Assistant Professor of Education
Mount Vernon Nazarene University
800 Martinsburg Road
Mount Vernon, OH 43050 email@example.com
As teacher preparation programs seek to diversify their pre-service teachers’ exposure to teaching situations, Mount Vernon Nazarene University’s Education Department has discovered how to maximize its freshman’s educational technology field experiences through meaningful crosscultural community service. A plan has been implemented since the spring of 2004 where candidates taking educational technology classes are required to give 8 hours of technology tutoring as a community service to populations in cross-cultural situations. Based on the Spring 2004 successes, the cross-cultural tutoring opportunities have been expanded, leading to renewed vision in candidates’ perspectives on education and job placements. At a freshman level, this challenge sets the tone for further diverse field exposure. This study will look at the multiple positive outcomes that result from a model that uses technology tutoring as the pre-service candidates’ first exposure to a cross-cultural instructional environment and thus enhances the prophetic call that rests on teachers.
“Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers” (Mat. 23:29-33). These were the words addressed by the Lord Jesus to the pharisaic leadership of his people. Today, in our affluent society and our well-todo churches we are hearing the same words from our Lord Jesus. He entrusts those of us who are training Christian educators, to be His potter’s hand to mold those who will be these prophetic wise teachers. What an awesome responsibility!
Christian educational institutions’ responsibilities are very comparable to that of Christian churches. As salt on the earth and light on a table, the Christian church undeniably has a prophetic call that has been outlaid very specifically by our Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and in the apostles’ writings. Howard A. Snyder (1977) defines the prophetic call of the church as a reconciling agent within its surrounding communities, and as an entity that refuses and refutes the world’s definition and unjust practices of power in order to promote kingdom justice (p. 107-115). Christian higher education leaders have therefore the profound responsibility to nurture pre-service teachers towards becoming who God wants them to become in their prophetic teaching role.
Mount Vernon Nazarene University is a university that draws over 80% of its student population from towns of 20,000 inhabitants or less. As a consequence, its student population is quite homogenous as shown in Figure 1 below.
Furthermore, its faculty is a reflection of this cultural setting: In 2004, five of its full-time faculty members represented minority populations. MVNU’s setting – being at least one hour from major cities – is a challenge too. Faced by the NCATE’s new diversity and technology requirements, the MVNU teacher preparation program developed, among others, a cross-cultural community service component for each level of its program. This paper will especially focus on the cross-cultural community service component at the freshman level. Although the term ‘diversity’ has been used by the lay educational leaders to describe part of the prophetic call of teachers, Christ’s Kingdom calls for more than just passive integration; it calls for a pro-active approach to take on a reconciling role that will promote Kingdom justice.
Community outreach is embedded in Vygotsky’s (1978) model of learning as a social construction of knowledge within a community of practice where knowledge sharing is a key component of knowledge construction. More recently, Engestrom (1999) has developed an Activity Theory model where interaction between communities helps social communities to reconstruct their identities within the larger frameworks of their settings. When applied to educational technology, these conceptual frameworks will support the specific efforts for technology outreach to cross-cultural communities developed at a freshman level in MVNU’s teacher preparation programs.
The first question that came to the mind of many faculty members as the program was initially developed was the following: why expose students to cross-cultural communities within an educational technology course at the freshman level? A number of reasons will support this choice:
The spring semester of 2004 was the beginning of the freshmen’s cross-cultural community service requirement. All education freshmen are required to take a class entitled ‘Educational Technology’. Within that class there is a stipulation that now requires all members of the class need to give eight hours of technology training in a cross-cultural environment that has to be approved by the instructor. The instructor made contacts with various centers where technology tutoring would be an asset to the community.
Two computer labs in Somali refugee training centers were identified in Columbus, OH (1 hour away from the university). The populations served are Somali refugee adults and young teens who need computer skills either for their professional growth or for educational and personal purposes. There were no other registration requirements, but registered participants had to commit to attend four hours of tutoring. At the end of their tutoring sessions, participants were given a certificate of completion. Transportation was provided for the tutors.
One African-American after-school outreach program, Fountain of Hope, was also identified in Columbus,OH. This center is located in one of the African-American inner-city parts of the city. They have a whole computer lab set up and other activities organized to support middle and high school students in their academic and social development. Transportation was provided for the tutors. These middle and high school students had to participate in four hours of tutoring and showcase a technology project in order to obtain a certificate of completion.
