A Needs Assessment 1
Web-based Instruction for Education Faculty:
A Needs Assessment
Since the beginning of this decade, the World Wide Web has been gaining both
sophisticated users and general popularity within the educational community. The Web has
become an inexpensive, easily accessible way to communicate, distribute information, teach
courses, and conduct research. Hundreds of thousands of educators, researchers, and students are
exchanging ideas and information over distances, near and far. Access to research libraries and
information databases from home or on the road is only a fingertip away.
Computer technologies have become a norm in U.S. schools rather than an exception.
The Internet has enabled seamless learning activities in home, school, and community settings.
Students are gaining content knowledge while zipping at speeds of the fastest Internet connection
(Goldman, Cole, & Syer, 1999).
Statistics show that Internet access in public schools has more than doubled in the past
five years, from 35% of schools in 1994 to 89% in 1998 (National Center for Education
Statistics, 1999). According to Quality Education Data, annual k-12 technology expenditures in
public schools will be more than tripled during this decade – from 2.1 billion in 1991 to $6.9
billion this year (Hayes, 1999).
A 1996 survey (n=466) administered by American Association for Colleges of Teacher
Education (AACTE) on the use of technology by schools, colleges, and departments of education
found that 98% of faculty use computers, 80% of reporting institutions have Internet access for
Schools/Colleges/Departments of Education (SCDE) faculty and administrators, and 49% of
faculty have been involved in interactive distance learning at various levels. (Perischitte, Tharp,
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& Caffarella, 1997).
In the spring of 1999, the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE)
released findings from its National Survey on Information Technology in Teacher Education.
ISTE found that although technology is available in most K-12 classrooms, most student teachers
do not use technology routinely during field experience and do not work under master teachers
and supervisors who can advise them on technology use. The survey concludes that the
integration factor – composed of items that addressed graduates’ classroom skills and the actual
use of technology during college training – was the best predictor for technology integration
While accessing the Internet might be relatively easy, learning to harness its full potential
is not so simple. It is apparent that to achieve the potential the Internet portends, we must look
beyond the simple issue of access. With the mounting interest in Web-based teaching and
learning, it is imperative that we consider the requirements of those faculty who are ready to
venture into the realm of Web-based instruction, and other more sophisticated uses of technology
in their teaching. We must draw experiences from proven models to move the majority of
education faculty toward effective technology infusion (Kent & McNergney, 1999). The focus of
this study is on the assessment of the requirements (technological and pedagogical) necessary to
prepare faculty for the paradigm shift envisioned by leading educators and driven by available
Needs Assessment Model
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The role of needs assessment is to collect the information necessary to identify the
strategy and action required to improve current and future practice. This study employed a needs
assessment model specifically designed to assist professionals in making data-driven and
responsive recommendations to solve instructional technology problems and /or introduce new
technologies (Rossett, 1995). This systematic approach involves defining optimal performance,
assessing actual practice, and identifying the gap separating the two.
Optimal Performance Model and Actual Practice
As an operational example of ”optimal performance” model, the author identified the
Curry School of Education, University of Virginia. Curry is widely recognized as a national
leader in integrating technology in teacher education. Among many of its honors, Curry was cited
by the White House Conference on Technology and Teaching for its leadership in 1996, and the
same year, NCATE called upon institutions to follow the multifaceted Curry model of integrating
technology. More recently, Curry was the recipient of the 1998 AACTE Best Practice Award in
Systematic Change in Technology (Dawson & Kilbane, 1999). The author’s research included
structured interviews with faculty, administrators, and students at Curry; observations of facilities
and faculty/students teamwork, and review of appropriate documents. No doubt Curry has room
for improvement; but the author believes that Curry represents a state-of-the-art working model
for purposes of this study.
To establish the “actual practice” in Schools/Colleges/Departments of Education
(SCDEs), two sets of interviews were conducted via e-mail and telephone using three mailing
lists: Renaissance Group (http://www.uni.edu/coe/ren-grp/), Microsoft Teacher Training
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(http://premium.microsoft.com/K12/training/default.htm), and BellSouth Foundation Recreate
Colleges of Teacher Education (http://www.bellsouthcorp.com/bsf/initiatives/recreating.htm).
