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Integrating theory and practice in educational technology courses

Brian Fowler
School of Education
Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education

In this paper I intend to describe two contrasting types of pre-service educational technology courses for teachers. The first is from the University of Iowa at which I spent some time in early 1987, the second is from the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education.

University of Iowa

Most Iowan elementary and secondary school teachers enter the profession at the end of a four year Bachelor's degree, the last two years of which are concentrated in the Teacher Education Program within the College of Education at the University. Within this Program they do most of their educational theory in their Junior (Third) Year and typically do their actual practice teaching in their final semester of their Senior (Fourth) Year. This sixteen week practice teaching program involves full time attendance at a school and they are not permitted to be enrolled in any other unit during this time. There is also a "Pre-education Practicum" of one day a week during late Third or early Fourth Year. This latter practicum is basically an "observational" experience during which they also perform teacher aide activities and have very limited actual teaching experience. This "Pre-education Practicum" is worth four semester credit hours and is usually a quarter of the student's load for the semester.

The educational technology theory and practice component of their course (if any) is generally taken during the student's Third Year, before s/he has had any practical experience in schools. At the University of Iowa there are two units which are taken by all undergraduate students in the elementary school program. These are "Audio-visual Equipment for Instruction" and "Introduction to Microcomputing for Teachers" and are each worth one credit hour; ie., one contact hour each week. The latter unit is also taken by all undergraduates in the secondary teaching program. Any educational technology theory or work on media selection and use is left up to the individual curriculum areas to teach, a situation with which we are also familiar in this country.

There is a more theoretical unit in Educational Technology, but the only students who do this three credit hour unit entitled "Selection and Use of Media for Instruction" are postgraduate students majoring in "Instructional Design and Technology".

In this paper I am essentially concerned with the non computing aspects of educational technology and will briefly outline the thrust of the first and third of the units mentioned above.

Audio-visual Equipment for Instruction

The one hour session each week is devoted to either a demonstration or an "Equipment Checkout" by the tutor. The tutors in this unit are almost always part time Teaching Assistants who are undertaking a postgraduate degree in the "Instructional Design and Technology" area.

The students must pass three "Equipment checkouts" on projectors and on video and audio recording and playback. There are also six graphics production projects involving dry mounting, laminating, direct spirit master, thermal spirit master, thermal transparency and lettering. A seventh project involves taking photos on a copy stand.

In addition to the above there are also two multiple choice exams which must be passed at a 70% level of proficiency for a "Satisfactory" grading in the unit.

The students have access to a well equipped laboratory with extended, supervised operating hours. There is also a set of 15 short (average 5 minutes) videotapes which also demonstrate all of the processes and items of equipment. A textbook has also been written which covers the same areas (Mether & Bullard, 1984).

This unit is one credit hour of the 15 or 16 credit hours that a student would typically be doing in the semester.

Selection and Use of Media for Instruction

This postgraduate unit has three hours contact each week which mainly consist of short tutor explanations, student presentations and discussions. The theory and readings are based on Robert Heinich's book Instructional Media (Heinich, 1986).

Some of the ten objectives of the unit are:

  1. to develop a rationale for using - or not using - various media in teaching and training;

  2. to discuss models of the communication process and how they apply to various situations;

  3. to describe the advantages, limitations, characteristics and educational applications of...(a list of 13 media follows);

  4. evaluate specific materials using the Appraisal Checklists (from Heinich);

  5. evaluate effective techniques for presenting instructional media, including correct use of equipment; (From Unit Outline for 7W.103, Spring 1987, University of Iowa)
The assessment of the unit consists of seven written assignments and a presentation (3% each), two exams (24% each) and a project (14%), while the remaining 14% is based upon classroom contribution.

From my observations of other American Universities, and from discussion with others at the A.E.C.T. Atlanta Conference, it appears that this is a fairly typical arrangement in American Teacher Education with regard to both practice teaching and the teaching of educational technology.

There are some advantages in this particular structure. Because it is a concentrated experience, with no other studies to distract the student, s/he is able to devote all his/her energies to the experience. Also because it is controlled by one Unit, a specialised department is usually set up with full time and part time specialised staff whose sole responsibility is the supervision of students. The use of "clinical" specialists is a better arrangement than that of drafting lecturers to help with supervision, regardless of their ability or interest, as tends to happen in Australian colleges. Disadvantages of the system are the extreme delay before allowing students to actually experience what teaching is like (and whether they are suited to it), and the lack of integration between theory and practice. This latter problem was readily conceded by a number of American educators with whom I spoke, but they also pointed out that the current system was so firmly entrenched that it was most unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. In terms of the educational technology units, the students did not get to use the materials they were producing, or the equipment they were practicing on, in the classroom. Thus the practical work was an isolated, academic exercise which was carried out in well equipped surroundings, rather than under the normal, less than ideal, classroom conditions.

