Education students at Purdue University Fort Wayne have practiced using Zoom, breakout rooms and screen sharing during virtual class sessions.
Their counterparts at Ivy Tech Community College Fort Wayne have written e-learning lesson plans and considered how to make activities accessible digitally.
Teacher candidates from Manchester University have modeled the creation of synchronous and asynchronous lessons – terms referring to whether teacher and students are in the same room or online at the same time.
The focus on such skills isn't surprising.
The coronavirus pandemic has pushed the need for digital teaching skills to the forefront as K-12 schools have leaned on remote learning as an option for families and when in-person instruction wasn't feasible.
Teachers already in the field had to adapt, although the Indiana State Teachers Association found through a survey that only 36% of educators believed they received adequate training for virtual and hybrid learning.
And in a report released Thursday about Indiana educators and the pandemic, national nonprofit Teach Plus said students and their families often relied on classroom teachers for tech support when lessons abruptly went virtual.
“With limited engagement and inequities in students' access to digital learning, teachers have had to become tech experts, training students and their families in an effort to make learning accessible for all,” according to the report, “Improving As We Go: Learning from Indiana District Reentry Plans.”
Fort Wayne Community Schools, a district new to remote instruction, scheduled some two-hour delays early this semester so teachers would have time for professional development.
Educators applying to FWCS who know how to manage a screen full of students – and how to keep them engaged – are desired applicants, spokeswoman Krista Stockman said.
FWCS must be prepared for the possibility of extended periods of remote-only instruction, she said, and teachers should expect to teach remotely at least a few days a year because of weather cancellations.
“We also know that some students are thriving as remote learners and having a fully remote option available in the future is something we are exploring,” Stockman said by email. “The teachers who have the best remote learning skills will be the teachers we want to have in those positions.”
Some of the tools educators will be expected to know, along with the newest techniques, include communication systems like Zoom and Google Meets and digital learning platforms like Canvas and Schoology. Others are presentation systems like Loom and Screen Cast-o-Matic and student enrichment programs like Kahoot and Poll Everywhere, said Katherine Thomas, program chair of education and professor at Ivy Tech Community College Fort Wayne.
Although the pandemic has highlighted a need for tech-savvy teachers, Thomas and others in higher education stressed technology has long had a place in classrooms and in teacher preparation programs.
The difference is teachers now are required to use technology on a greater scale, Thomas said.
“This has pushed our educators and prospective educators to think outside the box of traditional teaching,” Thomas said by email. “They are taking the skills they have and pushing it further.”
Technology integration has been a focus at Manchester University for decades, said Stacy Stetzel, associate professor of education.
When K-12 districts began adopting one-to-one technology – a term meaning each student has access to a device – Manchester got feedback from administrators and teachers about the technology they used in classrooms and how they used it, Stetzel said.
Last fall, Manchester began creating a dedicated educational technology course to better prepare aspiring teachers, Stetzel said. She noted the university is incorporating best practices from the International Society for Technology in Education.
“An intentional focus on those best practices is what we felt was becoming necessary as more and more schools rely more and more on technology,” Stetzel said by email. “It is no longer a fun tool to use. Rather, it is an expected component in every teacher's repertoire.”
At Trine University, the Franks School of Education has made it possible in recent years for students to earn their Google Educator Level 1 certification before graduation, said Tony Kline, program dean.
“It's really positioned our students to do well,” he said, noting many students enter the teaching program not necessarily thinking they're particularly techie.
This fall, a spring 2020 graduate in her first year teaching wrote to the university to share how much she appreciated the training. She was asked to lead a professional development session for her middle school about using Google Educator tools and resources to affect student learning, collaboration and teacher grading, Kline said.
Alice Merz teaches an elementary math methods course at Purdue University Fort Wayne. She has shared information about quality online techniques to use while teaching.
She ensures the electronic tools they use are used in elementary classrooms, she said.
“We use these tools, along with certain teaching techniques, as a way for the teacher and students to share their thinking,” Merz said. “This continued involvement helps keep some of that humanizing aspect that we value when we are in person. We can still talk to each other; we can still show things to each other; we can still experiment with things, even if we are not in the same place or work at the same time.”
The Grace College School of Education announced this fall it was introducing new teacher technology training for all education students in response to current demands. The toolbox embraces Google Fundamentals Training courses, designing instruction with the popular Seesaw Learning platform and various technology tools.
Grace wants graduates to step into virtual and remote classrooms with confidence, said Cheryl Bremer, School of Education dean.
“We want to give back to the teacher pipeline,” she said.
Stetzel acknowledged higher education will never be able to fully prepare aspiring teachers for specific technology of tomorrow.
“But,” Stetzel said, “we can prepare them to be flexible, patient, and willing to dive in and explore technology options as they build curricular experiences for their students.”