HOW TEACHERS’ BELIEFS ABOUT TEACHING AND LEARNING ARE REFLECTED IN THEIR USE OF TECHNOLOGY:

CASE STUDIES FROM URBAN MIDDLE SCHOOLS

by

Kathleen L. Fulton

Thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the

University of Maryland, College Park in partial fulfillment

of the requirements for the degree of

Master of Arts

1999

 

 

 

Advisory Committee:

Professor Judith Torney-Purta, Chair

Professor Patricia Alexander

Assistant Professor Allison J. Druin

ABSTRACT

 

Title of Theses: HOW TEACHERS’ BELIEFS ABOUT TEACHING AND LEARNING ARE REFLECTED IN THEIR USE OF TECHNOLOGY: CASE STUDIES FROM URBAN MIDDLE SCHOOLS

Degree candidate: Kathleen L. Fulton

Degree and year: Master of Arts, 1999

Thesis directed by: Professor Judith Torney-Purta

Education and Human Development

 

 

This thesis investigates how the pedagogical beliefs of teachers are reflected in the ways they use technology in their teaching. Participants were 36 teachers from five middle schools in Baltimore, Maryland. All were participants in the Maryland Electronic Learning Community, (MELC) project, a five-year Technology Innovation Challenge Grant project supported by the U.S. Department of Education. Project teachers were asked to complete a survey on teaching philosophies, best practices, goals for and uses of technology. Respondents were ranked from "high constructivist/technology using teachers" to "low constructivist/technology using teachers." Five teachers representing a range of rankings were selected for case study analysis. Using a structured interview protocol, each case study teacher was interviewed.

Results suggest that technology use did match teaching beliefs. Teachers with constructivist teaching beliefs adopted technology for a learner-centered teaching style, while those with more traditional (non-constructivist) teaching beliefs used technology in a more teacher-centered transmission style. Teachers said that technology has not changed their pedagogical beliefs, but the opportunities they have had to work in this learning community also affected teaching practice.

The findings have implications for the MELC project as well as policies related to preparation of new teachers, professional development for current teachers, and support given to all teachers as they seek to use technology in ways that have the greatest value for them in their classrooms.

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

List of figures and tables

Introduction

Research Context

Literature on technology use in the classroom

Literature on teacher change

Literature on learning theory and technology’s role

The intersection between beliefs and technology use

Research Questions

Methodology

Research Site

Context of the MELC Project

Research Setting

Research Participants

Research Instruments

Survey Instrument

Interview Instrument

Procedure

Development of Research Instruments

Distribution and Collection of Surveys

Overview of Analysis

Factor Analysis

Ranking

Selection of Cases

Interview Procedure

Cross-case Thematic Analysis

Results

Case Profiles

Case 1: Wendy: A Teacher Turned On by Technology

Case 2: Ann : Innovation and Technology Go Hand in Hand

Case 3: Pat : A Teacher In Transition

Case 4: Mike: A New Teacher Learning it All

Case 5: Rob: A Traditional Teacher

Cross-case Analysis

Teaching Beliefs and Practice

Curriculum

Teacher Role

Student Role

Focus and Classroom Organization

How Technology Supports Beliefs

Teaching IS Changing

Doing Different Things in the Classroom

Adding New and Up-to-Date Resources to the Curriculum

Differing Approaches to Technology Use Reflect Teaching Style

A Shared Belief: Technology Use Motivates Students

Factors and Conditions that Supported or Hindered Moving Beliefs into Practice

School and Administrative Support

Support from the MELC Project

Major Influences the Teachers’ Beliefs about Teaching, Learning and Technology

Teacher preparation and prior teaching experience

Modeling in MELC

DISCUSSION

Curriculum Content

Teacher and Student Roles

Classroom Focus and Organization

Theories for Change

Possible Threats to Validity

Role of the Researcher

Key Informant Bias

Reluctance to Participate in the Study

Technology Design and Instability

Implications

Questions for Further Research

Concluding Comments

Appendix A: INTERVIEW PROTOCOL

Appendix b: TEACHER SURVEY

References

 

List of figures and tables

Figure 1: Research Focus 21

Table 1: Factor Analysis 33

Table 2: Ranking of Teachers on Sum of Three Subscores 36

Table 3: Summary of Case Study Subjects 38

Table 4: Summary of Teacher Beliefs and Practices 41

Table 5: Elements of Constructivist vs. Non-Constructivist Teaching 60

 

Introduction

Ever since the introduction of computers in education nearly twenty years ago, educators have expressed high hopes for the potential of technology to bring about improved teaching and learning. Over the ensuing decades, however, results have been mixed. It is estimated that school districts now spend more than $5 billion a year on technology for schools (Archer, 1998). Nevertheless, the amount of actual classroom change has not come anywhere near the expectations of educators who hoped for a revolution in teaching and learning that might equal the sea change created by technology in the daily activities of business, industry, agriculture, entertainment, and all other aspects of American life. There have been many reasons given for limited technological adoption in schools, but collectively they revolve around three key components: access, teacher professional development, and school support. (Hawkins, 1996; Means & Olsen, 1995; OTA,1995; PCAST, 1997).

Impatient with the inability of schools to avail themselves of the tools of the information age, the news media have increasingly questioned the very premise of educators’ goals for technology, lambasting the hype over technology in schools as "silicon snake oil" (Stoll, 1996) and "the computer delusion" (Oppenheimer, 1997). While this concern for accountability is understandable, given the large investments schools have made in technology and the exaggerated promises of technophiles, one of the most unfortunate results has been teacher-bashing, blaming the teachers for not embracing educational technology more enthusiastically, or using it more creatively.

Clearly this focus on teachers has also had some positive outcomes, one of which has been to bring to light a better understanding of the factors affecting teachers’ use of technology (Means & Olson, 1995; OTA, 1995; Schofield, 1995; Sheingold & Hadley, 1990). Nonetheless, the result of much of this analysis, with its focus on external conditions, has led to an emphasis on "quick fix" solutions and/or long-term systemic changes in teaching conditions. Thus, policies support a variety of approaches including:

These policies are valid, appropriate, and necessary components of a systematic approach to change, but they may not be sufficient for the transformation in teaching that many seek.

What has been given far less attention are deeper factors embedded in the heart of the classroom, that is, the role of teachers’ views of learning and pedagogical beliefs, and how these beliefs affect the ways technology is used in the classroom. Although it has long been understood that the beliefs teachers hold about learning form a framework for how and why they adopt new content, programs, and ways of teaching (Cuban, 1993; Fullan, 1982, 1991; Loucks-Horsley & Steigelbauer, 1991), this attention to belief structures has been given far less study relative to the adoption of new technologies.

This research study brings together the interlocking issues of teachers’ beliefs about teaching and learning, how these beliefs shape their views of best uses of technology, and the ways these beliefs are carried out in actual classroom activities. It first presents the research context, describing the existing literature in the three areas of concern: theories of teacher change and adoption of innovation, learning theories and their reflection in various approaches to the use of technology, and research on how teachers use technology. This review sets the context for the study, describing how prior research, experience, and theory have led to the focus on this set of research questions. The introduction to the study describes the research goals, the major questions that form the basis of this research, and the researcher’s role. The methodology section describes the research site, the project on which it is based, the basis for sample selection, the data collection and data analysis. In the findings section, results of survey analysis and case study interviews are reported. A summary of each case is presented, along with a cross-case analysis. The discussion section analyzes what was found as well as potential validity issues. The study concludes with implications for the project as well as broader implications for the field, including suggested areas of further research.

Research Context

Literature on technology use in the classroom

Technology adoption in classrooms around the nation is like a glass of water that is half filled. Some say it is half full; others, half empty. Those who take the optimistic viewpoint cite the dramatic jump in technology in schools. For example, national surveys of technology use in schools report that the student: computer ratio was 125:1 in 1984, whereas today this ratio has fallen to just six students for every computer. In middle schools, the educational level that is the basis for this study, this figure is even lower, 5.2 students for every computer (Becker, 1998). In a move that has major implications for classroom teaching, a growing percentage of school computers are found not in computer laboratories, as was once the practice, but in classrooms, where teachers and students have regular access to them. Nationally, 43% of school computers are located in computer labs, as compared to 48% in classrooms. Again, this data vary slightly for middle schools, where 40% of computers are located in classrooms. (Becker, 1998).

Furthermore, in the last three years, schools have been wired for telecommunications access in dramatic numbers. As of fall 1998, 90% of schools had Internet access, and 39% of teachers had access to the Internet in their own classrooms (Becker, 1998). In just the last year, the number of computers in the U.S. schools increased 13%, totaling approximately six million computers in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools today (CEO Forum, 1999).

Those who take the darker view of a glass half empty cite what may be more telling data--the limited amount that this technology is used in most classrooms. A 1999 national survey conducted by Education Week found that 40% of teachers report that their students do not use technology at all during a typical week in the classes they teach. Another 30% said their students use computers for an average of just one hour a week (Trotter, 1999). The kind of usage found to be the predominate ways of using technology in the early 90s—for drill and practice, games, or word-processing (Becker, 1994)—has not altered significantly in recent years (Education Week, 1998). This approach to computer use is disappointing to those who see the potential power of technology as a means for students to develop higher order thinking skills and deeper conceptual understanding. (Dede & Loftin, 1994). But, it is not surprising to those who agree with Mandinach and Cline (1998) who stated that "little progress has been made in the past five years toward the practical, widespread implementation of technology in classroom settings" (p. 13).

Literature on teacher change

Researchers who study school change are not surprised to see that teachers have not embraced technology in more than a cursory fashion (Cuban, 1986, 1993; Fullan, 1982; Olson, 1995; Tyack & Cuban, 1995). The prime proponent of this "plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose" viewpoint is Cuban. In his classic study How Teachers Taught, (1993) covering the history of teaching and learning in everyday classrooms over the last century, Cuban found that little fundamental change has occurred, despite multiple and varied reform efforts that sought to move the dominant paradigm from teacher-centered to student-centered classrooms.

As a way to understand the dominant pattern of what Cuban called "constancy over change" (p. 20) he cited several possible explanations (pp. 248-256):

Ultimately, Cuban suggests, "The knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes that teachers have… shape what they choose to do in their classrooms and explain the core of instructional practices that have endured over time." (Cuban, 1993, p. 256).

Cuban maintains that, taken together, these professional norms have a conservative impact, inhibiting long-term change in schools. Furthermore, he suggests that the best intentions of progressive educators and even change-minded teachers are blocked by what he refers to as " situational-constrained choices"- –both inner beliefs and external forces as prosaic as blackboards at the front of the room and desks bolted into the floor or placed in rows facing the teacher-- that define and support a teacher-centered learning environment. Cuban asserts that these forces have always mitigated against fundamental change from teacher-centered to student-centered classrooms. Despite the fervent and often highly acclaimed efforts of reformers--from the mid1800s with Shelton’s "object teaching" (Cuban, 1993, p.39) built around a child’s experience, the later 19th Century school design of Francis Parker, reflecting his belief that "the child is the center of all education" (Cuban, 1993, p 40) and the radical 20th Century child-centered approaches of Dewey’s laboratory school—to today’s reform efforts, student-centered instruction has never, according to Cuban, taken a lasting hold in American education.(Cuban, 1993).

Fullan (1982, 1991) takes a similar view. He states that no real change will occur in schools without substantial change in practice, including "(1)…new or revised materials….(2)…. new teaching approaches…and (3) the possible alteration of beliefs (e.g., pedagogical assumptions and theories underlying particular new practices or programs)" (Fullan, 1982, p. 30). He maintains that these altered practices are the means of change when adopted together, but a teacher may adopt one of these dimensions (e.g., new materials) without a change in one of the other areas (e.g., teaching beliefs).

Cuban (1986) extends his theory about forces that mitigate against significant change in practice in his briefer review Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920. In this work he suggests that, despite the hype and hope around bringing about educational change with films, radio, and now computers, the same situationally-constrained choices that blocked past progressive educational efforts also mitigate against adoption of technology to support fundamental changes in teaching. He concludes that teachers will continue to go slowly and, at best, "tinker" with technology, rather than use it in ways that change classroom practice in any substantial way. In a later review of school reform efforts over the last century, Tyack and Cuban (1995) use this term "tinkering" to reflect a positive means of "preserving what is valuable and reworking what is not" (p. 5). Olson (1995), reviewing research on information technology and the process of change, supports this view, noting that when teachers change their classroom practice they are moving to the edge of their "comfort zone," and threatening the classroom "ethos" they have established (p. 55).

 

Literature on learning theory and technology’s role

Cuban’s views are perhaps the most widely quoted in this field, but are limiting in that they do not explore in depth the underlying beliefs and learning theories that form the conceptual frameworks for teacher-centered versus student-centered classrooms. Nor do they take into account the design principles around which educational technologies incorporate various learning theories. This section suggests the way learning theories formed the underpinnings for past technology use, in what has been called a transmission mode of teaching based on behaviorist learning theory. It goes on to describe what are generally considered "constructivist" approaches to teaching, with roots in situated cognition and a theoretical framework in which the social context is considered a key component of building understanding.

The teacher-centered classroom is a central element of a transmission or behaviorist approach to teaching and learning. Behaviorist learning theory is built on a stimulus response model in which desired responses are rewarded and thereby reinforced, leading to their repetition. The rationale behind this approach is that "automaticity" of response can be created through learning lower level skills in an automatic fashion, creating a base on which more complex skills are developed. (Merrill, Tolman, Christensen, Hammons, Vincent, & Reynolds, 1996). When applied to instruction, this theory suggests that complex academic skills are developed through the acquisition of simpler component skills which are sequentially combined (Greeno, 1998). Educational content is learned in an organized fashion, presented or delivered step by step. This "programmed instruction" was first presented in pencil and paper formats, but with the introduction of computers it became possible to mechanize these small pieces of instruction, in a programmed delivery format that became known as computer assisted instruction or CAI (Spencer, 1988).