The voluntary participation produced 31 interviewees that represented SCDEs at 26 universities
and colleges (Appendix One).
Using the needs assessment model, the methodology of this study required the
investigation of four variables affecting technology infusion by faculty in schools, colleges, and
departments of education (SCDEs) in American universities. Operational definitions for the four
Environment – conditions under which the desired performance change may
occur, e.g., technology infrastructure on campus, access issues, hardware/software availability,
and campus system capability.
Incentives -- the cause that triggers an action and brings desired consequences
through that action -- the “reward” and “punishment” system of the organization. An
examination of cause, where desired (optimal) performance is observed, suggests useful practices
that can be replicated elsewhere.
Motivation -- an individual’s beliefs, value system, and confidence. The
underlying assumption is that an individual is motivated to use/learn new technology if he or she
1) believes technology is a necessary and effective pedagogical tool, and 2) feels confident in his
or her ability to use technology and/or to acquire technology skills.
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Skill/knowledge -- proficiency necessary to perform the required task. After the
above three variables are satisfied, the individual will need adequate skills and knowledge to
successfully integrate technology in instruction.
The parameters of this needs assessment were set to investigate the above four variables.
As shown below, each variable indicated an interest in a specific area of faculty need/behavior in
the use of technology with focus on Web-based instruction. Interview questions (Appendix Two)
were derived from these areas of interest.
Environment -- Is there adequate technology infrastructure (e.g.,
hardware/software, student and faculty Internet access, technology facility for faculty to integrate
technology into the curriculum, etc.) to support Web-based instruction?
Incentives -- Are there appropriate incentives for integrating technology (e.g.,
policies, training opportunities, clearly defined and communicated goals and objectives, and a
shared vision)? Do faculty perceive campus and SCDE administration’s position toward Web-
based instruction as positive?
Motivation -- Do faculty believe Web-based instruction has the potential to
transform education? To what degree do faculty value Web-based instruction as a pedagogical
tool? Do faculty feel confident in their abilities to incorporate the Web into instruction or to
acquire additional skills necessary for that purpose?
Skill/Knowledge -- Do faculty, in the aggregate, have the essential skills and
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knowledge to integrate Web-based instruction into the curriculum?
Findings from Interviews and Observations
An examination of data helped to identify gaps existing between the optimal performance
and the actual practice. The data also suggest possible directions for meeting faculty needs in
technology infusion and Web-based instruction. The findings are presented below with respect to
the four variables.
The Environment variable is operationally defined as technology infrastructure, e.g.,
computer and network systems, facilities, hardware/software, and student/faculty access to state-
of-the-art technology and the Internet. The study asked “Is there adequate technology
infrastructure (e.g., hardware/software, student and faculty Internet access, technology facility for
faculty to integrate technology into the curriculum, etc.)?”
This study did not find a major gap between optimal performance model and actual
practice group. In the opinion of most interviewees, the Environment variable was not a major
impediment to faculty’s effort to incorporate Web-based instruction. Some institutions were
more “cutting-edge” than others, but most higher education institutions and their SCDEs in this
study appeared to have adequate to somewhat adequate technology infrastructure.
Responses from the participating institutions: 82% believed that facilities for Web-based
instruction were adequate or somewhat adequate; almost all faculty had access to the Internet,
and 62% of campuses provided student access to the Internet with or without charges. In
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addition, 38% of campuses had centrally administered distributed learning systems.
Conditions at Curry were similar: Facilities were well equipped; students were provided
free dial-in Internet access (with time restriction); and there was a centrally administered
distributed learning system on campus. Several recent studies confirmed that institutions of
higher education, where most teacher education programs are located, have much improved
facilities (ISTE, 1999; National Center For Education Statistics, 1998; Perischitte, Tharp, &
In this study, Incentive refers to the external conditions which once introduced, cause
certain behaviors or bring consequences, positive or negative. For example, institutional policies
that reward or punish, referred to in this study as “carrots” and “sticks”, or a culture that
promotes or inhibits behaviors, are incentives. Technology training or extra compensation is
enabling and rewarding thus fits this definition. Incentives can be identified and measured in
personnel policies, e.g., requirements for promotion, tenure, compensation, etc. Incentive is a
crucial variable in the success of technology integration. Used appropriately, it translates into
One of the questions investigated was “Are there appropriate incentives for integrating
technology (e.g., policies, training opportunities, clearly defined and communicated goals and
objectives, and a shared vision)?” The study found an evident gap between the optimal
performance model and actual practice group.
