The University Record, December 6, 1999

Gere taps into technology to provide ‘real’ experiences for future teachers

Editor’s note: This article is one in a series on U-M projects that have been recognized by the Computerworld Smithsonian Program, announced in a Sept. 27 article that can be found on the Web at www.umich.edu/~urecord/9900/Sep27_99/24.htm.


By Theresa Maddix

Pre-service education students watch elementary school lessons “live” 40 miles away in Southfield through an observation window into Laura Schiller’s 6th grade classroom. Prof. Anne Ruggles Gere’s room in the School of Education building links them with Schiller, one of the first teachers certified by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards. Schiller provides immediate follow-up after each lesson, discussing her methods with the education students and fielding questions.

In other sessions, students use two-way video conferencing to speak with living authors. “Wow, that’s the first time I’ve talked with a real author,” Gere recently overheard one of her students say after a session with Valerie Hobbs, author of How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn’t Called You Back?.

Gere’s project, Technology Assisted Teacher Education (TATE), uses videoconferencing to facilitate classroom observation and the discussion of teaching practice between current and pre-service teachers. The videoconferencing capabilities it has introduced have opened up a wide variety of projects not limited to speaking with authors and observing classrooms. Other opportunities for students have included a virtual tour of Angel Island given by teachers in California and a link to collections of documents and photographs at the Bentley Historical Library.

TATE began in 1996 when Gere, professor of English and of education, sensed a “cognitive dissonance” between what was going on in her classrooms and what students were experiencing on-site. Her students were placed in different observation settings and there wasn’t a way to match what they were doing with where they might be in a textbook.

“Even when there was a connection,” Gere says, “everyone was in a different setting” and not everyone could share the experience. Gere sensed a need for more interaction and a common text.

One alternative was videos of classroom settings, but with videotapes “you never get to ask [the teacher] ‘Why did you do that?’”

Gere put together a team of people from the Southfield Schools, the School of Education and the Office of Instructional Technology to form the TATE project.

“I am not a tech person,” Gere says. “I never started by saying ‘I love technology and I want to do something with it.’ I am a teacher and I want to make the experience better.”

Technical hurdles were commonplace the first year, especially with ISDN line configuration. Gere advises those who attempt to set up a similar system to “develop a strong personal relationship with a responsive person at your local telephone company who will follow through on your order.”

Even when the connection was in place, Gere found student expectations for audio and video quality to be higher than what could be supplied through their 128K ISDN connection. Today’s connection is of much better quality, making use of six phone lines instead of two.

The in-class connections are getting stronger as well. At first, Gere says, students talking with Schiller “feel like nothing they can say is important enough to merit being on television.” But “over time they begin to talk” and have rich discussions.

In early December, the pre-service students will meet with the 6th grade students they have observed to share portfolios. The grade school students are putting together portfolios packed with poems.

Working with Gere and Schiller on the TATE project from the Southfield School District is George Brackx, technology coordinator. With the project at the School of Education are Sean DeMonner, former director of technology; Ron Miller, media consultant; and Tony Winkler, computer systems consultant.