This model of instruction, found in software packages incorporating CAI principles, as well as the more extensive integrated learning systems (ILS) with their staged, segmented, linear delivery of instruction, is not difficult for teachers to blend with the methods of instruction they typically use without computers. It fits with the transmission model of teaching and learning that is familiar to teachers as the way they themselves were taught in school, a pedagogy in which "teaching is telling and learning is listening" (Riel & Fulton, 1998, p. 5). Teacher, textbook, and computer all serve as transmission vehicles, delivering bits and pieces of information sequentially, which a student stores until a response is required (Fulton, 1998).

Computer assisted instruction offers teachers the opportunity to use computers as electronic worksheets, but these "superworksheets" provide immediate feedback to the learner, with the added benefit that the grading is done by the machine, not the teacher. Furthermore, CAI programs can be individualized and adjusted, often automatically, for the individual student and his or her progress, and correlated to content and question formats matching those on the district and state achievement tests that have become a major force around which much of today’s classroom teaching is directed.

This epistemological framework fits under what has also been called "the objectivist tradition," a framework for instruction and instructional design in which meaning is seen to exist separate from experience. This theory leads to educational goals around assuring that learners acquire a common knowledge base made up of "entities, properties, and relations" that make up the common structure of the world (Duffy & Jonassen, 1992, p. 2). In this framework, mastery of learning means that one has "acquired the basic information and has it available for use"(Duffy & Jonassen, 1992, p.3). Content is clearly defined and highly structured.
With computers, this content can be programmed into the software and provided to the learner in a delivery format in which the computer mimics the transmission delivery model of a teacher. In this model, students learn from the computer, with the computer serving as surrogate teacher.

Constructivist views of learning come out of a differing epistemological framework, and they lead to the promotion of different teaching practices and learning goals, and different ways of using computers to support these goals. Although there are many definitions and flavors of constructivism, the general tenets are built around the idea that learning is "knowledge construction," an active process that is most effective when learners are engaged in producing products that are personally meaningful. (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1992, 1996). Although the term was not then in vogue, Dewey could be labeled an early constructivist, with his view that "education is not an affair of ‘telling’ and being told, but an active and constructive process" (Dewey, 1916, p. 38). Jerome Bruner describes learners as taking on the role of epistemologists who construct ways of knowing and finding things out in active process of engagement with material. He notes that "what the school imposes often fails to enlist the natural energies that sustain spontaneous learning—curiosity, a desire for competence, aspiration to emulate a model, and a deep-sensed commitment to the web of social reciprocity" (Bruner, 1966, p. 127).

In a constructivist framework the goal of instruction is to help students make sense of information and make "plausible interpretations" of things, rather than to assure that individuals "know particular things, as argued by Hirsh (1987)" (Duffy & Jonassen, 1992, p. 7). Constructivist learning theory draws on other theoretical frameworks, including situated cognition, which embraces the concept of an active learner whose learning is situated in the context of the situation, activity, or culture. Situated cognition views conceptual knowledge as similar to a set of tools which take on value only in the ways they are used. (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989). Constructivism also draws from social learning theory and its emphasis on the idea that learning emerges from social interaction mediated by guidance from knowledgeable others and through the use of the tools of the culture (Vygotsky, 1978). Rogoff (1990) describes what she calls cultural apprenticeships, which provide a socially mediated means of constructing understanding by giving beginners access to overt aspects of the procedures, skills, and practices of the culture in a learning situation.

Another key component of constructivist views of knowledge is that understanding occurs best when it has direct relevance for the learner in what he or she values as important problems. Anchored instruction refers to learning that is "anchored" to real applications that make it meaningful to the learners (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1990). In this framework, knowledge and the instruction that precedes it is a means to a valued end, not an end in itself. By focusing on how abstract facts and information take on their meaningfulness by the value they have for the learner, constructivist teaching practice places the learner at the center of the educational process.

How are constructivist theories reflected in the designs of educational computing activities? There are many variations. One of the first applications, focusing on the cognitive construction that occurs individually within a child’s mind, was the development of the LOGO programming language by Seymour Papert. Influenced by the years he spent working with Piaget, with his focus on development as an individual cognitive process of constructing increasingly more complex understanding, Papert called his approach "constructionism". Papert built on Piaget’s views of how children actively construct knowledge as they move through stages of development and cognitive growth, from a concrete operational stage of learning about the world to increasingly abstract understandings as they grow older (Piaget, 1952). Papert and his MIT researchers saw programming with LOGO as a way to channel a child’s construction of understanding. Papert saw computers as objects to think with, tools children could use to make meaning in their world (1980). Teachers who were trained in LOGO were excited by the new dynamic this brought to computer use in their classrooms, for unlike the previous incarnations of computer use in which the computer controlled the child, the child controlled the computer with LOGO.

Other ways that technology has been used to support constructivist approaches to learning involve what has been called "generative learning environments" (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1992, p. 78). The Jasper series is an example of how technology has been applied to support a constructivist model of teaching. The Jasper series is a mathematical and problem-solving curricular tool built around video components that anchor instruction in real-life, meaningful problem tasks. One of the goals of this kind of application is to provide a basis for moving inert knowledge into a framework that makes it possible to use it to solve new problems (Bransford &Vye, 1989; National Research Council, 1999).

In another example, principles of social learning theory and sociocultural theory (Vygotsky, 1978, Wertsch, 1991) have been applied in the development of on-line learning communities. Collaborative communication tools play important roles in shaping a community of thoughts and action, in the social construction found in on-line communities. In projects like TAPPED IN, the Teacher Professional Development Institute (Schlager and Schank, 1997), groups within an on-line community function as an apprenticeship system, in which formal and informal mentors work with novices, providing support, and enabling the novices to gradually acquire and learn the tools of the community so they can participate in high level activity.

Perkins (1992, pp. 46-47) described several ways technologies—defined not as computers but in a broader sense--can be applied to support learning. They include:

Jonassen (2000) has a similar framework. However, his categories for "mindtools" include productivity tools, knowledge-building tools, and information-using tools. He offers a further breakdown:

Some of these tools have been applied in authentic learning environments outside school. For example, the Surgical Intensive Care Unit Nursing (SICUN) model developed by Lajoie, Azevedo, and Fleiszer (1998) helps train nurses to function more effectively in the demanding environment of hospital intensive care units. The SICUN is a computer system that provides a natural apprenticeship setting where novice nurses learn from the knowledge of expert nurses that is captured within the system. Tools like these have formalized the cognitive apprenticeship framework of Collins, Brown, and Newman (1989) by using techniques from information processing theory (e.g., modeling, coaching, fading, scaffolding, and reflection) and embedding them in a system that provides cognitive tools that amplify, extend, and reorganize human mental powers. In this way, learners are helped to construct their own understandings, building on models of how experts make judgments.

The National Science Foundation has supported research and development projects in K-12 settings that build on several of these constructivist learning theories. For example, in the Federally supported science project Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment or GLOBE (http://www.globe.gov), students study topics around research investigations conducted by scientists around the world. Working with the GLOBE scientists by doing data collection, sharing, and analysis brings a real world context to what might otherwise have been seen as abstract scientific facts and theories. The students work with "mindtools" like spreadsheets and databases, measurement (inquiry) tools, concept modeling and systems tools, and synchronous and asynchronous communication tools.

In an evaluation of year two of the GLOBE project implementation (Means, 1997) it was found that teachers were changing practice from traditional to more constructivist activities:

Compared with non-GLOBE students, GLOBE students reported spending more time using a computer, working in a group with other students, and helping other students learn. Students in non-GLOBE science classes reported spending more time learning new words, answering questions from a book or worksheet, and answering questions about what they have learned. (Means et al., 1997, p.ES-3 )

These reports parallel changes found regarding the students’ teachers:

Compared with teachers who want to implement GLOBE but have not yet taken the training or started the program, GLOBE teachers spend less science instruction time teaching vocabulary or having students complete worksheets. They spend more time having students do science: taking measurements or observations, applying science concepts, and analyzing and interpreting data.(Means et al., 1997, p.ES-3 )

 

The intersection between beliefs and technology use

Research studies on large scale implementation projects (Berenfeld, 1996, 1994; Means, 1997, 1995; Schofield, 1995; Schofield & Davidson, 1997) typically examine the cluster of social and organizational factors that influence the adoption of new technologies. Few studies have dealt with the underlying beliefs of teachers that might advance or thwart adoption of technology to serve school reform and/or constructivist goals. For example, did the use of technology change the GLOBE teachers’ beliefs and practices, or were these special teachers, with a predisposition to teach in this way because it matches their beliefs? This topic has not been given much attention in the research literature until recently. Dexter, Anderson, and Becker (1999) conducted a study of teacher use of computers and their perceptions of the impact the technology made on changes in their teaching practice. Studying 47 teachers from 20 schools in three states, Dexter et al. found that, although most teachers reported changes in their teaching practice, they did not cite the technology use as the primary catalyst for change. Rather, they reported that insights about the effectiveness of their teaching (e.g., reflection upon their teaching), school climate and expectations, and, to a lesser degree, formal professional development were greater catalysts for change to more progressive or constructivist practices. This was true for those categorized as non-constructivist and weak constructivist, as well as those categorized as substantially constructivist. The authors suggest that focus should not be on technology as a catalyst for change but on the social environment of the school and decisions made by teachers about the kind of teaching they value. In this framework, computers are seen as a support for change, rather than the basis for change.

The Dexter et al. study builds on the frameworks of Shulman (1987), in his characterization of teachers as decisionmakers, constantly building on their knowledge and experience base as their teaching evolves. It also evolves from the work of Loucks-Horsley (1991), whose Concerns Based Adoption Model (CBAM) became a way of understanding how teachers’ desires to use technology fit within a framework of all the other things they are concerned with (e.g., discipline, curriculum, testing). This work also supports the findings of Schofield (1994, 1995) and Schofield and Davidson (1997) about the importance of the school culture in shaping how much, and how computers are used in the classroom. Based on their research on technology adoption in urban schools, Schofield builds a strong case that, like other teaching tools, teachers will only use technology if it makes sense to them in the context of how they teach and the goals they have for student learning. If a teacher does not see the educational potential in the technology, it is difficult to envision why it is worth the effort (Schofield,1994).

An earlier model for this study was the nationwide survey of 1200 teachers around the nation who were identified as particularly accomplished in integrating technology into their teaching. (Sheingold & Hadley, 1990). This study is a classic in the field, widely cited (Office of Technology Assessment, 1995) for its focus on how teachers believe their teaching changed as a result of the use of technology in their classrooms. Since then there have been a limited number of case studies conducted in various countries looking at this issue. For example, Veen (1995) looked at factors affecting classroom technology use at one school in the Netherlands, using four teachers as the case studies. Her finding was that "teachers have strong beliefs in respect to the content of the subject matter as well as to the pedagogy and… adopt new media if they can use them in accordance with their existing beliefs and practices" (Veen, 1995, p. 169).

The most comprehensive review of teacher use of technology comes from the case studies and research reports resulting from the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT) project. The ACOT research project included ten years of longitudinal research, starting with in-depth case studies of teachers in five ACOT classrooms around the country and expanding to short-term research sites in dozens of other ACOT supported classrooms nationwide. In the course of ACOT funded research, hundreds of researchers from around the country were involved in a range of research and development projects, resulting in a rich collection of research portfolios. (see http://www.info.apple.com/education for a listing).

As the authors of the summary report (Sandholtz, Ringstaff, & Dwyer, 1997) noted, "Most teachers entering the ACOT project hoped that technology would make their jobs easier and more efficient. Most never dreamed they would alter their instructional approaches or broaden their perspectives about what children should and should not, could and could not accomplish in their classrooms" (p.17). The ACOT researchers found patterns of teachers’ instructional evolution with technology, describing teachers on a continuum in which "text-based curriculum delivered in a lecture-recitation-seatwork mode is first strengthened through the use of technology and then gradually replaced by far more dynamic learning experiences for students" (p. 37). The stages of instructional evaluation they identified were:

· entry: little or no technology experience, marked by feelings of excitement mixed with trepidation;

· adoption: beginning to show concern for how to integrate technology into lessons;

· adaptation: technology became fully integrated into traditional classroom practice; and

· appropriation: a turning point evidenced by a changed attitude in which the computer is effortlessly used to accomplish real work

· invention: experimentation with new ways of teaching and relating to students and other teachers, facilitated by technology

The ACOT researchers found that, in these schools, a comprehensive use of technology, supported by the necessary components of access, training, and support, encouraged teachers to undergo a process of changing their views about teaching, from instruction to construction. However, as Dexter et al. note (1998), the fact that ACOT teachers were volunteers could mean they were inclined toward progressive practice. They were, perhaps, risk-takers looking for new ways to teach and build more student-centered learning environments. Consequently, their progression and change may not reflect what would occur were the target group taken from the more conservative mainstream of teachers that constitute the norm in schools. Thus we come again to the importance of teacher beliefs and understanding how they impact technological adoption, the question around which this study was conducted.

 

Research Questions

The research context described above makes it clear that there is a great deal we know about teachers, and about teacher change, and about technology use. There is also a considerable range of literature dealing with learning theories and how they are reflected in the instructional design of educational technologies. However, there is limited research on how these theories come together around the question of teachers’ beliefs regarding teaching and learning, and how these are reflected in the ways teachers use technology. This intersection, as depicted in Figure 1, is the focus of this research study.

