Theory into practice: The design of an online technology skills course for nontraditional nursing students

Theory into practice: The design of an online technology skills course for nontraditional nursing students

Suzanne P. Stokes, Ph.D.
Troy State University, AL

Krista P. Terry, Ph.D.
Radford University


Nontraditional students in an upward mobility nursing track delivered largely through distance learning technologies enroll in a one-hour credit elective course to learn skills required for success in the online learning environment. The course, “Introduction to Technology in Nursing Education,” began as a traditional classroom course. Its transformation to an online course reflects strengths inherent through using a systematic instructional design process in course development. An overview of the Dick, Carey, and Carey (2002) model of instructional design, examples of design components reflected in the course, and illustrations of instructional objectives and strategies from the lessons are presented.


Designing and developing online learning environments for purposes of allowing students access to course materials, methods in which they can interact with content, and mechanisms for communication with faculty and peers is the focus of many practitioners, researchers, and administrators within the educational environment. While many publications serve to bridge the “theory to practice” gap when developing online education (e.g., Clark & Mayer, 2003; Mantyla, 1999; Stephenson, 2001) this paper attempts to bring into focus practical issues surrounding theory-based design and development of an online course for nurses. Consequently, it will provide a discussion of the development of an online basic technology skills course in the nursing program at a mid-sized comprehensive institution in the southeastern United States.

Providing online, web-based learning is the primary method of instructional delivery for students enrolled in a Registered Nurse (RN) to BSN-MSN degree track within the School of Nursing. The purpose of this degree track is to allow Registered Nurses who have earned the Associate of Science in Nursing degree to complete the nursing sequence required for the Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in one academic year and, if desired, move seamlessly into the Master of Science in Nursing degree program. Registered Nurse students in this track are typically full-time nurses living in the predominantly rural southeastern quadrant of Alabama. Time and location constraints imposed by work, family, and community involvement make the choice of a distance learning program appealing. Because of the unique nature of nursing education, the program is delivered via a blended methodology. Theory courses are delivered in an online, web-based mode while clinical experiences are personalized to meet individual needs and are conducted in facilities in students’ locales. Additionally, students have their choice of three branch campus sites at which they can receive student services, attend course orientation sessions, and take selected written and skills examinations.

Because of the heavy online component of the degree track, nursing program administrators committed themselves to preparing these nontraditional students for success in the program and satisfaction with their educational experiences. Results of studies by McCoy (2001) and Stokes (2001) indicate that students who have prior experience with using the World Wide Web are more likely to be satisfied with their online educational experiences. Recommendations from McCoy’s investigation of technological self-efficacy of nontraditional nursing students include developing strategies to enhance students’ technology skills and techniques for self-directed learning. Earlier work by Stokes (1999) found that public school teachers entering a graduate program with online components including an introductory technology skills course were able to identify their technological weaknesses, and through guided coursework, develop skills important to success in the degree program. The results of these studies therefore provided the basis for the development of an introductory technology course in which nursing faculty could equip students with the technology skills necessary for them to succeed in a primarily online learning environment. The “NSG 1160 – Introduction to Technology in Nursing Education” course (shortened to “Introduction to Technology” in this paper) was then designed, developed, and delivered to entry level students enrolled in the RN to BSN-MSN track.
Evolution of the Course

The online adaptation of the “Introduction to Technology” course evolved over four years. When faculty in the RN to BSN-MSN track observed that the program’s first group of nontraditional students was experiencing technology obstacles to learning, even though students had completed a prerequisite basic computer applications course as part of the University’s general studies requirements, a request for an online technology orientation session was submitted. This request was further substantiated by some students expressing frustration with adjusting to a return to college and adapting to a learning format that differed substantially from their previous learning experiences. To address these matters, the second year’s group of Registered Nurses entering the degree track was encouraged to participate in a basic technology orientation session delivered online during the week prior to the beginning of classes. The content was suggested by nursing faculty and was based on required nursing course activities that included synchronous and asynchronous communication, submitting work as email attachments, and using electronic databases for scholarly research. The orientation leader quickly noted considerable technology deficits in most students as well as a lack of basic software important for course activities, although students were informed of software requirements upon acceptance into the program. Course faculty saw only a moderate decrease in technology obstacles when the new term began. As the situation was assessed, suggestions were made that the orientation’s length and timing be changed to take into account individual differences in learning needs and learning paces, as well as to encourage students to complete arrangements for access to necessary software such as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint prior to the beginning of the term.

During the time the RN to BSN-MSN track was initiated, a new one-credit hour elective course for traditional nursing students wishing to improve their technology skills was offered in the School of Nursing’s baccalaureate program. “Introduction to Technology,” the course that has been referred to previously, blended faculty presentations with computer-based learning activities. The instructor was present at all class sessions to provide immediate assistance as needed. Since the objectives of this course matched the needs identified in students in the RN to BSN-MSN track. A ssection of “Introduction to Technology” was modified for online delivery during the summer semester prior to the fall class of new RN students. The program director encouraged each student to enroll in the course. The course instructor guided students through skills activities; students practiced skills, realized the need for required software, and were technologically ready for beginning the program the following semester. Substantial improvements were noted by program faculty, and students’ evaluations of the online format were much more favorable than in the previous year. Between the third and fourth years, the course was redesigned based on the Dick, Carey, and Carey (2002) model of instructional design. The details related to the course as it now exists, as well as the theory that supported the design and development of the course, are described in the following sections.

Overview — NSG 1160 – Introduction to Technology

The catalog description for the course, “Introduction to Technology in Nursing Education,” states that the course:

Provides a foundation for using computer technology in learning; addresses digital communication, resources, and research. General topics include communication through electronic mail and course discussion, using the World Wide Web as an information tool, online scholarly research, and digital presentations. Course focus is the application of technology skills in learning (Troy State University, 2003, p. 291).

The general course objectives state that upon successful completion of the course, the student will be able to:

· demonstrate basic competency in core information technology skills;
· communicate using synchronous and asynchronous electronic processes;
· conduct Internet inquiry sessions for retrieval of nursing information;
· manage communication and information files in a digital environment, and
· develop electronic presentations for educational use.

There is no text for the course since all materials are available through the Internet. However, students are required to purchase a three-ring notebook, divider tabs, and a diskette. In addition, students are required to have access to a computer with an Internet connection, a printer, Web browser (Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator, version 4 or higher), Microsoft Word, and Microsoft PowerPoint. Downloading Acrobat Reader and obtaining current virus protection software are covered in the course lessons. Access to course materials is through the university’s course management system via University-assigned usernames and passwords.
Table 1. Basic lessons and examples of corresponding instructional objectives for “Introduction to Technology.”


Examples of Lesson Objectives
Upon completion of the lesson, the student will be able to:

1. Acrobat Reader Download Acrobat Reader to a personal computer; Install Acrobat Reader on a personal computer; Print a .pdf document using a local or network printer;
2. Syllabus Locate a course syllabus through a Blackboard course web site; Identify required course hardware and software; Identify University student support services.
3. Course Portfolio Develop an organized notebook of course materials; Maintain course records including assignment receipts and copies of submitted work as directed in lesson instructions; Use archived course materials for future reference
4. TSU Email Login to the University’s email system from any computer with Internet access; Organize program, course, and personal email communications in appropriate folders; Send email file attachments to course instructors and classmates.
5. Blackboard (Bb) Navigate through a Blackboard course site; Maintain current personal information in the appropriate area of Blackboard throughout the degree program; Use the Blackboard online manual for assistance when needed
6. Virus Protection Maintain up-to-date virus protection software on a personal computer; Describe how computer viruses and worms spread; Recognize an Internet hoax.
7. TSU Technology Policy Locate the University’s technology use policy; Acknowledge obligations of users of University technology resources; Recognize violations of the technology use policy;
8. Netiquette Identify objectionable behaviors frequently observed in electronic communication; Practice Internet etiquette / netiquette in all electronic communication;Follow guidelines for email communication specific to particular courses i.e., email subject line, body format, and signature.
9. Internet Terms Define words and abbreviations commonly used in technology-based environments; Look up unknown words and abbreviations encountered in web-based courses; Use Internet terms properly in verbal and written communication.
10. School of Nursing web site Use the School of Nursing web site as a primary resource for University and program information. Find tutorials for technology skills required for nursing courses in the Student Technology Help Pages.Direct nursing-related communication to the appropriate individual.
11. Web Resources Use search engines to locate resources on the Internet for course work; Maximize Internet searches by using advanced search techniques and specialized search engines; Explain the elements of a URL.
12. Evaluating Web Resources Evaluate a web site according to authority, purpose, currency, objectivity, and support; Identify the preferred domains for acquiring sound health information; Use a standardized form for evaluating web resources.
13. CINAHL Locate full-text scholarly articles in CINAHL through the TSU Library’s Remote Services area from a computer with Internet access; Use the library’s InterLibrary Loan (ILL) service to obtain copies of articles not available through CINAHL; Access the library’s online librarian service when questions or problems arise.
14. APA Style Produce a reference page of scholarly research formatted according to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA), 5th edition; Identify errors common in using APA formatting for reference pages; Consult the University’s Writing Center for assistance with questions regarding APA formatting requirements.
15. Trojan Web Express Use Trojan Web Express for accessing individual University records; Maintain up-to-date personal information in the University’s database through Trojan Web Express;Manage course enrollment through Trojan Web Express
16. Discussion Board Access course-specific Blackboard discussion forums; Interact with classmates in an asynchronous discussion setting; Follow established rules of discussion forums.
17. Virtual Chat Access course-specific Blackboard chat rooms; Interact with classmates in a synchronous discussion setting; Search chat session archives for specific information.

The course is comprised of 17 basic lessons, two projects, a written examination, and a skills demonstration, all of which were derived from and correlated with the instructional objectives of the course (see Table 1 above). Table 2 provides a summary of each lesson’s purpose and selected activities. The two course projects are the development of a reference page that is comprised of resources from the World Wide Web and the CINAHL database (Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health Literature) formatted according to APA style, and the development of a PowerPoint slide show that incorporates basic elements of an electronic presentation. Using APA format and the CINAHL database are components of the BSN and MSN curricular requirements, and because baccalaureate nursing graduates are expected to be producers of knowledge as well as consumers of knowledge, PowerPoint software was chosen as the medium for simulating information transfer from the nurse to the client community. Each student selects a health topic to use for both projects; this strategy helps students learn to take a single topic, locate consumer and scholarly resources, evaluate resources related to the topic, and incorporate information into a classroom presentation with an accurate reference list.

Table 2. Examples of lesson components for “Introduction to Technology.”

Purpose (Condensed)
Examples of Activities
1. Acrobat Reader Acrobat Reader software is required to view and print many documents including syllabi, PowerPoint course enhancements, scholarly reading material through the TSU Library, and University documents. Determine if Acrobat Reader is installed by opening a .pdf file on the course web site. Download Acrobat Reader if needed. Print the poem in the .pdf file for the course portfolio.
2. Syllabus The syllabus is the guide for course requirements, grading criteria, calendar, and general course information including course and program policies. Locate and print the course syllabus for the course portfolio. Identify specific course elements including the course description, course objectives, evaluation components, and calendar.Submit the online lesson completion form.
3. Course Portfolio The course portfolio is a notebook for course documents; assembling the portfolio is a strategy for organization of materials in this and future courses. Purchase a 1″ notebook with a clear sleeve on the front, 5 tab dividers, and a 3.5″ diskette.Label the tabs according to instructions and file papers in the appropriate sections. Create a cover page for the notebook using PowerPoint.
4. TSU Email TSU email is the official account used in this course and throughout the nursing program. Developing email management skills enhances organizational skills. The attachment portion of this lesson checks the compatibility of the students’ word processing programs with Microsoft Word, the standard word processing program used by University faculty. Login to Trojan WebMail.§ Create a personal email profile. Create a class folder for all email correspondence.Practice sending a message to self with BCC to self; store the copy in the class folder.Send an email with a Word file attachment to the instructor; open an attachment from the instructor.
5. Blackboard (Bb) TSU uses the Blackboard (Bb) course management system in all courses. All School of Nursing courses use a uniform pattern for posting course materials Browse each of the following Bb areas: announcements, faculty information, course material, communication, web sites, and user tools. Update personal information in the User Tools area.Use the online Student Manual in the User Tools area to find out how to access old announcements.
6. Virus Protection Understanding types of computer infections and taking measures for protection is essential when working in an online environment. Read selected materials about infections and hoaxes. Verify that the computer you are using has virus protection software installed.Check the date when your virus protection software was last updated.
7. TSU Technology Policy All users of TSU technology resources must comply with this official University policy. Locate the TSU Technology Use Policy in the online version of the student handbook. Read the policy. Submit the online form indicating that the policy has been read.
8. Netiquette Using proper Internet etiquette (netiquette) is essential in professional communication. Read the “Core Rules of Netiquette” at; Take the “Netiquette Quiz.” Send the instructor an email that correctly portrays the three basic elements: email subject line, body format, and signature.
9. Internet Terms Understanding words and abbreviations encountered when using technology is important for getting the most out of lessons and making the best use of time spent interacting with technology. Look up the meanings of selected terms and abbreviations in (a list of terms is provided).Respond to lesson questions that incorporate these terms.
10. School of Nursing web site The school’s official web site provides key information for students and links to resources important for success in the degree programs and tracks. Add the SON home page to Favorites (Internet Explorer) or Bookmarks (Netscape). Visit each area linked from the home page.§ Identify selected items in the site (a list is provided).
11. Web Resources Learning to find and evaluate information available through the web are essential skills in using technology in learning. Information located in this lesson will be incorporated into the Reference Page project and PowerPoint presentation. Review search engine types through “Search Engine Watch”§ Practice finding specific sites using techniques found in “Search Engine Math.” Participate in the lesson’s scavenger hunt
12. Evaluating Web Resources A common error made by Internet users is to accept information found on the Internet as fact; applying criteria for resource evaluation is important in nursing education. Read selected materials about evaluating web resources.Evaluate three sites according to a check sheet provided in the lesson.§ Identify three quality sites related to course research topic to use in the course projects.
13. CINAHL CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature) is a major source of scholarly nursing resources; students are expected to use material found through CINAHL in the theory portion of all nursing courses. Access the CINAHL database through the remote services area of the TSU Library’s web site. Practice finding selected articles when given citations or subjects. Locate three full text articles related to course research topic to use in the course projects.
14. APA Style The School of Nursing requires students to use APA format when writing papers and submitting references for any project Bookmark selected online APA style information pages to use as resources when working with APA style.Visit the University’s Writing Center web site. Answer lesson questions about APA formatting in references pages.
15. Trojan Web Express TSU students use TWE for course registration, accessing grades, viewing transcripts, and gaining access to other official personal University information. Login to Trojan Web Express.§ Change the default or current password and specify a hint for the new password. Look at your latest transcript
16. Discussion Board The Blackboard discussion board feature is a component of all online classes; navigating through forums and maintaining discussions in established threads is essential for maximum asynchronous interactivity. Enter a discussion board forum. Participate in an instructor-lead thread. Begin a new thread within a designated forum.
17. Virtual Chat The Blackboard chat area provides a synchronous forum for formal and informal class meetings. Participate in one scheduled class chat session. Resize the chat screen so that at least twenty lines of chat are visible.Review your comments in the archive of the chat session in which you participated.

Although the skills demonstration at the end of the course provides a performance assessment opportunity from which the instructor can evaluate the cumulative skills of each student, the instructor’s observations of students’ work and their questions as they progress through the lesson tasks are key formative evaluations of the instructional materials design. In addition, these observations serve as a lesson to the instructor of the many means that students discover to reach the end product. Because the instructor is the course designer, these observations assist in refining instructional materials and related tutorials to guide students in the best methods of executing skills related to learning in an online environment.

Instructional Design Model

The “Introduction to Technology” course that has been described was designed and developed to meet specific needs within the nursing program. The course designer and developer utilized the Dick, Carey, and Carey (2002) model of instructional design as a basis for designing a pedagogically-sound course that could be delivered via an online environment to meet the needs of the nursing students. The following paragraphs describe how each phase of the design model was addressed as the course was redesigned from a traditional to a web-based format, therefore addressing both the theoretical and practical aspects of delivering a technology skills course in an online environment to nursing students.

The Dick, Carey, and Carey (2002) model of instructional design is based on a systems approach to designing instruction which identifies many components of a learning system as being crucial to developing successful learning environments. Instructional design models that are based in a systems approach generally assume that a large amount of instruction, such as an entire course, will be developed and that a significant amount of resources will be devoted to the development process (Gustafson and Branch, 1997). Other instructional design models that are based on the systems approach are the Smith and Ragan (1999) model and the Interservices Procedures for Instructional Systems Development (IPISD) (Branson, 1975) model. Although all models vary in their levels of specificity and complexity, each is based on the typical processes of the major phases of instructional systems design; these are analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation (Dick, Carey, and Carey 2002). The Dick, Carey, and Carey model consists of the following specific phases:

· Assess needs to identify goals
· Conduct instructional analysis
· Analyze learners and contexts
· Write performance objectives
· Develop assessment instruments
· Develop instructional strategy
· Develop and select instructional materials
· Design and conduct formative evaluation of instruction
· Revise instruction
· Design and conduct summative evaluation

Each of these phases of the model was critical to the design and development of the “Introduction to Technology” course as it now exists. What follows is a discussion of how each phase was applied to the development of the course.

Assessing Needs to Identify Goals

Dick, Carey, and Carey (2002) identify the most critical event in the instructional design process as being that of the identification of the instructional goal. This goal, derived from processes of assessing needs, can be developed and articulated by using a subject matter expert approach in which designers develop instruction in their areas of expertise, or the performance technology approach, in which the designers develop instruction in response to a set of problems or opportunities. Regardless of the methods, course designers engage in a process to determine the needs that will be addressed by the instruction, therefore forming the instructional goal.

