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Primary Teachers’ Attitude to the Use of ICT: a comparative study between Cyprus and the UK

Primary Teachers’ Attitude to the Use of ICT: a comparative study between Cyprus and the UK.

Maria Kyriakidou

Charalambos Chrisostomou

Frank Banks

 

Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, Lahti, Finland 22-25 September 1999

Network 6: Open and Distance Learning

Teaching as Learning in ‘Open Contexts’: North and South Practices

School of Education
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes
MK7 6AA
United Kingdom
Tel:+44 190 8654927
Email: M.Kyriakidou@open.ac.uk

Introduction

In recent years, the use of computers as a tool for pupil learning has become a necessity. The integration of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in classrooms has been a challenge for the educational systems of all countries which aim to be ready to cope with the needs and the demands of the 21st century. In different parts of Europe, despite the variability that exists in terms of financial and human resources, the educational technology needs appear to have many similarities. In Cyprus and the UK for example, national policies, although having a different pace in each country, are heading towards greater ICT use for learning in primary schools.

A lot of interest has been expressed among educationalists towards the key factors that enable technological implementation in schools (Handler, 1993; Collis, 1996; Davis, 1997; Haughey and Anderson, 1998; Burge and Roberts, 1998; Somekh, 1998). A prerequirement for the successful integration of ICT in classroom life appears to be the stance of teachers, especially new teachers, towards computers and towards the role of modern technologies in teaching and learning. In the UK there has been a considerable debate about successful ICT implementation and a bulk of research has been conducted on teachers’ attitudes and competence towards computers (Backmore, 1992; Owen and Roulands, 1992; Somekh, 1992; Todman and Dick, 1992; McFarlane and Jared, 1994; Lienard, 1995; Murray and Collison, 1995; Moon, 1995; Lewis, 1999). Conversely, Cyprus being a newly established state, is a relatively new area for exploration in the field of ICT in education.

This paper provides an overview of the existing situation in Cyprus and makes a comparison with the British experience. It is argued that Cypriot student-teachers, similarly to their British counterparts, have positive attitudes towards ICT. The paper also examines the new ICT development plans focusing on the development of Cypriot teachers’ ICT competence with reference to the similar British documents. The aim of the paper is to illuminate teachers’ attitudes in both countries and identify areas in which British teacher training courses may provide models for the initial and in-service teacher education in Cyprus.

This paper is in four parts. The first part of the paper describes the methods employed for this study. Then follows a section which provides the context of the ICT innovation and explains the current situation in student-teachers’ attitudes and technological capability in Cyprus. The third part describes the British context with regards to the ICT national policy and student-teachers’ attitudes. Lastly, the different experiences in both countries are contrasted and implications for the implementation of ICT in British and Cypriot teacher initial educational programmes are discussed.

Methods

This paper is based on two different postgraduate research projects conducted in Cyprus and the UK respectively, both focusing on the use of ICT by students of initial teacher training courses. Therefore, the data for this study have been derived from a range of different methods both quantitative and qualitative.

The first project includes a survey which involves student-teachers at the University of Cyprus. A self-perspective questionnaire, using Likert type scale, was administered among student-teachers focusing on their attitudes towards the role of ICT in education as well as their ICT competence for educational purposes. Both descriptive and correlation analysis were adopted in order firstly to analyse the data regarding attitudes and competencies, and secondly to investigate the contributory factors which influence these attitudes. Semi-structure interviews were also conducted both with student-teachers and tutors in order to provide further and more detailed qualitative data for this investigation. Finally data were gathered from formal official governmental documents regarding IT implementation.

In the UK, a case study was conducted at the Open University Postgraduate Course in Education (PGCE) which used self-recorded audio-logs and telephone interviews with student-teachers as well as face-to-face interviews with tutors. This information was triangulated with electronic-conference observation. A case study investigation as a framework for this research enables us to convey subtle aspects of student-teachers use of electronic-conferencing and in particular their attitudes towards ICT.

The Cyprus Experience

The Cyprus National Policy on ICT Implementation

During the last six years, a series of actions has been taken by the Cypriot educational authorities to enable the introduction of ICT in education. Firstly, the Department of Education of the University of Cyprus, which was established in 1992, developed a programme of study for initial teacher education including some elements of Information Technology (IT) related courses. Secondly, in September 1993 the Department of the Primary Education of the Ministry of Education and Culture of Cyprus initiated the implementation of a pilot project for the introduction of ICT in a number of primary schools. An Information Technology (IT) committee has been established more recently with responsibility for the implementation and general co-ordination of this project (Ministry of Education and Culture, 1997). At the same time the Pedagogical Institute, which is the principal organisation that provides in-service training for teachers in Cyprus, started offering the first series of Information Technology in-service training courses for a limited number of teachers per year.

