International Forum of Educational Technology & Society

Formal Discussion Initiation

Preparing teachers and trainers for the C21st.

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Time schedule:
Discussion: 12 - 21 July 99
Summing-up: 22 - 23 July 99

Martin Owen
University of Wales, United Kingdom

Rudolf Bahro, the German political thinker once said " the important thing is to learn to live with uncertainty" (I paraphrase…). However in thinking about what teaching will be like in the C21st it is tempting to think that the future will be very like the past. Schools I enter today have so much familiarity about them… they are historically and culturally conditioned social environments that have evolved with minor geo-political differences. This year I have discovered that a school in rural Chile is not that different from a school in rural Wales.

Of course there have been many obvious changes over the past 100 years. When keeping neat and intricate hand written ledgers was an important issue for the working of our society, much more attention was paid to the teaching of handwriting. Introduction of technology in the process of book keeping and business correspondence has subtly changed the curriculum. Teaching handwriting is not as major a part of the curriculum of my own teacher training institution as it would have in 1899. As the seamless web betwixt technology and society continues to weave what subtle changes are also underway? What changes in demands are there on teachers and trainers? I think I would be a fool to predict, for I have in the past few minutes just removed a virtual reality helmet and emerged from an undersea world, and I am a little dizzy- if not nauseous.

To teach about specific learning technologies would seem to be misplaced, teaching specific technologies also seems misplaced. The CP/M commands I mastered in the 70's have little place in the object oriented operating systems I see on the horizon. Forget Microsoft and authoring systems.

More challenging, I think, is that we have no need to teach specific instructional strategies. The Gagne and Bloom I learned in the 1970's, that was not mastered by many of my fellow teachers and trainers, does not seem to have made them any less capable of teaching effectively. Good old pragmatism seems to be quite effective.

What should be part of the preparation of future teachers. I feel there are three issues that I would address:

  1. The ability to design learning experiences which reflect authentic world experience.
  2. The ability to devise assessment and evaluation schemes that reflect authentic world experience.
  3. The ability to reflect on their own practice and enter into dialogue with others about practice.
There are what are sometimes referred to as "weasel words" here. Words that easily deceive and escape capture. "Design" and "authentic" are such words. "Design" is seeing the world a different place in the future from the way it is now. It is the ability to organise and structure, to select and deploy resources to the solution of a problem. This in turn implies the ability to identify problems, and may involve creativity. Much of this comes from experience that is tempered by the words of intelligent and experienced "others".

"Authenticity" implies that we are undertaking activities that have simultaneously the purity and sullied-ness of the real world. The activities are not abstracted from context but are situated in the real lives of the participants ( This does not mean you should not learn Ancient Greek or Latin). Artificial structures of knowing and knowledge should not be reified by any spurious claims to superiority, rationality and logic.

If we are to teach theory then (3) is the point of departure. We do need language and frameworks to conduct discourse about what we are doing. We need to know ontology of the language and the frameworks.

The professional development of teachers and trainers of the future needs to be based on supported experiences which provide opportunities for problem solving and reflection in the real world of teaching and training in an environment where self and group evaluation and reflection can and does happen. All else < learning new technologies, learning new techniques, reading "theory" etc.> should follow as necessary rather than through prescription. The difficult bit is designing that learning environment!

A longer paper that takes this idea further in the context of virtual learning environments is available on


About moderator

Martin Owen
Director, Project REM
School of Education
University of Wales
Bangor, United Kingdom
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