The instructor who developed the “Introduction to Technology” course was a subject matter expert, therefore the methodology employed to determine the needs that shaped the instructional goal was both content generated and generated via the performance technology approach. Nursing faculty members who contributed to the needs assessment recognized the importance of student success and satisfaction from a student-centered, programmatic, and institutional perspective, and understood the need to develop a technology-based course that would attempt to facilitate the success of students who would be learning via a technology-based medium. Learner satisfaction is an important factor in the effectiveness of instruction and in program-related benefits (Biner, Dean, & Mellinger, 1994; Chute, Thompson, & Hancock, 1999). High levels of satisfaction with distance learning, regardless of the medium, influence students’ willingness to continue in a program. This willingness is evidenced by lower attrition rates, more referrals from enrolled students, greater motivation, better learning, and increased commitment to the program. The need to develop technological skill and competence in an online learning environment was therefore responded to by creating a course in which the instructional goal was to provide the students with a foundation for learning in a technology-based environment.
Instructional Analysis

Once the goal of promoting student success and satisfaction in an online environment was established, the process of conducting the instructional analysis was undertaken. This process, which involves identifying the specific skills and knowledge base that should be included in instruction, requires breaking the instructional goal down into discrete units in order to identify skills and the relative subordinate skills learners will need to possess to achieve the goal. According to Dick, Carey, and Carey (2002), when conducting the instructional analysis, the designer should ask, “what exactly would learners be doing if they were demonstrating that they already could perform the goal?” (p. 37). This process led to the identification of skills that students would need for tasks such as accessing course materials, communicating through email, locating Internet and library resources, completing online forms and quizzes, and developing class presentation materials. In addition, skills important for accessing University services such as the Writing Center, basic computer skills assistance, and administrative elements including grades and transcripts were determined. Each skill area was examined in a step-by-step manner in an attempt to identify all relevant subordinate skills and eliminate assumptions of prior knowledge or experience. Areas where experience was expected but not assured were linked to subject area experts for individual student assistance. Table 1 outlines the specific lessons that were developed as a result of the goal analysis phase that identified the skills needed to succeed in the online learning environment of the RN to BSN-MSN track.

Learner and Contextual Analysis

After determining the specific set of skills that need to be taught in order for the learners to be able to achieve the instructional goal, Dick, Carey, and Carey (2002) recommend conducting a learner and contextual analysis in order to determine “the characteristics of the learners, the contexts in which the instruction will be delivered, and the contexts in which the skills will eventually be used” (p. 95). They acknowledge that at times the designer may have sufficient knowledge of the target population to forego formal data collection, but they recommend areas in which designers should have knowledge of their target population. The authors (2002) recommend gathering information such as entry behaviors and prior knowledge, attitudes and motivational levels, general learning preferences, and group characteristics. This information serves to assist designers with developing instruction that will meet the needs of their students and will transfer to appropriate contexts.

Learners’ needs in the “Introduction to Technology” course were identified based upon prior experiences with students in traditional and online learning environments, and through discussions with program faculty who requested the course option for RN students. This anticipatory analysis indicated that some students would have minimal prior experience with using computers while others would have high levels of expertise and confidence. The wide variation expected in learners’ abilities and attitudes was the determining factor in developing formative assessment activities. Because the targeted students were adult learners, the necessity for relevant activities was emphasized. Additionally, it was believed that most prior educational experiences were traditional in which the classroom situation was teacher-centered rather than learner-centered. Transferring the responsibility for learning to the student was perceived as a key need as well as a major course purpose. The emphasis on self-directed and problem-centered learning, fundamental in Knowles’s (1970) theory of androgogy, is consistent with the constructivist model that is particularly appropriate for teaching and learning using emerging technologies (Lunenberg, 1998).

Writing Instructional Objectives

The writing of instructional objectives, or behavioral objectives as they are sometimes referred to, is a process that is seen as being central to designing instruction. Authors such as Robert Mager have greatly influenced the educational community by publishing books that provide instructions for writing clear and precise statements of what learners should be able to do when they complete the instruction (Mager, 1975). The objectives written for “Introduction to Technology” followed the model set forth by Mager and described in other instructional design models. The lesson objectives (see Table 1) contained clear, concise statements of what learners would be able to do as a result of their participation in the instructional activities of the course.

The course objectives were established when the original traditional section of the course was approved by the University and therefore were not altered for the online course section. The course sections are the same course, differing only in the method of delivery. Because the objectives were well developed for the traditional section of the course, no problems existed in their use as the online section was developed. The outcomes specified by the objectives guided the plans for measuring achievement Course activities were planned so that areas of weakness would be evident, and opportunities for corrections to work submitted were given throughout the course (see Table 1 for examples of lesson objectives).

Assessment strategies and instruments

After developing sound instructional objectives, Dick, Carey, and Carey (2002) recommend the development of assessment instruments that evaluate learners’ progress and instructional quality, and that are both learner-centered and criterion-referenced. Basing the assessment measures on the instructional objectives and goals of the course provides learners with a clear conception of what skills they will need to master, and provides instructors with information as to how well the students are mastering the skills and how effective instructional materials are at facilitating learning. “Introduction to Technology” relies on performance-based assessment measures to assess the learners’ levels of progress toward obtaining the instructional goal. Projects were designed to allow both direct and indirect demonstrations of skills. The summative assessment is comprised of an individual timed skills demonstration and a computer-based exam.

Instructional Strategies

Dick, Carey, and Carey’s (2002) discussion on developing instructional strategies – the chunking, sequencing, and presentation of materials – relies on a primarily prescriptive approach in which the learning components are tied directly to the content structure. Dick, Carey, and Carey, however, recognize alternative approaches such as constructivism as being viable alternatives for presenting and facilitating instruction. Tapscott [1998] described learning based on digital media as interactive learning that is learner-centered with a focus on the construction of knowledge, as compared to the broadcast learning that is teacher-centered and focuses on instruction. The designer of the “Introduction to Technology” course blended both prescriptive and alternative approaches to developing instruction in order to tie learning to the stated objectives and engage learners in authentic problem-solving tasks. The instructional strategies employed within the course followed a pedagogical model advocated by Jonassen (2003) in which learners are engaged in meaningful learning tasks and are actively learning from technology and with technology.

Course lessons were planned to guide each student individually through tasks. Each lesson ended with students submitting forms indicating that the lesson had been completed; completing a lesson carried no point value. However, because students were aware that skills from each lesson would be evaluated at the final exam, those who needed help in completing the lessons requested received assistance from the instructor before leaving the lesson. The course was divided into three sections to reflect the overall instructional strategy of learning skills, applying knowledge through activities and projects, and evaluation of skills and knowledge through summative assessments. Course sections were basic lessons, projects, and evaluation. Lesson and project component pages stated the purpose and objectives of each component, followed by sequential tasks to acquire or improve skills needed to accomplish each objective. Students were then asked to work through the material in a self-directed manner. Because students determined for themselves when lessons had been completed, accountability for learning was transferred from the instructor to the student, therefore engaging the students in authentic, problem-solving tasks, which are more typical of the constructivist paradigm of learning.

Instructional Materials

Dick, Carey, and Carey (2002) describe the “developing instructional materials” phase of their systematic design process as being one in which the designer decides on the delivery system and media selection, the amount of instructor facilitation, and the components of the instructional package (e.g., instructional materials and assessments). While the authors discuss many of the options and constraints inherent in choosing a delivery system, they also acknowledge that at times those choices are assumed and such related choices will be fairly stable.

Since the goal of “Introduction to Technology” was to engage students in a technology-based learning experience in an online learning environment, the media choice and options regarding subsequent materials development procedures were assumed and thus stable. Instructional materials development therefore was based upon the medium, which in this case was the course web site. This was the appropriate format in that students were preparing for entry into an online instructional track of the nursing degree program. The department in which the course was developed and delivered already employed the Blackboard course management system as the primary mechanism for the delivery of course materials.

Formative Evaluation, Revision of Instruction, and Summative Evaluation

The final stages of the Dick, Carey, and Carey (2002) systematic model of instructional design involve designing and conducting formative evaluations, revising instruction, and designing and conducting summative evaluations. The goal of the formative evaluation process is to develop materials and methods through which learners can provide information to the instructor or designer relative to the effectiveness of the course materials. Dick, Carey, and Carey recommend that evaluation instruments be designed to gather information related to the clarity of instruction, the impact of the instruction on the learner, and the general feasibility of the instruction. The data gathered from this evaluation process is intended to inform the process of revising materials to better meet students’ needs. Consequently the final stage of summative evaluation becomes a stage in which data is gathered to make decisions about the continued use of the instruction.

Although formal data collection measures were not developed within the “Introduction to Technology” course, questions and comments from students provided data for formative evaluation of instruction throughout the delivery of the course. As students worked through activities, areas where instructions or descriptions were unclear or where assumptions of prior knowledge were made became the key indicators for instructional design improvements and necessary revisions to materials. A course evaluation submitted after completion of the final skills and written exams provided information regarding overall strengths and weaknesses of the instructional design. These end-of-term evaluations graded the course with high marks, which are believed to be due to the high level of communication throughout the term.


Using sound instructional design theory is important in any educational setting to insure that learning objectives are met. Although all steps in systematic instructional design are important, evaluation of the course’s design has yielded important results in building and maintaining the quality of this introductory technology skills course for students in this track of the baccalaureate nursing degree program. Reliance on a formal system for design during the redesign of this course yielded not only a fine product, but provided the instructor/designer with a sound theoretical base for further development.


Suzanne P. Stokes, Ph.D., is Associate Professr of Health & Human Services at Troy University in Troy, Alabama. With backdgrounds in nutrition and instructional technology, she teaches traditional and online classes for students in health sciences and nursing informatics. Her research interests include investigating factors that affect satisfaction and success of students engaged in learning that incorporates emerging technologies.

Krista P. Terry, Ph.D. is Director of the Multimedia Center and Assistant Professor in the College of Information Science and Technology at Radford univeristy, Radford, Virginia.


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Technology and Civic Empowerment: Toward Inclusion and Participatory Citizenship in the Elementary Social Studies Classroom

Technology and Civic Empowerment: Toward Inclusion and Participatory Citizenship in the Elementary Social Studies Classroom

Martin Horejsi
Beverly B. Ray
Idaho State University


The National Council for the Social Studies (2001) defines responsible citizenship as “the knowledge, skills, and attitudes [required if one is to] assume the ‘office of citizen’ in our democratic republic” (p. 319). “A critical purpose of the educational institution in a democratic society is to prepare its citizens for their role as participants in that society…[as]…full and equal citizens” (Lindsay & Justiz, 2001, p. 7). In fact, education for all students is a moral mandate in a civil society (Dewey, 1944; Parker, 2001). To ready students for civil life, America’s public schools are charged with the task of educating all students for responsible citizenship.

While opportunities exist throughout the curriculum, elementary social studies classrooms provide many opportunities to foster citizenship skills and dispositions (Parker, 2001; Maxim, 2003). Citizenship education includes helping all students contribute and participate in the classroom and in society. Students who are active participants in today’s classroom stand a better chance of “exercis[ing] their rights and carry[ing] out their civic responsibilities” (Silva & Mason, 2003, p. 366).

For elementary student with disabilities, technology offers one method of empowerment allowing them to become active participants in the classroom and in their future lives as citizens of a democratic society. Empowerment includes “self-reliance, independence, competition, and freedom of expression” (Willamson, Gonzales, & Avery, 2003, p.204); characteristics valued in a democratic society. Technologies that support meaningful social studies learning and that actively engage all learners are critical to assuring students’ opportunities for participation and empowerment in civic life.

Assistive Technology in the Elementary Social Studies Classroom

Assistive Technology (AT) helps students with physical, cognitive, learning, or speech disabilities perform tasks that would otherwise be difficult or impossible (Bodine, 2003; Bryant & Bryant, 2003; Horejsi, 2003). Numerous specialized AT devices exist, but their price –or availability– often prevents their use in elementary classrooms. However, reasonably priced technologies are available to help students with disabilities participate more fully in elementary social studies classrooms.

Three categories of AT devices are available for use in social studies classrooms: Input devices, output devices, and software devices. Input devices allow students to enter or manipulate information in a computer. These include the keyboard and mouse. Output devices, such as the picture on a monitor, the printed page, and sound allow the computer to communicate social studies content back to students. Software devices include utility-application programs, such as a word processor or concept mapping software; educational programs designed to teach specific topics; or operating system software that controls the computer, peripherals, or even aspects of other programs.

Input Devices

The Mouse. Two substitutes for the conventional mouse include the trackball and the micromouse. A trackball, which is akin to a giant upside-down mouse, allows student to spin a ball, then let go of the ball completely before clicking a button. The device separates each input movement so they are not unintentionally combined. Many trackballs can be operated with a foot or an arn instead of a hand. Another useful device in this category is the micromouse, which is roughly the size of an egg or even smaller. Originally designed for use with portable computers in limited space, this device works quite well in small hands. For younger kids, or those with certain motor skill limitations, moving or controlling a standard size mouse is akin to rolling a soda can around, hardly a precise activity. Most micromice are optical, meaning they use the changes in reflected light to detect mouse movement, thus eliminating the need for a space-restrictive mouse pad.

Touchscreens. A touchscreen is an excellent choice for students unable to opearate the mouse effectively whether for physical or cognitive reasons. A touchscreen is a glass or plastic window covering the computer monitor or display. Students move the cursor by sliding their fingers around on the screen, then tapping the screen once or twice to select something. Many times students with disabilities can only watch as a more able-bodied student operates the computer during such in-class activities. A touchscreen eliminates this inequity, however, by allowing all students an equal opportunity to control the computer during classroom activities. Since touchscreens can be operated with just one finger or using any pointing device, they are particularly useful in the classroom. For example, touchscreens are effective for drill-and-practice software, where the student is required to make an onscreen selection, and for navigating within a web browser (e.g., during an Internet scavenger hunt or an electronic field trip). Touchscreens are also an effective writing tool. Student can type using a large font and use the touchscreen to move the cursor, highlight a passage, or move blocks of text around on the page. In contrast to the mouse, touchscreens draw on the physical cut-and-paste skills commonly learned by children in kindergarten, rather than requiring conceptual mouse skills that are hardly comparable to other skills children have acquired by that age.

Switches. Another alternative to the conventional mouse is the switch. A switch is a simple on-off or yes/no button of some type that uses individual, color-coded buttons designed to separate mouse functions such as scan and select. Or, the student can divide the navigation tasks by pointing to a choice on a touchscreen to select it, then use a button or switch to click the choice.

Keyboards. Arguably unchanged since they became popular 120 years ago, the keyboard is often a burden for those with a disability. AT keyboard designs vary widely including those with larger but fewer keys, flexible rubber-covered keys, color-coded keys, and onscreen keyboards that work well with touchscreens. Each alternate keyboard has its advantages and drawbacks, but since keyboards will most likely be the main communication between a student and the computer, expanding the reach of the keyboard interface to include students with disabilities is time and money well spent.

One of the most versatile keyboards (and expensive at $400) is the IntelliKeys® keyboard (by IntelliTools). It is an unusually durable alternative, especially for children who benefit from a very limited set of choices. This keyboard is essentially a blank slate upon which an overlay is placed. The overlay can be a commercial product designed for a specific software program or it can be programmed, providing a finite set of letters, numbers, words, or pictures to represent the choices on the screen. Because the IntelliKeys® keyboard is completely customizable, the teacher can create overlays for the keyboard to match social studies content or for use with software programs that teach skills, such as map reading; sorting concepts into categories; and timelines, charts and graphs.

There are also social studies software programs available that include their own set of overlays matching what the student sees on the screen. For example, Animal Habitats (recommended for grades PreK -1) and Ready MadeÔ Lewis & Clark (grades 3 –5) could be used, allowing interaction with little more than mouse clicks or customized keyboard commands.

Adjustments to Existing Input Devices. Since a computer’s default settings are rarely appropriate for younger students or those with disabilities, it is worth exploring the variations of keyboard and mouse performance in the operating system before purchasing any new AT equipment. Something as simple as altering the way the computer interprets keystrokes can make an important difference for many students. For students with limited fine motor skills who may press more than one key at a time the “sticky key” feature is another effective alternative. Other keyboard preferences include audible and onscreen visual cues, and “slow keys”—where a key must be held down for an adjustable amount of time before being accepted by the computer. Check the control panel for the Accessibility Options folder on a Microsoft Windows computer or Apple’s Easy Access for help. Teachers can also explore additional options for each operating system online at Microsoft and Apple’s web sites. Many additional options not commonly bundled with the original operating systems are available for download at Microsoft and Apple’s web sites.

Adjusting the mouse settings to slow down the tracking speed or to decrease the double-click speed, can increase a student’s chance of success the first time they point and click on a target. Many mice come with software enabling even greater customization of the mouse’s capabilities. The Universal Access preferences of Apple’s OS X or Microsoft Window’s Accessibility Wizard (found in the Accessibility folder of the Accessories listed in the Programs menu) provide additional features to help students with motor-skill disabilities use a traditional keyboard as well as adaptations for visual impairments, hearing difficulties, and motor control.

Output Devices

Sight. Both the Windows and Macintosh operating systems have built-in controls to help students with special needs better see text and images on the monitor. For example, the accessibility feature in Windows called Magnifier opens a separate window showing a greatly enlarged view of the cursor’s location, which makes it easier to click on small targets. Other possible adjustments in the computer’s operating system include screen color choices, contrast, and screen refresh rate (flicker), which is important if the student is photosensitive or has epilepsy. Both Apple and Microsoft have websites detailing information about various accessibility features within their operating systems and also links to third party AT solutions.

Sound. Sound, one of the most basic output sources, is often overlooked or deliberately shut off in instructional settings muting the sound. This is useful because of the distraction computer beeps and robotic voices have on the rest of the class. Headphones can help, but some classroom reorganization is usually needed to reduce the distraction of a talking computer.

For more than a decade Apple computers have included software to read text aloud. Another more powerful option is IntelliTalk II® software (by IntelliTools) which offers an easy-to-use text-to-voice word processor that pronounces letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs. With a little practice, students with limited visual capabilities or cognitive disabilities can “write” using text, sounds, and pictures. The software can also read aloud imported text from almost any source including text copied and pasted from other sources such as the Internet. Social studies students with reading disabilities can copy text directly from the Internet or from multimedia applications, paste it into the talking word processor, and then listen to the computer read the text to them. Although not a perfect system, it does allow the student greater access to the text-filled world of the Internet, electronic encyclopedias, and other electronic texts.

