Technology for Advanced Collaboration among Teachers


Designing the Telelearning Professional Development School (TL*PDS): A virtual community of communication and support for pre-service teachers

Re: Terms of reference for Project 7.1 (one of eight projects under Theme 7, Educating the educators)

Elements for understanding

A Professional Development School (PDS), or "associate school", is a working site at the disposal of future teachers, so that, under supervision, they be initiated to the teaching practice. It is also a primary or a secondary school which, as such, is a constituent part of the professional training program for future teachers; in the context of a formal liaison with a university, it teams up with it to assume a responsability in the orientation, organization, implementation and evaluation of the training program. The relation between the university and the associate school is therefore intrinsically structural and pedagogical.

The term "telelearning" used in describing project 7.1, is a reference to the knowledge which is acquired mainly through a network of technological media defined as complementary or linked to various other networks. In fact, these networks reach far beyond a school or a university and include most probably among their active members, teachers, students, undergraduates and various other experts. When reference is made to "knowledge" in this project, it consists essentially in the accumulation of knowledge and skills of a practical or intellectual nature, that undergraduates are called upon to master in order to accomplish the tasks and functions expected of them now or in the not too distant future.

Conditions for network-enabled learning

The school-university association refered to above, and the intensive use it makes for the training of the teaching undergraduates, of the technological media already linked to a vast network, creates a radically different teaching environment from the one that is prevailing to-day. As a result, if such an association is to be successful, it is imperative to put in place the conditions which will permit the undergraduates to reach the learning objectives aimed at.

At this stage of the project, the conditions for making a success of this endeavour should be considered only as working hypothesis. The testing of these hypothesis over the next two years will put us in a position to access their pertinence, their relative importance, and their limitations .

We contend that five conditions would be sufficient for making a success of the project if they are properly oriented towards the building of a relation channel between the persons concerned, particularly the undergraduates, and the following elements: the technological area, the nature of the learning processus, the human context surrounding the learning process, the evaluation of the tele-learning performance and a few other specific elements of the learning process.

a) Relation with the technology

The use of the technological media made by students, teachers, undergraduates, their teachers and other persons concerned, will be of an intensive, diversified and inventive nature. Each category of persons concerned will call upon various media to get at some information source, to do some other works and to communicate to others the fruits of the accumulated knowledge and identified zones of inquiry. Texts will be exchanged as well as schemes, graphics and other visual messages. The entire communication process (between students, between schools, between undergraduates already linked to different schools, between undergraduates and teachers or university coordinators, etc.) will constitute a system dominated by complementary and common sharing, creating therefore an environment imbued with continuous transformation.

That first rather new experiment with the use of techological media will prove to be successful, only if proper planning involves all persons concerned and calls for the setting aside time for a systematic initiation and for progressive development objectives. (see projects 7.3 and 7.4)

b) The nature of learning processes

The knowledge building which constitutes the aim of the tele-learning program, represents quite a challenge. In general, the actual learnings will take shape or form through itineraries or projects which have a certain scope and which will call upon some expertise in the area of varieties of knowledge, particularly of a fundamental nature and of skills of all kinds.

Forcibly, most of the existing study programs for students and teacher training, would have to be reviewed and conceived in such a way as: to put in evidence their justification and ability to achieve their goals; to create a climate favorable to the exchange of ideas between disciplines and their subject matters; and to establish a clear and stimulating junction, seen as necessary, between the abstract terms of reference and the hard facts and exigencies of reality. In the same line of thought, graduates will be encouraged to develop a healthy critical attitude towards the program, based on their experience as students in a university or as graduate in a school.

c) The human context surrounding the learning process

The learning environment will be such that each person concerned will assume the responsability for his/her own learning development but will also receive an important support from other participants and be part of an elaboration process leading to greater knowledge. The cooperation between the participants will be the centre of attention. The scope and complexity of the learnings to be mastered should encourage this cooperation but it will equally be necessary, without a doubt, to come up with imagination and working techniques to reinforce this cooperation.

Teaching is to-day more and more a collective activity; in the context of a tele-learning system, the situation is even more striking. Graduates must therefore be in a position to face that situation. The classroom is but one of the sites whence they can operate; "to be a teacher" will mean also to be in a position to intervene with competence at the school level where his/her class is located, and within the school and other social institutions located in the sphere of his/her profession.

d) The evaluation of the telelearning performance

The evaluation of learning performances, bean it of a dragristic, formative or summative nature, will be consistent with what was desired as learning environment and a final stage of learning. Priority will be given to the mastering of various knowledges and skills (rather than simple memorization and ability to operate as a jack of all trade); the availability of the technical media will be thoroughly exploited; the search for an itinerary roadway and the implementation of projects of a certain complexity and scope will be noted; and a personal appropriation and participation in a community project will also be assessed.

Specific elements of the learning process

This very development in concert with the associate schools and telelearning systems has a double impact in the change introduced in the training of future teachers. As a consequence, the identification of the changes which will effectively take place becomes another condition to make a success of the desired learning. From now on, some of the introduced changes can be identified and their impact can now be assessed.

The most obvious transformations -and very likely the most important ones- deal with the time factor and the determination of the space (training site) factor. So, the time spent by the teacher-in-training, listening to the delivery of the teacher's lecture, or spent by the latter in the preparation of his/her lecture, is likely to be partially replaced by a working team composed of other graduates or experienced teachers; the supervising of the students working with a computer or on the production of didactic material, could equally be a proper use of the released time. Furthermore, the emphasis put on project implementation and the cooperation between students will likely be translated into a more flexible teaching schedule. As far as the training site is concerned, it gets to be less rigid. Many technical media will make it possible to the student, even from his/her home, to have access to an extremely voluminous documentation and to take an active participation in group discussions. Finally, the necessity for the future teachers to learn how to solve problems in a team work effort environment, and to discover on-the-spot, the multiple dimensions of the teaching profession, makes it a quasi-indispensable requirement that a special working place within the associated school be made available for that purpose.

Bibliography not included in the original document (TL*NCE)

- Special popess on technology in education, April 1994 and October 1995 in the Educational Leadership Review.

- One of the most recent volumes of the National Society for the Study of Education (Chicago): Jeannie Oakes .... and Karen Hunter Quartz. Creating New Educational Communities. 1995.

- Perhaps also: David K.Cohen, Milbrey W. McLaughlin and Joan E.Talbert (eds). Teaching for Understanding. Challenges for Policy and Practice. San Fransisco. Jossey-Bass. 1993.

Productions Tact

June 1997