This pilot project lasted five years (1993-98). In 1998 the IT committee prepared and submitted ‘Evagoras’, which is a five year development plan for ICT implementation in all schools of primary education. The ultimate goal of ‘Evagoras’ is the integrated use of IT as an educational tool by IT trained teachers, based on a revised National Curriculum. A prerequirement for the above is the provision of all Cypriot primary schools with educational software and hardware having a ratio: one computer to ten pupils (IT group 1998).

Information Technology Training for Initial and In-service Teacher Education

The experience of the introductory pilot ICT implementation into 32 Cypriot primary schools indicated that the provision of ICT school-based training by the IT group (which consists of micro-teaching and demo lessons) is too inefficient. The main factors for the inadequate provision of ICT training are; limited financial support, minimal number of IT district coordinators, and a lack of any IT statutory requirements (IT group, 1998).

Similarly, disappointing outcomes were reported in an investigation of the centre-based IT in-service training courses, which are provided by the Pedagogical Institute. Research conducted by Charalambous (1996) indicates that these cover a limited number of teachers and they are focused on technology skills, rather than having an emphasis on methodological and educational issues. Additionally, these courses suffer from inadequate teaching personnel and time-table constraints (Charalambous, 1996).

Concerning the provision of ICT in initial teacher training, an early research project indicated that IT relevant courses at the University of Cyprus are insufficient and mainly IT skills oriented. The main problems that students face were pressure of their full programme of study, a lack of any ICT integrated sessions in didactic subject courses and rather inadequate ICT resources on campus (Chrisostomou 1996). The situation at the University of Cyprus, however, appears to be more optimistic now since the content and the philosophy of the module ‘Educational Technology’ which is compulsory for all student-teachers has changed. During the last two years there has been a greater impetus in promoting student-teachers professional development in the area of ICT by using unstructured discussion lists and an attractive web-based environment (Kyza, 1999).

The provision of this new module however, still faces a number of problems:

a)its life-span covers a period of six months which is not enough in enabling students to become effective users of ICT

b)IT facilities are restricted (ratio: one computer to three students).

c)there is a shortage of educational software in Greek which is appropriate for primary education

d)there is no coordination among the University and the primary schools with regards to ICT, and therefore there are few opportunities for student-teachers to implement ICT during their school placement.

Computer Ownership

Although technology equipment in the public sector is poor, individuals tend to be able to provide themselves with their own personal computers. Surprisingly, our study demonstrates that one third of the Cypriot student-teachers own a computer. This percentage is higher than findings of similar research at the UK (Lienard, 1995) which demonstrated that then only 29% of student-teachers own their own computers.

Additionally our research revealed that 26.3 % of 3rd year student-teachers owned computers in 1996, and the following year (1997) 47.8% of the 3rd year student owned computers. Similar increase in computer ownership was found by the Institute of Education in the University of London where ownership of personal computers was risen from 18% to 29% of student-teachers over a five-year period (Lienard, 1995). These findings indicate an increase of the awareness of the usefulness of technology in both society and academic life among the British and the Cypriots.

The attitudes of Cypriot teachers towards technology

Teachers’ attitude towards ICT is a very important factor which stake-holders ought to consider in implementing ICT in education. With the introduction of the new ICT initiatives it becomes crucial particularly for newly qualified teachers to be confident in using ICT effectively in their teaching. For this reason, we have examined student-teachers’ ICT attitudes and their ICT competence gained from the University of Cyprus. The results of our study demonstrate the following:

a)The majority of student-teachers have positive attitudes towards computers for personal use. More than 60% of the Cypriots revealed not only that they like working with computers but also that they have confidence working with them.

b) Almost all student-teachers believe that the computer is useful both to their future work and for personal tasks. Similarly, the great majority of student-teachers have positive attitudes towards the role of IT in both teaching and learning.

c) Student-teachers have a high ability in the basic IT skills, however this ability falls rapidly with the more complicated skills. Even though the IT course in Year One seems to provide them with these basic IT skills, the fact that there is no continuation of constructive IT usage prevents the development of their IT competence.

These results lead to the conclusion that the University of Cyprus graduates have a positive attitude towards ICT in Education as well as an acceptance of the potential role of ICT within teaching and learning. They also appear to have sufficient basic ICT skill competence for operating the machine. This appears to be a necessary first step for their further ICT professional development to facilitates the implementation of learning with ICT into Cypriot Primary Education.