Software Options

Adapt for Access. It is not always necessary to purchase new hardware to solve AT problems. Often, there is software available to adapt programs or existing hardware to the needs of the student. For example, ClickIt!® (by IntelliTools) can be used in conjunction with other software programs to drive the programs with button clicks or hotspots on the IntelliKeys keyboard.

In addition to offering AT hardware, Riverdeep makes several software programs addressing social studies content. Each program contains built-in “Universal Access,” allowing for seamlessly integration between the software and a touchscreen. The software can also be set to work with a single button click as when the choice is highlighted during the cycling through of all possible selections. Other innovative AT software solutions include CrossScanner, which allows the user to press a single button to move the mouse cursor vertically, then select from the possible choices along any horizontal line. SmartClick activates a mouse click when the cursor hovers over a location for a set amount of time. Finally, there is a product called SloMo that reduces the operational speed of any software application or game (all three softwares by R.J. Cooper).

Many More Options

As time goes on, once expensive AT devices will appear in more mainstream social studies classrooms. For example, a fairly inexpensive combination digital camera/software program, Riverdeep’s TouchFree Switch, already enables students to operate computers with no more than the blink of an eye or the wiggle of a toe.

A digital camera is another tool of empowerment in a child’s hands. Digital cameras can be used to take pictures of social studies materials or field trips. The pictures are then easily imported into word-processed documents, PowerPoint slides, or an overlay maker, creating custom-designed or personalized worksheets, presentations, or keyboard overlays. The simplicity of the digital camera also lets students photograph their own work, providing insights to the teacher as to what the student views as important. Digital cameras can be integrated into alternative assessment strategies in several ways including having students take pictures that demonstrate relationships between concepts or ideas.


Because disability-specific assistive technology is rarely found on store shelves or even in computer equipment catalogs, it often falls to the social studies teacher to seek out AT solutions for his or her students (see Appendix A for a list of assistive technology resources). In addition to these resources, many school districts have a technology coordinator who may be of help, and some states have an assistive technology demonstration center where you can try out different AT hardware and software before buying (see the RESNA Technical Assistance Project website located in Appendix A).

For many students with special needs, technology is an agent of empowerment and inclusion “offering students a different way of looking at themselves and their capabilities and providing teachers with a new set of tools to support growth and learning” (Male, 2003, p.1). The skills students develop while using assistive technologies such as those outlined in this article can translate into academic success, classroom participatory skills, and preparation for meaningful participation in civil life (Male, 2003). With the abundance of AT devices and software available, the elementary social studies classroom is truly accessible for all students.


Martin Horejsi is Assistant Professor of Science Education and Instructional Technology at Idaho State University. Dr. Horejsi teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in science methods, research and writing, statistics, instructional design, multimedia development, and technology integration. His research interests and special projects include probeware and real-time data collection in science education with special focus in the space sciences.

Beverly Ray is Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at Idaho State University, Pocatello, Idaho.


Bodine, C. (2003). What is assistive technology? The Exceptional Parent, 33, 32-34. Retrieved March 18, 2004 from

Bryant, Dianne P. & Bryant, Brian R. Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. 2 –3.

Dewey, J. (1944). Democracy and education. New York: Macmillan.

Horejsi, M. (2003). Making technology inclusive. Science & Children, 41(3), 2- 24.

Lindsay, B., & Justiz, M. J. (2001). The landscape for conceptual and policy issues. In: B. Lindsay & M. J. Justiz (Eds.), The quest for equity in higher education:.Toward new paradigms in an evolving affirmative action era (pp. 3-29)..Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Parker, W. (2001). Social studies in elementary education. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall.

National Council for the Social Studies. (2001). Creating effective citizens: A position statement of the National Council for the Social Studies. Social Education, 53, 255 – 258.

National Research Council. (1996). National Science Education Standards. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Male, M. (2003). Technology for inclusion: Meeting the special needs of all students. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Maxim, G. W. (2003). Dynamic social studies for elementary classrooms. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Silva, D. Y. & Mason, T.C. (Summer 2003). Developing pedagogical content knowledge for civics in elementary teacher education, Theory and Research in Social Education, 31(3), 366-395.

Willamson, I., Gonzales, M. H., & Avery, P. G. (Spring 2003). Collectivistic values and individualistic language as predictors of citizenship activities among high school students. Theory and Research in Social Education, 31(2), 203-217.

Appendix A
Assistive Technology Information and Organizations


Alliance for Technology Access

The Association for Educational Communications and Technology

The Center for Applied Special Technologies

Closing the Gap

RESNA Technical Assistance Project (AT resources by state)

Virginia Assistive Technology System

Virtual Assistive Technology Center

Companies Offering Assistive Technologies

Apple Computers: People with Special Needs



Keyboard Alternatives and Vision Solutions



Microsoft Accessibility: Technology for Everyone


R.J. Cooper


The Magic Touch

Touch Screens, Inc.

Troll Touch


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Changing Instructional Practice: The Impact of Technology Integration on Students, Parents, and School Personnel

Changing Instructional Practice: The Impact of Technology Integration on Students, Parents, and School Personnel

Jennifer A. Alexiou-Ray
Elizabeth Wilson
Vivian H. Wright &
Ann-Marie Peirano
University of Alabama

Attitudes of students, school personnel, and parents toward technology use within schools are an important and often overlooked component of successful curriculum integration of technology. Due to negative responses toward increased technology use in her classroom, one teacher engaged in an action research study to explore why students, parents, and other school personnel were resistant to technology integration. Students, once accustomed to the changed classroom environment, were excited to be engaged in new types of learning experiences. School personnel were pleased with the accessibility of classroom information and support services technology provided. Lastly, parents noted that though the style of teaching was different, it offered many new possibilities for their children. From the results of the surveys, it appears that much of the initial resistance to technology integration derived from discomfort with the unknown.


Attitudes toward technology use within the school setting are an important and often overlooked component of successful curriculum integration of technology. Much of the research done on technology integration assumes that once appropriate technological tools are in place in the classroom, students, teachers, and parents will overwhelmingly support the change toward a technologically based curriculum. However, after taking over a low-tech History class mid-year, one teacher, seeing that the computer resources were available, began to experiment with new teaching methods, and was disturbed by the amount of resistance toward the change by students, colleagues, and parents. Therefore, she wanted to explore two questions: What does research say about the changes that must take place in education to make technology integration a viable instructional option, and how do all of the educational stakeholders feel about the change toward a more cyber-centric curriculum?

Literature Review

Technology becomes a more prevalent part of the education culture with each passing year. Schools cannot ignore the impact of technology and the changing face of curriculum. Those who have done research on how technology will affect secondary schools, see vast changes occurring. Symonds (2000) asserts that the high school will look much different in 2018; it will be “High Tech High” (p.190). Furthermore, Bennett (2002) addresses the actual changes that must take place for technology usage to make a difference in curriculum design and start the alteration to Symonds “High Tech High.” Bennett suggests changes in the roles of teachers, students, and computers. Students would interact collaboratively with teachers and technology. Computers would deliver and remediate lessons, while the teacher would be a facilitator and a mentor (Bennett, 2002; Dooling, 2000). Harris (2002) notes that educators have “to accept changes…in [their] interactions…with students and they [have] to support students as their roles change, too” (p. 457).

Before the aforementioned changes can occur, schools must explore issues dealing with teacher training and securing equitable student access to technology. Technology must be part of the total curriculum, which means that teachers must be equipped with the tools necessary to effectively integrate technology in their classes. This brings about the issue of teacher training. Diem (2000) maintains that few teachers actually use computers themselves due to a lack of support and little free time to learn the often-complicated operation of technological devices. Diem insists that technical support for teachers needs immediate improvement because, “teachers who are supported are less likely to feel threatened and develop more positive attitudes toward technology, and teachers who are supported are more likely to become proficient users of technology in the classroom” (Diem, 2000, p. 495). However, the presence of technology in classrooms does not necessarily produce better learners, nor does technology have the same result in all educational environments (Tolmie, 2001). Teachers must have the tools to engage students effectively, using technology. In order to achieve the proper training in technology integration, schools must make in-service relevant and recurring (Corcoran, 1999). Furthermore, according to the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) for future teachers, adequate preparation for technology integration should occur at the college level.

Tierman (2002) explains that problems with equitable student access to technology, often referred to as “the digital divide-or the disparity in access to computers across socioeconomic, regional, or cultural lines-is a growing concern nationwide, as computers gain even more importance in U.S. business and education” (1). In addition to computer availability, other issues concerned with equitable student access to computers include: computer adequacy, availability of software, Internet access, and home availability of computers (Shaver, 1999).

According to Moore’s Law, computer technology changes and improves at an exponential pace, which can make many of the computers that exist in schools dinosaurs by business and private sector standards. Furthermore, much of the software, including operating systems, is outdated. Internet access is another area in which schools lack the resources (T1 lines, data ports, servers, etc.) to offer wide spread usage to students. Another availability issue lies within student homes. According to the Census Bureau, only 36.6 percent of Americans have computers in their homes (Shaver, 1999). This is especially a problem in lower socioeconomic areas, where schools already have limited access to technology.

Answering the second question posed by the researchers is more difficult than the first. There is a need for investigation into student, school personnel, and parental attitudes concerning computer use in the classroom. Dooling (2000) found that students believed that “the effectiveness of computer technology experiences at school depends on the student’s prior knowledge [and his or her] teacher” (p. 22). Furthermore, Trejos found students are undecided about the benefits of specific uses of classroom technology, such as class websites, but parents feel these sites keep them more informed (2000). Eaton (1999) particularly praises the use of class websites as a way to enhance communication and learning and Trejos (2000) indicates that students appreciate the ability to retrieve homework assignments, extra credit work, and test reviews on the Internet. However, some do not like the fact that parents are constantly kept apprised of school activity. One high school student noted, “Sometimes [class websites are] more of a hassle than a solution. If you get a bad grade, your parents will come to you and ask what happened” (Trejos, 2000, p. C01). Trejos also reveals that parents feel they are better informed of their children’s academic performance when class websites and email communication with teachers are available.

The utilization of email and class websites (which will be the most closely studied technology tools throughout the remainder of this study) allows for interactive collaboration between students, teachers, and parents. Furthermore, it provides a basis for different teaching and learning styles that are offered by increased technology usage. Bass and Rosenzweig (1999) see technology supporting a constructivist learning perspective. They point, particularly, to online interaction via email and websites.

However, one must realize the drawbacks to electronic communication and online interaction. Despite all of its uses, the Internet has many sites that provide undesirable and incorrect information. According to Berson, Berson, and Ralston (1999) and Britt, Smith, Sunal, and Sunal [1998] teachers and parents should be wary of unrestricted student access to the Internet. Students will probably benefit more from having directed online assignments such as a WebQuest (developed by Bernie Dodge at San Diego State University), where Internet resources have been chosen by the teacher ahead of time to limit aimless searching of the Internet.

To further study the information presented by Dooling (2000), Tolmie (2001), and Trejos (2000), an action research study was conducted to analyze parental, student, and school personnel’s reactions to the increased usage of technology as an instructional component. A teacher of tenth grade U.S. History wanted to explore the reasons behind some of the negative responses to increased integration of technology in her classroom. Replacing an educator (in the middle of an academic year) whose teaching style lacked an emphasis on technology, the teacher initially felt that she would receive overwhelmingly positive responses to this change due to the extensive research about the affirmative results technology integration has on teaching and learning. However, as previously mentioned, much of the literature involving the use of technology in a classroom setting dealt with statistics on achievement, behavior, and dreams of futuristic ideals, not on opinions and attitudes of those involved. Therefore, the teacher had a desire to study the beliefs and attitudes of those involved with her classes.



Based on the limited amount of research available on attitudes toward increased technology integration in classrooms, the researchers in this study developed questionnaires which they hoped would help answer questions about increased technology usage in the classroom and how it impacts all educational stakeholders. The researchers first tried to find a survey or set of surveys already existing in printed or web-based scholarly literature. After finding no surveys asking questions specific to feelings about technology integration, the researchers decided to create their own questionnaires for each focus group in the study. They examined current instructional practices used within the focus classroom and literature examining these practices, which included email, class web sites, online teaching and learning, and student Internet use. Lastly, they took the observation and research data and created three surveys. The surveys were reviewed by a panel of professors in the college of education at a southeastern university and Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval was received.

Participants and Procedure

Three groups were included in this research study: Group A=students in five tenth grade, Early American History classes, Group B=regular classroom support personnel, Group C=parents of the students in Group A. Each group was asked to fill out an online survey developed by the researchers. Web addresses linking to the surveys were added to the teacher’s class web site and participants visited the site to access the hyperlink. The participants were given directions and an explanation of their role in the project before they began taking the surveys. The students received oral directions, while school personnel and parents received written directions in the body of an email. All three groups were promised confidentiality and made aware that there would be no reward or penalty for their participation.

Group A consisted of 130 tenth grade Early American History students. The students ranged in age from fifteen to seventeen years old. The majority of Group A was lower-middle class to upper-middle class and had access to at least one personal computer at home with the Internet. The students were members of five Early American History classes with twenty-one to twenty-nine students per class. Students chose to participate in an online survey about using Internet, computers and other technology, and email in the classroom (Appendix A). The teacher instructed the students to complete the anonymous surveys at the end of a class conducted in the computer lab. Ninety-two students completed the survey.

Group B included special education teachers and aides, English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers and aides, as well as counselors and school office personnel who worked closely with students and regular classroom teachers. Each of the faculty and staff who participated were directly involved with the History class being studied through one or more students. The special education teachers and aides as well as the ESL teachers and aides provided services for those members of their programs. The history teacher worked with the resource teachers to provide the best accommodations and modifications of the curriculum for each student receiving additional academic support services.

Counselors and office personnel dealt with students in various capacities, which included extended absences, make-up work, academic support, and students with 504 plans (504 plans include all students qualified to receive accommodations and modification because of health impairments or disabilities, which do not fall under the category of special education.) All of those included in Group B had reason to access the class web site on a regular basis to assist students and parents in academic planning. Group B received an email asking for their voluntary participation in the anonymous, online survey (Appendix B). The focus of the survey for Group B was usability of the class web site to gain information for the students that they assist. Seven of the thirteen teachers and classroom support personnel completed the survey.

Group C, parents of Group A, was contacted through email and asked to complete an online survey about class websites, email usage, and student Internet access (Appendix C). The participants in Group C had access to personal computers and the Internet. Respondents were not required to provide their names or any identifying information. Furthermore, as with the other parts of the study, no incentives were provided. Approximately one hundred sets of parents were sent the email asking them to complete the survey. Of those contacted, sixteen parents responded to the survey.


Student Study

mportant feature of a classroom. Teachers hope that with innovative and exciting lessons they can engage students and encourage lifelong learning. It is particularly important to study the ideas and reactions of students when using new methods. First, students indicated how often technology was utilized in their tenth grade history class. This question helps to give validity to a survey on student attitudes toward the use of technology in the classroom. Given the choices of never, occasionally, or often, ninety-two percent of students indicated that they used technology often. Upon elaboration, the students listed an assortment of different technological methods employed by the teacher, such as a SmartBoard, the Internet, a television/computer connector, digital cameras, and a class web page.

The majority (83; N=92) of students also indicated that technology integration in the classroom made learning more interesting. Of the ninety-two respondents, only nine said the use of technology added nothing to the learning environment. When asked what they liked best about using technology, some of the students responded in the following manner:

Student 1: “I personally am not a big fan of technology but it does make class more interesting”
Student 2: “I like using technology because it shows another way to look at things, other than in textbooks.”
Student 3: “It makes school fun because we are doing things differently in [history] than any other class.”

Though many of the responses were positive, students were able to critically analyze the limitations of technology usage. Student concerns included: malfunctioning electronic devices; the inability to quickly discern the validity of information on the Internet; and lack of computer knowledge. For example, only twenty-two percent of students rated themselves as having advanced computer skill or knowledge. A minority of students also mentioned they did not like retrieving assignments via a class website.

However, the most interesting part of the study dealt with the changing attitudes of the students from the beginning of the semester until the administration of the survey. Students compared present opinions about classroom technology use to initial feelings about the concept of technology integration. The majority of students indicated that they felt scared or worried about the prospect of increased technology usage. However, many of these same students changed their opinions after becoming acquainted with new classroom policies and procedures.

In addition to classroom technology usage, students also discussed personal time spent using a computer or other technological device in a single week. Students chose from less than one hour, two to three hours, four to five hours, six to seven hours, eight to nine hours, ten to twelve hours, or more than twelve hours. Each choice had a relatively even spread of respondents with the greatest percentage, twenty-three percent, using the computer six to seven hours per week. Although the amount of time spent using computers was not surprising, it was shocking that eighty-four percent of students claimed that of their time using computers, less than three hours a week were devoted to school related work. Students spent the remainder of the time on computers talking to friends through instant messaging, checking movie times, receiving and sending email, and playing games. This lack of scholarly computer use is also astonishing when one considers that sixty-eight percent of the students surveyed have five or more academic classes. Furthermore, fifty-eight percent of respondents indicated that only one of their academic classes had a website.

Lastly, students evaluated the use of email as a tool for scholarly collaboration. Fifty-four percent of students said they used email to contact their teachers about assignments. Students who used email for school related questions and concerns rated this type of communication using the following three choices: not helpful, somewhat helpful, and very helpful. Twenty-nine percent of students rated email as not helpful, while thirty and forty-one percent believed electronic mail was somewhat helpful and very helpful, respectively. Many of the students explained reasons why they believed email was not more useful. Some of the arguments were not having access to email, the difference between actual and desired response time, and technical difficulties with email services.

School Personnel Study

Of the school personnel who regularly interacted with the students in the study in an academic support capacity, ninety-two percent knew what the class website offered to assist students and parents, and sixty-nine percent accessed the site regularly to assist students with assignments. Respondents said they found the site useful for helping students keep up with daily assignments, informing students and parents of work missed because of absences, and directing weaker students toward reviews and remediation.

