, skills, and attitudes.
Broadly, Pamela taught her students a new technology.
She modeled how to use it and then provided an opportunity for students to integrate technology into a lesson.
Also, she asked the students to engage in the reflective practices of teaching by asking them to explore the technology on their own and connect it to their content area.
However, they posit that as they examine the subsections, which are more specific in nature, Pamela failed to demonstrate full competency.

TETC 3.a: Support teacher candidates’ alignment of content with pedagogy and appropriate technology
The findings of the study indicate that Pamela did not successfully align her students’ individual content areas, technology, and pedagogy.
This was particularly evident when she modeled the technology but did not give specific examples for each content area, creating confusion, lack of focus, and difficulty for some students.
Moreover, she was not explicit when connecting pedagogy, content, and technology, as evidenced by the teacher candidates’ inability to identify how the technology could be implemented into their content-area classroom.
Interestingly, Rob, the technology coach, identified this gap almost immediately in his post-observation conference with Pamela, which leads the authors to wonder as a teacher with technology experience, did Rob have a better grasp of TPACK than Pamela, a teacher educator not normally focused on technology?
The authors argue that the field should invest more time in developing teacher educator TPACK before it requires the TETCs as a standard by which to measure teacher educator effectiveness.
They call attention to this finding in light of Foulger and colleagues’ (2017) assertion that teacher educators’ tenure and promotion be linked to their competency in the TETC’s.
Their findings suggest that without a targeted effort to build teacher educator TPACK, developing specific competencies in technology integration will fall short of expectations.

TETC 3.b:Provide opportunities for teacher candidates to reflect on their attitudes about using technology for teaching and for their own learning
Based on the findings, Pamela demonstrated competency in TETC 3.b.
She provided multiple opportunities and methods for her students to reflect on their attitudes about technology use.
In fact, beyond the reflective journaling and verbal, in-class, discussions about the technology, Pamela also provided opportunities for the candidates to reflect on her teaching of the technology.
This reflective practice pushes teacher candidates to take ownership of their learning, become experts in their content area, and gives them the chance to explore their perceptions of technology.
In a post-lesson interview, Pamela explained that she designed these exercises in reflective thinking in order to provide her students with the foundation they needed to further explore educational technology and take the knowledge, experiences, and perspectives into the next part into their teacher education program.

TETC 3.c: Provide opportunities to develop teacher candidates’ efficacy about using technology in teaching
Just as the authors wrestled with the difficulty in determining a teacher educator’s competency in “support[ing] candidates” in TETC #3, they similarly struggled with the language of TETC #3.c which states that teacher educators should “provide opportunities to develop … ”.
The findings indicate that Pamela took the time to explore and teach education technology to her students, which gave them the opportunity to develop their efficacy toward using technology in their future classrooms (Foulger et al., 2017).
She modeled the technology for her students, gave them the chance to explore it on their own, and then they had time to create a content specific bubble.
The students shared that they thought learning new technology was beneficial even if they were not going to use it.
Yet, some of the students struggled to apply the technology to their content area, which makes us wonder if that indicates a lack of competency on Pamela’s part.
Pamela provided opportunities, but there was no clear evidence that candidates’ efficacy was developed, or that they were more engaged in content area literacy and technology.

TETC #3, TPACK, and the “wicked problem”
Finally, the authors found that focusing solely on TETC #3 obscured or failed to consider the complicated contexts of literacy, the middle school where the course was taught, and the broader issues facing education.
They had already determined, through an earlier study, that 12 TETCs were too many to develop at once; however, perhaps focusing on just one was just as problematic.
Emphasizing the relationship between content, pedagogy, and technology came at the expense of attending to broader issues of literacy.
Literacy should connect how we make meaning of texts in the classroom with how we make meaning of texts in the world (Cho & Afflerbach, 2015); what we do with the meaning we make; and how we determine what is reading in today’s world (Loh & Sun, 2019).
These findings remind the authors of Ferdig (2006) who argued we need a more holistic understanding of technology if we want to properly study it.
It reminds them that there is, in fact, context which surrounds TPACK (Koehler & Mishra, 2009), and that we often overlook this context when discussing knowledge.
And finally, it reminds us that the problem of literacy education is, indeed, wicked (Rittel & Webber, 1973) and may need more than competencies to address it.

This study suggests that an effective approach to developing the TETCs will also recognize the influence of teacher educator TPACK on teacher educators’ ability to build and demonstrate competency.
The study points toward future research on the potential for spiraling the TETCs into curriculum, in order to develop skills over time, as both teacher educators and teacher candidates develop PCK and TPACK throughout their teacher education program.
Overall, framing teacher educator professional growth and development through the lens of the TETCs allowed our teacher educator to reflect and spotlight areas of strength, as well as areas for improvement, within her own teaching.

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Foulger, T. S., Graziano, K. J., Schmidt-Crawford, D., & Slykhuis, D. A. (2017). Teacher educator technology competencies. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 25(4), 413–448.
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Updated: Feb. 17, 2021