The Digital Era: We’re clearly all living in it – and teachers are on the front line. Within a decade, the iPad went from brand-new invention to a common classroom tool. That demonstrated how quickly classroom teachers have had to adapt in the Digital Era. Not only have teachers navigated new technologies for their lesson delivery, but they now also find themselves in the role of teaching digital literacy.

All this highlights one thing – our pre-service teachers need equally evolving education and support. They require the skills and confidence to utilise technology in the classroom, and to adapt to new technologies throughout their careers.

Are our pre-service teachers ready?

The emergence of Digital Technology or ICT as a standalone subject in Australia’s National Curriculum sets the context. ICT had been previously perceived as a tool to use when teaching. Now it’s the topic. In fact, the ICT General Capability Framework spans all learning areas. It is a learning outcome that teachers need to integrate broadly into all subjects and specialisations.

Some pre-service teachers certainly feel the strain of not being IT-savvy themselves: everyone has varying levels of digital literacy, and future teachers aren’t excluded from this. Much anxiety can come from the fear of their young students being far savvier on devices than the teacher themselves. This is certainly not always the case!

Dr Karley Beckman, lecturer in Digital Technologies for Learning at the University of Wollongong (UOW) says,

“I like to remind our pre-service teachers that they are the pedagogical expert, they are the teacher in the classroom. While technology might not be their strength, we can help them develop strategies for their classroom.”

Dr Beckman and her UOW colleague Dr Tiffani Apps have delivered this in spades in the new edition of the textbook Teaching: Making A Difference by Churchill et al. The chapter “Digital technologies for teaching and learning” tackles the need for comprehensive and up-to-date information on ICT competencies and classroom strategies. It’s exactly what pre-service teachers need to be armed with for their placements and beyond.

How do we help pre-service teachers learn how to teach ICT?

Dr Beckman recommends a multipronged approach to help pre-service teachers understand how to use and teach technology in the classroom.

  • Contextualised teaching and learning skills:
    • Opportunities for students to gain an understanding in the context of the contemporary digital technology use in the classroom. Utilising video footage of primary students in the classroom is a powerful method to gain insight before placements occur.
    • In teaching how to establish a positive digital practice in their classrooms, Beckman and Apps’ chapter dives into how to identify children’s digital capabilities, how to give explicit instructions, and how to design lesson plans with integrated general ICT capabilities.
  • Placement experiences and external support:
    • It’s integral for pre-service teachers to reflect on their in-classroom experience – by doing so, they will realise they can let go of all assumptions about kids’ digital skills.
    • Industry partnerships and government initiatives support the implementation of the framework. They showcase a range of technologies, explaining how each are used in the classroom.

Helping pre-service teachers learn how to adapt

It’s an impossible challenge to offer pre-service teachers everything they’ll need to teach Digital Technology throughout their career right at the start of it. As different technologies are introduced and then are phased out, teachers need to adapt at an equally fast pace.

According to Dr Beckman,

“Our focus is on supporting them to cope with that change – because it’s going to change. What won’t change, however, is the importance of the teacher. The teacher/student roles in the classroom will remain the same.”

In their updated chapter, Beckman and Apps aim to instil core digital practice that pre-service teachers can use as the foundations of becoming adaptable educators.