It is this integration between theory and practice, particularly in the teaching of Educational Technology that brings us to the second case study.

Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education

Educational Technology is taught in the second semester of the first year in the Diploma of Teaching (Primary) program. In the first semester the students spend one week in schools observing and performing teacher aide activities followed by six sessions of microteaching. Also in first semester the students do a full unit entitled "Computers in Schools" which introduces them to word processing, Logo and software utilisation. Thus the second semester Educational Technology unit "Teaching Skills and Resources" is the student's first experience of actual classroom teaching.

Teaching Skills and Resources

The school component consists of a one week block, followed by seven weeks of one day a week teaching. The experience is completed with a further one week block practice before the mid semester break. During the middle seven weeks the students attend a one hour lecture each week and a one hour equipment workshop every second week. The purpose of these workshops is to demonstrate the operation of a number of items of equipment; viz, slide and film strip projectors, audio recording with simple mixing, duplicator and thermal copier and finally the 16 mm projector. Their textbook (Fowler, 1988) contains a do it yourself section on the operation of each of these items of equipment to reduce the necessity for note taking at the demonstrations and to provide reference instructions when they come to practice on the equipment later.

The weekly lectures concentrate more upon encouraging students to use a variety of presentation methods, and allowing access for outside resource persons from the ABC and the "Newspapers in Education" project. Again the textbook contains most of the factual information, thus reducing the need for copious note taking in lectures. The lectures are used to illustrate the points made in the text rather than to duplicate the information. The Switched-on Teacher, the text which was written for the unit, contains many more ideas than could possibly be dealt with in a lecture situation and is designed to be a useful reference book during their later practices and for when they are actually teaching. It also contains an extensive chapter which involves a media selection model which the students are expected to be able to use as a guide to their lesson planning in the practice teaching situation.

In the second half of the semester the students do microteaching instead of attending school, and the lectures concentrate upon classroom management. In the last two weeks of the semester the lectures and workshops involve the use and operation of portable video equipment.


The "integration" aspect of this unit is also found in the major assignment which is in the form of a "Resources Folio". The students are required to plan lessons (in conjunction with the teacher) which will involve the use of certain types of materials and activities. They then must produce these materials, use them in the classroom, and evaluate the effectiveness of the technique and of the quality of their own materials as revealed in their experience with them in the classroom. It is up to each student to ensure that each specified item is used at some stage during their nine weeks in the school.

The specified items are:

  1. four overhead transparencies, one of which should incorporate an overlay;
  2. a large chart;
  3. a set of cards;
  4. an audio tape in which the student's voice is a significant part of the content.
In addition, they are required to use a set of slides (or film strip) and an ABC program (either radio or TV) in the classroom. The classroom teacher is required to comment upon the lessons and thus help to authenticate the actual use of the materials.

The evaluation of the Folio (which is worth 35% of the Unit's marks) is based upon the quality of the materials presented, the completeness of the accompanying lesson plan and the amount of analytical thought that has gone into the student's self evaluation of the items.

In this Unit all production and practice is directed towards actual classroom use and as a by product, the opportunity for student dishonesty is reduced. As this "Resources Folio" is compiled from actual items which are used in practice teaching students do not feel that they are making "useless" or irrelevant items just to satisfy the requirements of assessment.

In the second half of the semester an equipment competency test (15%) is held to ascertain the actual competence and confidence the students have with the equipment. At the end of the semester the final examination (50%) is based in part on aspects of educational technology and partly upon lesson planning, media selection and classroom management. The combination of short answer and open ended questions in conjunction with an essay in all these three aspects completes the integration of theory and practice in this unit.


Fowler, B. R. (1988). The Switched-on Teacher. Toowoomba: T.M.R.C.

Heinich, R. et al, (1986). Instructional Media. Second Ed. New York: Macmillan.

Mether, C. E. and Bullard, J. R. (1984). Audiovisual Fundamentals. Third Ed., Dubuque, Iowa: William C Brown.

Author: Brian Fowler, School of Education, Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education. Further information about the Unit and textbook can be obtained from the writer and enquiries should be addressed to PO Box 25, Darling Heights, Qld 4350.

Please cite as: Fowler, B. (1988). Integrating theory and practice in educational technology courses. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (Eds), Designing for Learning in Industry and Education, 77-80. Proceedings of EdTech'88. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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