Preparing Teachers for the Digital Classroom
Thursday, December 10, 2020
Once a novelty, online instruction has become ubiquitous in the age of COVID-19. While some universities are playing catch-up with curriculum for aspiring K-12 teachers, Oklahoma State University remains ahead of the curve.
When Kalianne Neumann, an assistant professor of educational technology now in her third year of teaching at OSU, first came to campus, she set her sights on overhauling the Applications of Educational Technologies course. Her goal: Empower student-teachers to leverage technology in ways that are effective and help students learn with technology rather than from it.
During the fall 2020 semester, the project-based class was taught entirely online and served as a platform for instructors to model effective technology integration.
“As someone who lives in this field and has been teaching online since 2011, I want to make sure students have a good impression of [online teaching] so they understand what it could be,” Neumann said.
“In that class, instructors can all see changes in the students. You can see them being really hesitant about teaching with technology until the end, and then they get pretty excited about it and you can see their thinking change.” Kaitlyn Robison, a recent secondary education graduate and Choctaw (Oklahoma) Middle School teacher, said OSU prepared her well for online teaching, well before COVID-19 was a concern.
“It’s one thing to use technology as a student, but learning how to effectively implement it in your own classroom is a challenge,” she said. “In my social studies education courses, Dr. Shanedra Nowell, the professor of social studies education, did an excellent job demonstrating various technological tools available to use in the classroom, many of which I am planning to use this school year.”
Robison was one of nearly 170 OSU student-teachers in the middle of her spring student-teaching internship when schools across the state began shutting their doors. With OSU, she knew she had a lifeline.
“Professors in the College of Education and Human Sciences provided many resources and ideas to keep students engaged in learning as well as ways to check in and see how students were doing,” she said. “One of the biggest challenges of online teaching, in my opinion, is building relationships with students. I know from the many online classes I took during my college career just how difficult that is. However, I feel prepared, because of my time at OSU, to successfully build meaningful relationships with my students, even if it has to be done from afar.”
Like Robison, first-year teacher Ryann Gerdes said she feels well prepared to lead a digital classroom. The biggest challenges, she said, aren’t the tools and tech, but keeping students engaged from a distance especially when anxiety and uncertainty seem to permeate everything.
A secondary social studies education graduate, Gerdes said her OSU experience equipped her to do just that. Now teaching freshman Oklahoma history at Edmond North High School, Gerdes said she never thought she’d find herself in such a bizarre scenario. Still, she said there’s something exciting about teaching history while a significant chapter of it is unfolding.
“When you are teaching history, you want in-person discussion of events and different viewpoints on situations in order for the students to understand how a particular event happened and most importantly, why the event happened,” she said. “Through online learning, I am able to find different sources of information to give students so they can have an exciting outlook on history.”
Despite the challenges of juggling online and in-person teaching, Robison said there’s a silver lining to starting her career now.
“While it definitely seems overwhelming to be a first-year teacher during the 2020-2021 school year, I am almost thankful that this is occurring at the beginning of my career, rather than later down the line,” she said. “While I do have expectations of what I thought my first year would look like and what teaching would be like, I am starting from scratch.”
Professional Education Unit Director Dr. Robin Fuxa feels OSU is particularly strong in preparing students to teach digitally. But teaching is about more than just lesson plans, facts and figures, especially during a pandemic.
“We also have a very strong research-based pedagogical focus across programs,” she said. “Our candidates are exceptionally prepared to consider learners’ strengths and needs (social, emotional, academic) and build on those. We are offering a trauma-informed pedagogy session to our interns starting this fall and did faculty-wide professional development on trauma-informed teaching last year as well. Last but certainly not least, we work very hard to prepare teacher candidates to advocate for equity in their professional lives, in their own teaching and beyond.”
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