Figure 1: Research Focus

 

 

The major research questions for this study were:

A secondary set of questions explored in this investigation was derived from the major research questions. They included such questions as:

 

Methodology

Research Site

The study site was the Maryland Electronic Learning Community (MELC), a five year project funded by the U.S. Department of Education under the Technology Innovation Challenge Grant Program . MELC is composed of five public middle schools in Baltimore, Maryland; the project partners include the University of Maryland(UM), Discovery Communications, Apple Computer, Maryland Public Television, the National Archives, and the Space Science Telescope Institute.

Context of the MELC Project

The idea for the Baltimore Learning Community Project (now referred to as Maryland Electronic Learning Community or MELC) was developed by a team from three Colleges at the University of Maryland: the College of Education, the College of Library and Information Sciences (CLIS), and the Human Computer Interaction Laboratory (HCIL) in the College of Mathematics and Computer Science. Because Department of Education grant regulations required that recipients of the Technology Innovation Challenge Grants must be school districts, Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) was invited by UM to serve as the testbed for the project. The project was designed around testing a "proof of concept": a learning community of teachers could be created around the use of an innovative technology-based system for designing engaging multimedia lesson components, or modules, for use in middle school classrooms. The technology system, called the Explore database and interface, composed of an advanced interface on the front end, and a multimedia database at the back end, was developed by researchers from HCIL and CLIS, with content support from the College of Education.

The first three years of the project focused on the technological aspects of the project: getting the server up and running, placing computers and Internet connections in the project classrooms, and developing the technology interface and digital library of multimedia materials (text, graphics, audio and video) that were indexed to correspond with State and national curriculum standards. Discovery Communications donated 100 hours of video from their educational video collection. The Discovery video was digitized, segmented, and indexed for more flexible use of short segments. The original goal was to provide the video through videostreaming to the desktop but, like many of the technical aspects of the project, strategies and goals changed as technologies evolved.

Despite the involvement of faculty from the College of Education, there was no explicit theoretical underpinning for the design of MELC, nor was there a research design based on research on teacher change or on learning theory. It was assumed that teachers would use materials in ways they had taught in the past: in a transmission delivery format. Teachers were consulted regarding the kind of content they needed for their lessons, but had little input into the technical design of the system. There was no analysis of the teachers’ current level of expertise with technology, nor was there a professional development plan created for them. Teachers were not asked about their teaching beliefs, goals, or practices. Teacher selection for MELC participation was based on school, grade level, and subject area taught. If they taught science or social studies at one of the three middle schools targeted by BCPS for participation in the project, they became MELC participants. Most teachers admitted that, although they were "volunteered" for the project, they were excited to participate because they saw the MELC project as a vehicle for getting computers and Internet access into their classrooms. Most teachers in MELC had little experience with computers with the project began in 1995.

At the time this research study took place, MELC was entering the fifth and final year of the grant. Year four had been a transition year for the project. Computers and Internet access was finally in place at all schools; the database contained close to 2000 separate text, video, and web-based resources; all database resources were indexed to standards; and two new schools and several new teachers, representing other content areas beyond science and socials studies, had been added to the project. Most importantly, the MELC teachers were getting more comfortable with the technology. However, there was still only limited use of the Explorer interface or the multimedia library, and few teachers were creating, using, or sharing modules. Consequently, a change in focus led to greater attention placed on the learning community aspect of the project, with UM partners working to support teachers and help them use the technological tools created under the project, and technologies in general. Because many teachers were frustrated by the complexities of the original Explorer Interface, revisions were made to render the technology more user-friendly. More attention was given to providing training, and more flexible support through weekly sharing sessions linking the schools through distance learning labs. An on-line chat called the MELC chat was established as a communication tool for project participants.

At the time of the study, all MELC teachers had four multimedia computers (currently Apple G3 or IMACs) and high-speed Internet connections in their classrooms and accounts for home use as well. They were expected to attend a four-day training institute each summer, as well as weekly training/sharing sessions at the Bell Atlantic distance learning laboratories established in three of the four school buildings. The fourth lab was under construction in the fourth school building in the fall of 1999. Participation in the distance learning sessions and online discussions was optional, but MELC teachers received a stipend or inservice credits for attending the summer institute.

Research Setting

The research study was set in the MELC schools. School 1 is located in a pleasant residential middle class neighborhood but, due to declining neighborhood enrollment, most students are bused in from other parts of the city. School 2 is a technology magnet school located in an industrial area near the harbor. The student population is a mix of neighborhood children from ethnic working class families with deep roots in the community, children of more recent immigrants, and students selecting the school for its technology focus. School 3 and School 4 are two separate programs housed in one school building. This building is located not far from the central city, in a neighborhood bordered by housing projects, commercial activities, and ethnic shops and restaurants. The academy program, referred in this study as School 4, focuses on innovative approaches to teaching, but draws on the same neighborhood student population as those attending School 3. Students in both School 3 and School 4 are predominantly low-income African American students. School 5 is located about a mile from the city center, in an ethnic community that has become increasingly African American. The school is housed in a former warehouse.

Research Participants

All participants were members of the MELC project. At the time the study began in May, 1999, the project was in its fourth year, with 36 teachers participating in the project. All project teachers were given surveys to complete. Based on a specific procedure using a purposive sampling procedure (Frechtling & Sharp, 1997) five teachers were selected for case study analysis. The five case study participants came from three of the five school programs in the project. Two were men and three were women. Four were Caucasian and one was African American. Two taught social studies, one taught science, one taught writing and language arts, and one taught social studies and language arts. Their teaching experience ranged from 2.5 years to 28 years.

Research Instruments

Survey Instrument

Rather than choosing teachers for case study analysis based on reputation, observation, or nomination, it was decided to use a survey asking teachers about their learning beliefs and use of technology. Case-study candidates were chosen based on high and low scores on these factors. The survey instrument (Appendix B) was derived from a previous national survey, the teacher survey component of Teaching, Learning, and Computing: 1998: A National Survey of Schools and Teachers Describing their Best Practices, Teaching Philosophies and Uses of Technology, developed by Becker and Anderson (1998). The Becker and Anderson survey is 26 pages long and contains 69 questions, with 369 sub-items, asking teachers to describe their best practices, teaching philosophies, and uses of technology (Becker & Anderson, 1998). It was distributed nationwide to teachers in grades four through 12 in the spring of 1998. The 2,251 responses derived from this survey led to a series of reports on teachers’ beliefs, pedagogical practices, and use of the Internet and other technologies (www.crito.uci.edu/tlc/html/methodology.html). Permission to use a subset of this survey and recommendations about item choice were obtained from the authors. The survey instrument developed for this study contains 17 questions, with 81 sub-items taken from the Becker/Anderson survey. The selection of questions was based on relevance to the MELC project (i.e., the kinds of technologies available in the project, the middle school curriculum, and the Baltimore City Public Schools policies and procedures).

Interview Instrument

The interview instrument was a structured interview protocol, containing twenty-five questions, with twenty-eight sub-items (Appendix A). In a desire to keep this study’s survey instrument relatively short, many of the Becker and Anderson survey questions were adapted for the interview protocol rather than placed in the survey instrument. Several of these were questions that were amenable to a more open-ended response than that provided on a multiple choice survey instrument. For example, there were 7 questions with 36 sub items on the Becker and Anderson survey relating to teaching philosophy. One of these questions, with 4 sub-items was included on my survey. However, in the interview protocol this question was pursued in greater depth by asking "Tell me about your teaching philosophy," with several follow-up questions related to teaching philosophy. Other questions from the Becker and Anderson survey relating to teaching practice, general teaching experience, and use of computers were also expanded in the interview protocol with phrasing to fit the MELC project. For example, instead of saying "in the last three years" as was used in the Becker and Anderson survey, I phrased the question "Since entering the MELC project." Other questions added to the interview protocol asked: "What is it you like best about technology?" "What is your biggest frustration?"; "What are your personal goals for teaching in the next 5 years?" "What role does technology play?" and "What questions should I have asked you?"

Procedure

Development of Research Instruments

The survey instrument was developed after reviewing the Becker and Anderson survey and discussing with the authors their experience with this instrument. Items selected were included those they identified as reflective of constructivist teaching practice, and which were also deemed appropriate for the middle school teaching experience of the MELC teachers. The study instrument took approximately 30 minutes to complete.

Permission to conduct research on human subjects was sought and approval granted by the Department of Human Development in the College of Education on May 27th, and by the University Institutional Review Board on June 4, 1999.

 

 

Distribution and Collection of Surveys

The survey was distributed to all teachers in the MELC schools in the second week of June, 1999. Teachers were informed of the purpose of the survey through a cover letter attached to the survey (Appendix B), and through personal communication when the investigator was visiting these schools. Teachers were asked to complete the survey in the next two weeks, prior to the closing of school. Each school has a MELC coordinator who was asked to assist in collecting the surveys for the investigator to pick up as a group from that particular school. Although most of the surveys were collected by the end of June, a few teachers completed the survey during the week of a summer training session in August. By the end of the summer, a total of 31 surveys (86%) were returned. Teachers who attended the summer session were reminded to return their surveys, and all but one did. However, those who did not attend the summer institute were not contacted again regarding their missing surveys.

Overview of Analysis

When the 31 surveys were returned, a factor analysis was conducted to see which items cohered and might be used to form sub-scales. Following that, a ranking of teachers on these factors was conducted.

 

Factor Analysis

Selection of items to be used for data analysis was made based on those items most appropriate to the research questions and less influenced by factors outside the teacher’s control. For example, a question relating to student communication by email was deleted from analysis since students do not have email accounts in any of the schools. Because of the small number of respondents relative to the number of items, the two sections of the instrument were factored separately and then the Alpha reliabilities were checked. A Principle Components factor analysis was conducted on 20 items related to objectives for and types of computer use in the classroom. Three factors were rotated using a Varimax rotation. Subscales were formed and checked for alpha reliability. Two factors, with Eigenvalues of 8.99 and 3.20 showed high item loading and independence from the computer use questions. These were labeled according to the items with high loadings as Factor 1 (Prefer active student computer use/teacher presentation, 7 items, Alpha .94) and Factor 2 (Constructivist goals for computer use, 8 items, Alpha .90.) All items loaded highly on these factors.

A second Principle Component factor analysis was conducted on 14 items related to preference for a constructivist classroom. Again, three factors were rotated using a Varimax rotation and subscales were formed and checked for alpha reliability. A number of items also loaded highly on these factors, and highly loaded factor, with a Eigenvalue of 1.95 was identified as Factor 3 (Preference for a constructivist classroom, 6 items, Alpha .84). All items also loaded highly on this factor (See Table 1).

Table 1: Factor Analysis

Factor 1:

(7 items; Alpha .94)

Student and Teacher Computer Use

Loadings

C 7

Student computer use in class

.720

C 9-6

Students create content

.835

C 9-7

Students explore info/search web

.790

C 9-5

Students present content

.814

C 9-3

Teacher demonstrates hardware, software, web

.834

C 9-4

Teacher presents content

.796

C 9-2

Teacher shows short segment of video

.668

 

Factor 2:

(8 items; Alpha .90)

Objectives for Computer Use

Loadings

C 11-4

Analyze information

.849

C 11-6

Improve computer skills

.762

C 11-3

Find information

.776

C 11-5

Present information

.678

C 11-1

Master skills

.726

C 11-7

Learn to work cooperatively

.880

C 11-8

Learn to work independently

.817

C 11-2

Express self in writing

.711

 

 

 

Factor 3:

(6 items; Alpha .84)

Constructivist Teaching Beliefs

Loadings

T2

Students prefer (constructivist-style) class discussion

.694

T 3

Students gain more knowledge (in constructivist-style class discussion)

.778

T4

Students gain more skills (in constructivist- style class discussion)

. 369

T 14

Students take more initiative when free to move around room during class

. 729

T1

Teacher more comfortable (in constructivist-style class discussion)

.662

T 15

Students should help establish criteria on which their work will be assessed

. 372

Ranking

A subscore based on each factor score was summed for each of the 31 teacher respondents. The totals ranged from a high of 99 to a low of 47 (a score of 24 was obtained by a participant who did not complete the entire survey.) This range of scores corroborates the observation that there is a good deal of variation in

both teaching philosophy and computer use in the MELC project. The five highest and lowest rankings are shown below in Table 2.

 

 

Table 2: Ranking of Teachers on the Sum of Three Subscores *:

Highest Five and Lowest Five

Participant ID

Total for 3 Factors

HIGH

 

06

 

99

13

98

31

98

25

93

04

(no longer teaching)

93

LOW

 

09

57

02

57

12

54

30

(no longer teaching)

47

07

(didn’t complete survey)

24

* Note: High score indicates a teacher who uses computers and has students use them, who uses them for multiple purposes, and who holds a constructivist teaching philosophy.

Because the major purpose of the survey was to identify interviewees, a full analysis was not conducted. Survey data have, however, been provided to the evaluators for the MELC project.

Selection of Cases

Based on a preliminary analysis, but before the full data analysis was completed, two teachers were identified as potential candidates for case studies. They were selected as case participants based on the researcher’s past observations of their teaching, as well as their availability for interviews during the summer. The remaining three were selected as case-study participants after the survey analysis was conducted, based on their rankings on the three factors. Case 1, Wendy, selected in the summer before data analysis was complete, eventually tied for second highest in total factor ranking, making her an appropriate candidate for case study. Pat, the other case-study participant interviewed in the summer before data analysis was complete, ranked almost exactly at the median point, 15th out of the 31 survey respondents, which made her an interesting candidate for case study analysis.