Responses from the actual practice group showed that, “carrots”, positive incentives,
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included funding or minigrants (25%), training opportunities (19%), and administrative support
(13%). Mandatory use through evaluation or university established parameters were perceived as
“sticks” by 29% of respondents. A significant number from the actual practice group (44%) felt
there was little incentive from their administrations for use of Web-based instruction, no
“carrots” nor “sticks”.
From Curry’s perspective, the strategies used by the administration to encourage faculty
to use technology were “Mostly carrots.” Faculty felt “support and recognition” for their effort to
use Web-based instruction, and there was no perceived sticks. Curry offers $5,000 stipend to
faculty who develop technology applications in teaching. Its technology committee has an open
participation policy that gives faculty and students a sense of ownership. Every year, the School
recognizes the faculty leaders in integrating technology as the “product champion” though a
schoolwide initiative. In addition, $500 is paid to teachers in the field who supervise student
teaching. Curry provides training for these teachers and a selection process is followed to ensure
the requirements, which include use of technology.
These findings suggest gaps between the optimal performance and actual practice not
only in what incentives the administration offers, but also in how priorities were communicated
(clear vs. confusing signals). Administrative messages were sometimes accepted by faculty more
for the quality of communication, than because of its content.
Another question related to Incentive variable was “How do you describe the culture of
your institution with respect to technology in teacher education?” Again, the study found a gap
between the optimal performance and actual practice. Only 38% of those interviewed in the
actual practice group felt their institutional culture "favored or somewhat favored" Web-based
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instruction. Some (6%) felt that although the culture was positive, administration and faculty
were "not well informed." Many (31%) seemed to have mixed feelings about the culture on
campus (both positive and antagonist). An alarming number of interviewees (25%) felt that the
campus culture for Web-based instruction was “nothing but antagonism”. Curry faculty, on the
other hand, described their technology culture as “well-informed and positive”, suggesting
strongly a culture that encourages and nurtures innovation and well received by faculty.
The next question related to the Incentive variable asked “What kind of training
opportunities and support are available to faculty to use Web-based instruction?” The responses
did not identify obvious gap. Many training opportunities and support were cited by those
interviewed in the actual practice group: scheduled workshops, tutoring, mentoring, released
time, assistance on a case-by-case basis, internal grants, stipend with specified parameters,
stipend with no string attached, etc. Thirteen percent of interviewees indicated that most of these
opportunities were available, 56% indicated some of them available. However, 31% indicated
that training opportunities were very limited.
In the optimal performance model, Curry faculty perceived opportunities for training and
support to be “extensive”, and the author observed a multi-dimensional support structure on
UVA campus. In addition to workshops and support for instructional design and development
provided by campus Instructional Technology Center (ITC), Curry provided graduate assistants
on call to assist faculty. Some years ago, a Curry faculty member began to provide support to
colleagues on an individual basis. The administration responded to this contribution by assigning
a half-time load that allowed this individual to dedicate more energy to helping other faculty. At
Curry, “key staff” were identified so that faculty would know where help was available, and the
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Educational Technology Center provided base-line technology support.
The last question investigating the Incentive variable asked: “Do faculty perceive campus
and SCDE administration’s position toward Web-based instruction as positive?” The
investigation found a gap between the optimal performance and actual practice. Responses from
the actual practice group were mixed. Forty-two percent of interviewees perceived that campus
administration assigned high priority to Web-based instruction; 29% perceived only medium
priority; and 26% thought the campus administration assigned low priority.
The SCDE administration’s position toward Web-based instruction was perceived to be
lower than that of the campus administration: Twenty-nine percent thought SCDE administration
gave Web-based instruction high priority, 32% medium priority, and another 32% judged that
their SCDE administration considered Web-based instruction to be a low priority.