Three low-income elementary schools (in Highlands school district, OH) were also identified in the adjacent county where a 21st century grant had been approved for after-school support for at-risk students. The 21st century grant coordinator provided the placements for our students. This after-school program functions four days a week, with half of the program being technology interaction and the other half other content-related instruction and tutoring. Our tutors had to provide their own transportation to these schools and arrange their tutoring schedule with the 21st century grant coordinator.
A center for teenagers and adults with mental handicaps, called Echoing Hills, about forty-five minutes away, was selected to give students insight into the world of special physical and mental needs. Our tutors had to arrange their technology tutoring time with the Echoing Hills director. They had to provide their own transportation to that center.
Finally, a youth center for outreach to teenagers, The Rock, was identified in a low-income area about twenty minutes away for the university. Again, our tutors had to arrange for their technology tutoring time with the center coordinator and provide their transportation to the center.
Each of the selected technology tutoring centers represented at least two kinds of diversity perspectives, including racial, economic and special needs.
Each tutor was required to set up a KWL chart for each of their tutees and thus develop a tutoring plan for each one, except for the 21st century grant placements where the tutoring content was already laid out by the program. Tutors were encouraged to take tutees at the technology level that they were at, and move them up while taking into account their tutees’ needs and personal desires. Therefore, tutoring could include the most basic skills such as how to use a mouse and draw with pain, to reading and art development through technology, word processing, multimedia-presentations and Internet skills.
The first semester, qualitative data only was collected from students through a response paper where tutors had to summarize their experience, then reflect on their learning regarding technology tutoring and regarding the fact that they were tutoring in a culturally diverse environment. Finally, they had to end their report by stating how this experience would affect the way they would teach in the future.
The second semester, the same type of qualitative paper was required from tutors. But tutors were also asked to fill in an evaluation survey that gave instructors more quantitative data on how the program was perceived by the tutors. This survey asked tutors to evaluate faculty support, site supervisor support, peer support, gains in personal knowledge, gains in cross-cultural approaches and gains in technology tutoring and teaching skills on a Likert scale. This qualitative data was then computed to inform next semester’s service requirements, preparation and placement offerings.
Forty-five students participated in the first community outreach effort, and thirty-one in the second one.
During this project, candidates were faced with a number of challenges: language barriers, physical and technical limitations, time management issues, fluidity of the curriculum and specific needs of their tutees. For most of the candidates, these challenges were transformed into opportunities for growth. This happened for several reasons, including pre-experience preparation, coaching during the experience and debriefing after the experience.
Growth occurred in the candidates’ professional expertise, but also in his/her social and emotional maturation.
Most of the qualitative feedback received from tutees sounded like the following:
“Through tutoring these Somali people I learned that it is a great experience to watch people learn to do things, and I also learned that even if you do not feel like you know enough to help someone else they will appreciate what you do know.”
“Through this experience I have developed a desire to teach in a city school with diversity.”
“I learned from this experience that reaching out to others should be something that I do more often.” “Through this tutoring session, I learned that I must think about what I am teaching not only from my own way of life, but try to think of what other people will be thinking, and how I can communicate best to teach people from a variety of backgrounds.”
“Before entering the workforce, all teachers should have the experience of tutoring a child from a different culture.”
“Every day I came home so excited for the day that I will have my own classroom. Hopefully, the lessons I learned now will stop me from making some mistakes in the future. I know that I not only made a difference in the fact that they may be a little more proficient in technology, but I was a role model for them when they may not have too many people to look up to.”
“This experience will certainly influence my future. It encouraged me to seek other opportunities to tutor. In fact, I think it is everyone’s responsibility to donate his or her time. I will most likely be tutoring on and off for the rest of my life.”
“I have to be honest that I was a little hesitant about doing the tutoring because I was being selfish. I didn’t want to give up a few hours of my weekend to go and teach others and to help them. But, as I continued to go I was so blessed with each visit and I came away feeling good about what I was doing and excited for the next time to go.”
“I came away from this tutoring experience so blessed and a bit more open-minded I think. The way I was accepted by my students and the way they were so willing to share what they had with all of us really touched me.”
“I came away from this experience not only blessed but touched and I think this will make me more willing to do similar things in the future and to not be afraid to give some of my time to help others. Although I was supposed to be the teacher I feel like I was the one being taught many things.”
“Overall, I have learned that I may want to work in a place like Echoing Hills and have the opportunity to help the disabled people.”
The next step is to analyze the quantitative data received through the experience survey. Thirty-one tutors completed the survey. Figures two, three and four show how tutors perceived the support they have received from faculty, site supervisor and their peers.