The remaining 3 cases were selected to reflect an additional respondent in the top 10%, Ann, and two who ranked in the bottom 10%, Mike and Rob. Seeking a diversity of case participants, other factors were taken into consideration for selection of case-study participants. These factors were school, subject matter taught, years of teaching experience, gender and ethnicity. A summary of the case-study participants based on these aforementioned characteristics is presented in Table 3.

 

Table 3: Summary of Case Study Subjects

Case

Pseudonym

1

Wendy

2

Ann

3

Pat

4

Mike

5

Rob

School

2

1

4

2

1

Subject

Science

Language Arts

&Writing

Social Studies & Language Arts

Social Studies

Social Studies

Gender

F

F

F

M

M

Years

Teaching

20-25

20-25

10-20

<10

>25

Ethnic Group

African-American

Caucasian

Caucasian

Caucasian

Caucasian

Total Factor Score &

Rank

98

2nd (tied)

98

2nd (tied)

73

15th

54

29th

57

27th (tied)

Interview Procedure

Cases 1(Wendy) and 3 (Pat) were interviewed in July 1999, and Cases 2 (Ann), 4 (Mike) and 5 (Rob) in late September 1999. Each interview lasted approximately an hour, ranging from 45 minutes to an hour and a half. The interviews were held at a time and place of the teacher’s choosing. Wendy was interviewed in a central office facility close to her home. Pat’s interview was conducted in her school but not her classroom. The remaining interviews were conducted during the school day in the teachers’ schools during a free period, with Mike’s conducted in his classroom, Rob’s in his office, and Ann’s in a quiet corner of the library with no one else present.

All interviews were conducted by the researcher. The interview began with the researcher giving participants background information on the study and the purpose for the interview. Participants were encouraged to be open and candid in their responses, and assured that they would remain anonymous for reporting purposes. Each interview followed the structured interview protocol, but the participants were invited to expand on their answers as much as they felt comfortable. The researcher typed responses on her laptop computer verbatim. The first two interviews (Wendy and Pat) were also tape recorded. Because each interview was captured almost verbatim on the protocol template on the computer, and both the participants and the researcher had been distracted by the logistics of the taping procedure during the first two interviews, the decision was made not to tape record the subsequent cases. Each interview transcription was reviewed, spellchecked, and organized within a few days of its being conducted.

Cross-case Thematic Analysis

After all cases had been conducted, the interview notes were transcribed and reviewed. Each participant’s interview comments were compared with his or her survey, and a profile written for each participant. After reviewing these profiles, a series of key themes were identified. These themes, and their relation to the research questions, are described in the section following the case profiles. A summary of the case study teachers’ beliefs and practices is displayed in Table 4.

Table 4: Summary of Teacher Beliefs and Practices

 

WENDY

ANN

PAT

MIKE

ROB

Teaching philosophy

Everyone is a learner in the classroom

Techno-humanistic model

I’m willing to try new things if it will work for my students

Every student can succeed; you just have to find a way to reach them

Discipline is key if learning is to occur

Teaching Concerns

Keeping students’ interest and attention

Student reading and writing fluency

Students reading problems affect scores on tests

Students should have exposure to computers to have a "leg up" on other students

Too many reforms; need to get back to basics for students to learn

Textbook Use

Limited

Hardly at all

Yes, if available

Less than before

Important anchor for instruction

Computer Use

Hands-on science inquiry

Research and student presentation tool

Support for new approaches and scaffold for learning

Presentation tool

Research on bookmarked sites; Power Pt. Presentations

Research on bookmarked sites

Computer Benefits

Tool to engage learners

Expands student horizons; students show improved writing tests

Teacher materials more interesting and organized

Motivates students; more resources; window into students’ learning

More resources ;

Supports students’ visual learning

Student Roles

Students help each other

Individual writing and self assessment; peer support and evaluation

Little peer assistance;

Some group work

Some team activities

Little peer assistance or group work

Teacher Role/ Self Image

Learning with students;

Wants to help other teachers

Facilitator and coach; want to become an innovator/tekkie

Deliverer of great lessons; wants to be a leader for teachers with technology

Makes technology experiences available to students; wants to explore new options with technology

In charge of class and technology use; personal interest in computers; likes "noodling around"

Classroom

Structure

Lots of small groups; varied activities

Groups; quite classroom is boring

Lecture; some groups

Group work using jigsaw activities

Rows, little group work

Order is important

Impact on teaching

Always learning; looking for new ways to use tech.

Less direct instruction; expects more of students

Techniques, if not style, are changing

Looking for ways to use tech. in teaching

Sees little impact on teaching

Results

The case study participants’ responses in the interviews supported the responses they gave in the surveys, although the elaboration provided in the interviews provided interesting insights (see Discussion Section). Overall, the case study interviews suggested that teachers’ views of learning and teaching are reflected in the ways they use technology in the classroom. Views of learning, goals for computer use, and use of computers in the classroom varied considerably among the five teachers in the case studies, ranging from very constructivist views for teaching and for computer goals and use (Cases 1 and 2, Wendy and Ann) to quite traditional perspectives (Cases 4 and 5, Mike and Rob). The ways the traditional teachers used technology was very different from the ways the constructivist teachers use technology. Teachers do not report that the use of technology has changed their beliefs, but it has changed their teaching practices.

Case Profiles

Case 1: Wendy: A Teacher Turned On by Technology

Wendy is an African American woman who has been teaching science for more than 20 years, always at the middle school level. Sixteen of those years she has taught at School 2, a technology magnet school in which teachers follow a class of students through each grade (6,7, and 8). Wendy tied for second highest on the survey constructivist philosophy and computer use factors (combined rating of 98), and was particularly strong in her constructivist teaching views. These data were supported in her description of a student-centered focus to teaching in which she orchestrates her students’ work rather using a teacher-centered lecture approach. She believes, "Kids want to be active participants—if they aren’t active then I lose them. My goal is to lose them as little as possible."

Wendy has been with MELC since the project began. Although she had some experience with technology prior to joining MELC, Wendy credits the project with giving her the opportunity to try new things with technology and discover new ways to teach. Her approach with technology is as a tool to actively engage her students. She uses the computers in her classroom regularly and wishes she had more available to her students. Because they have to share equipment, she said she has to "figure ways to actively engage students who may not be using that equipment so they won’t feel left out." This classroom management is a major concern for her: "If they aren't doing this a [computer activity], what can they do to be interested and still be able to use technology?"

With technology, Wendy said, "There is less of the direct teaching…the

whole atmosphere of classroom is different due to integration of technology into classroom. I did hands-on [activities before] but it wasn’t as much." She discussed how using technology as a "hands-on" activity in the classroom augments this approach, but creates new challenges: "Now you have to be more creative because you have added a new type of hands-on they really like to do." Furthermore, while she has always had her students make predictions and investigate them as a part of learning activities, she said, "What has changed is the way they do their analysis of things—now when they do an investigation and I incorporate use of Internet and electronic resources, they can log on and find more up to date resources to the minute that tie in, so the way they do analysis has changed."

Wendy valued technology as a resource for motivating her students. She also valued the fact that students can do things they could not do before, just as she sees herself doing things in teaching that were not possible for her before she had technology in her classroom. Wendy noted a number of changes she sees as outcomes of her use of technology in the classroom. For example, because of the way the classroom is organized, with a variety of activities going on at once, students must rely on each other more, rather than always seeking help from her. She said, "Students have come to rely on each other more than me, somebody can help somebody else. They love that!"

Wendy also reported that since she began the project four years ago, she has expected her students to take on a more active role in the classroom:

Since I want them to move through a task, go through different activities, they have to stay more focused. [I use a] more individualized pace, with more responsibility on them to complete the task in the time they have. Sometimes they want to venture out and do this or that, [but] they have to pull back. That comes with part of their learning, self monitoring, self regulating.

While she had students work in groups in the past, now Wendy has multiple groups doing a variety of activities all at the same time:

Different kinds of activities. I have to figure out a way to do lab-type activities but still explore using the technology resources. Now instead of just the lab activity done by the entire class, I do it more with triads. One group might be doing research, one group writing, etc.

In addition to having her students collaborate more often, Wendy herself now works more collaboratively with other teachers. [Before]

I was a stuck in the classroom. I didn’t mind sharing with teachers at workshops, but that’s as far as it went. We might share materials afterwards but as far as interactive, collaboration of teaching methods, sharing not just what I did and they did but working on it together, [that’s new]. Technology brings you together to work on the same project-- I like that. I like being a resource person, people coming to me. I never thought of myself that way. I have changed my image of myself as teacher.

When asked why this was good, Wendy replied: "It makes me see I don’t know it all—there are other ways of doing things, and nobody knows everything." Wendy has become a leader in the MELC project, often demonstrating her interactive lesson plans for the other teachers in the distance learning labs, and asking questions, sharing resources, and actively participating in the on-line MELC chat. She has been recognized for her technology expertise at the state and national level and she particularly likes the fact that she is now regularly working with teachers, " Not just teachers on your immediate team, not just my school, not just my city" but everywhere.

Case 2: Ann : Innovation and Technology Go Hand in Hand

Ann, a Caucasian female, has taught, as she described it, "…for 20 or 25 years, students from 6 to 60", covering all subjects at the elementary school level, middle school language arts and high school English. She has a secondary teaching certificate in English. She currently is in charge of the writing lab and teaches language arts at School 1, where she has been teaching for four years. She volunteered to be a part of the MELC project when it began at her school last year. As she put it, "I wanted to be part of a bigger community. I believe strongly in it."

Ann tied (with Wendy) for second highest combined score (98) in the constructivist beliefs and technology use survey rankings. She calls her teaching philosophy "technohumanistic," her term for an emphasis on the liberal arts via interdisciplinary study, an emphasis on technology, and a merging of these two emphases. She elaborated: "I feel the two passions of technology and teaching reading. Students need both to succeed. If they have a problem reading, you can address it in a technological format and vice versa. Both are needed." Her "technohumanist" framework also values the social connections in teaching. " I feel strongly about teams and facilitators. I know these are buzz words, but I take it seriously. People rally to connect; it seems to be working."

Before coming to School 1, Ann spent several years teaching in a private English school in West Africa where she found herself reacting to the traditional, lecture-oriented curriculum she found there. When she returned to the U.S., she was disappointed not to find more advances in curricula and technology:

I thought there’d be advancement in teaching and technology [in American schools], but I found I overestimated what was happening. I mean, we had a computer lab in the rainforest where I was teaching! It [the lack of change in the US] made me angry. I expected more.

This frustration made her eager to participate in MELC when it was introduced at School 1, where a new principal has since supported her visions for technology and teaching. She was very enthusiastic about the changes under the new principal, "It’s great here—education heaven!"

Ann didn’t believe her philosophy has changed since working with the technology, but said her goals have been supported by what she can do with the technology. "I feel right about it--feel the need for technology". Although her views haven’t changed, she noted that many of her teaching processes that have changed since joining the project. These include using less direct instruction and spending less time using textbooks. "I shouldn’t admit this, but we hardly use them," she said. She also felt confident having a lot more activities going on in the classroom.

Now I know a quiet classroom isn’t necessarily a good classroom. Originally I was evaluated with that standard, but I don’t feel that pressure any more. It’s good I don’t have to worry about that, because I know it’s wrong (having a quiet classroom). When a class is too quiet it’s probably boring!

Ann also said she evaluates students on their products, not tests. "Its all in the process, all in the review, how they edit… [The final product] is less important than the process they go through". She also engages the students to evaluate themselves: "I ask, ‘Is this the best paper you can write at this time?’ and they have to say ‘Yes’, eyeball to eyeball. It is their idea of what’s best."

She also reported that she has students help other students more, and said this has also been impacted by using computers, since students must share computers.

Ann said the computer is especially important for improving students’ information gathering skills and the ways they deal with the prewriting process, noting that the things they find on the Internet provide them more to write about.

These kids are limited in their subject, but I want them to go beyond talking about ‘my most exciting vacation’. Getting on Internet, BLC [MELC], I found a major help. Their motivation toward getting into a project was much higher.

She also found the computer helpful for encouraging her students to review and revise, using tools like the spell check and grammar check. "Getting into the writing, starting is same with pencil and paper as with a wordprocessor. It’s at the editing stage where it (the computer) is a help." Ann doesn’t want students dependent on these tools, but finds them helpful in encouraging students to review their writing, and do it more quickly. She finds the on-line Thesaurus especially helpful since she says most students wouldn’t otherwise have access to a Thesaurus in their classrooms or at home.

Furthermore, while Ann has always required her students to produce long end-of-quarter projects, she found that students stayed more involved when they used technology in their projects. "It was more professional, more complete, students tended to want to complete it. It kept their interest longer." Even in their regular writing assignments Ann saw change:

Yes, they turn in longer assignments. For one reason, the length of writing looks miniscule when it’s a printed paragraph, so using the technology raises their expectations. I am demanding more as they move from 6th to 8th, and MSPAP [the standardized tests taken in grade 8] requires more of them. It helps prepare them for private school entrance essays, as well as the functional writing tests. Our students were able to deal with that well. We had kids of multiple levels from special ed to advanced and they did fine.

Computer use has affected her teaching and curriculum priorities in many ways, from the ways she arranges space in the classroom to ways she organizes the class period into activities. Ann said that working with the computer has raised her goals in teaching:

For example, I would like to see my students get published. Before, I wouldn’t have had them in contests but now we can do that. When they have a fantastic project, they should get recognition for that [outside the classroom].