When asked to evaluate the overall quality of the site, the responses were overwhelmingly positive. Participants rated the following characteristics regarding the class website: ease of navigation, ease of finding contact information, ease of understanding classroom information, ease of finding desired information, and the degree of relevant support offered to students, parents, and school personnel. School personnel used a numerical scale of one to three to evaluate each characteristic: 1= website did not exhibit the characteristic; 2=, the website was somewhat adequate regarding the attribute; and 3= the website consistently demonstrated the quality.

Seven of the thirteen respondents indicated that the site consistently demonstrated ease of navigation (a rating of three), which was the highest score of all website characteristics. Ease of finding classroom information and the degree of relevant support offered to students, parents, and school personnel were also highly rated, with the majority of those surveyed indicating excellence, a rating of three, in these two areas. Lastly, the ease of finding the information desired and the ability to find contact information received a rating of three by approximately fifty percent of the respondents.

In addition to rating characteristics of the website, participants were also asked to give insight on what they believed to be the advantages and disadvantages of a class website. No one indicated that there were disadvantages to having information posted on a class website. However, one respondent felt that the teacher relied too heavily on the site as part of her teaching style. The respondent noted “Students benefit from having instructions given in a variety of formats, and usually seeing it written on the board is the best way.” The same respondent also wrote “The website should be used to reinforce what goes on in the classroom, not to give new information.”

However, as noted by this respondent’s remarks, it is clear that there was a lack of communication between teachers about the exact functions of this particular class site. The History teacher suspected that misinformation from students may have been the participant’s cause for alarm, and the particular teaching philosophy espoused by this participant is evident in her opinion that seeing information on the board is the best way to provide students with new knowledge. Moreover, the class site was used to supplement information that was also available to students through handouts and a corner of the class white board devoted to homework assignments and upcoming events.

Parental Study

The results of the parental questionnaire displayed an overall positive perception of email communication and class websites. The survey began by asking if the parents were aware of the website for their child’s American History class. Over sixty percent were aware of the site; however; only fifty-six percent reported visiting it regularly. Those parents who accessed the site used it for learning about their children’s assignments, test dates, and test reviews. When asked what other information should be available, some suggested links to pertinent history resources. However, the majority of respondents were satisfied with the content. Likewise, fifty-seven percent of parents felt the website offered useable and relevant support for students and parents.

When asked about the advantages and disadvantages of a class website, many responded positively. Parents were especially pleased with the ability to access homework assignments, testing dates, and obtain review material. Moreover, parents found it convenient to access the website to retrieve make-up work, therefore, avoiding calling the school for missed assignments. Participants also responded positively to the posting of project due dates. Many felt that because these projects required more time and research it was important to know about them in advance. Another respondent praised the helpfulness of the website for his or her child who had ADD/ADHD. Because the student had trouble focusing in class, having the assignments and upcoming due dates available for home access helped the parents keep the child on track.

Participants who were not previously aware of the website were asked if they would utilize it now. Eighty percent of respondents replied that they would now access the class site. Those who said they would not view the website, after learning of its existence, qualified their responses. Most felt that their children were responsible enough to keep up with their assignments and earn a good grade in the class; however, if grades or behavior ever became a problem they were glad that the site would be there to assist them.

Parents also contributed input on email communication with teachers. Eighty-seven percent of respondents knew they could email their child’s history teacher, while sixty-sixty percent used email to contact her regularly. The most common reason for email usage was a concern for their child’s behavior or grades. Others saw it as a way to conveniently check the progress of their children, even if grades were not slipping. Parents also felt that email communication was quicker than attempting contacting the teacher via phone. Another advantage parents found over traditional forms of communication was less reliance on students to relay messages. Although the majority of responses dealing with email communication were positive, parents indicated drawbacks, such as, lack of personal communication and the lag in email response time.

Lastly, parents were asked if they had reservations about their children using the Internet for school-related work. The majority of respondents felt that the Internet was a valuable resource for educational tasks. Most respondents felt that skill in using the Internet and personal computers was worthwhile for students to learn. Nevertheless, most parents also qualified their support of Internet use with phrases such as “if used appropriately,” or “when used correctly.” Others were worried about the quality of information available on the web. Finally, one respondent expressed concern regarding universal student access to the Internet.

Overall, parents displayed a positive attitude toward the forms of technology discussed above. However, there was one notable exception. On each of the questions, the same respondent reacted very negatively to the class website, email communication, and Internet use. The responses given indicate a general negative attitude toward technology use in the classroom. However, the participant never indicated why he or she disliked the increased use of technology in the classroom.


It is important to note that although this study was prompted by negative attitudes to technology use in an instructional setting, the vast majority of the responses from the three groups were positive. The results of the survey suggest that much of the initial resistance to technology integration derived from discomfort with the unknown; for instance, survey data indicated that the History class being studied was unique in its use of technology integration as a pedagogical practice. A mid-year teacher change contributed to participants’ discomfort as well. Having found the answer to their initial question, the researchers felt it was important to address individual aspects of technology integration, such as email communication and student/teacher/parent collaboration, student Internet access, and instructional practice, to improve teaching methods and foster authentic learning.

The majority of parents and many of the students appreciated the ease and flexibility of email use. Respondents acknowledged the convenience email offers busy parents, teachers, and students. However, few of the respondents recognized the new set of problems created with this type of communication. According to Trejos (2000), many teachers feel overwhelmed with the amount of email correspondence they must deal with on a daily basis. Educators voice concern that reading and responding to email significantly diminishes the time they have to plan, an issue overlooked by the parents and students in this survey. Furthermore, the researchers also concluded from the survey response rate in the parental survey and the lack of time students spend using the Internet for school related work, such as emailing teachers, that email may not be the most effective form of communication. An area of further research should focus on the most efficient way to correspond with parents and students.

In addition, parental attitudes and opinions regarding proper Internet use by students is another area that deserves further study. According to Tolmie (2001), many pre-existing factors, such as parental attitudes, will determine successful technology integration in an educational setting. The majority of parents, who participated in the survey, viewed the Internet, in various forms, as an important instructional and communication tool. Conversely, respondents also seemed aware of the dangers that the Internet and email may pose to users. For example, many participants qualified their approval of Internet use, which indicates that they are concerned about the abundance of inappropriate and unreliable material available online.

Furthermore, as suggested by Berson, et al (1999) and Britt, et al (1998), teachers should be wary when asking their classes to use the Internet and should warn them of the dangers that exist. Teachers, schools, and school systems should provide Acceptable Use Policies (AUP) to students and parents with guidelines for proper Internet and email use while at school. AUPs and school filtering programs can help keep students out of undesirable websites and keep them focused on academic tasks.

Moreover, when introducing students and parents to a dramatically different teaching style, it may be helpful to explain, in-depth, how technology will be used in the classroom. If a teacher adequately prepares students, in the beginning, it is reasonable to assume that the teacher will not have overwhelming resistance to technology integration. As evidenced by the student questionnaire, after having a chance to adjust to the difference in teaching style, students noted that they enjoyed technological tools such as the SmartBoard, which emphasized a more constructivist approach in which students are actively learning with “real world” implications (Britt et al., 1998). Using constructivist learning includes inquiry-based learning, bridging reading and writing through on-line interaction, and making student work public in media formats (Bass and Rosenzweig, 1999). Most students indicated that they enjoyed the hands-on learning offered by technology integration and felt they retained more of the information provided in the history class.


Any analysis of technological use must take into account the many components of an educational setting. Tolmie (2001) maintains that the same forms of technology will not necessarily yield comparable results in every educational environment. Technology is not used in isolation for teaching and learning, and the impact of technology on education is largely determined by the established educational setting. To be successful, a teacher attempting to integrate technology into a classroom environment must consider factors such as: administration, teacher, student, and parental attitudes towards technology; the educator’s teaching style and philosophy; the subject and concepts taught; and the learning styles of the students. Finally, reflective evaluation of current and future practices, as well as staying abreast of current research will help provide the best education for all students.


Jennifer Alexiou-Ray is a doctoral student at the University of Alabama and a teacher of Computer Applications at Mountain Brook Junior High, Mountain Brook, Alabama. Her job responsibilities include helping to develop curriculum for a comprehensive seventh grade computer class, assisting teachers in integration of technology in the classroom, and computer and network troubleshooting. She hopes to participate in research involving electronic instructional design, student perceptions of technology integration, and the relationship between constructivism and technology integration.

Elizabeth K. Wilson, Professor, University of Alabama.

Vivian Wright, Assistant Professor, University of Alabama

Ann-Marie Peirano, University of Alabama


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Trejos, N. (2000, November 5). Internet makes kids’ grades an open book: Websites help parenttrack students’ progress. The Washington Post, p. C1.

Appendix A

Technology and Learning in the Social Studies Classroom-Student Survey

This survey includes students who are currently enrolled in Ms. __________ American History to 1900 classes. The purpose of this study is to examine the feelings of students regarding the integration of technology in the classroom. Your participation will include answering a brief questionnaire about your experiences with technology usage in the classroom. The time required to complete the questionnaire should be no more than fifteen minutes. Student participants shall not feel that their grades will be impacted upon completion of the survey. All questionnaires are completely confidential and names will not be disclosed at any point during or after the study. Your participation is voluntary, and you may withdraw from the study at any time.

1. Please indicate one of the following to describe how often Ms. __________ uses technology in the classroom?

  1. Never
  2. Occasionally
  3. Often

2. What forms of technology does Ms. __________ use in the classroom? (i.e. digital cameras, PowerPoint, email, SmartBoard, the Internet, etc.)

3. Do you feel that the technology used in your Social Studies class makes lessons more interesting? Please explain why or why not?

4. What do you like best about using technology?

5. What do you like least about using technology?

6. Please indicate one of the following to describe your knowledge of computer use.

  1. Beginner
  2. Intermediate
  3. Advanced

7. Approximately how many hours a week do you spend on the computer?

  1. less than 1
  2. 2-3
  3. 4-5
  4. 6-7
  5. 8-9
  6. 10-12
  7. more than 12

8. Of the time you spend on the computer, approximately how much is for school-related work?

  1. less than 1
  2. 2-3
  3. 4-5
  4. 6-7
  5. 8-9
  6. 10-12
  7. more than 12

9. Please list the school-related activities for which you use the computer. (i.e. writing papers, research, checking assignments, emailing teachers, etc.)

10. Please list the non school-related activities for which you use the computer. (i.e. emailing friends, using chat rooms, checking movie times, etc.)

11. How many academic classes are you currently taking?


12. Of these classes how many have a class website?

12. Specifically, how do you feel about the website used in Ms. __________ class?

13. In what ways, if any, do you find her site useful?

14. In what ways, if any, do you dislike having a website in your Social Studies class?

15. At the beginning of the semester, when you heard you would be using more technology in the classroom, how did you feel? Explain.

16. Have your feelings about class websites and other technology changed over the course of the semester? Please explain.

17. In what way has the use of technology in Ms. __________ classroom motivated you to learn differently?

18. Have you ever emailed Ms. __________ about a class assignment? (If you answer “no” to this question, please skip the remainder of the survey.)


19. How would you rate this type of communication?

not helpful
somewhat helpful
very helpful
20. What advantages and/or disadvantages do you see with email communication outside the classroom?

Appendix B

Technology and Learning in the Social Studies Classroom-School Personnel Survey

Your voluntary participation in this study is requested. This study includes faculty and staff who work with Ms. __________ American History to 1900 students. The purpose of this study is to examine the feelings of school personnel regarding the integration of technology in the classroom. Your participation will include answering a brief questionnaire about your experiences with technology usage in the classroom. The time required to complete the questionnaire should be five to fifteen minutes. The benefits of this study are to provide research on this topic and to improve the instructional methods in Ms. __________ classes. All questionnaires are completely confidential and names will not be disclosed at any point during or after the study. Your participation is voluntary, and you may withdraw from the study at any time.

1. Are you aware that Ms. __________ offers a web site to assist student’s parents, and school personnel?


2. Have you ever accessed Ms. __________ site? (If you have not, please skip to question 6)


3. Please indicate to what degree Ms. __________ web site exhibits the following characteristics. One meaning not at all, 2 meaning somewhat, and 3 meaning consistently.

Ease of navigation 1 2 3
Ease of finding contact page and contact information 1 2 3
Ease of understanding classroom information 1 2 3
Ease of finding the information you desired 1 2 3
Offers useable and relevant support for students and school personnel 1 2 3

4. What are the main reasons you use Ms. __________ web site?

5. Have your ever suggested Ms. __________ web site to a parent or colleague?

6. As a member of the faculty or staff, what advantages and/or disadvantages do you see in having a class web site? (Please skip the remainder of the questionnaire if you have not visited Ms. __________ web site.)

7. Can you think of anything else you might like to see included in a web site for a Social Studies class?

8. Are there any specific features you like about Ms. __________ web site?

9. Would you recommend that other teachers offer class web sites?


Appendix C

Technology and Learning in the Social Studies Classroom-Parental Survey

Your voluntary participation in this study is requested. This study includes parents whose children are involved with Ms. __________ American History to 1900 classes. The purpose of this study is to examine the feelings of parents regarding the integration of technology in the classroom. You will answer a brief questionnaire about your experiences with technology usage in the classroom. The time required to complete the questionnaire is five to fifteen minutes. Parental participants shall not feel their completion of the survey will affect the grade or treatment of their child in Ms. __________ class. This study will provide research on this topic and help improve the instructional methods in Ms. __________ classes. All questionnaires are completely confidential. Ms. __________ and Ms. __________, graduate students at a southeastern university, are conducting this study as part of a course assignment.

1. Are you aware that your child’s Social Studies class has a website where homework and other assignments are posted? (If not, please skip to question 6.)


2. Do you regularly view the class website?


3. For what reasons do you access the website?

4. Please indicate to what degree Ms. __________ website exhibits the following characteristics. One meaning not at all, two meaning somewhat, and three meaning consistently.

Ease of navigation 1 2 3
Ease of finding contact page and contact information 1 2 3
Ease of understanding classroom information 1 2 3
Ease of finding the information you desired 1 2 3
Offers useable and relevant support for students and parents 1 2 3

5. Can you think of anything else you might like to see included in a website for a Social Studies class?

6. What advantages and/or disadvantages to parents do you see in having a class website?

7. Are you aware that your child’s Social Studies teacher can be contacted by email? (If not please skip to question 10.)


8. Do you use email to contact your child’s teachers? (If not, please skip to question 10.)


9. What are the main reasons you use this type of communication?

10. What do you feel are its benefits and/or limitations to email communication with your child’s teachers?

11. Do you subscribe to Internet Information on Demand (IIOD) provided by ______________________ School? (This service provides regular updates for student grades and attendance.)


12. Please explain why you do or do not subscribe to IIOD.

13. If you have answered ALL previous questions please skip to question 14. The website in your child’s Social Studies class provides current and previous homework assignments, project and paper assignments, the class syllabus and classroom policies, test reviews, and information about your child’s teacher. Now that you know about the website and/or email communication available in your child’s Social Studies class, do you think you will utilize it/them? Why or why not?

14. Do you have any reservations about your child using the Internet for school-related work? Please explain.


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Training Teachers to Evaluate Educational Tutorial Software: A Model of Intra-School Professional Development

Training Teachers to Evaluate Educational Tutorial Software: A Model of Intra-School Professional Development

Boris Handal
Cumberland High School
NSW, Australia

Parvin Handal
Western Sydney Health Area Service
NSW, Australia

Anthony Herrington
Edith Cowan University
Perth, Australia

This paper describes a project concerned with the design, implementation and evaluation of a training program aimed to train secondary mathematics and science teachers in the selection of appropriate educational tutorial software (ETS). Before the implementation of this training program, a situational analysis revealed an apparent need for teachers to be better informed of the principles of ETS. It also revealed an apparent lack of available training schemes within local professional support groups. Consequently, an intra-school professional development model emerged as the most realistic strategy to align teachers’ background expertise with the school’s need for a more intensive use of technology in the curriculum. Seven mathematics and science teachers participated in a training seminar on evaluating ETS. Interviews held after the training seminar revealed participants’ learning as well as their willingness to use ETS in the classroom.

Intra-School Professional Development of Teachers

The past three decades has witnessed the failure of centrally directed change in large educational enterprises (Fullan, 1993; Handal & Herrington, in press). Despite large-scale investments of money, time, and research, many attempts to promote improvement in the educational outcomes have been problematic (Fullan, 1993). One of the main reasons for limited success is the lack of a grass-roots approach to teachers‘ professional development (Print, 1993).

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM, 2000) calls for teachers to be more active initiatives in their own professional development. According to the NCTM

Mathematics teachers must develop and maintain the mathematical and pedagogical knowledge they need to teach their students well. One way to do this is to collaborate with their colleagues and to create their own learning opportunities where none exist. They should also seek out high-quality professional development opportunities that fit their learning needs. By pursuing sources of information, building communities of colleagues, and participating in professional development, teachers can continue to grow as professionals. (2000, p. 373)

Intra-school professional development (ISPD) is one approach that can improve teachers’ effectiveness and confidence in addressing school-based concerns. In intra-school professional development, teachers and administration take the initiative and jointly develop programs using the current staff to meet the school’s and teachers’ needs (Good & Brophy, 1994; Kirkwood, 2001). Schools can also incorporate particular expertise from other institutions such as universities (Fullan, 1993). When teachers plan their own professional development, they can benefit from the course being delivered within their own school context. In such a situation, teachers’ problem solving capabilities are used to solve real issues and the school is transformed into a learning organization (Fullan, 1993). This grass-roots effect can empower teachers’ morale and enhance a sense of commitment and belonging to the school. In an ISPD scheme, teachers’ talents are identified and mobilized (Fullan, 1993), particularly in a technical area such as computer education (Monaghan, 1993).

