Teacher Preparation

Texas College to Require Education Students to Buy Laptops

By Julie Blair — May 01, 2002 3 min read
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Prospective teachers training at the University of Texas at Austin will be required to purchase Apple laptop computers next fall for use in their education classes and student-teaching assignments.

The policy, which will initially affect more than 300 undergraduate and graduate students, was unveiled last month and aims to integrate technology into the college curriculum as well as the profession as a whole, said Lawrence Abraham, an associate dean for teacher education.

The institution may be the first in the nation to mandate that prospective teachers buy laptops, a move that reflects a trend toward integrating technology into teacher-preparation programs, said Penelope M. Earley, the senior director for the Washington-based American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

Mr. Abraham said the requirement comes after a 5-year-old pilot program produced teachers more familiar with computers and more likely to use such tools in their own college work and with K-12 students. Among other benefits, the laptops will allow UT students to mine the Internet, build electronic portfolios, collect and analyze data, and communicate with one another, faculty members, and placement supervisors.

Over the past decade, school districts have spent significant sums to purchase and install computers in K-12 classrooms, but experts say that many educators have failed to use them effectively. Some teachers say they haven’t been taught how the equipment functions or how to employ such technology in daily lessons.

“We’re not preparing them to teach computers; we’re preparing them to use computers in what they do,” Mr. Abraham said of the UT program. He noted that state standards for certification require that educators be proficient in the use of technology for instruction.

Faculty Training

Critics, however, worry that the expense of the Apple computers will further strain the budgets of needy college students. And others argue that training future educators to manipulate such laptops is unproductive when many Texas school districts have contracts with computer companies other than Apple.

“At a time when we’re experiencing a teacher shortage in Texas, we certainly don’t want to see anything impact on the number of students taking education [courses],” said Richard Kouri, a spokesman for the 70,000-member Texas State Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association. “I don’t know why they picked Apple, when my sense is that most of the school districts in Texas are using some version of IBM,” he added.

Not all students will be required to purchase laptops, Mr. Abraham said. Those who already own Apple iBooks or Powerbooks and possess the software specified by the university may continue to use those machines, he said. Sharing laptops, however, will be prohibited, because university officials want to make sure students have access to them at all times, Mr. Abraham said.

Those that do not have such laptops may purchase them through the university at the special rate of $1,000, he said. The company was chosen over the Dell Computer Corp., whose equipment is IBM compatible, because Apple offered both a better product and lower prices, according to Mr. Abraham. In addition, the Austin school district relies on Apple and is a major employer of university graduates.

The cost of the laptops will be rolled into students’ financial-aid packages to make the purchase more affordable, he said. Some students will win scholarships to pay for the computers. In addition, the vendor has offered an installment payment plan.

Faculty members involved in the preparation of teachers will soon begin to overhaul the curriculum in anticipation of the integration of technology into their college classrooms, Mr. Abraham said. The university will issue professors computers and provide them professional development. Faculty members also will be offered the UT student discount if they prefer to purchase their own equipment.

Some students say they have reservations about the program.

“It is definitely a plus for new teachers today because we have to use technology in the classroom,” said Clinton Gill, the president of the Texas State Teachers Association student program and a recent graduate of Texas Tech University in Lubbock who plans to teach 4th grade next school year. “I don’t necessarily agree with their making you buy it, though. One thousand dollars is hard to come by.”

Administrators, however, say they couldn’t be more pleased.

“We’re using computers in all of our classrooms, so it would be something of a handicap not to know how to do that,” said Joy McLarty, the deputy superintendent of the 78,000-student Austin district. “We expect computer use from every teacher in every classroom.”

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A version of this article appeared in the May 01, 2002 edition of Education Week as Texas College to Require Education Students to Buy Laptops

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