Overall, Ann reported that the project has given her "the opportunity and the means to change," with lots of positive reinforcement and support. Working with technology has been a challenge to Ann, but she has found the year she has been in the MELC project very stimulating. When asked to rate her skills, she said, "Overall, I guess I’d give myself a B or B-. I’ve got greater comfort with software but not with technical aspects--I don’t want to open it [the machine]."

Although she hasn’t participated in the MELC chat, Ann has been a regular attendee at the distance learning sessions, and she continues to try new things. "I just did a distance learning lab presentation with a staff developer, it’s the first time I’ve been a facilitator with it." This enthusiasm was revealed when Ann was asked her personal goals for teaching in the next five years. With a gleam in her eye, she said, "Maybe be a tekkie!"

Case 3: Pat : A Teacher In Transition

Pat is a language arts and social studies teacher in a School 3, the school within a school. She has taught over ten years, starting her career as a high school English teacher. She left teaching and worked in business for several years and, on returning to teaching and finding no high school English positions available, was hired as a middle school social studies and language arts teacher. Pat has been in the MELC project for a year and is one of the most active and enthusiastic participants in the distance learning lab sessions and the MELC chats.

Prior to joining the project Pat had used computers in a lab where the students had remedial instruction using a programmed learning model. She saw how the students interacted with the machines and was impressed. She also used a computer-based curriculum program introduced in the Baltimore City Public Schools approximately five years ago, but was frustrated by the fact that teachers could not download the material to work with at home. Although she had a computer at home, she reported that she did not use it much before her involvement with MELC.

Pat fell in the middle of the ranking for constructivist teaching beliefs and computer use on the survey (combined score of 71), and noted that she prefers a teacher-centered, lecture mode of teaching. This was reflected in the ways she uses technology in her classroom, primarily as a presentation tool to make her material more engaging to her students. When asked how the use of computers has affected her teaching, she described how she plans her lessons, prepares and presents them, and how she organizes her materials. Computers, she said, have:

Changed my life! Wow! It’s affected everything—whoa! I can now create things for my classroom that are really wonderful that I couldn’t do on dittos. It allows me to gather information to use. I have gone from the Overhead Queen to the PowerPoint Queen. Now that I can make PowerPoint interactive that is even more exciting. I type my lesson plans now, and have changed how I store materials. It’s affected everything I do. How I do my units—instead of all together it’s more modular. I’m anal for organization, so this is my dream come true. I color code my disks!

In the past, much of her teaching was lecture based, and there was minimal homework because often there were no books for students to take home. However, with changes in emphasis in the school system, placing more focus on individualized instruction and various learning styles, she said that her teaching has changed. There is now more use of cooperative learning in her school, as students work in groups toward the MSPAP [Maryland School Performance and Assessment Program] goals. She noted, "The irony is our kids [in the special school within a school] are so good in groups they don’t work well individually, while the rest of building is the opposite."

Pat did not believe that computers should affect curriculum priorities, and her views on assessment were also quite traditional. For example, she saw no problem with the fact that students take writing tests by hand, not on a computer. She also suggested that the trend may have swung too far in terms of product and performance-based assessment. As she said, "It has now gone to the point where if they [her students] have to do a test, a multiple choice test, they have a problem, take a long time". She was concerned that often students don’t do well on tests because they cannot read well enough to know how to answer the questions.

The use of the computer has been motivating to Pat personally, and she was excited by what she can find with project materials to enhance her lessons:

The social studies unit I taught this year—ancient cultures-- I had taught before, but the stuff I had before was nothing like what I can get on the computer. I got to China and lost my mind--the Forbidden City, interactive games that come with it-- it’s the best! I can go crazy and find good stuff, find this to enhance what I taught before. That aspect I really love!

Pat hasn’t articulated how the computers have impacted student learning, but she was beginning to look at how the computer can help her students, as she notices the different ways they can use technology. She said she wants her students to do the same things she does with computers, such as making presentations and using Power Point. Still, this student use of technology is closely controlled by Pat. For example, when students do research on the computer, Pat controls what they can access on the Internet, bookmarking sites and directing their research. She does not let those with behavior problems use the computer.

Pat has been active in the MELC chats and has attended almost all the professional development sessions, often making presentations in which she shares what she has done. She (along with Wendy and a third MELC teacher) was selected to participate in a national technology conference in June, 1999, in which they showcased lesson plans they created in the project. Of the three conference presentations, Pat’s had the most traditional teacher-centered format. She noted, however, that she now teaches this lesson [on child labor] in a very different way than she had in the past, using more engaging materials that challenge her students to become more reflective on the differences between their culture and what exists in third world countries.

Pat found participation in the project to be very motivating for her personally:

MELC has been a big boost in keeping me excited about school—by March you are praying for a blizzard, but there were wonderful things I could find for kids to do, working with other people in MELC, on the Internet, etc.

Her main interest in computers was for her own development:

The joke is that now I want to be a geek. I want to learn how to do stuff. I want to learn how the machines work—learn how to troubleshoot, fix it when I can’t wait for [the coordinator].

This was reflected in her response to a question regarding her goals for teaching in the next 5 years. She said, " I would want to be a person who assists teachers to use technology."

Case 4: Mike: A New Teacher Learning it All

Mike is a Caucasian male social studies teacher who has been in the classroom less than three years. He "inherited the project" as a condition of taking the teaching position, when he was hired to replace another project classroom teacher who became the school technology coordinator. Mike described his secondary social studies training as traditional, with little emphasis on the use of technology. He ranked second lowest on the constructivist teaching and computer use scale (combined score of 54).

Prior to coming to School 2, a technology magnet school, Mike had an administrative job in a facility on contract with the school system, working with low achieving students. He was impressed by the gains students made with personalized remedial instruction in a programmed learning environment in that setting. Although he indicated on the survey that he espoused several traditional teaching beliefs (e.g., a quiet classroom is needed for effective listening; students are not ready for meaningful learning until they have acquired basic math and reading skills, teacher-centered discussions are preferable to student-initiated questioning) Mike is adopting behaviors that are moving him from some of the teaching styles that would normally be associated with these beliefs. He stated that he is gradually changing his methodology as he works with the computers in his class. For example, he reported relying less on the textbook as he brings in Internet sites as resources. He has more students working in groups as he assigns them countries to research and write about as a team. He said that the greater availability of computers in the classroom has changed his teaching, as he works to find ways to integrate them in his lessons. He noted that there was definitely "more going on in the classroom" now that he is using technology.

While he believed that drill and practice applications are useful for remediation, Mike noted that he does not differentiate in the ways he has students use computers. Advanced and remedial students do the same kinds of things with technology in his classroom, but Mike said he typically spends more time going over things with the remedial students.

Mike believed that the computer has not changed the way he organizes the classroom, but he said he is challenged to create lesson plans that use technology because he feels that the more he exposes the kids to technology, the more it will "give them a leg up from other kids." He valued technology as something they need to "be exposed to in order to have a leg up on other students."

Mike also regarded the computer as an "excellent behavior modification tool", meaning that he uses it as a reward for good behavior and as a resource to motivate students. Mike also valued the enthusiasm his students bring to computer activities: "They create wonderful things on the computer. I like seeing what the kids can do, what they know. I can see better what they are learning." He believed that students are more engaged when he uses technology in classroom activities, noting that "It makes my class more interesting." But his greatest praise for computers was for how they expand and broaden the range of resources beyond what students would otherwise have access to in textbooks.

Because he works in a school in which team teaching is central to the way classes are organized, with teachers staying with a cohort of students through each of the middle school grades, Mike has always worked with other teachers on thematic units. He has rarely participated on the MELC chat, noting that he looks at it and would ask a question on it, but is more likely to walk down the hall to ask for help. He valued the training he has received at summer institutes, and took the one-week optional multimedia class this summer. He also said he enjoys the weekly distance learning sessions, but attend only a few in the spring and none in the fall 1999 semester. Still, Mike felt he has gained experience in using technology through his participation in MELC and stated:

While I’m not an expert, I am much better, and there are more programs I’m comfortable using, exploring, looking up things; CD-ROMs not a problem. There are a lot more options open to me with technology now.

When asked the best thing about the technology he said: "Best is the fact that kids like it as well. When you like it and the kids like it, that’s rare!"

Case 5: Rob: A Traditional Teacher

Rob is a Caucasian male who has taught for his whole career, nearly 30 years, covering the full range of middle school social studies: world cultures, American history and government. He had just moved into an administrative position at School 1 a few weeks before the interview was conducted. He responded to the survey and the interview questions based on his most recent classroom experience. Rob joined the MELC project when it began at his school two years ago, out of a personal interest in learning more about computers.

Rob labeled himself a traditional teacher. This was confirmed by his combined computer use and constructivist teaching score of 57, a tie for the fourth lowest rank (3rd if counting one survey that was not completed). This traditional view of teaching and computer use was borne out in his interview. For example,

Rob believed that discipline is the most important factor for teaching to be effective:

For me the core ingredient in learning is discipline—not just in the classroom, also discipline at home, society, family, all environments. Without that, no matter how much money you put into education it doesn’t matter. My job this year is to supervise new teachers and monitor their classes. What I find is a lack of disciple. I’m trying to address recommendations to gear lessons to keep discipline.

Rob has not been impressed with new educational approaches, teaching fads and activities that have come and gone, feeling that going back to the basics should be the best approach. He noted with dismay, "Baltimore should be in the Guinness Book of Records for the most education programs (adopted) and discarded in the last 35 years—It’s amazing!"

He reported that his beliefs about teaching have only gotten stronger over the years, as he gained experience in the classroom. Rob uses direct instruction, focusing on the textbook as a primary guide, testing with multiple choice and short answer tests to evaluate students’ progress, and said none of this has been affected by computer use. He does not believe in using projects as a learning activity, believing that students lose focus in such activities. If a student wishes to do a special project for extra credit, he accepts that, but does not consider projects a good use of classroom time. He organizes his class in rows, not groups. The only grouping he does is to have students paired for work on the computer, taking turns with one working the mouse and the other writing down the data they collect.

Rob reported that he has always closely monitored and supervised students in their work, and this also has not changed with computer use. He emphasized that he believes this close monitoring of students is particularly important when they are working on the computer. When students are working on the computer he feels a need to oversee what they are doing at all times.

Although Rob used computers on some occasions in his teaching, this happened mainly when he had a graduate student from MELC assisting in his classroom. He had the graduate student monitor groups of students working on computers while Rob taught the rest of the class in his typical lecture style.

Rob believed in teaching with a textbook:

I think you need the text book as anchor, as base, and can then spread out. The text gives basic information. Kids like the diagram in the book on how a bill becomes a law. That’s still important. I wouldn’t want to lose that.

Nevertheless, Rob said that the computer has been important as a means of providing additional information beyond what the textbook offers. He noted, "The most recent textbook they use hasn’t got the 27th amendment passed, doesn’t have Reagan or Bush in it."

To illustrate how he used the computer to provide useful supplementary information, several times in the interview Rob cited a favorite computer activity of his: introducing his students to the House of Representatives website and having them pick a member of the House to research on this site. The activity itself was traditional: writing down facts such as the home district, the political party, position on issues, term of office, and so forth. Rob was very enthusiastic about this resource, especially since some of the school textbooks were so out of date. Nevertheless, when Rob was asked about the impact he saw from the way he has used computers in the classroom, he said there wasn’t much impact. He had not seen changes in his students’ learning of content as a result of the activities he had them do on the computer. Yet he noted:

Compared with before, they would never have the chance to know individual Congressmen. The textbooks could only tell about Congress as a whole. This became more personal. …They tended to do well on the unit test. I’m not sure if it was from computer. My [teaching] goals haven’t changed, but the kids seem to be more excited about using the computer. Most of these kids are visual anyway, kids get to know by visuals [graphics] that Kentucky is a state, not a city. Anything more visual like that is a lot better; I know the kids like it a lot better.

Most of the impact of the computer was on his personal planning for the classroom:

I started planning all my lessons on computers; everything at home on PC or the Mac here…It looks a heck of a lot better if you do it that way. Personal productivity was important to me.

Rob said he did not interact much with other teachers in his school, or connect with others in the project on the MELC chat or in collaborative work. Still, he attended the MELC summer institute, and several of the distance learning sessions last spring, noting that he was interested in increasing his personal computer skills. At this year’s summer institute Rob created a database of famous baseball players and made hotlinks to their gravesites, using "findagrave.com", a site his cousin showed him. This illustrates his personal feeling about technology:

I like fooling around with software, noodling around with games. My computer is my friend and it will play with me. It’s neat; I can play with it.

 

 

Cross-case Analysis

The research questions form the basis of the thematic analysis. The first set of question for analysis concern teacher’s beliefs and practice:

The second set of questions for analysis deal with the factors that influenced the teachers’ teaching beliefs and supported or hindered moving their beliefs into practice, especially in the use of technology:

Teaching Beliefs and Practice

Definitions of constructivist teaching style often vary among researchers, as noted in the prior research review. Furthermore, teachers are not necessarily precise in their ability to label their practices or beliefs as traditional or constructivist. For example, the MELC case study participants never used the term "constructivist" to describe their teaching practice, even when it was clearly the approach they adopted. Nonetheless, most educators find that there are three elements differentiating constructivist teaching and non-constructivist (i.e., traditional) teaching beliefs, and the practice that reflects them, in terms of curriculum, teacher and student roles, focus, and classroom organization. These elements are shown in Table 5 below, and described in the narrative that follows.