There is also evidence that teachers participating in courses where externally-based ‘withdrawal’ (Schiller, 1985) or ‘top-down authority-based’ methods are used (Dynan, 1983, p. 42), have little success in implementing change when they return to their school. One reason may be that teachers in these types of programs are only considered as “clients” (Hoyle, 1976). Training through externally developed professional development programs is often out of context, often conflicts with school needs, and often lacks understanding by adopters, funding sources and support (Dynan, 1983). Such programs may well result in disunity of purpose because groups of ‘resisters’ are formed (Fullan, 1993). Moreover, unsuccessful reforms affect teachers’ morale causing stress, cynicism and burnout syndromes (Fullan, 1993). Hart (1992) adds that when teachers consider new tasks to be trivial and superficial they tend to mistrust other innovations.

ISPD may provide a more effective method for fostering educational change than traditional approaches. Rosenholts (1989) found that 90% of 1200 teachers from 78 elementary schools reported effective learning from other teachers, while only 45% reported effective learning from professional conferences. According to Good and Brophy (1994), approaches conducive to ISPD can take the following forms: (a) professional discussion, (b) curriculum development, (c) peer observation, (d) peer coaching, (e) action research, and (f) university-school system alliances.

Professional discussion enables teachers to reflect on general professional issues that are of interest and common to them (Leikin & Winicki-Landman, 2001). These issues need not necessarily be related to the specific school context but they may have a broader scope such as philosophies of education, teachers’ beliefs, computer education, problem solving, parental involvement, investigational work, and so forth. Teachers may also work co-operatively in curriculum development tasks, developing and sharing knowledge and experiences in the design of instructional activities that reflect school needs. In peer observation teachers collaborate to visit one another’s classrooms to identify situations that may assist them in improving their own teaching. Novice teachers, in particular, can benefit from observing experienced teachers. Peer coaching takes place when a teacher, who is an expert in one area, facilitates understanding of other faculty members (Guinney, 2001).

Teachers can also engage in their own professional development through action research, which involves the processes of planning, acting, observing, and then reflecting on classroom practice. Teachers tend to apply this approach in a more flexible and informal way than do academics (Arhar, Holly, & Kasten, 2000). University-school system alliances provide another form of intra-school professional development. These are partnerships between schools and universities that are mutually beneficial such as collaboration through winter or summer institutes on issues such as classroom and school improvement, educational technology, and leadership training (Fullan, 1993).

Educational Tutorial Software

Educational Tutorial Software (ETS) usually follows a fixed structure and sequence. It first starts with an introductory section on the purpose and nature of the lesson, and then information is presented and elaborated. Next, the student is questioned, and once the student answers, the program judges the response and feedback or remediation is given accordingly. The cycle closes when the lesson is terminated either by the learner or by the program and a summary appears at the closing of the lesson.

A tutorial design attempts to replicate a personal tutor’s behavior. Ideally, an ETS will provide motivation for the lesson, offer opportunities for interaction, correct mistakes and misunderstandings, and encourage success (Gibbons & Fairweather, 1998; Leuhrmann, 2002a; 2002b; Schwier and Misanchuk, 1993). Educational tutorial software is considered to be a powerful instrument that enhances learning through independent work. According to Alessi and Trollip (1991; 2001) tutorials are effective for presenting information based on facts, for learning concepts, rules and principles, or for gaining knowledge of problem solving strategies. An ETS may also be useful when the number of students or qualified teachers do not justify a regular class (Merrill, et al, 1992). In addition, ETS could be a useful instructional tool in small schools that do not have the resources to afford a specialist (Alessi & Trollip, 1991; Gibbons & Fairweather, 1998). Such software can also be used to supplement normal classes providing further opportunities for individual reflection and practice.

One of the major challenges in the development of computer-based software is good instructional design. Initial computer-based instruction software designs were transmissive and influenced by behaviorist educational models (Saettler, 1990). This may explain the disinterest of some educators towards computer based instruction. Too many programs are available that are nothing more than the electronic versions of traditional workbooks (Gibbons & Fairweather, 1998). The lack of inquiry-based constructivist instructional design may influence educators to believe that computer-based products are not sufficient or flexible enough to meet learners’ needs, however, tutorial software, for example, in the form of multimedia can be a powerful tool for enabling real world problems to be investigated in the classroom (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000).

Situational Analysis

An ISPD strategy was implemented at an international school in Macau to train teachers in the use of ETS. Prior to the design of the ISPD strategy a situational analysis was carried out in the school. The school follows the British curriculum and prepares its students for the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE). Most of the students are from an Asian background. Secondary teachers come from a variety of countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America, Canada, South America, India, Taiwan, People’s Republic of China, Zimbabwe, Macau and Singapore. The language of instruction is English. Seventeen teachers and the secondary school administrator took part in the analysis.

The participants were asked to fill in a questionnaire to examine the level of their technological expertise and use of technology in their classrooms. In addition, the secondary administrator of the school was interviewed. The responses indicated that teachers regularly used overhead projectors and tape recorders as the main instructional technology. The school is very keen on the use of technology in teaching. For example, the school has purchased hand calculators for the primary section. Video players are yet another medium that is used in classroom instruction, particularly in the teaching of English as a second language and History. Educational videocassettes were obtained from the Educational Resource Center of the Department of Education of Macau, which possesses a large collection of these items. The school has also purchased thirty new PC computers to be used by students. These computers were chiefly deployed to teach computer courses such as word processing, databases and spreadsheets. The purchase of computers has permitted all secondary students to have access to the equipment either as a computer studies subject or as a tool to complete assignments for other subjects.

The computer studies program at the school starts in primary Grade 4 and continues in secondary school. In Grades 4, 5 and 6, students participate in two periods a week of typing and development of other navigational skills through games. As part of the computer studies program, secondary students study Windows, Microsoft Word, Access as a database, and Excel as a spreadsheet. Two out of the three instructors have received training in the use of computers either as a tool or as an instructional aid. Instructors prepare handouts as there are no textbooks to follow. Assessments are conducted through tests, class work and projects.

Data from the questionnaire showed that 82% of the teachers have received training in the use of computers and had learned to use packages such as word processing, spreadsheets or databases. It was also found that among the staff there were two teachers with specific training in programming. Eighty-eight percent of the teachers did not have any training in computer education. The survey also revealed that 12% of the teachers used overhead projectors and 6% used videocassettes, slides, CD-ROM and the Internet consistently. However, the expectation was that computers should be used more often. The school administration had previously recognized some teachers’ expertise in computer education and requested them to train other teachers.

The Department of Education of the Macau Government is mostly concerned with the management and funding of public schools. Some computer courses are offered to the teachers during the school holidays. However, most of these courses are conducted in Chinese though a few of them are conducted in English or Portuguese. In brief, the situational analysis revealed the school’s strong support for the goals of computer education and a need for more professional development that could not be found in local professional organizations.

Implementing an ISPD strategy to train teachers in ETS

According to the situational analysis, none of the teachers at the school had received training in identifying appropriate educational software for the learning and teaching of secondary mathematics and science. An ISPD was planned with the following objectives:

1. To understand the general structural principles of sound ETS packages.
2. To understand the role of ETS in computer-based instruction.
3. To be familiar with the interface design, navigation and control of an ETS.
4. To evaluate the interface design, navigation and control of an ETS.
5. To demonstrate a willingness to use ETS in classroom teaching.
Seven mathematics and science teachers at the school participated in the training seminar. The seminar was taught by one of the secondary school teachers who had received specialized training in the field as part of her postgraduate training. A handbook was developed for the seminar participants. The handbook covered selected topics on computer-based instruction and educational tutorial software. The computer-based instruction section covered phases of instructional design, namely, presenting information, guiding the student, practicing by the student, and assessing student learning; It also covered the five major types of computer-based instruction: tutorial, drill, instructional games, simulations and tests. In turn, the ETS section covered: (a) introduction, (b) student control, (c) motivation, (d) presentation of information, (e) questions and responses, (f) judging responses, (g) providing feedback about responses, (h) sequencing lesson segments, and (i) closing. The information was presented in note-point form along with pictures of typical ETS displays. An abridged version of the Alessi and Trollip (1991) Quality Review Checklist was developed for participants so that they could evaluate ProOne Mathematics software (ProOne, 1996) used as an example of ETS.

Ten sets of ProOne Mathematics I software were made available to the participants. The computer laboratory of the school was used for training purposes. An overhead projector was also used to show transparencies of typical ETS displays as well as to present points by the instructor. ProOne Mathematics I was chosen for the training seminar among other ETSs available because it demonstrated important features of an effective ETS identified by the Quality Review Checklist.

Design and Procedure

Participants were assigned to a PC with CD-ROM incorporated so each one was able to manipulate the ProOne Mathematics I software according to the instructor’s guidance. The instructor explained in sequence the main authoring issues in the design of an effective ETS. Parallel to the instructor’s exposition, participants were manipulating the software in order to verify those authoring features. They were constantly encouraged to go through the different programs of the software and to experiment with the different functions. This activity was welcomed and actively pursued by the participants.

The instructor made use of overhead transparencies that showed note points and samples of screens. Advanced organisers were also used in explaining the key concepts of the seminar. Active discussion was encouraged between instructor and participants, and among participants, to encourage a better understanding of key concepts.

In addition to the ProOne Mathematics I software, participants also had the opportunity to manipulate the Access 95 Tutor software (Perry, 1996) and compare it with ProOne Mathematics I and the seminar notes. They were also requested to complete a written questionnaire to indicate their understanding of the main ETS issues.

Finally, participants were asked to evaluate the ProOne Mathematics I software by completing the quality review checklist previously developed. At this stage, participants had to review their previously acquired knowledge with some needing more feedback and elaboration from the instructor. In subsequent days, interviews were carried out to identify participants’ attitudes towards the use of ETS and to the training seminar.

Results and Discussion

Participants’ responses elicited through interviews were analyzed in terms of their perceptions on the use of ETS as an instructional tool. Their responses were also used to evaluate the effectiveness of the training program as well as to offer recommendations for future developments.

A number of themes emerged from the analysis of the participants’ responses. Participant’s indicated that they had comprehensively learned aspects of the role of ETS in instruction. One participant said:

I understand that it is only a tool and I could see that it is not replacing a teacher. I also learned many things that could be applied in other areas of the education just about first introduction. When you introducing things, it is important to set your objectives, and I learned about writing questions…

Another theme emerged to indicate participants’ ability to recognize and evaluate tutorial software:

It [the seminar] stimulated my thinking as what to look for in the evaluation of tutorial software. What positive and negative things to watch out for when shopping around for such software tools.

I think I have learned how to look for a useful piece of software that I will be able to use in class and may be give students something worth learning rather than any other CD-ROM.

Participants also expressed their willingness to use ETS in their classroom in future, although some of them mentioned barriers to fully implement this approach. Some of them said that they still needed more knowledge to be able to implement change in their classroom. In addition, money to buy ETS can be a problematic. One of the teachers said that this seminar had helped her to look for effective software and therefore to saving money:

When I last went to Hong Kong I saw four or five of these CD-ROM for the subjects that I will be teaching next year. Now that I know what I am looking for I can at least look at the CD-ROM and evaluate it, that this is going to be useful and this is just not wasting my money.

Integrating technology into normal classes was another problematic theme that emerged. One participant remarked:

I think getting copies or getting enough for everybody to be involved at one time is difficult. This has to be a process of taking the students out of the classroom. Two or three for one computer and setting up some tasks for them to learn or use the tutorial for themselves or assign them a project to use the CD-ROM. Because getting twenty or twelve copies of one CD-ROM is not buyable as it is too much.

Another participant highlighted a further difficulty with integration and limited resources for individualized learning.

Because I teach science I think it would be very helpful. Big classes might be difficult, with the lab that we are using, I might not be able to have one student working at one computer and with a group of students then it might be left to one student to do everything rather than each student trying things by themselves.

A similar concern was expressed by another teacher:

The only difficulty I see is that if the students did not have that much experience with the computers, they will have difficulty in the beginning going around.

Another respondent remarked on the theme of class management:

As a supplement I think it is very useful. The main difficulty I think would be to maintain control to know exactly whether the students are working or not. But if it is a self-explanatory tutorial, it should not be too much problem.

However, novelty and motivation was seen as another beneficial theme with one participant pointing out:

Now I know the importance of tutorials. I will try the CD-ROM with a few students and see how it goes. Later I will try with the whole class. I think my students will enjoy it because it is a different experience.


A situational analysis of the issue of computer education in the school clarified the need for staff development and a process for educational change in the area of computer-based instruction. An intra-school professional development model was planned and implemented with mathematics and science staff to provide knowledge about the use of educational tutorial software. Interviews following the implementation revealed a number of themes in relation to computer education. Participants were able to recognize the value of incorporating educational software into their teaching, were better equipped to evaluate such software and more willing to incorporate it into their discipline areas. However, other themes emerged to indicate the difficulties associated with ETS, in particular, resource costs, accessibility, organization and management. Participants’ responses also showed that this was the first time they had access to this type of inservice training pointing to the considerable potential of intra-school professional development as a form of teacher training.


Boris Handal obtained his BEd (Honours) from the Higher Pedagogical Institute of Peru, his MEd from Edith Cowan University and an EdD (Awarded 2002) from the University of Sydney. Currently, he is a mathematics teacher at Cumberland High School, NSW, Australia

Parvin Handal, obtained her Bachelor of Sciences majoring in Mathematics and Computer Sciences from the University of London and her Masters of Education (Training and Development) in the area of computer education from Southern Cross University (NSW). Currently she works as data consultant and IT trainer.

Anthony Herrington, Ph.D., is a Senior Lecturer at Edith Cowan University, Perth, Western Australia. He lectures in mathematics education, technology education and pedagogies associated with tertiary teaching.


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Construction of Teaching Metaphors Through the Use of Technology

Construction of Teaching Metaphors Through the Use of Technology

Vivian H. Wright
University of Alabama

Cheryl W. Sundberg
Louisiana Tech University

Sondra Yarbrough
Jacksonville State University

Elizabeth Wilson
B. Joyce Stallworth
University of Alabama

The study of preservice teachers’ development of metaphors as personal conceptions of teaching and learning is important not only to the preservice teachers but also to teacher educators. Such metaphors may provide us with snapshots, or glimpses, of our future teachers and can provide information on how we, as teacher educators, can ensure that methodological theories and pedagogical principles become a part of the preservice teachers’ experiences. This study presents an important framework for the development of teaching metaphors and presents data on four preservice teachers’ development through a general methods course and their subsequent teaching field methods course. Specific uses of text and graphics are examined in the data analysis. Conclusions indicate that text and selection of visuals revealed either a teacher-centered philosophy or a learner-centered philosophy of teaching..

Rationale for Metaphor Examination

The research base supports classrooms that are learner-centered where knowledge is constructed through language-mediated interaction with peers and mentors and through interaction with the environment (Vygotsky, 1979, as cited in Moll, 1990.) Thus, the articulation of the conception of teaching and learning and subsequent sharing of this conception with peers and mentors are critical components of preservice teacher education. One assignment commonly used in many teacher education programs as a method for eliciting reflection on the process of teaching and learning is the metaphor. If a common purpose of this metaphor is to give the teacher educator an idea of what the preservice teacher is thinking about teaching and learning, the teacher educator may find a need to change instruction in order to better connect theory and practice as the metaphor develops and changes. With teacher education programs also searching for ways to effectively integrate technology to enhance teaching and learning for the preservice teacher, this study sought to determine if use of technology to construct the metaphor would enhance the preservice teachers’ construction of meaning and reflectivity.

Theoretical Framework

Metaphors can serve as a coherent and succinct way of “representing and organizing thoughts about particular subject matter, activities, or theories” (Knowles, 1994, p. 60). The metaphors of prospective teachers can be used to provide “glimpses” of the developing conceptions of teaching that are held by these individuals. The metaphors of prospective teachers are determined, at least in part, by their experiences and thus reflect elements of their personal histories.

One researcher noted the process of expression actually assists in cognition:

Finding an adequate articulation for what I want to say about these matters brings them into focus. To find a description in this case is to identify a feature of the matter at hand and thereby to grasp its contour, to get a proper view of it. (Taylor, C., 1985 as cited in Wertsch, 2000 p. 27)

The act of writing text is often reflective; Lotman postulated text acts as a “thinking device” and “a generator of meaning” (1988 as cited in Wells, 2000 p. 77). If writing aids in cognition, analysis of the text should provide a glimpse into the preservice teacher’s conceptualization of teaching and learning. In a study conducted by Surbeck, Han, and Moyer (1991), the researchers coded the dialogue of students’ journals for reflectivity and determined levels of reflectivity that included categories of reaction, elaboration, and contemplation based on how the students connected information back to theory. In a related study, Lamy and Goodfellow (1999) conducted a study of online students in a French course and categorized reflectivity based on whether conversations centered on French (classified as reflective) or centered on social aspects (identified as non-reflective). Thus, analysis of a teaching metaphor via PowerPoint should provide students with a mode for reflecting on the art and science of teaching and learning.

Metaphor as Means of Reflection

The use of analogies and metaphors can encourage reflection. Children’s analogies and metaphors “…often push the children’s thinking to new levels of sophistication and reasoning.” (Gallas, 1995 p. 46) Thus, when preservice teachers develop metaphors of teaching and learning, they, like children, may examine their current views and hopefully, consider carefully the type of teachers they wish to be and become.

A case study by Knowles (1994) revealed that the experiences in the classroom as a teacher are not necessarily congruent with the metaphors that are developed based on the personal history of an individual and experiences as a student. For example, individuals may be drawn to teaching as a result of their experienced success in school and have memories of teachers whose classrooms were conducive to learning and whose actions conveyed a deep sense of care and concern for students. These personal histories may generate teaching metaphors that are not easily maintained in beginning teachers’ classrooms. However, initial metaphors are likely to influence practices as these individuals enter the classroom. For this reason, Knowles suggested that examining an individual’s critical experiences might be a worthwhile task in teacher preparation courses.

The use of metaphors can enable teachers to represent their personal understanding of the teaching process, themselves as teachers, young adults as learners, and schools as systems in a way that can be beneficial in exploring the complexity of teaching (Earle, 1995). However, it is this complexity that makes the use of a single metaphor limiting in examining teacher’s understanding. Furthermore, teaching metaphors may give only the perspective of the teacher and fail to acknowledge the learner’s viewpoint.