We should also consider the following limitations to the greater school use of ICT indicated by this research:

a) The frequency of computer use is low because of the limited facilities and lack of the appropriate educational software. Bearing in mind that the frequency of the IT use is considered as one of the most important contributory factors towards IT competence both for personal and educational purposes (Trushel at al, 1995), the weakness of Cyprus initial teacher education (ITE) in this area is clear.

b) Student-teachers’ ability in using software as a tool for teaching and learning is low since more than two thirds of student-teachers indicate a lack of confidence in using software as an educational tool. This indicates that student-teachers are most unlikely to implement new technologies in teaching and learning.

c) The ITE courses do not provide them with adequate IT educational experience mainly because of the fact that the compulsory IT courses are limited.

The above findings support the position that despite recent improvements the existing ITE at the University of Cyprus does not prepare student-teachers to be able to use ICT in their teaching. The great majority of the University of Cyprus graduates are not competent enough to adopt new technologies in their learning tasks. This means that they definitely need to participate in IT training during the first year of their teaching career in order to be capable of integrating ICT in teaching and learning. This IT training, however, does not necessarily have to start from a low base since these student-teachers already have a basic IT skills competence as well as a positive attitude towards the role of ICT in education. The proposed ‘Evagoras’ plan attempts to solve this problem by proposing the provision of training for all the Cypriot primary school teachers in order to improve their personal IT skills and become competent in using ICT into subject teaching.

The problem of inadequate ICT training during initial teacher education, however, remains for the generations of student-teachers to come. The realisation that there is a need to form a new policy which may cure the problems of ICT in pre-service and in-service teacher education has lead us to search for educational models from other countries. The UK being a member of the European Union and one of the leading countries in communications technology and at the same time having educational links wth Cyprus may provide paradigms for ICT in teacher education. The following describes the situation in Britain and identifies areas in which methods and practices can be applied in Cypriot initial and in-service education.

The British Example

The British National Policy on ICT Implementation

The UK’s ICT requirements appear to be more severe than those set by the Cypriot authorities. The recent Green Paper (DfEE, 1998) published from the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) stresses the need for teachers to have a thorough grounding in ICT skills. By the end of this year all newly qualified teachers should become ICT literate if they are to receive Qualified Teacher Status and by 2002 all teachers should be competent to use ICT within the curriculum (DfEE, 1998). Additionally, the ‘Excellence in Schools’ White Paper (DfEE, 1998) mentions that by the year 2002 there will be better training for teachers so that they use the most effective methods of teaching with regards to information technology. The same paper expresses the Prime Minister Tony Blair’s pre-election campaign pledge in 1997 that all schools would have computers and Internet connections by the year 2000 (DfEE, 1998).

The new National curriculum, in particular, aims to provide the knowledge, the skills and understanding to all newly qualified teachers so that they can make decisions about when and how to use ICT effectively in teaching (DfEE, 1998). According to the new initiatives, institutions are required to implement ICT into initial teacher training programmes. This is demonstrated by the ‘Circular’ (DfEE, 1998) which stresses that the provider of the Initial Teacher Training is responsible to teach student-teachers how to use ICT, in such a way that ICT is not seen as an end in itself, but it is rooted within the relevant subjects. Therefore, student-teachers should be taught how to take account of the functions of ICT and use them in order to achieve learning objectives.

These ICT functions mentioned by the Circular are the following:

a)the use of the speed of ICT functions in demonstrating and exploring aspects of teaching

b)the capacity and range of ICT in providing access to immediate information

c)the advantage of changing work due to the provisional nature of ICT

d)the interactivity of ICT which enables effective communication and exploration of models and simulations (DfEE, 1998, p.4).

ICT in Teacher Training

The UK Association for Information Technology in teacher Education (ITTE), which represents approximately one hundred institutions, welcomes the national targets for ICT and agrees with their content and philosophy, but nevertheless, has expressed some concerns relevant to the level and the style of the ICT training (Davis, 1998).

There is a strong view among educationalists in the UK that ICT should be an integral part of the initial teacher training course instead of an optional extra. ICT is seen as a tool for teaching and learning which has a role to play in redefining the nature of knowledge and altering the style of teaching (Somekh, 1998). In this view, ICT is seen as a methodology rather than some new subject content material that needs to be taught. It is suggested that ICT may provide student-teachers the tools to reconstruct and personalise knowledge and eventually control the process of their own learning (Mason, 1994; Berge and Collins, 1995; Bates, 1995, Lewis et al., 1997).