Table 5: Elements of Constructivist vs. Non-Constructivist Teaching

 

Constructivist

Non-Constructivist

Curriculum

Depth over breadth

Problem solving

Content coverage

Facts and skills

Teacher Role

Facilitator

Information dispenser

Student Role

Creator of knowledge

Recipient of information

Focus

Student centered

Teacher centered

Classroom Organization

Many things happening;

Small groups

 

Whole class instruction

 

Curriculum

Those with non-constructivist views of teaching have very different views of curriculum than do those who adopt constructivist learning theory. Constructivists focus on curricular material that helps students to build understanding and make sense of information. Problem-solving activities are emphasized as a way to build this kind of understanding. In contrast, more traditional, non-constructivist educators believe there is a set curriculum found in textbook that organizes the information that has been judged important for students to learn. This content is tested on district and state examinations and represents what the broader community believes all students should know.

One question on the survey asked teachers to indicate their agreement with the statement:

"The most important part of instruction is that it encourages "sense-making" or thinking among students. Content is secondary."

The contrasting question was:

"The most important part of instruction is the content of the curriculum. That content is the community’s judgment about what children need to be able to know and do".

The five case study teachers ranged across the spectrum on this issue: one gave strong support to "content coverage" (Rob) and one to "sense-making for understanding" (Wendy). Ann leaned slightly toward ‘sense making" and both Mike and Pat were right in the middle. These views were supported in the interviews. (It should be noted that on this series of questions on constructivist vs. non-constructivist teaching style Mike checked a 3 for all items on the 1-5 scale, suggesting either a truly ambivalent view or an attempt to answer the survey quickly.)

Like many teachers in urban school systems, the MELC participants are bound by the curriculum dictated by the school administration, and by the demands of the tests their students must take. All students must pass functional math, reading, and writing tests by the end of the 8th grade, which report out individual student scores. Students also must take the Maryland School Performance Assessment (MSPAP) tests in grade 8. These scores are reported by school and given wide coverage in the press. The MELC teachers are understandably concerned about covering the curriculum and preparing their students for these tests. Wherever they fell on the "content coverage" versus "sense making" scale, all expressed concern about preparing students for MSPAP in their interviews.

Many of the students in MELC come from disadvantaged backgrounds, high risk backgrounds, but the number of students who were low achievers was not correlated to the teachers’ placement on the constructivist/non-constructivist scale, nor to school. Ann and Rob both teach in School 1 but Ann ranked 50% of her students as below average while Rob said he was reporting on a class in which none of the students were below average academically. Pat (School 3) reported the highest percentage of students below average (60%). Wendy (School 2) said only 2% of her students were below average and Mike, who also teaches in School 2, said, "We rotate classes so it varies."

Interestingly, none of the case study participants indicated they had limited English students in the class they were reporting on for teaching practice and computer use, and only one (Ann) had mainstreamed special education students in her class, which may have influenced her rating on the survey. She did note in the interview that she found that technology was especially useful for her special education students, who were able to hear what they had written read aloud on the computer. She also remarked on the fact that all her students, including her special education students, did well on the functional writing tests, and attributed computer writing as a support for this achievement.

Teacher Role

A survey question asked teachers to indicate how closely their beliefs correspond to one of a pair of questions:

"I mainly see my role as a facilitator. I try to provide opportunities and resources for my students to discover or construct concepts for themselves."

Versus

"Students really wouldn’t learn the subject unless you go over the material in a structured way. It’s my job to explain, to show how to do the work, and to assign specific practice."

In their responses to this question, Wendy was very supportive of the constructivist viewpoint (facilitator) and Ann somewhat aligned with that view. However, in the interviews, Ann’s remarks revealed that she constantly plays the role of facilitating the students in their work by giving them opportunities to explore materials and make judgments as to what to use. For example, she was the only one who admitted that she gives students freedom to find their own sites on the Internet. Wendy expressed the view that she is learning along with her students, "Teaching is also learning. It’s not just me being the person who dispenses information, but we work cooperatively and learn from each other." In contrast, Pat’s survey response showed her leaning somewhat toward the "one who goes over the information in a structured way" and Rob was fully in this camp. Mike selected the middle column for this item on the survey, as he did on many items in the survey, which may reflect a desire not to align himself too clearly in one ideological camp or another. However, his interview responses suggested that he teaches in a more directive than facilitative style.

The case study teachers’ varying beliefs about teacher role was demonstrated in their classroom practice using technology. One example is the non-constructivists’ (Mike, Rob, and Pat) more structured use of the Internet as a research tool, bookmarking sites for students to use rather than giving them the opportunity to explore on their own. Ann was much less directive in Internet research, and Wendy also gave her students more freedom to explore sites on their own.

Student Role

Several survey questions dealt with the role of the student. One asked for teachers to rank their agreement with statement: "Students should help establish criteria on which their work will be assessed." Wendy indicated that she strongly agreed, Ann and Pat moderately agreed, and Rob and Mike moderately disagreed with this statement. Another question asked participants to rate (on a 1 to 5 scale) their agreement with the statement "It is critical for students to become interested in doing academic work—interest and effort are more important than the particular subject-matter they are working on." Wendy and Ann felt that this was critical (giving it a 1), Pat gave it a 2, and Mike gave it a middle score of 3. Rob was at the opposite end of the scale, aligning himself with the opposite view: "While student motivation is certainly useful, it should not drive what students study. It is more important that students learn the history, science, and language skills in their textbooks."

These views were reflected in the teacher interviews, and the ways the teachers structured classroom activities with technology. Wendy repeatedly emphasized her concern about using technology in such a way as to have her students build understanding through hands-on activities. She felt this approach, by starting with the students’ interests, was more likely to keep them engaged, and would lead to greater learning gains. Rob, Pat, and to a lesser extent Mike, began with the content and used technology to deliver information to students. In this transmission mode, individual student interest, knowledge, and experience was given less emphasis.

Focus and Classroom Organization

These belief patterns were repeated for responses to other constructivist/non-constructivist belief survey questions (e.g., students working in teams, the importance of a quiet classroom, and multiple activities going on in the classroom vs. whole class assignments). Wendy and Ann consistently placed themselves on the most constructivist end of the spectrum and Rob on the non-constructivist end, with Pat somewhat constructivist and Mike regularly checking the middle column. These belief structures were confirmed in the interviews, with examples the case study teachers provided. For example, Rob consistently emphasized the need for discipline, while Ann said " When a class is too quiet it’s probably boring!"

How Technology Supports Beliefs

There are some common challenges all the MELC teachers face in their schools (e.g. lack of up-to-date textbooks, students who are not motivated, behavior and attendance problems, intense pressure on preparing students for State tests). Technology offered a range of possible solutions which were reflected the participants’ belief structures. While none felt that using technology changed his or her teaching beliefs, all stated that they have used technology to support their teaching in ways they felt are appropriate. Each offered several examples of how they use technology in a way that meshes with their teaching philosophy. For example, Rob, a very traditional teacher, talked about how his classroom management style has not changed since adding computers to his classroom:

They [computers] were placed in the back of room and my students sit in front. My design was 4 rows of chairs, 9 deep. My view is, you see kids in groups, you are asking for trouble. It gives kids an invitation to talk and socialize. I … kept it [the computer] separate. That was useful, if a kid has to look at a computer, it’s better that they are away from others so they can concentrate.

The more constructivist teachers also noted ways that technology use supports their beliefs. Wendy said she has always had students do performance-base activities, but now has them integrate the technology in the performance task. Technology has given them a way to do what they have always done, but in a different way, and with a different impact. As Ann said:

Peer review? That’s something we did with pen and paper anyway. But it’s more motivational to see in print, to hear something they have written. I use simple text so the computer reads it [aloud].That’s great for middle school kids, they like that; it’s a hit for special education especially.

Those at the high end of the constructivist scale seemed comfortable in moving in their own ways, going beyond an exclusive focus on test-based instruction, and using the technology as a way to move in new directions. As Ann noted: "I have been lucky that it has been MY curriculum. I was given freedom . I know MSPAP scores and functional writing are important but I can also use portfolios, contests, other ways of seeing what they have done". She noted that technology supports this view of teaching: "That [approach to] curriculum is helped with technology."

Teaching IS Changing

Doing Different Things in the Classroom

Even though they maintained that technology use has not changed their teaching beliefs, all the teachers gave examples of how using technology has changed the way they teach, by making it possible to do different things in the classroom. In some cases, teachers felt obligated to use the technology that has been provided to them. Then, when they found ways to use technology, they discovered that their teaching style was changing. Mike was a good example of this; he noted how he is always looking for ways he can use technology, as he believes it is important for his students to have as much technology experience as possible to give them an advantage when they go on to high school. He said: "I’m not standing and talking in front all period". He also noted that he has changed his beliefs about setting curriculum priorities now that he can go deeper into detail and use the Internet to delve more deeply on topics that are covered only thinly in the textbook. "I can make time for that [going into detail], I’m not on a set timetable, I can spend some time [on certain activities] as long as I cover Africa, Asia, South America." Technology use appeared to be supporting his move towards a more constructivist focus on depth as well as breadth of content coverage.

Adding New and Up-to-Date Resources to the Curriculum

All teachers in the study reported that they have changed instruction by having students conduct research on the computer. With limited and often out-of- date classroom textbooks and library resources, they were all pleased by the new resources the Internet makes available to their students. Even the most traditional teacher, Rob admitted,

Students have to have core knowledge and facts you have to work with, but the computer [adds other things to the class, providing]… more access to knowledge, more up to date information. One social studies book in this school still has Eisenhower as President!

Differing Approaches to Technology Use Reflect Teaching Style

Even though all the teachers added Internet research to their teaching repertoire, their varying teaching philosophies were reflected in how they structured these activities. The more traditional teachers set up bookmarks and had their students look up facts on the computer, as in Rob’s use of the House of Representatives site for students too look up data on members of Congress, or Mike’s having students conduct research on a South American country. Mike continues to monitor the class closely, as he was not comfortable having students research a topic on their own.

I don’t do that unless it’s on a CD ROM; there’s too much stuff on the Internet you worry about. On this activity I bookmark the site and have them go into it. I’m leery about their going out on Yahoo on their own.

Pat also limits the sites where her students can go, how they set up their research, and does not let students with behavior problems use the Internet. Both Wendy and Ann give their students more leeway, preferring to let them know expectations for Internet discovery beforehand, and making it clear that they will lose Internet privileges if they do not conform to agreed upon classroom policies. Ann felt fortunate that she has not had any complaints from parents about her approach, but believed that, if students want to find "bad things" on the Internet, they are far more likely to do so when using the computer at home. She believed that it is her job to help students understand about responsible use, at least in the school setting.

A Shared Belief: Technology Use Motivates Students

All the teachers in the study believed that technology has been a powerful motivator for students. As Mike said, "[Computers are a] motivating factor. Students would rather type 50 pages than write one." When asked, "Is the product better?" he replied, " I don’t know, but it is more motivating because they enjoy being on computer; they show more enthusiasm." All the teachers valued this motivation, suggesting it is not an insignificant factor in their students’ involvement in their classes, even if they are not unable to document its impact on learning. Ann, however, maintained that the MELC students have done better in passing the functional writing exam than her previous students. Although this has not been documented in a formal manner, she believed this is because her students have done more writing with the computers—both in her class and when other teachers send students into the writing lab to do writing for science, social studies, and other subjects. Even Rob reported differences he attributes to the technology:

My goals haven’t changed, but the kids seem to be more excited about using the computer. Most of these kids are visual anyway, kids get to know by visual [sic] that KY is a state, not a city, where they fit in. Anything more visual like that is a lot better; I know the kids like it a lot better.

Factors and Conditions that Supported or Hindered Moving Beliefs into Practice

The major factors mentioned by the teachers were the support they receive (or do not receive) from their schools, and the general support they felt they have received from the MELC project.

School and Administrative Support

Two of the schools in which case study participants teach were very supportive of both innovation and technology use, and this was reflected in the teachers’ participation in MELC. Two schools were less supportive, and the teachers felt inhibited by this lack of support.

School 1, a school that only five years ago was on the State "reconstitution list" (i.e., recommended for possible closure unless test scores improved), has been turned around by the efforts of a new principal. The culture of this school, as articulated by the principal and MELC participants, was one in which innovation led to improvement. As Ann said: "When I came here it wasn’t this way but then the principal changed, and the whole mood changed, innovation was supported. I wrote a technology grant for the writing lab…. I implemented it last fall, with the new principal." This school was added to the MELC project in Year 4 by the city project administrator. He saw that the teachers and administrators in this school were ready to commit the time and effort to support the MELC project. School 1 is the only school in MELC in which the school has funded two fulltime technology support personnel. Both individuals are very active in the project. Furthermore, School 1 was one of the first to convert a classroom to a distance learning lab, and generally has one of the highest turnouts at the weekly MELC sessions, including, on occasion, teachers who are not part of the project but who come to the sessions to learn more about technology.

Another supportive factor for teachers in School 1 was the fact that MELC teachers have been given the same group of students to work with over a three-year period ("looping" is the term the teachers use), creating an even greater sense of team work among the participants. (not all teachers at School 1 "loop" with their students, but as Ann said, "The philosophy of those interested in looping are the BLC [MELC] teachers by and large." Teachers at School 1 reported more regular computer use. Five of the seven survey respondents from this school answered "Always" or "Very Often" to the question: "In the class above, how often does a typical student use a computer?" Rob, however, answered "sometimes." Still, even in the most supportive environments, there can be system-wide administrative barriers that frustrate teachers. As Ann noted,

Requirements with system has created some antagonism. When the evaluator wants to see a student portfolio in a folder, all as hard copy, that’s behind the times. An evaluator was intimidated by my students’ ability to go to their electronic portfolios (on the computer) , show their work right there on screen. The evaluator didn’t know how to deal with this…. she didn’t know where my red marks were! I’m lucky I have administrator’s support to let me do things my way.