Although Curry did not have a “formal position” for Web-based instruction, nor did its
campus administration, the priority for Web-based instruction was strongly observed and
identified through several initiatives supported by both school and campus administrations. Each
year, the Academic Vice President’s Office at UVA awards 3 Teaching Technology Innovation
Fellowships (TTI Fellows) average $23,000 each for teaching projects that incorporate
multimedia and information technology. Faculty awardees could use this money for course
release or summer stipend, equipment, graduate assistants, etc. At the time of this study, a new
media center, ITC, was just completed. The center had 4 full-time staff plus a number of students
to assist faculty and TTI Fellows in instructional design and development of technology
incorporated teaching materials. The Director of ITC emphasized that the task of ITC was
“pedagogy” only -- technology is a means to better pedagogy.
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At the SCDE level, the Curry School of Education has demonstrated a 15 year,
multifaceted commitment to technology starting in the mid 1980s. This effort has spanned the
tenure of three deans. When Curry reorganized its education programs in the mid-1980s,
technology was identified as one of the three strands, along with multicultural education and
special education, designated for integration throughout the program. The end goal of technology
integration was to ensure that preservice teachers would be prepared to integrate appropriate uses
of technology into their teaching after graduation, and serve as leaders for other teachers. Curry
faculty had embraced three guiding principles for attaining the goal: 1) The school’s focus should
be teaching with technology rather than teaching about technology; 2) Partnership with local
schools, decision and state policy makers are essential; and 3) Many uses of educational
technology are specific to particular subjects and content areas. Priorities were clearly
communicated to faculty, supported and sustained by faculty and the administrators at Curry and
the University of Virginia (Dawson & Kilbane, 1999; Bull, Nonis, & Becker, 1997).
In this study, Motivation refers to intrinsic desire, whereas Incentive is the result of
external inspiration, influence, or manipulation. Incentive may contribute to encouragement or
discouragement of motivation. Faculty quickly recognize and appreciate motivated students. Like
having self-propelled vehicles, motivated people move the task forward.
Questions investigating the Motivation variable were 1) “Do faculty believe technology
has the potential to transform education?”, 2) “How much does the faculty value technology as a
pedagogical tool?”, and 3) “Do faculty feel confident in their abilities to use technology or to
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acquire additional skills necessary for that purpose?”. The study found a substantial gap
between the optimal performance and actual practice in both quantity and quality.
In responses from the actual practice group, less than a third (29%) indicated that their
colleagues believed Web-based instruction was “an important wave of the future.” Most (81%)
thought the faculty "somewhat interested" in Web-based instruction, indicating a “watch and
wait” attitude. A majority of interviewees (61%) thought Web-based instruction was an
inevitable trend of the future but saw this prospect with mixed enthusiasm. This may suggest 1) a
lack of belief, 2) skepticism of the value of technology, or 3) lack of confidence in using Web-
based instruction or the ability to acquire necessary skills.
Regarding faculty confidence, very few (3%) in the actual practice group saw most
faculty in their schools as competent users of Web-based instruction; and 10% of interviewees
felt that less than half of faculty were computer literate and Web savvy. Thirty-two percent
thought that less than a third of faculty in their institutions were competent to use technology or
Web savvy. A similar number (32%) thought less than 10% of faculty were competent. About a
quarter of interviewees saw little or no faculty use at all. In ironic contrast, 75% saw their
students as competent users of technology and the Internet.
Responses from Curry suggested a different picture: Curry interviewees considered the
Curry faculty body to be “highly [technology] literate and [Web] savvy”, and Web-based
instruction was viewed “not just an important wave of the future, but a compelling component of
contemporary instruction.” Curry’s success and prominence has grown from a common culture
that appreciates the possibilities technology brings to teacher preparation. During the author’s
visit at Curry in the summer of 1998, the confidence and belief in technology were deeply felt
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(not just seen, not just heard, but felt!). The author observed teams of students working,
listened to faculty (young and mature) from various disciplines talking about teaching and
research. She discussed professional development with university and public school district
people. Technology was not always the subject, but it was present everywhere, including in
The question guiding the investigation of this variable was “Do faculty, in the aggregate,
have the essential skills and knowledge to integrate technology into the curriculum?” The gap
was less obvious in the level of sophistication in individual faculty skills. In most institutions,
there were some number of true believers in technology and a few highly motivated innovators
and eminent achievers. The obvious gap was the absence of a critical mass that forms the
foundation of a technology culture.