Figure 2: Tutors’ Evaluation of Faculty Support.
Faculty support (Figure 2) was deemed a crucial issue for the success of this new experience. Because tutors were definitely moving significantly out of their comfort zone, a key element of the successful outcome of their new outreach experience was to have a faculty member that would be like an ‘anchor’ that would help tutors to identify issues that pertained to the new culture and ways to solve problems in culturally appropriate ways. Several tutors also commented in writing about the positive impact that strong faculty support had on their experience. Faculty support was the strongest in cultures that were more ‘different’ from the initial culture. Faculty presence was almost constant at the Somali refugee centers, at the African-American Fountain of Hope center, as well as at the Echoing Hills center for handicapped people. It was encouraging to realize that faculty presence during those experiences, although very time-consuming for the faculty member, did bear the expected fruit, i.e. increased comfort and assurance for tutors to make their experience most valuable.
Alongside with faculty support goes the perception of the site supervisor’s support (Figure 3). Except perhaps for the youth center, The Rock, and the center for handicapped people, Echoing Hills, students really appreciated developing a relationship with the site supervisors they worked with. Even in the two sites just mentioned, the positive perception of the site supervisors was held by 80% of the tutors or more. Why was it important that tutors develop a strong relationship with their site supervisor? In their comments, tutors identified specific areas or skills that had been enhanced through their relationship with their site supervisor:
The site supervisor became another very powerful help for tutors to ‘translate’ culture in educational parameters and thus helped shape the educational experience into a more meaningful experience for tutors and tutees.
Peer support (Figure 4) was evaluated to find out the general ‘mood’ of the tutors throughout the experience. Tutors in all sites acknowledged a high level of peer support, the lowest being 80% in Highlands, where tutors did not have to work as closely in a team relationship as at the other sites. Tutors helped each other by looking for, creating or sharing resources to enhance the richness of tutees’ learning.
Another area of interest was the evaluation of tutors’ gains in their personal knowledge (Figure 5), i.e. in knowing themselves better. The perceived gains were all fairly positive for over 50% of tutors. In their comments tutors witnessed abundantly about their increased level of patience, about their new appreciation of their situation, about their improved communication skills. They also testified that they discovered new gifts, especially for those who went to tutor at the center for handicapped people (Echoing Hills). Several wrote that they found out that they seemed gifted to work with handicapped students. Others discovered that they enjoyed working in culturally diverse environments and positively stated that they would be seeking a teaching position in urban inner-city schools. For others, their passion for teaching and their desire to see students learn was highly reaffirmed through that experience. Several tutors also wrote that they realized that they are in fact capable of taking on new challenges and that they are actually able to adjust without too much difficulty to unknown or different situations. Not a single tutor who had completed the full amount of required tutoring hours has viewed the experience as negative or not having any impact on his/her life.
Gains in cross-cultural approaches (Figure 6) were also rated very high in most centers except for the 21st century grant elementary schools (Highlands) and at the youth center (The Rock). This issue was discussed especially with the Highlands center coordinator. Both of the centers, Highlands and The Rock, are serving mostly low-income Caucasian students. Therefore, our tutors did not readily perceive that they were entering another culture. As freshmen, they had not yet been exposed to courses or lectures on generational or other types of poverty cultures and their specific features. Therefore, they were just looking for outside visual cultural characteristics instead of trying to dig deeper into identifying their students’ cultures. A few tutors mentioned that they were counted some very challenging family stories by their tutees, or that their tutees’ community was very unsupportive of educational practices. Several tutors commented on the very few learning opportunities that some of their tutees had been offered. However, as to the tutoring experiences in the other centers, tutors generally commented that tutees had been very appreciative of this learning experience and were also struck by the fact that tutees in these communities were very caring about each other. Another kind of comments related to the fact that tutors discovered Islamic culture and how religious practices (in this case the fast of Ramadan) could influence students’ learning.
Several commented on the fact that they had to learn to communicate with tutees who had a much lower level of understanding of the English language and how that complicated the educational process. They acknowledged that they learned to develop different teaching strategies that included less verbal input and more modeling. They also learned to use technology to bridge cultural gaps and gain a higher level of cross-cultural understanding. For instance, in the Somali culture, they had their tutees locate some websites that were very informative of Somali culture and current events. Discussions followed and, as consequence, a better understanding of the new culture. Tutors also learned to make more explicit to their tutees some of the cultural differences that were pointed out to them by their tutees.