In School 2, a technology magnet school, computer use was encouraged, as are such activities as interdisciplinary projects, supported by block scheduling. Teachers in School 2, like the MELC teachers in School 1, "loop" with students as they move through grades 6,7, and 8. They also work together regularly on thematic units. Mike gave an example, "We are all doing a unit on Africa (health, geography, stories in language arts, putting together a database in computer science, using a spreadsheet, etc.)." This school ethos was as important to him in thinking about teaching beliefs and teaching style, and how technology can support it, as the MELC project. But he also reported that he observes the other teachers in the project. He noted that, while he does not contribute to the MEC chat, he follows it. If he needs help, he is more likely to go down the hall and ask another social studies teacher, and then the computer coordinator, who is the social studies curriculum coordinator and MELC technical coordinator. Most of the teachers from School 2, including Mike, answered "often" to the computer use question. Wendy and two others said "very often," whereas several said "sometimes" and none said "never" or "always."

School 3 and School 4 (housed in the same building, with some administrative overlap) have given less support to the project, even though teachers are involved from both programs in this building. The MELC technology coordinator in this building has been given many other responsibilities and, at the time of the study, was no longer active with the project, creating a void in project leadership and support. Pat has taken it upon herself to fill this gap, setting up the distance learning lab each week and serving as an unofficial cheerleader for the project in her school. This lack of school leadership may be reflected in the amount of computer use reported in the survey. Despite her personal enthusiasm for creating lessons with technology, Pat noted that she uses computers only "sometimes" in her class, as did three of her colleagues at the school. Three responded "often," one said "very often," and none said "never" or "always." Usually a small number of "regulars" from School 3 and School 4 attend the distance learning sessions, including Pat, and these same teachers have been fairly active on MELC chat.

School 5, from which no case study participants were taken, has been the least supportive of the project since the beginning, in part because it has had changes in leadership and little technology support from the principal. It also has a high at-risk student population (Marchionini et al., 1997; Mucherah, 1999), although this was not reported in the five surveys that were completed from teachers at this school. One of the teachers from this school suggested that administrative barriers prevent him from using technology more, citing they requirement that all teachers create Individual Education Plans for all inclusion students in their classes. He felt that because these take so much time to develop and administer, he had not time to create interactive lesson plans. This teacher has attended the summer institutes but has done little else with the project. He is one of several teachers in School 5 who never completed the survey. As in School 3/4, the MELC coordinator at School 5 has been able to give the project only a small amount of attention, although he was provided an assistant this year. School 5 was the last to establish a distance learning lab. It was first operational in October, 1999, after the research study was completed. Perhaps as a result of these factors, the MELC teachers in school 5 do not cohere as a community within the school, and have less interaction with the other teachers in the project across the city. Nonetheless, a few of these teachers have made efforts to work with technology with their students. One School 5 survey respondent reported he "always" uses technology, two said "often," and one said "never." This last respondent had the lowest total technology use and constructivist teaching ranking of all who completed the survey, but was not chosen for case study analysis since he left teaching at the end of the 1998-99 teaching year.

Support from the MELC Project

All the case study respondents noted that the MELC training sessions were very helpful to them in learning new ways they could use technology in the classroom, as was the help provided by UM graduate students working with them on the project. Although Rob has been less active in recent after school distance learning sessions, he attended many of the sessions last year, always as an observer, rather than as one who shared interactive lessons with others. This change in pattern may be due to his changed responsibilities. Rob noted that he used technology most when he had the assistance of a graduate student from the project working with him. Mike also mentioned the help he received from UM graduate students as a factor in helping him work with the computers. He attended few sessions last year, attributing this to a time conflict with a for-credit course he was taking at that time. However, this year his attendance at the voluntary after school sessions has been no better. In fact, he attended only one session held since the start of the fall 1999 semester.

Pat has been very active in MELC after school distance learning lab sessions, taking responsibility for opening and setting up the lab for her school, attending every session, sharing lessons, asking questions, and encouraging her colleagues to attend. Although she has only been part of the project for a year, Pat may have taken on this leadership role in part due to the fact that she, Wendy, and another teacher from school 2 were selected by their MELC peers to represent the project at a national technology conference at the end of June, 1999. Each of these teachers presented an interactive lesson they had created using the digital library multimedia database. Pat’s lesson was one that she had taught before "BC," before computers, and her presentation focused on how the use of these multimedia materials enhanced the lesson and made it more engaging for her students.

In another presentation at the distance learning lab in September, Pat showed how she created a quiz in a Power Point format for her students to complete on-line. Working with other teachers in MELC, Pat is moving forward with her own technology teaching and professional goals. For example, she team taught a class for students in the distance learning lab with a MELC teacher from School 2, for example. Granted, the content and teaching style were traditional: the topic was "techniques for preparing for the functional reading test" and the class was conducted in a lecture, question-and-answer style with Power Point as the presentation format. However, Pat was moving into new media for teaching, indicative of how she is using technology to try old things in new ways, if not new things in new ways.

In contrast, Wendy’s MELC presentation at the national conference was more interactive, focusing on how she engages students through a number of technology based inquiry projects. Even when leading sessions at the after-school labs for her peers, Wendy focuses on student engagement. She demonstrated how students work in an exploration activity around the question "What makes the Chesapeake sick?" In another distance learning session for MELC teachers, she led them through a lesson she created that guides students (and teachers) to conduct more productive Internet searches. The approach she took was very collaborative and interactive, having each group of teachers conduct their own searches to experience, reflect on, and report back on the differences in the number of sites they would find utilizing different search strategies. She has been very active on MELC chat, but expresses frustration that others have not been as active. For example, at a distance learning session she said, "I’d like to have more interaction with teachers—when I check MELC chat I don’t see a reply—where is everybody?"

Major Influences the Teachers’ Beliefs about Teaching, Learning and Technology

The main areas MELC teachers mentioned as influences were their teacher preparation and early teaching experiences, and the more recent opportunities to see a variety of teaching approaches modeled by their MELC colleagues.

Teacher preparation and prior teaching experience

The MELC teachers reported that the way they were taught to teach is a major factor in their current teaching beliefs and practices. Wendy reported being very influenced by a science teacher who was a veterinarian, who sparked her interest in education, in science, and in an inquiry approach to teaching. Pat described the interaction between early experiences and system requirements as dual factors influencing her teaching: "I was taught to teach the way I was taught…. My college experience, and student teaching was all literature based—read the literature, some class discussion, maybe act out a play, minimal homework because my students often had no books to take home." Then, when she left teaching and returned, she found that there was a new approach:

BCPS [Baltimore City Public Schools] was beginning behavioral objectives, changing teaching to individualize instruction, learning styles. I did that and it worked. So I’ve been willing to try new things if I think it will work with my kids. Coming back now everything has changed: dimensions of learning, learning styles, I had to learn all that. I went to workshops to get up to speed on that—cooperative learning-- we are famous for in the academy-- getting out kids to work in groups toward the MSPAP goals….I’ve gone from front lecture to hands on group work. Technology is just another piece of that.

Mike reported that he saw little use of technology in his teaching preparation, and his prior experience was with technology for remediation, using drill and practice applications. Rob cited his long classroom experience as reinforcing his beliefs in the importance of discipline, and making him skeptical of the value of teaching fads that come and go. Ann spoke of the impact of her teaching experience in a private English school overseas, where she was considered a liberal, and rebelled from the very traditional teaching style practiced there.

I did it my own way, I was revolutionary, and the writing process was new to teachers. They seemed to appreciate it. ... I thought there’d be advancement in teaching and technology [in American schools], but found I overestimated what was happening. I mean, we had a computer lab in rainforest where I was teaching! It [the lack of change in the US] made me angry, I expected more.

This experience, she found, made her want to try new approaches on her own when she returned to the U.S.

Modeling in MELC

Despite these early influences, the case study teachers were also clearly affected by what they see now with the MELC project. In the summer institutes and distance learning lab experiences, they see other teachers in the project modeling alternative teaching approaches. For some, it can be a bit overwhelming, but, as Ann said:

Sometimes I’m humbled, I feel that potential is enormous to see what others are capable of, what they are doing, how they arrived there. Maybe because we meet once week it’s okay, if I saw this every day it would be intimidating, but we see levels of involvement."

When asked what other factors influenced their teaching since entering the MELC project, all the case study participants credited the staff development activities as very influential. Ann was among the most vocal. When asked it she found it valuable, "Absolutely! This [distance learning sessions] is real staff development as opposed to pseudo once a month or semester."

Finally, although they did not make this explicit, it is clear that the conversations in the MELC chat have given participants an opportunity to reflect on practice and share ideas with colleagues. Wendy and Pat use this communication resource regularly. Ann did not indicate that MELC chat is useful for her, but Mike and Rob indicated that they read it, even if they don’t contribute to it on a regular basis.

 

DISCUSSION

This study provided a window into how a range of teachers have begun to use technology in their classrooms, and how technology supported the kind of teaching practice they believe is appropriate. The study built on the other studies of technology and change in teaching practice (e.g., Becker,1994; CRITO, 1998; Dexter & Anderson, 1998; Honey & Moeller, 1990; Marcinkiewicz, 1993-94; Sandholtz, Ringstaff, & Dwyer, 1997; Schofield, 1995; Sheingold & Hadley, 1990) which suggest that teachers do change practice as they teach with technology, when conditions are right. These conditions involve regular access to technology, technical and administrative support, and teacher training. These factors are confirmed in this study.

But there are two particular areas of interest raised by this study: the past findings that change does not happen quickly; and teachers’ belief that technology use has not changed their beliefs about teaching. Although this study was limited in its focus on five teachers at one point in time, it suggests that, in a project like MELC, change in practice may be occurring more rapidly than found in past studies. Sheingold and Hadley reported that it takes teachers 6-8 years to become comfortable teaching with technology. ACOT researchers documented teaching changes that occurred over a decade of technology use. In this study we saw that practice was changing more rapidly.

This study suggested that three factors may have contributed to this more rapid change. First, the doors to classroom practice were opened via explicit strategies of the learning community, bringing to MELC teachers new visions for teaching. They saw new models of constructivist teaching applications modeled with technology in both summer institutes and the weekly formal and informal professional development activities. Secondly, the MELC chat offered opportunities for reflection on teaching practice, also opening the door to new visions and frameworks. Finally, the overall support of the MELC learning community could have led to changes in teaching practice, providing the teachers the explicit encouragement to try new things and work with colleagues in ways not available or permitted in the past. Although the teachers did not report that their teaching beliefs have changed, these conditions may be leading to a gradual evolution to more constructivist teaching practice, as reflected in how they have used technology in their classrooms.

There were two themes that echoed throughout this study: teachers’ recognition that their classroom resources are limited and/or inappropriate, and their concern for capturing and holding the interest of their students. While they share these common concerns, the teachers’ solutions, at least in the ways they use technology, are different; these differences stem from the differing belief systems they hold. But all reflect changes in teaching practice that could be seen as more constructivist. These are discussed below in terms of the areas of constructivist vs. non-constructivist teaching practices outlined in Table 4: curriculum, focus, teacher and student roles, and classroom organization.

Curriculum Content

The MELC project is unique in that it makes available to project teachers a digital library of multimedia resources (video, text, graphics, websites) indexed to content standards. One "value-added" aspect of the project is the collection and organization of this content (currently over 2000 separate resources), with ease in accessing through the online database. Another "value-added" aspect of the project is the availability of high quality video content from Discovery Communications. Taken together, MELC offers teachers content that goes far beyond what would otherwise be available in the classroom, and content that is highly motivating to students and the teachers themselves.

Given these common resources, the teachers took different approaches in using this content in the classroom. The more constructivist teachers like Wendy and Ann used it as a springboard for student inquiry and knowledge construction. The more traditional non-constructivist teachers like Pat, Mike, and Rob used this content to provide more engaging lessons in a transmission, presentation format. However, as noted earlier, in the last year of the project, the MELC researchers and administrators have moved to a more implicit focus on developing interactive activities that fit a more constructivist model. This change is reflected in a change in terminology that now encourages teachers to create "interactive lesson plans" rather that "modules", the term used in the early years of the project. Thus the learning community has redefined itself to support a more interactive, constructivist focus over time.

A teacher like Pat has not so much changed what and how she teaches, but has made it more engaging through the technology applications she has learned in the project. Her Power Point presentations now integrate text, audio, and powerful video, and she feels great pride in how "cool" this can be. She is beginning to recognize that, if it’s so exciting for her to put together lessons in this way, she should engage her students in a similar fashion by having them put together multimedia reports. Like any dedicated teacher, she wanted her students to learn what she is learning, and love the material she finds so engaging. But the technology opens the door to multiple viewpoints and perspectives in the materials her students can use.

It may be that the use of the Internet, whether a part of past "module" or current "interactive lesson plan" development, was a factor that leads to more rapid change through "opening the door" to other perspectives and opportunities for teaching. In this project, we observed that teachers’ belief styles were reflected in the ways they use the Internet as a content resource. One measure of this was the amount of control the case study participants placed over Internet activity, with the more traditional teachers (Rob, Mike, and Pat) bookmarking sites and controlling the information sources for searches. In contrast, Ann gives her students free access to search on their own, within guidelines that they have agreed to previously.

All the case study teachers saw the Internet’s utility in bringing more up-to-date information into the curriculum, and recognized its value as a motivating factor for students. Even the non-constructivist teachers recognized that the Internet provides multiple viewpoints and perspectives-- a change from the centralized perspective provided by text and teacher in the past. This change was of more concern to them than it was to the more constructivist teachers. The more constructivist teachers found this to be one of the most important reasons to use the Internet, and mentioned that they hoped to use this diversity as a vehicle for helping students learn to search and evaluate a range of sites. Wendy used the Internet to help her students go into greater depth in inquiry and projects. Ann used it to stimulate writing, bringing a new world of experiences into her students’ consciousness. It also became a way for her to let her students share what they knew and could do with those outside the classroom, giving her a chance to extend their reach and aspirations.