The findings from the actual practice group indicated only 6% of interviewees thought
their faculty were highly sophisticated in incorporating Web-based instruction. An overwhelming
majority (75%) thought skills of their faculty were moderate. The characteristics of faculty users
were 1) predominately junior, non-tenured faculty (50%), 2) concentrated on certain subject areas
instead of crossing the curriculum (19%), 3) those who really know technology (“techies”)
(19%). Regarding faculty users’ work style, it was indicated by more than two-thirds (69%) that
they "worked on their own," and by 13% that they used network as primary work approach.
At Curry, there was a cadre of faculty innovators, reaching across faculty ranks,
disciplines, and ages. At the meeting of 1998 AACTE Best Practice Award in Systematic Change
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in Technology, a long list of 25 Curry faculty and staff were recognized. As one faculty
member describes, “Those who know more about the Internet use it more and in more
sophisticated ways, but some older faculty members with little technical know-how also use it.”
Several observations were made by the author from her visit to Curry: 1) The faculty innovators
were across ranks and ages, 2) A wide range of disciplines were represented, suggesting a highly
technology integrated curriculum; also suggesting that it was likely one would feel out of place to
offer a course without any technology components, 3) Technology use was prevalent in the
School’s student management and assessment, 4) Team work was important. It helped to build
technology skill/knowledge, and finally, 5) Many faculty innovators worked together to build
competence. The prevalence of technology infusion at Curry has been well documented in the
literatures (Ferguson, & Kopp, 1998; Hrabe et al., 1998; Strang, 1997).
Summary and Recommendations
Apart from word processing, the Internet may be the most widely used of the many
computer technologies available to teachers and students. In its most obvious manifestation as
the “world’s largest library,” teachers find the Internet to be an incredibly useful technology
(Becker, 1999). Current applications only scratch the surface of the capabilities that worldwide
digital communications infrastructure will eventually provide for teaching and learning. In
thinking about how to extend the use of information technology to larger numbers of teachers, it
is useful to examine the conditions that this study and others have identified as most facilitative
With regard to the Environment variable, this study did not find a considerable gap in
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technology infrastructure between the optimal performance and the actual practice. However,
it will continue to be a high priority for institutions to update technology infrastructure,
particularly with the high-speed broad-band Internet connections. Apriori, technology
infrastructure is one of the most important variables in predicting faculty use (Becker, 1999).
Better technology infrastructure will increase the opportunity for faculty and students to use
technology regularly for research and collaboration, cross-discipline learning projects, and Web
communication and publication.
Regarding the Incentive variable, first, integration of technology requires a clear vision
and identifiable goals. The vision and goals must be communicated to the faculty, and shared
(adopted) by faculty. To communicate the vision and goals, priorities must be established and
supported by institutional policies and administrative initiatives. Second, for faculty to share the
vision and goals, they must perceive the vision and goals to be relevant to their discipline and
profession, valuable to their practice, and reasonable to pursue. Clearly articulated policies can
direct systematic changes, as seen in the Curry-UVA optimal performance model.
Third, effective incentives are those which transform the external demands into intrinsic
desires and therefore encourage participation in technology integration. Inappropriate or
inadequate incentives may discourage participation. This study found that the positive incentives
– “carrots” -- and technical and pedagogical support put in place by Curry leadership, has
substantiated the vision and goals, and nurtured faculty culture for innovation. Leadership counts.
Academic leaders must lead.
Fourth, we must acknowledge the powerful effect of institutional culture. Culture
provides incentives to individual behaviors because it “approves” or “disapproves” certain
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behaviors. A culture that is perceived by faculty as nurturing technology innovation will
encourage faculty use of technology. Such culture can be encouraged by recognizing faculty
effort in using technology, rewarding success, nurturing a sense of pride in innovation, etc. The
paradigm shift in teacher education requires a critical mass. To build and sustain the critical
mass, a cultural transformation must take place in the institution.
