Teacher Preparation

Student Teachers Are Learning Outdated Tech in Prep Programs

By Alyson Klein — June 24, 2022 5 min read
Hand of a trainer addressing group of females sitting in a conference hall.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

When Jenna Conan Simpson went through her highly regarded teacher preparation program about ten years ago, she took just one “very basic” technology class covering use of tools like Microsoft PowerPoint. It did little to prepare her to use tech to improve instruction.

Years later, she was floored when a colleague, a brand-new teacher who had just come out of the same program, said her technology preparation looked exactly the same—same single course, same tools—even though she graduated from the program nearly a decade after Conan Simpson.

In all that time, Conan Simpson had hoped the preparation program would have shifted to helping prospective teachers learn to manage a classroom in a 1-to-1 computing environment and master other tech skills they would need once they entered the classroom.

But the teacher prep program still focused on tools that had felt outdated even when Conan Simpson went through it.

Conan Simpson wondered if the program was an outlier, despite its positive reputation. She soon learned it was not.

“Most preparation programs are not keeping pace with what’s happening in classrooms and schools with regards to technology,” said Conan Simpson, the director of instructional technology at All Saints’ Episcopal School in Fort Worth, Texas. That’s a “huge problem,” given how central digital tools have become, she said.

Incoming “teachers need experience with technology,” she added. “It used to be kind of a nice to have. Now it’s required. It’s nonnegotiable.”

To get a picture of how preparation programs across the country get their students ready to teach using tech, Conan Simpson, who is pursuing her Ph.D. in learning technologies, surveyed 217 early career teachers who she identified largely through social media groups. She then did intensive follow-up interviews with ten respondents.

New teachers told her that most of the teacher educators they learned from hadn’t been in the classroom in ten or even 20 years. “So, of course, they don’t know how technology is being used,” said Conan Simpson, who is scheduled to present her findings on June 28 at the International Society for Technology in Education conference in New Orleans. ISTE is the largest ed-tech conference in the country.

What’s more, teacher prep programs didn’t appear to consider whether a particular school or mentor teacher could help prospective educators master tech. “There were teachers reporting that their cooperating teacher [in a student teaching placement] was writing on a chalkboard. And this was in the past three years,” Conan Simpson said.

One educator she interviewed said the only tech she saw during her student teaching experience was a CD player. In fact, the number one piece of hardware new teachers reported learning about was a type of technology so outdated that it’s unclear whether it’s still being manufactured.

To be sure, some new teachers described deep experience with iPads, Seesaw, and other widely used digital tools. But that was the exception, Conan Simpson said.

Being a digital native doesn’t mean you know how to teach with tech

Though her study was qualitative in nature, Conan Simpson crunched some numbers and found that only about a fifth of the new teachers surveyed felt well-prepared to teach using technology when they exited their programs.

Teacher prep programs, Conan Simpson suspects, may simply assume that because their mostly 20-something students have grown up with digital tools that using them in the classroom will be second nature.

But that’s not the case. Prospective teachers, “might be personally reasonably tech savvy, but that doesn’t mean that they know how to use technology to teach students,” she said.

Increasingly, programs have recognized tech preparation as a trouble spot, but their solutions weren’t particularly helpful, according to Conan Simpson. Some decided to cut the course or two they required in the subject, and instead integrate technology throughout the curriculum. But that didn’t happen in practice, she found. Instead, technology fell off the radar altogether.

Instead, teacher preparation programs should consider hiring tech coaches for their professors and other staff, Conan Simpson said, just like K-12 schools do. They should work much more closely with local school districts to stay up-to-date on how they are using tech.

They may also want to offer training in use of some of the most popular devices—Chromebooks and iPads, for example—as well as educational software such as Nearpod and Pear Deck, which help educators create digital lessons with interactive elements.

Those tools are “kind of like our low hanging fruit, right?” Conan Simpson said. “It’s not going to be the exact same as what their district has, but it’s going to be close enough that the preparation would really help” once they enter the classroom.

Programs also need to make sure that their graduates “see a teacher model how to effectively integrate technology in the classroom effectively” during their student-teaching placements.

“I think we’re doing them a disservice if we don’t provide this information to them,” Conan Simpson said. “Most of these people are figuring it out on their own, but I think if we gave them a lot more prior to entering the classroom that they would be able to focus on things like the students and not on learning the technology.”

She’s heartened that ISTE agrees.

Earlier this month, the organization released a voluntary pledge to encourage teacher preparation programs to improve their work in this area. It makes a list of recommendations that mirror some of Conan Simpson’s own, including a push for closer collaboration with school districts on tech.

The pledge has support from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, and both organizations that accredit teacher education programs.

Though the pledge is voluntary, Richard Culatta, ISTE’s chief executive officer, is hoping it will be a way “for us to get some attention from the rest of the dang world about this big problem that nobody’s talking about.”


Student Well-Being Webinar After-School Learning Top Priority: Academics or Fun?
Join our expert panel to discuss how after-school programs and schools can work together to help students recover from pandemic-related learning loss.
Budget & Finance Webinar Leverage New Funding Sources with Data-Informed Practices
Address the whole child using data-informed practices, gain valuable insights, and learn strategies that can benefit your district.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
ChatGPT & Education: 8 Ways AI Improves Student Outcomes
Revolutionize student success! Don't miss our expert-led webinar demonstrating practical ways AI tools will elevate learning experiences.
Content provided by Inzata

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teacher Preparation Teacher Apprenticeships Are Booming in Wake of Shortages. Here's What You Need to Know
More states are drawing down federal labor funds to support yearlong, subsidized training programs.
8 min read
Fatima Nunez Ardon, a teacher in training, teaches Spanish to second graders at Madrona Elementary School in SeaTac, a suburb in Seattle, Wash., on Sept. 28, 2022. Ardon went through a program at Highline College, a community college, to train to be a teacher.
Fatima Nunez Ardon, a teacher in training, teaches Spanish to 2nd graders at Madrona Elementary School in SeaTac, a Seattle suburb, on Sept. 28, 2022.
Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times via AP
Teacher Preparation Teacher-Prep Programs Miss Chances to Build Teachers' Content Knowledge, Report Says
Teaching programs should guide candidates to courses that give them broad knowledge in science and social studies, as well as reading and math.
4 min read
Photo of college girls working in lab.
E+ / Getty
Teacher Preparation Q&A A New Program Will Train Teachers to Teach Climate Change, Without the 'Doom and Gloom'
Climate change is a subject experts say goes beyond science class, and one that should be woven through subjects and grade levels.
8 min read
Photo of graph being drawn on whiteboard.
iStock / Getty Images Plus
Teacher Preparation Here's What Separates the Best Teacher Mentors from the Just-Sort-of-OK Ones
They're empathetic listeners who offer lots of constructive feedback, our readers say.
2 min read
Black woman watering and growing a flower in which sits a happy white girl.
iStock/Getty Images Plus