Metaphor as Means of Change

One researcher insisted there should be a shift in the conceptualization of the classroom as a business to the view of the classroom as a new country to be explored, to “go where no one has gone before” as quoted in a popular television show. Wheatley (1991) indicated the “workplace metaphor was commonly used by teachers to describe the activity in classrooms and wrote, “Teachers can be heard saying, ‘My students don’t work hard enough’” (p. 13). Wheatley postulated a shift in the classroom metaphor from a “workplace” to a “learning place” would more closely describe a constructivist paradigm on learning. The students would be “explorers” and “inventors” rather than “workers.” Wheatley described learning as a “co-construction” through social interaction in the classroom. Thus, a shift in the metaphor could encourage preservice teachers to embrace the constructivist paradigm more closely.

Bullough and Stokes (1994) examined the metaphors of 22 secondary preservice teachers enrolled in a yearlong certification program. The authors established the need for the study by providing a rationale for metaphor analysis by examining the literature on: (a) images of self, (b) self-narratives, and (c) personal metaphors. Over this period the preservice teachers were asked to develop and refine their teaching metaphors. The researchers concluded that, initially, the preservice teachers’ metaphors were similar, particularly in regard to their view of the “teacher as expert”. Within the group, there were some who viewed teaching as nurturing as well. The researchers found that there were three themes that emerged from the data during the course of the study: change, loss of innocence, and rhythm. Within the group there appears to be individual differences which the researchers categorized as (a) never got it, (b) got it, but didn’t like it, (c) went along, but didn’t work at it, and (d) got it and used it. The researchers noted that levels of critical reflection were achieved by some of the student teachers and concluded that metaphors should continue to be explored for use in teacher education while noting that limitations exist.

Earle (1995) found that there were differences in the metaphors of novice teachers and experienced teachers. While there were apparent differences in novice teachers’ metaphors they seemed to have the common attribute of focusing on managing the classroom. Experienced teachers, on the other hand, presented metaphors that focused on their approaches to instruction.
Metaphors can be used to conceptualize beliefs about the multiple roles of teachers. It has been suggested by Tobin (1990) that prospective teachers’ beliefs can change significantly in the process of becoming a teacher and that metaphors can be used to examine these changes. The use of teaching metaphors along with a reflective process can help inservice and preservice teachers identify conflicts between their beliefs and their roles as teachers. Because teachers often view themselves as having multiple roles or that they change roles according to the teaching context, teachers in Tobin’s study commonly used several metaphors to describe their roles.

Metaphor as Means of Visualization

The visualization of the metaphor via the selection of pictures and graphics in the production of a PowerPoint presentation may produce a more mature conceptualization of teaching and learning. For example, Einstein visualized Maxwell’s writings about light waves. He viewed himself riding on the motions of the gas molecules (John-Steiner & Meehan, 2000). The process of selecting pictures and graphics could, in fact, allow the preservice teacher to actually visualize the process of teaching and learning, much like Einstein rode the waves of the gas molecules in the development of his theory of relativity. Perhaps the visual aspects of the PowerPoint are important components in the development of the metaphor. Like a painting, the metaphor via PowerPoint might grow and develop as the preservice teachers “paint” a picture of the metaphor with the technology. In fact, if the use of PowerPoint indeed triggers the creativity of the preservice teacher, the metaphor should grow in the same way a painting grows and develops. Shahn noted: “Thus an idea rises to the surface, grows and changes as the painting grows and develops.” (as cited in John-Steiner & Meehan, 2000)

Technology’s Role in Metaphor Development

Can technology contribute to the process of constructing a teaching metaphor? How does the use of a media such as PowerPoint aid or inhibit the reflective conceptualization of teaching and learning? In a study of the graphing skills of 125 seventh and eighth grade students, Mokros, and Tinker (1987) concluded that use of the technology may be a “bridge between concrete and formal operations” (p. 381). In addition, the technology provides a multi-modal approach to learning thus, addressing learning style differences in students. Other researchers also concluded the use of technology aids in cognition (Auberry & Nakhleh, 1999; Beichner, 1990; Brasell, 1987; Friedler, Nachmias, & Linn, 1990; Nakhleh & Krajcik, 1991).

In previously cited studies, research revealed technology can act as a cognitive bridge. Traditionally, the metaphor assignment used text only. However, studies by Cuban (1993) and Harper (1994) indicated analysis of photographs of classrooms provides a glimpse into the teacher’s conception of teaching and learning. Cuban (1993) and Harper (1994) analyzed photographs of classrooms for evidence of constructivist teaching principles. A classroom was described as using a constructivist approach if there was evidence of approaches such as students working in cooperative groups, a variety of materials being used, and projects displaying a variety of media.

In other studies, researchers have found that the use of the computer to mediate communication encourages reflection. Bos, Krajacik, and Patrick (1995) indicated telecommunications provided a radical means for teachers to collaboratively reflect on practice and noted that “ . . . for most teachers, reflecting on their practice is a crucial step for enacting meaningful innovations” (p. 190).

Metaphors Into Practice

Rodriguez (1993) outlined the hazards of not discussing personal metaphors before practice teaching. Rodriguez supported more connection between theory and practice, and perhaps metaphors are one method to help bridge the chasm between the two. The researcher also stated that teacher education programs need to do a better job in discovering the students’ beliefs earlier in the program in order to help them find a connection between theory and practice.

Tobin (1990) found that teaching practices often correlate to teaching metaphors but in some instances a desired metaphor, such as teacher as facilitator, is not implemented in the classroom due to a variety of reasons. In other cases, teaching practices that are viewed as possibly constraining the learning process of students can be related to the teacher’s metaphor. A possible use of metaphors suggested by Tobin is that teacher change can be initiated by introducing different, more appropriate, metaphors.

Bullough (1992) used teaching metaphors to examine the struggle that beginning teachers had reconciling their personal metaphors with an established curriculum. The belief that a pre-determined curriculum and personal teaching metaphors were, at least at times, contradictory was a central focus of the study. While Bullough did find that the teachers in the study struggled to negotiate the conflicting ideas between their personal metaphors and the adopted curriculum, other factors such as classroom management, were not identified as being additional sources of conflict between actual classroom teaching and theories taught in teacher education courses. The cooperating teachers were also seen as influential in reconciling the differences between metaphors and classroom teaching by allowing (or not allowing) the individual to explore the implementation of their own ideas in the curriculum.

Studies such as Bullough’s serve as a reminder that the process of becoming a teacher is unique for each individual (Bullough, 1992). The personal dimensions of becoming a teacher need to be given more attention but need to be viewed within the context of classroom teaching and implementing an established curriculum

Research Design

The research focused on how technology mediates the development of a teaching metaphor. The researchers used psycholinguistic analysis and coded data for emerging trends (Patton, 1990) and compared the themes in this study with those articulated previously in the literature. The data sources consisted of the preservice teachers’ PowerPoint presentations of their metaphors. Triangulation was achieved from collecting data at two points in time and examining the text and the pictures of the PowerPoint presentations. In examining the data, the researchers looked for evidence of constructivist principles, reflectivity in the text and pictures, connections to theory, and a learner-centered focus (Surbeck, Han, & Moyer, 1991; Lamy & Goodfellow, 1999; Cuban 1993; Harper, 1994).

Data were collected from two required teacher education courses at one southeastern research institution during two consecutive semesters. The first course is a required pre teacher education course that gives an overview of the teaching profession and requires 24 hours of field placement. The second course, which many students take the subsequent semester (although not required to do so), is the content methods course and requires 90 hours of clinical experiences. With the infusion of technology in this institution’s teacher education program, the course instructors implemented additional media to both of these courses, one of which was the required teaching metaphor to be developed using PowerPoint. The researchers collected the metaphors during the fall, 2001 and spring, 2002 semesters. Those students who completed the prerequisite and the methods course during two consecutive semesters determined the convenience sample. Four students were determined to have PowerPoint metaphors from both semesters and these metaphors were examined. Few studies in metaphor analysis have examined the role of technology in metaphor change and development. Therefore, this study provides an additional method for investigating metaphors in preservice teacher education.


Of the four preservice teachers, two were male and two were female. To protect anonymity, pseudonyms are used in data presentation. Additionally, in the data presentation, many of the metaphors are stated in the form of a simile, which was allowed in the assignments.

Savannah’s metaphor in the pre-education class and the methods course was “teaching is like flying a kite.” The metaphor was teacher directed and the PowerPoint changed minimally between the two semesters. Savannah articulated in her first metaphor “a kite must have good structure and balance, as a teacher must also have in the classroom.” She re-worded this sentence in the second metaphor presentation to read, “the kite flyer must have knowledge of how to construct (sic) kite.” The pictures Savannah selected to visually represent her conception of teaching and learning consisted of single clip art images such as a singular kite flying or a singular teacher teaching (Appendix A).

Butch approached his metaphor development in the pre-education class as a baseball game and also articulated a very teacher centered approach. In the second metaphor Butch developed for the methods class, he re-defined his metaphor from a coaching perspective, but maintained the political aspects of playing the game. For example, in Butch’s first metaphor, he stated, “Teachers are just like baseball coaches in that they must motivate their students to learn each and every day.” In his second metaphor, Butch stated, “Teachers should always be in control in the classroom. Never let the students know that you feel uncomfortable. Further, he wrote: “A coach should be in control on the field. The players should never be allowed to tell the coach what type of scheme to use.” Throughout the first PowerPoint, Butch had references that teaching, much like playing baseball, should be fun. For example: “Teaching is like the game of baseball because it is a challenge, yet it is fun.” In his second metaphor, Butch appeared more serious: “As a coach, the fate of your team depends upon your preparation.” Butch did not use any pictures to illustrate his first metaphor, which might indicate that he could not visualize himself as a teacher. In the second metaphor, he selected one picture for his opening slide (Appendix A). The picture was a baseball player catching the ball which might indicate that Butch sees himself as omniscient and again very teacher centered.

William did not express a clear metaphor for the pre-education requirement, but he instead articulated his philosophy of teaching and grounded his approach with theory and briefly mentioned that teachers should be like “road maps.” In this first attempt, William stated, “Education is a process in which students gain knowledge of a subject, develop social skills, and learn problem-solving techniques.” For his second PowerPoint in the methods course, William articulated his metaphor as “Teachers are like road maps” and took a learner-centered approach. For example: “A teacher should offer a path to choose without choosing the path for the student.” He also made references that the teacher should not be the only source for information and should offer feedback throughout the learning process. William discussed that our job is to make the students life-long learners to teach them how to learn, “Teachers need to show the student how to function without a map available.” William did not have any images in his first metaphor but in his second, used a variety from clip art to web images. In each image, a sole person was showing how to learn (teacher illustrating the map) with the exception of the map image (Appendix A). While most images appeared teacher centered, the teacher is showing how to read the map, and the text indicated support that the teacher is showing the students how to learn, or in William’s words, “Teachers must also teach students how to use the MAPS effectively.”

April’s metaphors illustrated the most change between the first and second metaphor. In her first metaphor, April stated, “Teaching is like making stir fry” and was very teacher centered in her approach. She articulated that she was the one to decide the recipe, what ingredients to use, and how long to cook it and stated, “next, you need to chop up the ingredients just like you need to chop up the information you are going to teach your students.” Further, she wrote, “All the food you have prepared should be served together.” And, “All of the information you have given your students should be put together for a test.” It appeared that April, in her first metaphor, also believed that testing drives the curriculum. “Eat and enjoy your finished product just like you will grade and enjoy seeing all of the information your students have learned.” Images used in April’s first PowerPoint did not articulate her metaphor in many cases and focused on singular items. In April’s second metaphor, she re-focused and designed a new metaphor, “Teaching is like growing flowers.” She stated, “Students, just like flowers, are delicate subjects. They require preparation, care, nurturing, determination, and dedication to grow in strength and knowledge.” Themes relating to learning as a process, multiculturalism, and using multiple strategies were evident. In analyzing the pictures in the second metaphor, April used a picture of herself to introduce the PowerPoint, which might indicate she views herself as a teacher. Her pictures of flowers varied from singular flowers to gardens, possibly indicating more of a student view of teaching and learning. The text supported this, such as “All flowers, like students, come in different sizes, colors, and types. This requires that teachers have multiple strategies to help all students learn.”

Discussion and Recommendations

The research base supports the use of analysis of text and photographs to reveal a glimpse into the teacher’s conceptualization of teaching and learning. However, caution must be used in drawing conclusions about the extent to which the metaphor actually represents the views of the preservice teacher on teaching and learning. The selection of clip art, for example, may have been based simply on available resources and not on how the preservice teacher views teaching and learning. In a similar manner, the text may be the result of an Internet search for teaching metaphors. Thus, the preservice teachers used little or no reflection in completing the assignment. On the other hand, this research and previous research indicates the metaphor is useful in providing some information about how the preservice teacher visualizes teaching and learning.

The questions for future research are:

1. What insights does the analysis of the metaphor offer the teacher educator into how the preservice teacher conceives teaching and learning?
2. What types of remediation activities should be considered for preservice teachers that “just don’t get it.”(Bullough & Stokes, 1994)
3. Previous research in teaching metaphors used analysis of text only. How does the selection of clip art and photographs reveal the thinking about teaching and learning?
4. In what manner does the technology act as a cognitive bridge in the development of a metaphor?

In conclusion, we found the use of PowerPoint for the production of a metaphor offered a unique view into how preservice teachers conceive teaching and learning. Both the text and selection of visuals revealed either a teacher-centered philosophy or a learner-centered philosophy of teaching. What is not clear is how closely aligned the metaphor is to the preservice teacher’s conceptualization of teaching and learning. As noted by Knowles (1994), the metaphors of preservice teachers can provide a glimpse to the developing conceptions of teaching. These glimpses should not be ignored, but examined closely, in order to help teacher education programs discover students’ beliefs earlier in a program find connections between theory and practice.


Vivian H. Wright, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology in the College of Education at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. She works with teacher educators on innovative ways to infuse technology in the curriculum to enhance teaching and learning and has helped initiate and develop projects such as Electronic Portfolios for the Preservice Teacher, Master Technology Teacher, and Technology on Wheels. Her research interests include asynchronous education, specifically Internet and E-Learning, and K-12 technology integration.
Cheryl W. Sundberg, Assistant Professor, Louisiana Tech University

Sondra Yarbrough, Assistant Professor, Jacksonville State University

Elizabeth Wilson, Associate Professor, University of Alabama

B. Joyce Stallworth, Associate Professor, The University of Alabama


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Copyright for articles published in this site is retained by the authors. By virtue of their appearance in this site, articles are free to use, with proper attribution, in educational and other non-commercial settings.

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Constructing on Constructivism: The Role of Technology

Constructing on Constructivism: The Role of Technology

Aloka Nanjappa
Michael M. Grant
University of Memphis


A complementary relationship exists between technology and constructivism, the implementation of each one benefiting the other. Constructivism is a doctrine stating that learning takes place in contexts, while technology refers to the designs and environments that engage learners. Recent attempts to integrate technology in the classroom have been within the context of a constructivist framework (e.g., Richards, 1998). The purpose of this paper is to examine the interrelationship between constructivism and technology as revealed by empirical research. The cases include a variety of studies in a variety of settings – teacher education, online learning, and K-12 education; constructivist strategies include collaborative and cooperative learning methods, engaging in critical and reflective thinking, evaluation through electronic portfolios, and a critical look at emerging teacher roles within constructivist paradigms. Success has been reported in the development of constructivist course modules using technology as cognitive tools, benefiting both students and faculty. However, many teachers do not use constructivist practices, and those who do are not judicious in their selection of technology use (Rakes, Flowers, Casey, & Santana, 1999). Technology needs to be viewed in a three-dimensional perspective: semiotic, epistemic, and pragmatic, enabling the “construction of knowledge” by learners through a process of acculturation.


“Once knowing is no longer understood as the search for an iconic representation of ontological reality, but, instead, as a search for fitting ways of behaving and thinking, the traditional problem disappears. Knowledge can now be seen as something that the organism builds up in the attempt to order the as such amorphous flow of experience…”
von Glasersfeld (1984, p. 39)

The use of computer technology to support learning has been difficult to document and quantify (Clark, 1994; Russell, 1999), leaving the role of computers in the classroom precarious. In the past decade, a sudden resurgence of interest was markedly observed in the classroom use of technological innovations, along with the increased use of the Internet and other digital technologies (Reiser, 2002). The field of Instructional Design and Technology, too, saw the evolution and emergence of alternative approaches, such as cognitive and constructivist theories, that deviated sharply from traditional practices, such as behavioral models. New emphases, like electronic performance support systems, web-based instruction, and knowledge management systems, not only shook the knowledge base of the field, but also widened its horizon across business and industry, the military, health care and education, worldwide (Reiser, 2002). Initiatives, such as situated learning theory and constructivism presented fresh approaches to bring about reforms in the domains of public education and higher education (Anderson, Reder & Simon, 1996; Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989; Jonassen, 1999; Reiser, 2002).

To understand the potential of technology implementation in enhancing the teaching-learning process, the impact of constructivism on classroom practices has been studied by many researchers (e.g., Black & McClintock, 1995; Richards, 1998; Brush & Saye, 2000). Other researchers have suggested that constructivist strategies exploit technologies for greatest impact in learning (e.g., Duffy & Cunningham, 1996). A complementary relationship appears to exist between computer technologies and constructivism, the implementation of each one benefiting the other.

Constructivism, derived mainly from the works of Piaget (1970), Bruner (1962, 1979), Vygotsky (1962, 1978), and Papert (1980, 1983), is both a philosophical and psychological approach based on social cognitivism that assumes that persons, behaviors and environments interact in reciprocal fashion (Schunk, 2000). Constructivism is a doctrine stating that learning takes place in contexts, and that learners form or construct much of what they learn and understand as a function of their experiences in situation (Schunk, 2000). More recently, researchers (e.g., Lave, 1990; Saxe, Guberman & Gearheart, 1987) have presented more qualitative documentation of learning in context.

