Teacher Education…Can I Get a Definition, Please?

Given how critical teacher quality is to student success and how critical teacher preparation is to the effectiveness of teachers, it is important for the public to have a good grasp on what it means to prepare teachers.

In The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia, Andrew Lih notes that “no other reference site comes close in terms of traffic or popularity” to Wikipedia. Google virtually any topic, and the Wikipedia entry will come up near the top of the results page. With that much visibility, a Wikipedia entry has the potential to shape the views of the public around a specific topic. The Wikipedia article on “teacher education” has been viewed by over 20,000 times in the last 90 days. But how good is Wikipedia in providing the public with information regarding teacher preparation? I recently evaluated the article along three dimensions: comprehensiveness, credibility, and usability.

Comprehensiveness = C

The “teacher education” article hits on the basics of teacher preparation, including the general scope and sequence of a teacher education curriculum and program and the types of institutions and programs that train teachers. However, the article needs to do much more to fully describe teacher preparation. First, the article fails to discuss the history and evolution of teacher education, which is necessary context when trying to understand why teacher preparation looks the way it does now. Second, the attention to teacher preparation policy is insufficient. In the United States, program approval, accreditation, and licensure policies at the state and federal level shape teacher education and there has been increasing attention to those policies. Third, there is little discussion about how teacher preparation differs across countries. Fourth, there have been a number of reform efforts recently in the domain of teacher education that are worth mentioning in order to give readers a more up-to-date view of the landscape and the different actors in the space. Finally, the article would benefit from specific examples of well-known and / or effective teacher preparation programs.

Credibility = B-

In order to ensure the credibility of the information, the article needs to both convey neutrality as well as be pulled from reputable sources. The article does a good job of highlighting a few of the ongoing debates in teacher education – such as how to assess teacher quality, what knowledge and skills teachers should get during their training, and what actually constitutes teacher education – and of keeping a relatively neutral stance on each of them. However, the article could benefit from fleshing out the arguments in order to provide a more complete picture of the differing opinions. The article draws on academic papers and well-respected sources, such as publications by the American Educational Research Association. However, given the breadth and depth of research on teacher education, the source list seems relatively slim. In addition, the article does not cite sources published after 2009. In order to raise the credibility of the article, it needs to incorporate more up-to-date research.

Usability = A-

One of the most important features of a Wikipedia article is whether it is accessible to the broad population; articles will lose readers if they are written poorly or the formatting is a distraction. The “teacher education” article, thankfully, does not suffer from these issues. It is well-written: clear, succinct, and does not fall into too much technical education jargon. The article adheres to the style conventions of Wikipedia so that the reader can navigate it with familiarity – the introduction at the top is concise, the different sections are clearly identified with appropriate headers, and there are clear citations and suggested links to other relevant topics. It could perhaps be useful to include graphical representations of the different components of teacher education programs (coursework and field experiences) or of the different phases of teacher education (from pre-service to induction to professional development), but in general, the average reader should find the article easy to read and absorb.

In education, we often complain about the public not engaging in an informed conversation around the issues. However, if we want people to engage, we should think about easy ways that we can ensure that they have comprehensive, credible, and usable information. If we want the general public to start thinking about how we can better train and prepare teachers, we should meet them where they are: Wikipedia.

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