CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Take a new technology, pair it with a very old idea,
and you can fundamentally change the nature of learning and teaching, a
University of Illinois professor says.
The new technology is the Internet. The old idea is the apprenticeship. The fundamental change comes from using the technology to reintegrate schooling with work, says James Levin, a professor of educational psychology. It's called a "teleapprenticeship," and it's intended -- like a traditional apprenticeship -- to give students the opportunity to "observe, model and master" some of the skills of their profession in the context of their education. The main difference is that the apprenticeship is conducted over a computer network instead of in person, and input can come from more than one person.
With a grant from the National Science Foundation, Levin and Michael Waugh, a professor of curriculum and instruction, led a four-year study of teleapprenticeships in teacher education. What they and their colleagues helped to develop were models for teaching and learning that have benefits both on and off campus. Through a new Office of Educational Technology in the College of Education, some of these new models likely will be incorporated into the teacher-education curriculum.
Among the models researched by Levin and his colleagues was one that used education majors as mediators in an "ask the experts" electronic service for elementary and high school classrooms. Under this model, freshman and sophomore education students in an introductory biology course were assigned as teleapprentices to specific school classrooms with network connections. Through e-mail and network conferencing, they were called on to answer questions about the science studied by their assigned classes.
Everyone appeared to benefit from the arrangement, Levin said. The elementary and high school students and teachers got answers they needed. The education majors discovered what kind of questions they would be asked someday, and learned more about science and university resources through the process of finding answers. "In many cases, their responses were much more useful than if we'd had the experts answering the questions," Levin said, because the gap in expertise was not as wide.
Professors teaching these education students found them more motivated because they saw the future relevance for what they were learning, Levin said. And the system was more sustainable than one in which true experts -- likely overwhelmed by the number -- would answer all the questions.
The researchers found that "an apprenticeship only works when it's a benefit to all the people involved," Levin said. Otherwise, it becomes difficult to sustain. The most successful methods, like the teleapprenticeship ask-the-experts system, provide a service beyond the campus while also serving education. In another example, he noted how a professor posted on a Web site the best lesson plans created and tested by students as an assignment. By doing so, he gave them added motivation, while providing a quality resource accessed thousands of times each month by people around the world.