Technology Enhances Teacher Performance

Randy Souviney
(From left to right)
Camie Lau (TEP student), Randy Souviney, and Sarah Fife (TEP student)

12.12.02 - "One way to help students become more effective teachers is to document, more systematically, what they do right as well as what they do wrong," says Randy Souviney, Director of UCSD's Teacher Education Program (TEP) and a member of the Calit² Education layer. This philosophy is catching on, which is causing a dramatic increase in the use of technology to document pre-service performance of students in education programs.

Souviney is leading a group of TEP faculty in the development and implementation of two relevant software projects: ePortfolio and WebPlan. ePortfolio is a Web-accessible database that allows graduate students to upload artifacts that document their teaching (student work, lesson plans, classroom images, video clips of teaching), reflect on their teaching practice, and conduct private dialogs with education faculty on their classroom performance. WebPlan is a separate online utility that allows undergraduates and graduate education students to construct lesson plans, conduct discussions with education faculty throughout the design process, and enable faculty to approve lesson implementation in the K-12 classroom.

This year, ePortfolio and WebPlan are being integrated enabling selected WebPlan lessons to be included in students' ePortfolios. These tools are complemented by VideoCase, developed by Robert Beck, UCI Education layer leader, which uses video to conduct case studies of classroom practices.

To make these tools more pervasive, the Teaching and Learning Technology Consortium, which has funded development of Web-based courses and distance learning methodologies, now is supporting "Technology and Teacher Education at the University of California." This project teams faculty at six UC campuses, including Souviney at UCSD and Beck at UCI, to share teaching and learning technology tools across the campuses. Willis Copeland, UCSB, is the PI.

But, because, according to Souviney, "legislated regulatory changes are increasing emphasis on student teacher performance assessment that will require increased use of technology," these tools enjoy an exciting opportunity for even wider dissemination.

TEP website

The California Commission on Teaching Credentialing has mandated teaching performance assessment for beginning teachers. To receive their credentials, students have needed to pass exams in their particular subject matter areas, a reading instruction exam, and a college entry-level ("basic skills") reading, writing, and arithmetic exam.

But beginning with students entering teacher education programs in 2003, an additional Teaching Performance Assessment (TPA) will be required. All eight UC campuses are collaborating with Stanford University, Mills College, San Diego State University, and San Jose State University to develop an alternative TPA: The Performance Assessment for California Teachers.

PACT will provide assessment of two sets of tasks. The first will include a set of formative events that each institution can define around planning lessons, evaluating curricula, field practicum, and so forth. The second is a summative teaching event, a week-long activity near the end the program practicum in which students plan five days of lessons, implement those lessons, are videotaped teaching, and submit reflections on what they believe they've done successfully (and not). Materials from both sets of tasks will be submitted in electronic form and evaluated by university supervisors and school personnel using specially designed rubrics.

The exam will also assess the student's subject matter pedagogy: the accuracy of information they provide, how they redirect questions back to the students, and whether they involve shy (all too often female) students to spread the opportunity to respond to a wider group of students. In addition, it will evaluate management of the classroom and professional demeanor of the candidate. What kinds of assessment does the student do during the lesson? Does the student check general understanding across the body of students by sampling for answers periodically?

This exam creates a clear need for ePortfolio, and Souviney says enough development has been done that he is ready to propose its adoption for this purpose at a consortium meeting in the middle of December.

Randy Souviney and Sarah Fife
Randy Souviney and Sarah Fife

ePortfolio has been in use for two years at UCSD. Students use it to upload artifacts of their work and reflections on their effectiveness, and faculty use it to review students' work on a continuing basis. A final portfolio is presented by each student as documentation for credential licensure and, with the addition of elements such as the student's professional development plan, as a graduation requirement for the Master of Education degree.

ePortfolio can be structured by the student for different audiences, for example to document teaching "growth" over the course of the program or as a teaching portfolio for a master's thesis. "Students even use ePortfolio's capabilities to support job applications," says Souviney, "because they can selectively make elements public to a potential employer. We call that a 'showcase portfolio.'" Souviney mentioned one student who received a job offer prior to being interviewed because, she claimed, the school was so impressed with her ePortfolio-based work. "We expect to see much more of this," says Souviney.

Souviney hopes that his students' experience working with ePortfolio will help them develop the teaching portfolio required for National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Certification. National Board Certification was launched some 10 years ago with major support from the Carnegie Foundation to raise the status of the teaching profession. In some sense, it's perceived as a "universal teaching credential." Increasingly, states are allowing Nationally Certified teachers to teach in their schools without requiring recertification by their own state programs.

"The Carnegie Foundation has an excellent track record in helping to improve the status of professions," says Souviney. "They did this in the early 1900s for doctors who, at the time, were not held in as high esteem as they are today. Carnegie worked with medical schools then to demonstrate the scientific basis of the medical profession."

The certification exam is performance-based, requiring a portfolio and teaching videotape to demonstrate various aspects of a teacher's performance and skill. Teachers are eligible to take this exam after a few years of teaching. In California, those that pass receive a one-time $10,000 stipend in the first year after certification. The most recent report indicates that there are 23,930 certified teachers in the U.S., with 1,960 in California and 260 of those in San Diego County.

"We're also making use of technology more generally in our Teacher Education Program," says Souviney. "Students are doing more work now on Web design, audio and video editing, and media manipulation. They used to get this experience toward the end of our program. Now we're introducing it at the very beginning."

Souviney credits Calit² for bringing Souviney and Beck together and encouraging them to think about using technology for other purposes beyond Web-based courses, such as for teaching "documentation" described here.

Then he goes on to underscore the socializing aspect of technology more generally: "Technology provides the opportunity for more social interaction." Without it, the tendency is to drift apart because there's no easy way to communicate, he says.

"Several faculty members have to look at a given student's portfolio over the course of a year," says Souviney. "This common repository for a student makes it far more likely that the faculty members will continue to interact. It causes them to track individual students over a longer period of time and supports more lasting personal relationships. And the students see that technology helps integrate their educational experience. Before, students all too often thought of their studies as a collection of individual courses with individual grades."

Technology is not only an aid to social interaction, but Souviney believes it improves communication. "We make more effective use of face-to-face time for complex issues because we've already use technology to handle those interactions that require several iterations and gestation time, as well as lower-level decisions like scheduling," he says.