The last area of growth that was analyzed was the tutors’ evaluation of their gains in tutoring or teaching skills (Figure 7). All the feedback received regarding that area was generally most positive, except for the Somali refugee learning centers where several tutors acknowledged that their gains in actual tutoring or teaching skills had been minimal. This could be accounted for by the difficulty of communication that a number of tutors have experienced difficulties in linguistic communication and therefore had felt somehow frustrated. On the other hand, comments on tutoring or teaching skills included behavior management techniques, development of higher level thinking skills, technology integration for increased student learning as well as very individualized strategies to meet specific student needs. Other comments pointed out to the fact that tutors realized that they had learned that everyone deserved to learn and thus it was a humbling experience for several to serve as a tutor. Many tutors also shared how the ‘aha!’ moment that they were able to capture on their tutees’ faces definitely represented the best reward that they had received for their efforts.
Tutors’ changes of ‘dispositions’ after their cross-cultural field experience and its influence on students’ vocational/career choices were quite obvious. In the previous analysis, the reader can witness that this change of dispositions addressed the following areas, according to a framework of community service and learning engagement developed by Australian universities (Butcher, et al., 2003). These areas are:
Several Australian universities have designed a similar component to their pre-service education program. Butcher (ibid.) points out to how they have moved from the concept of community service to that of community engagement that actually describes a two-way relationship. As pre-service teachers engage in community outreach, benefits are not unilateral, but bilateral as both the community reaching out and the community reached out to are enriched by the experiences. A very powerful aspect of this bilateral enrichment is another outcome of the experience that had initially been left out of the analysis, but that Australian universities are strongly focusing on: Empathetic action. Actually, although students were not formally required to share in writing any expression of empathy with their tutees or with the community that they reached out to, it was obvious to see in the comments that empathetic relationships were developed by most of them during the experiences. Out of that empathy, greater respect grew between the community reaching out and that reached out to, and strong bonding experiences have affirmed several pre-service teachers’ call to teaching in diverse settings. Many students commented on the enrichment that they felt through the relationship building experiences.
As this community outreach was developed as an added component to education freshmen requirements in their educational technology class, doubts and questions were on the faculty members’ minds. “How would our ‘protected’ freshmen be able to get out to the urban world? Would their low level of technology competency be adequate for technology tutoring? Would their low-level exposure to other cultures render the outreach experience difficult or negative?” After having participated in two semesters of outreach efforts, there is definitely an overwhelming reassurance that this was the right approach to sensitize pre-service teachers at the beginning of their education training to the necessity of enlarging their worldviews in their initial education courses to include many enriching cultures and cross-cultural teaching approaches so as engage them to embrace diversity outreach as a way of life as soon as possible.
On the other hand, technology tutoring proved to have been the appropriate approach for a first community outreach. In fact, according to students’ comments, technology represented such a commonality between them and the community reached out to that it greatly enhanced the learning experiences. Tutors realized that technology represented a safe common ground for everyone, “a place of acceptance and still personalized” as one tutor commented. Tutors’ levels of technology seemingly lower level of technology proficiency did not to represent a major hindrance for the experience and was barely commented on. Technology definitely represented almost an ‘excuse’ for relationship building and access to a diverse educational setting.
Finally, by the end of that specific outreach experience, most pre-service teachers did acknowledge that they discovered a new dimension to their calling that, for the most part, they had not known about before. This reminded faculty that they were in a crucial position to foster that climate of discovery by exposing students to take on a prophetic role in a variety of situations. Out of these experiences, our future teachers have gained a vision for the practices of outreach, reconciliation, and compassionate justice that will take them far beyond what they probably anticipated. In that way, our future teachers have been learning to participate in God’s merciful and compassionate deliverance (Stassen and Gushee, 2003, p. 47) and thus fulfilling Christ’s vision for His people as outlined in the Beatitudes.
As teacher preparation programs are grappling with the necessity to expose pre-service teachers to rich and varied cultural environments, it is the author’s hope that the vision and practices that have been developed in this paper will encourage Christian educational leaders to develop and nurture experiences that will go beyond mere ‘diversity’ to fulfill the prophetic mandate of Christian teachers. This will richly contribute to the training of caring and compassionate teachers who, in turn, will be more effectively prepared to meet the cross-cultural challenges of the 21st century American classrooms with Christ’s true spirit. Brian J. Walsh wrote: “We need to be transformational in education because the transforming vision of the biblical worldview is a vision that responds prophetically and creatively to each new situation” (2000). Sensitizing students to their prophetic call in very practical ways and situations will hopefully engage their “prophetic discernment” and radically transform their worldview.
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