Teaching with Technology: The Problem of Feedback and Preservice Teacher Behaviors

Last Updated: 05/30/2013

This post is from the Teaching with Technology Faculty Seminar, Fall 2012.
Part I - Identifying the pedagogical problem/opportunity and technology that may afford a solution.

In the education of preservice teachers, there are two generally agreed-upon main objectives: (1) developing the candidates' ability to engage in self-directed reflection, and (2) developing the candidates' adoption of pedagogically appropriate behaviors. The first goal is typically addressed through giving students frequent structured opportunities to assess their own work, usually through written self-critique and goal-setting. The second goal is typically addressed through a plethora of classes that attempt to convey teaching "methods" rooted in specific content areas, but this is problematic. Teacher educators must ensure that preservice teachers actually adopt the methods conveyed by these courses by not only providing structured experiences to apply the desired behaviors, but also by providing quality feedback to the candidates that will shape their continued development.

The idea of "methods" courses in teacher education goes back to the roots of the normal school movement in the 19th century. Practicum experiences have also been associated with these methods classes, where preservice teachers have a sheltered opportunity to practice the teaching behaviors learned from their methods classes in an authentic school setting. The separated nature of the relationship between higher education and K-12 schools makes the quantity and depth of these practicum experiences very limited, however, and it is not clear that these experiences always have an impact on adoption of the desired methodological behaviors. Working with mentors from the K-12 environment also confounds the developmental trajectory, as these mentors may not always model the methods from the content of teacher education courses. Indeed, research in the past several decades has repeatedly shown that early career teachers have a high propensity to revert to methods rooted in the way they themselves were taught, rather than utilizing the methods they were taught to use as teachers.

Mere delivery of the methodological content, even with practical opportunities to apply that content, does not guarantee that preservice teachers will utilize the desired behaviors in their own teaching. A more robust system of communication and feedback is needed to allow the teacher educator to guide the preservice teacher in demonstrating these learned methods and teacher behaviors. Traditional feedback models rely on one-on-one verbal or written exchanges, typically occurring immediately or soon after a candidate executes a practice lesson in a course or practicum environment. These modes are limited because the written and verbal comments may not penetrate the layers of meaning that the candidates have constructed from the actual experience of that practice lesson. An examination of feedback modes is compelling now because technology currently affords teacher educators more options for feedback than simply these verbal and written formats. Teacher educators could use technology to engage the preservice teacher through mixed media that includes video, audio, pictures, text, and graphical markings. These elements can be combined in a synchronous delivery that increases the immediacy and authenticity of the feedback when consumed by the candidate.

The implications of this problem are evident: if the behaviors of preservice teachers are not impacted in some measurable way by the large number of courses and practicum experiences required of them, then the entire exercise becomes futile. Teacher educators must find ways to not only assess the learned behaviors of preservice teachers, but also to communicate that assessment through means that have an effect on future behavior.

by David A. Rickels
Assistant Professor of Music Education
College of Music