A final point on Incentive is that technology training must continue to be a high priority
in SCDEs. Flexible, multifaceted and meaningful training will encourage and enable mass
participation in technology integration.
Motivation seems to be the most critical variable that ultimately transforms the
environment and incentive variables into an action. To motivate faculty, technology integration
must have a purpose, and must be perceived by faculty as valuable and beneficial to their
professional or personal practices. There must be convincing evidence of the value and benefits
of technology. To individual faculty members, examples of motivators may include improved
student learning, flexibility for students, reaching a new audience, overall job satisfaction, or an
intellectual challenge (Betts, 1999). To build and reinforce the culture, these success stories must
be told again and again, by many people, particularly by respected colleagues.
One of the predicative motivators for technology integration is faculty pedagogical beliefs
and practices. For those who adhere to tradition, the goal of teaching is to provide information.
The new paradigm aspires to produce learning. Many who use technology believe technology has
an emancipating effect on the teacher as well as students. Moving toward the new paradigm
requires us to reconsider instructional priorities. Changing people’s philosophies and beliefs
require more than just having them use a computer in their teaching. It requires infusing
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technology use into large numbers of faculty to reach that critical point where the remaining
non-participants feel out of step with the culture. At Curry, as in many other models of
exemplary practices, technology integrating is spread throughout the curriculum. Students come
to expect to go through every class with significant exposure to relevant technology.
To be motivated to integrate technology, faculty must feel confident in their abilities to
use technology. Technology infusion must cross ranks, age groups, and above all, disciplines.
Faculty must feel technology is doable. Research suggests teachers who are leaders in their field,
and process a constructivist pedagogy, are more likely to use technology (Becker, 1999).
Therefore, leaders among faculty should be encouraged to share their enthusiasm and knowledge
of technology with colleagues. Other examples to help build confidence in those who are
reluctant innovators may include identifying faculty leaders as “key persons,” charging “key
projects” to groups across faculty ranks, experience, and ages, supporting them with technical
assistance, equipment, time, recognition, etc. Such changes require leadership within faculty, as
well as from the chairs and deans. It is necessary to improve faculty confidence in their ability to
use and integrate technology before critical mass can be approached. Many faculty members need
to experience success and recognition using technology before they can lead others.
The last, but not the least, important variable in this needs assessment study is faculty
technology Skill/Knowledge. Sufficient technology skill/knowledge is necessary to carry out the
pedagogical mission. Consistently, faculty technology experience (skill/knowledge) has been a
predictor of faculty participation in technology facilitated instructional activities. A recent study
suggests that there is a strong correlation between skill/knowledge and a belief in the values of
technology (Becker, 1999) The gap regarding technology skill/knowledge identified in this study
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did not turn on how sophisticated one or a few faculty were in any given SCDE. Rather, cause
seems to be found in how competent the faculty, in the aggregate, were at integrating technology
into the tasks of teaching and research, and thus across the entire SCDE curriculum. The gap in
this variable reflects the gaps found in the other variables, and in turn affects other variables in a
positive or negative way.
In the traditional university the culture of academic departments and schools have been
set and academic programs are often defined and led by senior peers. Characteristically, mature
professors fill leadership roles in academic departments. The data suggested the emergence of
technology might have thrust the young, non-tenured, but technically prepared faculty into new
and different leadership roles. In a competitive environment, adding to other problems in teacher
education, the rapid thrust of technology has created a mild cultural clash in some academic
communities. Albert Einstein once said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at
the same level of thinking we were when we created them.” It is important that we keep in mind
that the human mind is far more creative than the machine linked to the Internet. Each will
continue to be essential to the preparation of future teachers. Only where technology improves
pedagogy will technology be valued by all.
The study reported in this article is the outcome of a research fellowship from
Renaissance Group. The author thanks the Renaissance Group colleagues for their support. The
author also expresses her gratitude to colleagues at Curry School of Education, UVA, and other
institutions who provided valuable data for this study.
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