Teachers train in new classroom: cyberspace
States experiment with web-based tools for educators to pick up 'best practices.'
SAN PEDRO, CALIF.
In a room of blinking computers, about 30 prospective teaching "coaches" are getting a peek into the future of teacher training in America.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"I would never have thought five-year-olds could count like that," says one participant, peering at an online video of a kindergarten math class. The filmed five-year-olds, with a combination of their teacher's creativity and coercion, are counting by 10s using numbers in the millions, or even billions - and apparently even enjoying it.
Noting the exact spot in the video where the counting takes place, one video watcher types words into an online forum bulletin board: "Hey, anyone, what's the secret here? How did she pull this off?"
The interactive and web-based video - which is accessible to thousands of teachers both at home and at school here in California and several other states - is still in its early stages of development. But, already some observers are saying that the software is proving a crucial tool for teachers to learn more effective ways of instructing. It may be the most affordable way yet for school districts to overcome a long list of hurdles - shortages of time, staff, money, coordination - that has hindered teacher training for decades.
"One of the biggest missing links in American education is seeing how our best teachers achieve results, and then passing that knowledge on to others," says James Stigler, author of two books on why and how America lags behind Japan, Taiwan, China and elsewhere in school achievement.
"The US debate on education has been so obsessed with performance and standards that we have largely overlooked the actual ways teachers and students do what they need to do in real-life classrooms."
The web-videos, now offered in various incarnations by more than a half-dozen firms, are a far cry from the current practice of watching "best practices" videos produced by self-styled experts from afar. Nor is the new technology just a means for teachers to watch more, better, or different teaching videos.
"Instead of showing teachers 'exemplary' lessons and then expecting them to copy what they see, we allow them to analyze many different demonstrations to incorporate what they want into their own classroom," says Lisle Staley, vice president of teacher learning for LessonLab Inc., a Santa Monica firm at the forefront of the new technology.
At a center for Los Angeles Unified School District, facilitators who will later train other teachers with the new software, are getting their first taste of what that means.
Logging on to a secure access website created by LessonLab, the teachers-in-training are moving their computer cursors between a split screen that has a video window on the left, and conventional text with other options on the right.
Clicking on control buttons beneath the video, the trainees peer closely at actual classroom encounters, sometimes tapping on keys to fast-forward the video or pause it so they can stop to make notes. At other times they take a minute to lob a comment into a real-time chat room with other online students. Even the teachers featured in the video can get involved. They'll be able to post permanent questions or remarks as well, as can experts around the world.