Therefore, it is not only the use of computers that is encouraged throughout initial teacher education but also the potential of computer networks is being exploited as a means for developing communities of learning for teachers. The use of computer-mediated-communication (CMC) in promoting teachers’ learning has been extensively used by British institutions (Singletary and Anderson, 1995; Collis, 1996; Davis, 1997; Hall, 1997; Perraton and Potashnik, 1997; Hacker and Sova, 1998; Banks et al, 1999).

Below we describe the use of electronic-communications at the Open University PostGraduate Course in Education (PGCE) and demonstrate how this use may enhance student-teachers’ attitude towards technology and promote their professional development. This model of initial teacher education can be a learning paradigm for the Cypriot ITE course since it does not include some IT modules which are independent from the programme as a whole but rather integrates ICT into student life and learning.

The Open University PGCE electronic communications model

The Open University PostGraduate Course in Education (OU PGCE) includes the use of computer-conferencing as a means of implementing ICT in the course. Computer-conferencing is an electronic system, which is similar to email, although it is much more sophisticated since it enables the exchange of messages among users with the ability to organise, store and retrieve the messages sent between learners (Haughey, 1998). Conferences are meeting places where participants interact with each other without the constraints of time and location.

The use of computer technology by students has a dramatic impact on them. The use of electronic-conferencing in particular improves computing skills and familiarises learners with new technologies (Mason, 1994; Collis, 1996; Leach, 1997; Trushell et al, 1998). In terms of confidence on technological capability, research indicates that the use of electronic-conferencing alters students’ perceptions. It was found that students develop a significantly more positive attitude towards computers (Moon, 1995). In the same vein, Leach (1997), observes that it enabled even those who considered themselves as ‘not very confident users’, to integrate information technology into their professional lives.

In our research conducted at the Open University, all informants developed a positive attitude towards ICT during their use of electronic-conferencing. The vast majority of students mention that the medium improved their computing skills, made them feel more confident with technology and taught them a lot about IT in conjunction with teaching.

‘I think it increases my confidence with using new technologies…in certain situations it gave me a lot to think about the use of new technology in in schools and new technology in education’.

(Pam, OU PGCE student 1998)

Some of them even mention that they aquired positive attitudes despite the fact that they had never used computers before and even though some of them might have been technophobes before they start using computer-conferencing.

‘My ICT skills are just amazing now compared to what they were. Nearly two years ago I would hardly touch a computer and now I use it at work. I am motivated and about to go on learning’.

(Sue, OU PGCE student 1998)

The fact that the OU PGCE students make continuous and constructive use of electronic-communications enables them to become priviliged ICT competent teachers. This has been demonstrated by some students, who were able to undertake the role of the IT co-ordinator at placement schools and others who were perceived as ICT qualified teachers by employers. In the same vein, earlier research indicates that student-teachers as well as practicing teachers, who use computers aquire competence with new technologies (Owen and Roulands, 1992; Handler, 1993; Murray and Collison, 1995; Trushell et al., 1995).

The benefits of the use of electronic-conferencing are not confined in enhancing students’ confidence with new technologies. Teachers’ professional development may well be promoted through the medium. It is suggested that the interactivity of electronic-conferencing enables the exchange of ideas and the promotion of learning. The interaction of individuals with mutual interests leads to the sharing of accumulated knowledge and other cultural products (Cutler, 1996). It is believed that electronic communications may support collaboration among students and access to peers and tutors (Valley, Steeples and Hynes, 1996; Baker and Lund, 1997; Davis, 1997; Shneiderman, 1998). Additionally, a new role that virtual technologies are seen to undertake is that of enabling members to form their identities as new teachers. The sense of identity is seen as a pivotal element in the development of professionals in communities of practice and even considered to be inseparable from learning (Lave and Wenger, 1993).

The attributes of electronic-communications mentioned above are demonstrated by our research at the Open University. All of our students feel that they gain something of value for their work through electronic-conferencing and demonstrate that the medium enables them to get a broader aspect of educational issues since they are able to access and transmit resources and communicate with their peer learners. We found that students discuss their needs as learners and identified areas of interest in such a way that they became designers of their own instruction. They were also able to link theory and practice by collaborating in communities of practice, which encourage social discourse and intellectual growth. Our students stress that they gained a ‘team spirit’ while they were sharing the benefit of their experience with colleagues. In addition, electronic-conferencing engaged them in reflective thinking since they were able to analyse concepts and theories and evaluate functions of their lives as developing teachers (Kyriakidou, 1999).