Technology, according to Jonassen, Peck, and Wilson (1999) refers to “the designs and environments that engage learners” (p. 12). The focus of both constructivism and technology are then on the creation of learning environments. Likewise, Hannfin and Hill (2002) depict these learning environments as contexts:

in which knowledge-building tools (affordances) and the means to create and manipulate artifacts of understanding are provided, not one in which concepts are explicitly taught… a place where learners work together and support each other as they use a variety of tools and learning resources in their pursuit of learning goals and problem-solving activities (p.77).

The purpose of this paper is to review the research on the integration of technology in the classroom, highlighting the connection between constructivism and technology. The focus is on the constructivist view of learning as an active process of constructing rather than acquiring knowledge, and instruction as a process that supports construction rather than communicating knowledge. The review is followed by a series of case studies, emphasizing constructivism and technology’s relationship. Finally, implications for teachers and teacher educators are presented.

Review of Related Literature

In order to understand learning within a constructivist framework, as an activity in context, the whole learning environment must be examined. However, the wide diversity of constructivist views makes the task very complex and beyond the scope of this paper. These views commonly emphasize the role of the teacher, the student, and the cultural embeddedness of learning (see e.g., Duffy & Cunningham, 1996; Honebein, Duffy, & Fishman, 1993; Simons, 1993). Using these commonalities as guidelines, this review outlines the relationship of constructivism with technology by looking at (a) technology as cognitive tools, (b) constructive view of the thinking process, and (c) the role of the teacher in technology enhanced environments.

Technology as Cognitive Tools

A central assumption of constructivism is that learning is mediated by tools and signs (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996; Ezell & O’Keeffe, 1994). “Culture creates the tool, but the tool changes the culture. Participants in the culture appropriate these tools from their culture to meet their goals, and thereby transform their participation in the culture” (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996, p. 180). The computer is an exemplar of mediational means that has aspects of both tool and sign. The computer’s role in education has been largely viewed as an instructional tool and for providing a richer and more exciting learning environment (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996; Jonassen & Reeves, 1996; Taylor, 1980). However, by focusing on the learner, the role of technology can support new understandings and capabilities, thus, offering a cognitive tool to support cognitive and metacognitive processes. For example, an electronic exchange program between students of a class in the U.S. with a similar classroom in Northern Ireland shared multiple cultural perspectives through pictures, stories, letters and multimedia programs (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996). The experience was enriching, increasing their understanding.

Further, clarifying the role of technology in learning, Duffy and Cunningham (1996) state:

Technology is seen as an integral part of the cognitive activity….This view of distributed cognition significantly impacts how we think of the role of technology in education and training, the focus is not on the individual in isolation and what he or she knows, but on the activity in the environment. It is the activity – focused and contextualized- that is central… The process of construction is directed towards creating a world that makes sense to us, that is adequate for our everyday functioning (pp. 187-188).

Thus, the task of the learner is seen as dynamic, and the computer makes available new learning opportunities.

The view of technology as cognitive tools is also shared by other researchers (e.g., Jonassen, 1994; Jonassen & Reeves, 1996; Lajoie, 2000). The traditional view of instructional technologies of instruction as conveyors of information and communicators of knowledge is supplanted with active role the learner plays in learning with technology. Technologies, primarily computers, help build knowledge bases, which will “engage the learners more and result in more meaningful and transferable knowledge… Learners function as designers using the technology as tools for analyzing the world, accessing information, interpreting and organizing their personal knowledge, and representing what they know to others” (Jonassen, 1994, p. 2). Technological tools such as spreadsheets, databases, expert systems, video conferencing and others can be used by students to analyze subject matter, develop representative mental models, and then transcribe them into knowledge bases (Jonassen, 1994; Jonassen & Carr, 2000; Jonassen & Reeves, 1996).

An illustration is the development of simulated microworlds and games by children using Logo programming. Logo programming has evolved since the early text-based medium conceived by Seymour Papert and his team at MIT in the 1970’s, to a considerably easy, digitized format. Kafai, Ching, and Marshall (1997) gave an introductory training program to fifth and sixth grade students one week before the design projects. The Logo version included support for modern computer features like multimedia, sprite animation, sounds, movies, and paint tools. According to Kafai and her colleagues (1997), the multimedia software proved to be a good context for students to learn through collaboration and project management. The interaction between team members, the flow of ideas and loud thinking encouraged the children to experiment and find alternative ways for designing and solving problems. For example, the students worked on different characters individually, but then worked together to integrate all the characters, and in debugging (Kafai et al., 1997).

Cognitive tools do not preclude the use of computers to increase productivity for learning. Off-loading repetitive tasks and lower order tasks to cognitive tools frees cognitive resources for deeper thinking (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996; Jonassen, 1999) and reduces errors. According to Swain and Pearson (2001), teachers and students must be educated to use the computer as a productivity tool, as well as a tool for learning, research, networking, collaboration, telecommunications, and problem-solving. Using computers as a productivity tool is one of the six National Educational Technological Standards (NETS) ( for teachers which states that teachers will “use technology to enhance their productivity and professional practices” (Morrison, Lowther, & DeMeulle, 1999).

Constructive view of “Thinking”

The process of thinking in constructivist paradigms requires higher-order skills, delving deeper and harder into content and context (Black & McClintock, 1995; Jonassen, n.d.; Manzo, 1998; Swain & Pearson, 2001). Traditional schooling, according to Manzo (1998), actually discourages constructive thinking with goals of transmitting existing knowledge that conflicts with any real attempt to generate new understanding. “Constructivist thinking combines both the critical and creative intellectual processes. It can be practiced by encouraging critical analysis in activities. Schools, teachers and students can be conditioned to veer away from traditional schooling regimen to encourage constructive thinking” (Manzo, 1998, p. 287). Cognitive tools, along with constructivist learning environments, guide and activate cognitive learning strategies and critical thinking (Jonassen, 1994). Cognitive tools help in knowledge construction and not knowledge reproduction. The knowledge constructed by the learners reflects their comprehension and conception of the information. To illustrate, when students build knowledge bases with databases, they need to analyze the content domain and engage in critical thinking.

Black and McClintok (1999) stress the importance of interpretation as being central to cognition and learning. Their design of Study Supported Environments (SSEs) based on constructivist design principles called Interpretation Construction Design (ICON) focused mainly on the interpretive construction of authentic artifacts in the context of rich background materials, and spanning across different fields of study. Their study showed that in addition to learning specific content, students were able to acquire generalizable interpretation and argumentation skills.

For example, in teaching sixth grade ancient history, a program called Archaeotype © was used that presented students with a graphic simulation of an archaeological site. Students who worked collaboratively in groups, had to dig up artifacts through simulation, observe and measure them in simulated laboratories, and finally through a process of interpretation and argumentation, arrived at the understanding of general principles behind what they were doing. In a follow-up evaluation study, it was found that there were significant gains in the interpretative and argumentation skills of students who had participated in the study against a control group (Black & McClintock, 1999).

Reflective thinking, that requires careful deliberation, is also encouraged by constructivists (e.g., Kafai et al., 1997; Swain & Pearson, 2001; Walker, 2000). Metacognition, or the self-monitoring and self-control of the learning process, is emphasized. New knowledge which is composed is added to previous representations, modifying them in the process. This usually requires external scaffolding in the form of people, books, or technologies such as computers. Swain and Pearson (2001) advocate the practice of reflective thinking by teachers to evaluate their technology use. They stress the importance of documentation of reflective thoughts to determine the extent and quality of personal versus instructional uses of technology, organization and implementation of environments and activities. Jonassen (1994) describes technological tools as “intellectual partners” and “powerful catalysts” in the process of learning, “scaffolding the all-important processes of articulation and reflection, which are the foundations of knowledge construction” (p. 5).

The Role of the Teacher in Technology Enhanced Environments

The role of the teacher as a facilitator is seen as most important in a constructivist context (Witfelt, 2000; Richards, 1998). Within a constructivist classroom, the teacher engenders social and intellectual climates, where collaborative and cooperative learning methods are supported. In parallel, technology-enhanced classrooms tap constructivist strategies (Jonassen, 1999), arranging problem-based projects where students actively construct knowledge, linking knew knowledge with previous knowledge.

In non-traditional classrooms such as the open/global classroom (Walker, 2000; Witfelt, 2000), the role and responsibilities of the teacher have changed. The teacher, as an agent, has to constantly update information and technology for making learning authentic and relevant. For example, while developing a course module for teachers and taxonomy for teacher competencies in the use of educational multimedia, Witfelt (2000) observed that it was important to combine several theories such as constructivism, postmodernism, situated intelligence and multiple intelligences. However, the theoretical framework would be constructivist in nature with the teacher assuming the role of the facilitator, providing an environment for spontaneous research, understanding the social and collaborative nature of learning, helping children construct knowledge and initiate problem-based, project-oriented work. With this transition in roles and responsibilities, Witfelt (2000) listed new teacher competencies in constructivist contexts that include supervisor qualifications, supporter and facilitator of students’ work, advisor and subject-matter expert, inspirer and encourager, arbiter at group discussions, critic in mobilizing greater effort when objectives are not being met, and evaluator to improve general learning capacities of students.

Case Studies

After examining the literature on technology integration and constructivist principles, a complementary relationship between technology and learning within a constructivist framework seems sound and advantageous to teachers and learners. To illustrate these principles discretely, exemplary cases are presented that reflect the philosophy established above.

Teacher-trainees at Winthrop University in South Carolina undertook a meaningful technology-based activity to accomplish literacy goals (Richards, 1998). They developed an electronic portfolio around a literacy-related topic, including data, reflections and critical responses, which they shared with their peers and other educators. The infusion of technology was helped by implementing constructivist-based activities, such as collaboration and cooperation in a group, engaging in problem solving and constructing potential solutions to societal dilemmas, and communicating the deeper processing of content and the critical development of literacy skills and strategies (Richards, 1998). Student perceptions were determined through formative and summative assessment methods. Students responded positively toward accomplishment of cooperative and collaborative learning, the technology component functions and the relevance of the activities to future careers in schools. However, they recommended that more time be provided for processing ideas and synthesizing them in the portfolio.

Research conducted at the Open University, U.K. also demonstrated a positive relationship between constructivism and technology integration (Walker, 2000). A distance-learning course was developed keeping in mind the experiential and constructivist perspectives of learning. The purpose was to help students in a distance-learning course learn in better and more effective ways, to be active learners, constructing their own understanding. Assignments and assessments were also oriented towards constructivist goals. Their efforts culminated in a new paradigm of course development. A survey of all the students who completed the course and took the examination revealed that the majority felt that they had improved their learning skills to a considerable extent.

A follow-up survey was undertaken the following year. These findings revealed a high proportion of positive responses to questions regarding the continued use of reflection to improve assignments, based on instructors’ feedback and evaluation criteria. However, students were less positive about their use of reflection in general. These students like those described above (Richards, 1998) struggled with maintaining and using reflection effectively.
Students were not the only beneficiaries of the mixture of constructivist strategies with technology tools. According to Richards (1998) and Walker (2000), the development of course modules based on constructivist practices and the integration of technology were also beneficial to the faculty, as they had to plan and retool to integrate technology so that students could be helped to become more capable and mature learners.

Implications for Practice

These cases have significant implications for teacher educators and teachers. In the area of teacher education, Kim and Sharp (2000) observed that the planning of teachers consistent with constructivist practices was highly variable with most preservice teachers knowing very little about the effective integration of technology in education. Since teachers tend to teach as they were taught, it is essential that both preservice and inservice teachers must be exposed to constructivist-based instruction, which would then facilitate the development of teaching strategies consistent with recent reform movements (Kim & Sharp, 2000). An exposure to constructivist teaching methods and simultaneous multimedia learning experiences influenced the planning of constructivist behaviors and infusion of technology (Kim & Sharp, 2000).

Technology may also influence teacher practice to incorporate constructivist principles. Rakes, Flowers, Casey and Santana (1999) report that as the amount of technology available, the level of technology skills of the teachers, and the use of technology increased, the use of constructivist strategies in the classroom also appeared to increase. “Technology can provide the vehicle for accomplishing constructivist teaching practices” (Rakes et al., 1999, p. 3). So, increasing the skill levels of teachers with regard to computers and providing additional opportunities for teachers to integrate technology into lessons may encourage the use of constructivist behaviors.

Availability, skill level and use may not, however, guarantee purposeful use of technology nor constructivist principles. Rakes et al. (1999) reported many teachers concentrated on the drill and practice type of software, neglecting basic computer skills development, or dealt only with presentation skills and Internet resources. These researchers recommended focusing on staff development and training in technology use and constructivist practices that moved beyond literacy skills to address more thoroughly application and curriculum integration issues.

When addressing the role of the teacher in constructivist paradigms, there should be no misunderstanding regarding the importance of the teacher. Yet, many teachers feel uncomfortable with the lack of a well-defined content and the shift of locus of control to the learners (Brush & Saye, 2000; Duffy & Cunningham, 1996). Creating suitable contexts is not merely providing learners with resources and letting them discover things for themselves, but organizing resources in such a way to engender cognitive dissonances in the minds of the learners, inspiring them to learn how to learn through a process of collaboration and defensible understandings (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996).

As a facilitator of learning, the teacher is not ineffectual and on the sidelines. On the contrary, the teacher is free to use a variety of constructivist strategies, such as coaching, modeling, and scaffolding, to aid each learner (Collins, Brown & Newman, 1990). Scaffolding may include support from other individuals and artifacts, as well as the cultural context and history that the learners bring to the environment. Scaffolding, however, does not mean guiding and teaching a learner toward some well-defined goal but supporting the growth of the learner through cognitive and metacognitive activities (Hannafin, Hill & Land, 1997). Thus, the teacher assumes the role of a coach and ensures mutual understanding of the views of the learner. In using collaborative and cooperative groups, the teacher must be careful in ensuring that they are not just strategies for learning, but means to promote dialogical interchange and reflexivity (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996).

As Morrison, Lowther, and DeMeulle (1999) aptly suggest, “Technology and a constructivist approach need not be at odds with each other. If we change our view of computers from merely a means to deliver instruction to one of a tool to solve problems, then the reform movement can influence the use of technology, and technology can influence the reform of education” (p. 5).


Constructivist views assert that learning is the active process of constructing rather than passively acquiring knowledge, and instruction is the process of supporting the knowledge constructed by the learners rather than the mere communication of knowledge (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996; Honebein, Duffy & Fishman, 1993; Jonassen, 1999;). Truth is determined by the viability of the learners’ understanding in the real world, where viability is culturally determined. The constructivist framework seeks to understand multiple perspectives, and challenges the learners’ thinking (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996; Jonassen, Mayes & McAleese, 1993). It examines the social origins of constructions, whereby it acknowledges learning as a process of acculturation. Thus, the study of social and cultural processes and artifacts becomes a central issue. Context is a dynamic whole including the individual and sociohistorical aspects (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996; Ezell & O’Keefe, 1994). Thinking is always dialogic, connecting minds, either directly or indirectly. The indirect or semiotic means are the signs and tools appropriated from the sociocultural context (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996).

Within this shift in focus from the objectivist to the constructivist context domain, technology can play an integral part in the learning environment (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996). “The richness of the technology permits us to provide a richer and more exciting (entertaining) learning environment… our concern is the new understandings and new capabilities that are possible through the use of technology” (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996, p. 187). By integrating technology with constructivist methods, such as problem-based learning and project-based learning, learners are more responsible for and active in the learning process (Grant, 2002). Additionally, everyday applications, such as word processors and spreadsheets, become powerful instruments for authentic learning. Constructivism offers flexibility to teachers to individualize learning for each student while using technology tools to augment cognitive and metacognitive processes.


Aloka Nanjappa is currently a doctoral candidate, Instructional Design and Technology, Department of Instructional Curriculum and Leadership, University of Memphis, Tennessee. She was Assistant Professor in a college of education, affiliated to the University of Bombay, India, teaching Experimental Psychology, Educational Technology, and Methodology of teaching Mathematics. She has also taught in the K-10 and undergraduate level (Zoology) in India. Aloka was recently awarded the Outstanding ID&T Graduate Student Award by the University of Memphis, Tennessee. Her research interests lie in teacher education with a focus on technology integration in the classroom.

Michael M. Grant is an Assistant Professor at the University of Memphis in the Instructional Design and Technology program within the teacher education department. His most recent research has focused on accommodating individual differences and constructionism. He has worked with both preservice and inservice teachers on integrating technology.


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What does the Literature Say about the Effectiveness of Learner Control in Computer-Assisted Instruction?

What does the Literature Say about the Effectiveness of Learner Control in Computer-Assisted Instruction?

Ellen Lunts
University of Rochester

Each year, a substantial portion of educational institutions’ budgets are allocated to supporting the integration of computers into instruction under the assumption that computers benefit teaching and learning, and can improve student academic performance. Educational research and practice, however, demonstrate that different ways of integrating computer technology and the context in which computers are used have varied effects on student learning. This article explores computer-assisted instruction (CAI), a learning environment that supports a one-on-one interaction between a learner (or several learners) and a computer program. It also demonstrates how the two polar characteristics of CAI, which indicate whether the learner or the program has primary control over the content and direction of instruction–learner control (LC) and program control (PC)–affect instructional delivery and outcomes. While trying to explain the inconsistency of research findings, the article argues that LC theory needs a stronger theoretical framework in order for LC studies to yield more definitive conclusions about the effectiveness of LC and CAI in general.

The Nature of Learner Control

Concerned about the quality of American education, researchers and educators have evaluated existing educational practices and are interested in exploring new instructional methods. Technological advances and the relatively low cost of computers and software make computers a reality for many American classrooms (U.S. Department of Education, 2000). This technology “invasion” raises the issue of how to effectively apply the technological advances in teaching and instruction. Computer-assisted instruction (CAI), the focus of this article, is one of the most common forms of integrating computers into the instructional process. CAI is a learning environment that supports a one-on-one interaction between a learner (or several learners) and a computer program (Hoska, 1993). CAI is frequently used to remediate or advance student knowledge and skills (e.g., “self-learning” and encyclopedic programs; “drill-and-practice” and simulation software) or to entertain them (e.g., computer games) (Schwier & Misanchuk, 1993).