A final comment related to content is the fact that the two teachers who rated lowest in constructivist/computer use scale were social studies teachers. Although some reports indicate that technology use is more limited in social studies classes than other subject areas (Mucherah, 1999) this was not born out in the data analysis of the overall survey responses in this study. In fact, the teacher who attained the highest score for technology and constructivist teaching was a social studies teacher, but she was not selected for case study interviews due to concern for school distribution. Several of the other teachers with high rankings were also social studies teachers. The fact that the two case study participants with low constructivist and technology ranking were both male social studies teachers is related to the small pool (31) of teachers available for a purposive selection process that sought diversity of schools, subject matter, years of teaching, sex and race.

Teacher and Student Roles

Teachers reported that they often rely on students to help them with the technology, giving the students more responsibility and subtly bringing change to the "teacher as the one who knows most" mindset. Despite their more traditional teaching beliefs, even Mike and Rob felt comfortable admitting that their students are often better on the computer than they are.

Technology seems to provide a natural framework for opening the door to increased student responsibility in the classroom, which in turn impacts student and teacher roles. For example, School 1 is beginning to channel students’ growing expertise and comfort with technology as a means of providing technology support for teachers, with the development of a program of specially trained student "Star Tekkies" whose job it is to help their teachers. Activities like this are supported both for their practical value of needed support, as well as the motivational impact they have on students, often ones who are not traditional classroom "stars."

Will this shift to more student responsibility with technology expand to other ways students take on roles that were formally exclusive to the teacher (e.g., formal or informal peer tutoring, peer assessment, and development of materials that can be used for teaching)? Ann and Wendy suggested they were moving in this direction. Although it is too early to say, further research should consider whether this sharing of expertise is a teaching practice that may subtly lead to changes in teaching beliefs as MELC teachers see, via the "open doors" of the learning community, this more constructivist approach modeled by their colleagues.

Again, the fact the two teachers who landed on the "control" end of the teacher centered spectrum are men appears not be reflective of responses on the survey overall, in which male and female MELC teachers were generally distributed across the spectrum of constructivist and nonconstructivist teaching approaches. This gender factor could be an area of further research in future studies, however.

Classroom Focus and Organization

In these areas it was also observed that technology has had an impact on classroom practice. For example, with four computers for their students, one for their own use, a printer, Internet access, and use of digital cameras and other technologies, the MELC teachers felt fortunate to have more technology than other teachers in their schools. They also felt a responsibility to use these resources. However, since they do not have one computer for each student, the teachers had to be inventive in classroom management and teaching activities. With a limited number of classroom computers, the teachers had several things going on at once when their students were using the computers. Typically they had some students working independently or in small groups on the computers while the teacher lectured or worked with other groups in another part of the class. The more traditional teachers like Rob felt comfortable in this environment only when the MELC graduate assistants were helping in the classroom. In these case, it was more a case of two classes being held simultaneously, one under the graduate student’s direction and one under the teacher’s direction.

However they managed this instruction, all the case study teachers discussed the challenge of classroom management when using technology. It has been a recurring topic in summer institutes, MELC chat, and distance learning sessions.

Similarly, since students must share computers, MELC teachers are moving towards more small group activities, and having students support each other. Even Rob, the most traditional of teachers, who stated repeatedly that he did not believe in group activities or project work, had two students working together on the computer as a team, one to work the mouse and one to write down what was found. This is one of the perhaps serendipitous results of not having enough computers to make one available for each student—as a result, grouping is necessary and natural.

These new approaches to classroom organization are motivating to students, and teachers like Wendy used this grouping and project based activity to hold students’ attention. Rob was more wary, concerned that when students work together there is more talking, lack of attention (on him), and more potential for classroom disruption. Ann relished the creative buzz of many things going on in the classroom, suggesting that a quiet classroom meant the class was boring.

Whether this "required grouping" when using limited resources like computers will be carried over into other instructional activities is a question for further research. At present, it is worth noting that this is another area where the open door of the learning community provides opportunity for teachers to observe and reflect on practices of other teachers more comfortable with this more constructivist teaching style.

Theories for Change

Observing that teachers who use the Internet most are those most likely to support a teaching style that reflects constructivist teaching practices, Becker (1998) suggests three possible theories that might explain this change:

This study suggested that the most likely explanation for what was found in the MELC cases is a variation of the "Trojan Horse" theory. In this case it was not just the technology, but the overall learning community of MELC, with its emphasis on collaboration, reflection, and exposing teachers to new visions, that brought about change both in practice and, possibly, in evolving belief structures. The attention to developing and supporting this community—with its explicit goal of opening the doors of classrooms to new models of practice—may "sneak" change, Trojan Horse style, into the classroom. As the teachers develop comfort with the technology as a means to support their desired styles of classroom practice, they are also given the opportunity to observe their colleagues and reflect, both with each other and internally, on alternative styles and practices, and the beliefs that undergird them. This is a promising topic for future research.

 

Possible Threats to Validity

Role of the Researcher

There are several possible validity threats to this research study. One is the researcher’s association with the project and personal theoretical bias. As Maxwell (1996) notes, "in qualitative studies, the researcher is the instrument of the research"(p. 66). It is important to note that my role, as the Co-Principal Investigator of the Maryland Electronic Learning Community grant for the University of Maryland, could produce positive as well as negative impacts on my relationship with the research participants, and my interpretation of study data.

On the positive side, this role facilitated my access to the participants and their classrooms. I know many of the MELC teachers already, have developed good rapport with most of them, and am familiar with their schools and programs. This access and rapport made data collection easier, and facilitated my understanding of the teachers and their settings as factors for analysis in building conclusions from the data.

On the negative side, it is also possible that participants responded to the survey and in the interviews in ways that they believed that I as a MELC "authority figure" would want them to respond. This could have resulted in their exaggerating their enthusiasm for using computers, knowing that the project encourages the MELC teachers to use technology in the classroom. However, I do not believe this occurred, since the MELC leadership had not discussed pedagogical beliefs and their relation to technology use, nor did we explicitly advocate a constructivist approach to teaching, even if it is implicit in the models of technology use the project has encouraged.

Another concern is the fact that, as a person closely connected with this project, I may have subconsciously applied my own bias as to what I think is happening, or would like to see happening, regarding the ways these teachers use the technology supplied by the project. I support a constructivist approach to teaching, and have strong views about how technology should be used to support constructivist learning principles. It is possible that these personal viewpoints affected my perspective, although I believe the richness of the survey and interview data speak for themselves.

I attempted to minimize the possible impact of the researcher relationship with the study through triangulation of data. These included observations of the teachers in professional development sessions and reviews of their participation in MELC chats. These multiple sources helped to substantiate the responses they made on the surveys and the comments they made in the case study interviews. The comments, questions and suggestions of reviewers who critiqued drafts of the research study also helped to counteract inappropriate researcher impacts.

Key Informant Bias

There is also the possibility of "key informant bias" (Maxwell, 1996. p. 73), in which those who are eager and willing to participate are not typical of those in the study population as a whole. I believe this potential bias was minimized by the selection of case study candidates through review of rankings on the survey, balanced with a purposive selection made to represent a diverse sample group that reflect the MELC group as a whole.

Reluctance to Participate in the Study

There could be a threat to validity if teachers feared being evaluated or judged as a result of being identified as participants in the study. I believe this was not a factor, due to the precautions taken in designing and carrying out the study. All teachers were informed of the goals, methodology, and potential dissemination and uses of the research study. While their identities were known to me in order to select case participants based on coded survey responses, the participating teachers were not identified by name anywhere in the research study. Those teachers selected for profiling as case studies were invited to participate, with no stigma or penalty attached should they choose not to participate. None refused.

In a study with a small population from which the sample is taken, characteristics describing case study participants (e.g., subject taught, school characteristics, gender and race) may make them recognizable to those familiar with the project. Efforts were made to minimize the possibility of teacher recognition, within the constraints of the study. Teacher avoidance of participation did not pose a significant validity threat to my research.

Technology Design and Instability

Two other issues might have affected this research and the analysis drawn from it. Both are related to the technology: its design and instability. As noted earlier, the original design of the interface and database were structured around a traditional lesson plan model teachers could use in a transmission modality. Although the design has been revised to provide a more open teaching design, the tool itself was originally conceived and designed as a lesson development and presentation tool for teachers. It is now possible to use the digital library as a resource for student-created presentations and inquiry activities, but the MELC tools were not originally designed for student use, nor were they originally promoted to the teachers in this regard. Therefore the original design feature may have inhibited rather than supported constructivist compatible teaching practices for MELC teachers, as they were given a tool for teacher-centered teaching.

Another factor affecting teachers’ views about teaching with technology was the instability of the system and difficulty teachers had working with it in the first years of the project. Hardware and software problems, changes and upgrades, server transfers and a range of technology "bugs and glitches" have led to various portions not working or overall system crashes. This as much as any other factor in the past was a disincentive to spending the time creating either modules or interactive lesson plans and probably led to teachers’ hesitancy to use the technology in the classroom. (Marchionini et al, 1997). It is unclear how these negative experiences with technology in the early years of MELC affected their overall use of technology. However, despite some joking about the technology glitches causing frustrations, this was not raised as a major concern in the interviews.

 

Implications

Questions for Further Research

The Maryland Electronic Learning Community presents a unique situation, with a five year infusion of Federal funds and partnership resources that have offered teachers ideal conditions for technology use. Given the conditions that research (Means and Olson, 1995) has shown to best facilitate change—access to technology, professional development, software, and support to use it—much of what was observed in these case studies confirmed what has been found in other studies of technology intensive school settings, like the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow or Common Knowledge Pittsburgh. (Sandholtz, 1998; Schofield, 1994, 1995; Schofield & Davidson, 1997). This research also confirmed what Becker and Anderson found in their national survey of teachers in schools that have emphasized technology integration as a means of bringing about school reform goals (http://www.crito.uci.edu).

However, this research is limited by its attention to a small subset of teachers and a brief snapshot in time. There is need for further study on how of how a project like MELC, and its use of technology as a vehicle for building a learning community, offers teachers the opportunity to build alternative visions for teaching. When a learning community explicitly seeks to open the classroom doors to new visions of teaching, does this reverse the trend of "constancy over change" Cuban’s research would lead one to expect? Does it lead to radical restructuring as opposed to short term change? Does a technology-supported learning community make it possible for teachers to develop alternate mental models for what can occur in classrooms, based on what they see and hear their colleagues doing both within the school and across the city? What is the impact of the technology stars, like Wendy, in modeling teaching approaches for colleagues? Does the modeling of constructivist teaching approaches with technology need to be explicit to make a lasting impact? And, most importantly, is there a direct path to student learning? How might changes in teaching beliefs, behaviors, and technology use impact student learning? Is the impact different in different content areas or grade levels? Does it vary depending upon the environment (wealthy or poor school systems; urban, rural or suburban) or with different students? These are all important issues for further study.

These questions are more than abstract research questions. They have implications for the MELC project, as it moves beyond Federal funding and becomes a model for system-wide adoption in Baltimore. Greater focus on the learning community, and ways to nurture and support it, might offer as great or greater payoff than expenditures for technology infrastructure and content resources.

The questions raised in this research study also have implications for other Technology Innovation Grant projects, and other projects focusing on technology and school change. They suggest that the approaches taken in building and supporting a learning community --with continuous and multiple opportunities for teachers to communicate with one another in a supportive, collegial atmosphere—might lead to new approaches for both preservice teaching and inservice teacher support.

Concluding Comments

Over the last two decades, changes in theories about learners and learning have favored a constructivist approach over the transmission model of teaching. (Cognition and Technology Group, 1996; National Academy of Science, 1999). Perhaps through this study we may find that various "flavors" of constructivist practice are supported when technology is used in a learning community environment, and that teachers are more likely to grow and move toward this more constructivist style within an emerging framework that feels comfortable to them, and is appropriate to their preexisting beliefs about teaching. If so, this has important implications for education and our understanding of how technology can support better teaching and deeper understanding.

 

Appendix A: INTERVIEW PROTOCOL

Interview Protocol

How long have you been teaching?

Grade levels and subjects

How long have you been a part of MELC?

Why did you join the project?

Tell me about your teaching philosophy:

Where do you think you acquired this?

(teacher preparation program, teaching experience, reading, etc.)

Has it changed?

For example, compared to when you began with MELC, how much do you employ the following practices:

(less than then, same as before, more now, never did)

How much have computers played a role in the changes you noted?

Compared to then, how much do you:

(less than then, same as before, more now, never did)

How much have computers played a role in the changes you noted?

Tell me about how you work with other teachers—do you have much interaction with other teaches in the school?

For example, since the beginning of MELC involvement do you (less than then, same as before, more now, never did)

How much have computers played a role in the changes you noted?

How have computers affected the way you think about such things as:

What other factors have influenced your teaching practice since starting MELC?

How would you describe your technology skills when you entered the project?

How would you describe them now?

If changed, to what do you attribute the change?

Have you changed the way you use technology?

Have you changed your teaching?

What is it you like best about technology?

What is your biggest frustration with technology?

What are your personal goals for teaching in the next 5 years?

What role does technology play?

What other questions should I have asked you?

 

 

 

 

Appendix b: TEACHER SURVEY

 

 

 

 

 

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