Recommendations

The close examination of the ICT implementation in Cyprus education in the light of the relevant developments at the UK allows us to express some thoughts in reforming the process of the implementation in Cyprus. Our suggestions include the following points:

Similarly to the British new requirements for teachers’ competence with the use of ICT (DfEE, 1998), an official political decision should be taken by the Cypriot authorities which would make the whole implementation of ICT into primary education as statutory. In the same vein, the University of Cyprus as the provider of Initial Teacher Training should be committed to enhance students’ technological capability by providing compulsory courses on using ICT to enhance subject teaching.

In Cyprus there is a need for continuing IT professional development across all phases of teacher education, initial and in-service. In order to achieve this, co-operation among the initial education provider and the bodies responsible for the in-service training is crucial.

Suggested pedagogic approaches for the ICT implementation in Cyprus teacher education

Preparing technofiles through electronic-conferencing

Our research conducted at the University of Cyprus demonstrates firstly that student-teachers have positive attitudes towards ICT, and secondly that a large majority of them is equiped with their own personal computers. This information allows us to suggest that these students should be given the opportunity to develop their ICT skills both during their initial teacher training course and their following teaching carreer. Considering our experience with electronic-conferencing at the Open University we may assume that the medium can be successful in preparing teachers in the use of the electronic-classroom. We suggest that the way that the UK Open University utilises new interactive technologies may provide an example for the educational authorities in Cyprus.

In relation to the above we welcome the setting up of the discussion list as a requirement for attending the module ‘Educational Technology’ and we suggest that this is upgraded to an electronic-conferencing forum among Cypriot student-teachers. The forum may have the possibility of communicating with prominent academics, professional teachers and educationalists in Cyprus and abroad. A similar forum might be organised for professional teachers by the responsible bodies for in-service training; the Pedagogical Institute and the IT Committee. Face-to-face meetings considering the geographical closeness of the country may enhance this forum.

The attributes of electronic communications might be the answer to the some of the problems that Cypriot teachers experience because of the fact that they are geographically isolated from their colleagues in Greece and other European countries culturally linked to Cyprus. In this view, technology may enable Cyprus education to be harmonised with the European Union educational standards and it can promote co-operation among schools and higher institutions of different countries.

Promotion of ICT use during classroom placements

The fact that Cypriot student-teachers use ICT only for two periods of six months each during their first two years of teacher training, allows us to suggest that they are not experienced enough to consider the use of ICT into their classroom lives. Our assumption is reinforced by the fact that they have no opportunity to use ICT within classroom placement due to impoverished ICT resources and due to weak co-ordination among the school authorities and the University.

We strongly suggest that students should be encouraged to use ICT during their school placement and also be supported from the IT Committee of the Ministry of Education and Culture, which should use teacher ICT mentors on school placements. In addition, certain assessment criteria should require student-teachers to make use of ICT in their teaching during school placements. The beneficial outcomes of such an initiative are praised by Trushel et al. (1998), who stress that the beneficial outcomes of an ICT course may be jeopardised by lack of using ICT in the classroom.

Conclusion

In this paper we have compared some crucial elements of the ICT implementation in education in Cyprus and the UK, and in particular the new ICT initiatives and the attitudes of student-teachers. The British experience indicates that the use of computers by student-teachers enhances their attitudes towards ICT and enables them to become competent users of ICT in the classroom. Conversely, Cypriot student-teachers are much less competent to implement ICT in their professional lives, although they have positive attitudes towards this technology. They have invested, however, individual interest and effort in learning to use technology despite inadequate training at the University of Cyprus.

Considering the Cypriot teachers positive attitudes and personal interest with computers we argue that they deserve to be given the impetus to employ ICT in their teaching practice and in their academic life as developing professionals. In relation to this we have proposed the use of electronic-conferencing as a means of developing technological confidence and competence, and the continuation of ICT use during school placement.

The ‘Evagoras’ announcement which aims to the use of IT as an educational tool by IT specialists in all schools should be welcomed. According to this document better training in ICT should be provided for Cypriot teachers by the Pedagogical Institute and the IT Committee. The main obstacle for the implementation of the plans proposed by ‘Evagoras’ is economical but nevertheless the enthusiasm should not decline due to financial difficulties. Large sums of money invested in ICT today will prove to be beneficial towards the future society since the use of technology in the pursuit of information and knowledge will be a requirement for the student and the employee of tomorrow.

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This document was added to the Education-line database on 10 January 2000