Different types of educational software used in CAI vary, however, in the amount of learner control (LC), the characteristic of a computer program that allows learners to make instructional choices (Filipczak, 1996; Schnackenberg & Hilliard, 1998]. For instance, “drill-and-practice” software usually does not facilitate learners’ initiative and creativity because learners have to do the same types of assignments repeatedly until a targeted skill is mastered. In contrast, some types of simulation software and other types of interactive programs provide a “rich” LC environment. Freedom to modify screen design and test density, to choose or omit specific topics (including control over the amount of instruction), to sequence material, to apply learner advisement strategy (taking a test immediately and omitting a topic review or reviewing first and then taking the test) are all instructional choices or LC options (Chung & Reigeluth, 1992; Large, 1996; Niemiec, Sikorski & Walberg, 1996). Thus, non-linearity and flexibility are distinctive characteristics of LC (Burke, Etnier & Sullivan, 1998; Lawless & Brown, 1997).

While much research has been done to investigate the impact of LC on learning, very little is known about its nature (Chung & Reigeluth, 1992; Milheim & Martin, 1991). According to Zazelenchuk (1997), LC is one of the six ingredients or components of interactive multimedia [1], programmed web-based features that adequately respond to students’ inquiries. Two other researchers, Lawless and Brown (1997), emphasize that LC is only one of the types of control in CAI. In particular, they distinguish two types of control–external (program control or PC) and internal (learner control or LC)–and refer to the former as the specific limits set by a multimedia computer program with which all users have to deal.

It is commonly accepted in the field that there are no completely intelligent computer programs (El-Tigi & Branch, 1997; Gilbert & Moore, 1998; James, 1998; Kirsh, 1997) or, in other words, none of the existing computer programs gives full LC to its users. All computer programs that are currently available on the market integrate elements of both LC and PC. Thus, computer programs differ only in the types and amount of LC they utilize (Hannafin, 1989; Reeves, 1993).

In this regard, it appears important to examine whether LC is beneficial for students, especially for their academic performance and motivation, and in what amount. To answer these questions, the researcher consulted an extensive number of resources devoted to LC. Because technological advances opened new horizons in LC and because “LC hardly seems a fixed or static idea” (Niemiec, Sikorski & Walberg, 1996, p. 157), this article relies on the most recent LC literature to examine the major attributes of the LC concept and LC research findings.

Analysis of Research Findings: Do Students Benefit from LC?

Formal research of LC started at the end of the 1950’s and has generated a large body of work. Developmental and cognitive psychologists, instructional technologists, and educators have studied LC in a variety of learning environments such as presentation, collaborative and navigation settings (Chung & Reigeluth, 1992), and with different populations: secondary school students (Burke, Etnier & Sullivan, 1998; Rubincam & Olivier, 1985), college students (Becker & Dwyer, 1994; Crooks, Klein, Jones & Dwyer, 1996; Murphy & Davidson, 1991; Schnackenberg & Sullivan, 2000) and adults (Shute, Gawlick & Gluck, 1998]. However, only some of these studies (e.g., Chung & Reigeluth, 1992; Crooks et al., 1996; Friend & Cole, 1990; Milheim & Martin, 1991; Schnackenberg & Sullivan, 2000) controlled for specific LC components/variables (content, sequence, pacing, internal processing, advisory). In addition, a few other studies, including one by Cho (1995), merely focused on comparing LC instructional approaches with traditional teaching approaches.

Generally, research indicates that LC may be an excellent tool for adapting a learning environment to students’ needs (e.g., Friend & Cole, 1990), that LC can empower learners (Schweier, 1993), and that students whose learning style preferences were matched by a computer or a teacher achieved higher test scores, had better understanding, retained their knowledge and skills longer and were highly motivated to succeed (Friend & Cole, 1990; Schnackenberg & Hilliard, 1998; Spoon & Shell, 1998]. These optimistic findings should, however, be interpreted with caution. LC is not uniform; its three major components–content, sequence and advisory control–vary in their effects on student performance and motivation.

Content Control

Content control may benefit students in multiple ways. For example, Chung and Reigeluth (1992) discern that content control enables students to set their own learning objectives. They emphasize that students with advanced knowledge or greater ability may be bored with repeating what they have already mastered, and that these students benefit more if they are allowed to choose content that is relatively new and appealing to them. Students who need some extra time to work on a topic or need to review previous topics can also find content control useful because it allows learners to establish better connections between relevant topics (Chung & Reigeluth, 1992). Thus, one of the major advantages of content control is that it supports on-demand, self-paced learning.

LC literature identifies two primary approaches to integrating content control in multimedia instruction: full-minus and lean-plus types of control. In the former approach, a computer program allows students to bypass some topics, while in the latter, a program initially offers few topics but learners have the opportunity to add some or all “optional” topics (Crooks et al., 1996). In Crooks et al.’s (1996) and Schnackenberg and Sullivan’s (2000) studies, full-minus and lean-plus types of control were compared with regard to their effect on student test scores and task engagement (motivation).

In Crooks et al.’s study (1996), 128 undergraduate education major students were randomly assigned to one of the four groups based on a 2 x 2 cross-factorial design. The groups varied in instructional methods (cooperative and individual) and two approaches to LC (full-minus and lean-plus). The two major findings of that study were that lean-plus students utilized more LC than their full-minus counterparts (while lean-plus students selected 56% of the optional elements, full-minus participants bypassed only 17% of optional elements) and that full-minus learners performed significantly better on a practice test than lean-plus learners. However, students’ post-test scores were not found to be statistically significantly different for either LC mode or instructional method. Also, the study did not discern which of the two LC approaches benefited students more in the long run.

Schnackenberg and Sullivan (2000) also used a randomized 2 x 2 factorial design with two conditions (LC, PC) and two instructional models (full, lean). In their study, 202 college students who used a full-minus program performed significantly better on the post-test than those who used a lean-plus program. Like Crooks et al. (1996), they found that LC promotes the exploration of more optional screens. In Schnackenberg and Sullivan’s (2000) study, lean-plus learners explored 68% of the optional screens and full-minus learners viewed only 35% of them. Their study also revealed that students valued more LC than PC.

Sequence Control

Sequencing is a very common type of LC, especially for multimedia programs. Sequence control allows learners to navigate/choose in what order they prefer to study subtopics, and therefore it may be perceived as promoting flexible and inventive thinking and supportive of students’ intrinsic interest for a subject they study (Cho, 1995). Empirical research provides, however, mixed findings with regard of sequence control affecting student learning. In Gray’s (1988] study, for example, while learners who used multimedia with a high level of the sequence LC performed better than those who used more PC multimedia with a low level of sequencing, their knowledge retention was virtually the same. Furthermore, students from the LC group showed a more negative attitude toward CAI than those from a control group. In Burke, Etnier and Sullivan’s (1998] research, study participants–89 5th grade students who were randomly assigned to one of the following conditions: navigation aids with LC, navigation aids without LC, LC without navigation aids and PC without navigation aids–also preferred moderate amounts of sequential control. More particularly, their study demonstrated that students favored more the program that enabled them with LC and provided navigation aid. The researchers did not find any statistically significant difference in post-test scores and the time spent for instruction for these four experimental groups.
These two studies demonstrate that student knowledge retention and time on task (in this case, time spent on using a computer program) are not affected by sequence LC, and that better post-test scores or attitudes toward CAI associate with modest amounts of sequence control in CAI.

Advisory Control

Two distinct approaches exist for defining advisory control. According to Niemic, Sikorski and Walberg (1996), advisory control means that a program advises students of their progress and suggests a course of action, which may be adopted or ignored by learners. Murphy and Davidson (1991) used this definition for their study in which 44 nursing students were randomly assigned to one of the following conditions: LC, adaptive LC strategy (in their paper, adaptive LC was defined as PC) and learner advisement strategy. The study indicated that students who used LC strategy spent less time to complete their instruction. However, no significant difference was found in the immediate recall, intermediate and long-term retention of the concepts that were studied by the students.

Rubincam and Olivier (1985) offered a different interpretation of the advisory control concept. They perceived advisory control as an option for learners to select learning objectives and to start from instruction or a test. For their study, Rubincam and Olivier chose six classes of high school students who were taking a mathematics course on coordinates and transformation. The results of the post-test did not provide evidence for LC improving student performance in CAI. However, students who were consistent in selecting the strategy scored significantly higher than other students.

Although both studies demonstrated that students who use advisory control needed less time to complete instruction, they did not confirm that students under advisory control performed better or have better retention. The personal characteristics of students may perhaps predict higher test scores better than LC conditions.

LC and Students’ Academic Performance and Motivation: Is there any Effect?

Academic Performance

The dispute on the effectiveness of LC to improve academic performance (mainly test scores) has not been settled. Indeed, there is some evidence that CAI has a positive impact on students’ academic performance. For example, Schacter (1999) disclosed the findings of Kulik’s (1994) meta-analysis of 500 studies on CAI. Kulik found that the test scores of students who used CAI were at the 64th percentile compared to the 50th percentile for students who did not use computers in the classroom and that CAI allowed students to learn more in less time.

Since LC is only one of the many attributes associated with CAI, it is unjustified to conclude that LC has a positive impact on students’ academic achievement. This conclusion can be warranted only if shown that LC consistently improves students’ scores. The studies reviewed in this article do not show this consistency. While the studies conducted by Crooks et al. (1996), Burke, Etnier and Sullivan (1998], and Rubincam and Olivier (1985) did not find any influence on the post-test performance of students, Schnackenberg and Sullivan (2000) and Gray (1988] indicated students’ post-test scores significantly improved. Thus, the impact of LC on students’ academic performance is not as clear.

Motivation and Attitude toward Learning

In 1998, Silivan-Kachala used 219 research studies on CAI for a meta-analysis. The meta-analysis revealed that CAI improved students’ attitudes toward learning and their self-conceptions (cited in Schacter, 1999). Again, this fact does not allow us to generalize that LC itself motivates students. Perhaps, the increase in motivation and the improvement of self-conception are caused by other factors associated with CAI, not with LC. Therefore, it is important to examine whether other studies were able to detect shifts in motivation and attitude toward learning in LC environments.

Becker and Dwyer’s (1994) study investigated the impact of increased LC on students’ intrinsic motivation for a learning task. The participants of the study, 44 students majoring in accounting, management, or in both completed two self-paced sessions in which they used two multimedia programs. The multimedia programs allowed learners to choose their own paths. The study found that students who used hypertext programs were more self-determined and their intrinsic motivation was higher than those students who used paper-based resources to study.

In contrast, Cho’s (1995) study, in which 20 undergraduate students used a HyperCard environment, found no overall difference in cognitive processes between students in LC and PC groups. Moreover, it also confirmed the hypothesis that multimedia materials embedded with a high degree of LC could be inappropriate for low ability students.
Thus, the analysis signifies that there is no consistency in the way LC influences students’ motivation and attitudes toward learning. Generally spoken, the studies can be divided into three groups: those that did not find any effect of LC on students’ motivation and attitudes toward learning (e.g., Cho, 1995), those that found a positive effect (Becker & Dwyer, 1994), and those that found a negative effect (e.g., Gray, 1988].

One may argue that for this literature review, the author purposely chose controversial studies but, in reality, the studies that showed a positive effect of LC on all sorts of learning outcomes outnumber other studies. Indeed, many researchers who report their studies tend to review only those studies that show a positive effect of LC, but many of them then fail to replicate the results (e.g., Shute, Gawlick & Gluck, 1998]. In fact, in a meta-analysis Niemiec, Sikorski & Walberg (1996) summarized 24 studies of LC which had all of the necessary parameters reported. The studies were grouped according to subjects’ gender, grade level, ability, type of LC (e.g., sequencing, pacing, reviewing, feedback, additional instruction and practice), and type of outcome (e.g., post-test, retention). However, neither of these categories had an overall positive significance at the .05 level. Thus, the research studies on LC fail to confirm or disconfirm anything. Consequently, there are no right answers on whether LC is beneficial for students and whether a higher degree of LC implied in a computer program improves instructional effectiveness.

Explaining the Inconsistency of LC Research Findings

Analysis of the literature has revealed that the theory of LC is unfinished (Large, 1996), and that research findings are controversial. Becker & Dwyer (1994, p. 169) discerned three possible explanations of why so many studies failed to find positive effects of LC. They stressed that LC is often presented to students improperly, and therefore is not helpful to them; that some students do not realize that they have LC available to them; and that students may not know how to take advantage of LC options. For instance, Chung & Reigeluth (1992) recognized that LC of content is unsuitable when all topics of instructional presentation are required in order to successfully pass the final test, or when the sequence in which material is learned is important to understanding the entire topic. They also did not recommend the use of sequence control for topics in which learners have no prior knowledge. As Large (1996, p. 104) stated, “while some students may gain educational benefit from this freedom, others may suffer as a consequence of being handed such control over their learning”. Lawless and Brown (1997) also found student prior knowledge influencing the effectiveness of LC. They argued that “all students appear to benefit from LC opportunities, but those with higher content domain experience and/or ability may benefit the greater” (p. 120).

An excessive targeting of younger and inexperienced learners is one of the drawbacks of empirical studies on LC. Research suggests that the age of participants may relate with how LC affects instructional outcomes. In fact, slightly more research shows a negative effect of LC when it is utilized in teaching elementary students as opposed to older students and adults (Large, 1996). Perhaps younger learners cannot adequately respond to LC because their developmental level is not ready to comprehend LC features. Large (1996) referred to the study by Hannafin (1984) who reported that younger and inexperienced learners often lack focus and are distracted from learning objectives and that LC impedes rather than improves their learning outcomes.

Many studies on LC were done under the assumption that the positive effect of LC is so obvious and powerful that even a brief experience with LC in CAI will benefit learners. Reeves (1993) condemned researchers for designing studies in which students worked under LC conditions for less than an hour, and for choosing classrooms in which LC and CAI were not common attributes of instruction.

Another reason why LC research is so severely criticized in the literature (e.g., Reeves, 1993) is that LC theory has problems defining and measuring LC. Currently, no valid and reliable instruments exist to assess the quantity and quality of LC (Goforth, 1994). If researchers had such instruments, they would be able to create a scale of the effects associated with various levels and types of LC. Indeed, all existing studies on LC have failed to control for quantity of LC. As argued by Reeves (1993), learners are not ready to absorb any level of LC. In fact, he and others found anecdotal evidence indicating that the need for LC varied for novices and experts in the subject matter, for inexperienced and advanced computer users and for students with different learning potentials. It was also found that students’ personalities also affect the amount of LC they are able to absorb and benefit from (Barnard, 1992-93; Chung & Reigeluth, 1992; Friend & Cole, 1990; Goforth, 1994; Schwier, 1993).

As noted by Large (1996), learners are not homogeneous; their personal characteristics, prior knowledge, abilities, needs and goals are unique. Since the “effectiveness of LC in any study is particularly dependent on the profile of the learner population….” (Goforth, 1994, p. 1), “failure to match the learners’ preferences with the type of LC which [students] were given” (Burke, Etnier & Sullivan, 1998, p. 193) may explain the inability of LC research to validate the effectiveness of LC.

Implications for future research and practice

The analysis of the existing literature about LC does not confirm that LC is beneficial for students and that a higher degree of LC implied in a computer program improves instructional effectiveness. The research findings range from the strong positive effect of LC to no effect or even a negative effect on learning outcomes, students’ academic achievement and motivation. Contradictory findings were found for all of the three components of LC that were examined: content, sequence, and advisory controls.

The large variability of conditions in which studies were conducted makes the research findings difficult to compare (Goforth, 1994; Schacter, 1999). Study design (e.g., the length of intervention, control of independent variables), personal characteristics of students (e.g., age, ability, computer expertise), the subject area and other specifics of CAI, and the most important, researchers’ theoretical standpoints with respect to how they define LC and its components, are all factors that have to be considered when analyzing studies on LC and its effectiveness on student learning.

LC should certainly be investigated further, but a stronger theoretical framework is needed in order for LC research to yield more meaningful conclusions about the effectiveness of LC. Perhaps, LC is not as effective as we would like. Moreover, it is more costly to design and implement LC than PC (Schnackenberg & Sullivan, 2000). However, if we determine the ideal conditions for implementing LC, we can discover that LC is cost effective. Until then, implementing LC in CAI should be done with some caution, but not at the cost of limiting the use of LC to those unimportant components of instruction that have little effect on instructional outcomes (Schwier, 1993). As indicated by Chung and Reigeluth (1992), “all instruction involves some LC, [and] our challenge is NOT whether or not learner control should be used, BUT rather how to maximize the learner’s ability to use the LC available and to decide what kinds of LC to make available” (p. 19, original emphasis).

While developing stronger theoretical grounds for LC and conducting other studies in this area may take some time, it is also understood that those who use CAI in their teaching need immediate advice on how to use LC more effectively. The literature on LC does not provide a magic formula for that, but gives several recommendations. Perhaps one of the major conditions for the successful integration of LC in CAI is to have instruction carefully pre-planned (Burke, Etnier & Sullivan, 1998]. According to Hannafin (1984), several conditions should be present in order for LC to have a greater chance for success: “the learners are older; the learners are more able; the educational objective is to impart a higher order of skills rather than factual information; the content is familiar, advisement is provided to assist learners in making decisions; learner control is used consistently within a lesson; it is possible to switch unsuccessful learners from LC to PC; and LC is combined with evaluation to facilitate the re-design of the program based on the paths chosen by effective learners” (cited in Large, 1996, p. 103). Finally, educators should recognize that students need to be taught to take advantage of LC that is implemented systematically in conditions that are natural and friendly for learners, in order for LC to promote better instructional outcomes.


Ellen Lunts is a Ph. D. candidate in Teaching and Curriculum at the University of Rochester. Her research focuses on telecommunication technology, secondary mathematics education and parental involvement. The dissertation she is completing is entitled “Math teachers’ perceptions and practices of using their class web sites to support parental involvement and instruction.” Ellen has also studied and taught mathematics and educational technology in Russia


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[1] The other five components of interactivity are active learning environment, feedback,
multiple media, learner response option, and adaptability.


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