Creating a conducive learning environment for the effective integration of ICT: classroom management issues.
This article reports and discusses the findings of the collective case study of two primary schools in Singapore. It is part of a larger funded research project that examines and analyses where and how information and communication technologies (ICT) are integrated in Singapore schools to develop pupils' higher order thinking skills. The focus of this article is on classroom management issues that create a conducive environment to facilitate the effective integration of ICT in the schools. In such an environment, pupils are more likely to be task-oriented and reflective, and hence, more likely to engage in higher order thinking. Using activity theory as a framework, the following classroom management issues are discussed: availability of ICT resources, establishment of rules and procedures, support of ICT-based activities by non-ICT and ICT tools, and division of labour among participants.
Jl. of Interactive Learning Research (2003) 14(4), 405-423
The primary motivation for integrating ICT in education is that it supports pupils in their own constructive thinking, allows them to transcend their cognitive limitations, and engages them in cognitive operations they may not have been capable of otherwise (Salomon, 1993). Many large-scale studies have documented the positive learning outcomes of using ICT in schools (Sivin-Kachala, 1998; Wenglinsky, 1998; Mann, Shakeshaft, Becker, & Kottkamp, 1999). These studies claimed that ICT develops a culture of thinking; one that "engages students with challenging yet personally meaningful problems, draws on students' conceptual and cultural world of experiences, and promotes active and independent learning among students" (Fisher, Dwyer, & Yocam, 1996, p.10). However, the focus of these studies is on how ICT facilitates the development of higher order thinking skills in a conducive learning environment, where classroom management issues are assumed to have been addressed.
In reality, conducive learning environments do not just happen, they are the result of effective classroom management that establish and maintain work systems for pupils to engage in their learning. A conducive learning environment is one that is task-oriented and predictable, where pupils know what is expected of them and how to succeed (Sanford, Emmer, & Clements, 1983). Pupils in these classrooms are consistently engaged in the learning tasks that their teachers have set for them and very few pupil behaviours interfere with those tasks (Emmer & Evertson, 1981; Doyle, 1990; Munn, Johnstone, & Chalmers, 1990). Research studies have shown a positive correlation between engaged time, appropriate academic activities, and high academic achievement, and the need to structure classrooms to promote ontask behaviours (Brophy, 1979; Good, 1982; Brophy & Good, 1986). Therefore, a conducive learning environment is a necessary condition for the effective integration of ICT to engage pupils in higher order thinking.
Based on a collective case study of two primary schools in Singapore, this article discusses classroom management issues that create a conducive learning environment to support the effective integration of ICT in schools. The collective case study is part of a larger Ministry of Education (Singapore) funded research project that examines and analyses where and how ICT is integrated in Singapore schools to develop pupils' higher order thinking skills. Using activity theory as a framework, the classroom management issues are discussed in each of the following categories: availability of ICT tools (hardware and software), establishment of rules and procedures, support of ICT-based activities by non-ICT and ICT tools, and division of labour among participants (teachers, pupils, and technical assistants) in the learning environment.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
Kounin (1970, p.63) defined effective classroom management as "producing a high rate of work involvement and a low rate of deviancy in academic settings." It includes "the provisions and procedures necessary to establish and maintain an environment in which instruction and learning can occur and the preparation of the classroom as an effective learning environment" (Fraser, 1983, p.68). A well-managed classroom is then one in which pupils are consistently engaged in the learning tasks with few pupil off-task behaviours. The literature reviewed in this section discusses the classroom management issues that create a conducive environment for the effective integration of ICT in schools.
Availability of ICT Tools
Pelgrum (2001), in a worldwide survey among schools from 26 countries, found that the most frequently mentioned problem of integrating ICT in education was the insufficient number of computers. This was echoed by Williams, Coles, Wilson, Richardson, and Tuson (2000) who found that a limited availability of ICT led to problems of classroom management and organization of resources. Cheung (1997) observed that pupils tended to lose concentration when the group working on a computer was too big. Given the large number of members in the group and the limited amount of time a teacher has for each lesson, there was not enough opportunity for each pupil to have a turn at the computer.
Beside the issue of an insufficient number of computers, Pelgrum (2001) found that insufficient peripherals and learning software were in the top ten list of problems related to ICT integration in schools. When peripherals such as earphones and microphones, and copies of learning software were insufficient, teachers experienced great difficulty in planning and conducting lessons even if there were enough computers (Cheung, 1997).
Supporting Activities for ICT Tools
Using ICT in the classroom involves organising supporting activities for the ICT tool. Potter (2000, p.125) recommended the principle of discussing with pupils "the difficulties that they have to overcome in familiarising themselves with the onscreen layout of the particular piece of software." Potter (2000) suggested that teachers could print out screens to help the pupils become familiar with the new layouts they would be encountering. Indeed, one cannot simply assume that pupils are comfortable with any ICT software or hardware that they handle. It is thus the responsibility of the teachers to conduct ICT-based activities in such a way that every pupil understands and follows whatever is going on in the lesson.
Establishment of Rules and Procedures
In any learning environment, ICT-based or non-ICT-based ones, some degree of order and regularity is essential if pupils are to work productively and consistently toward instructional objectives (Doyle, 1990; Gettinger 1988). A classroom without any guidelines for appropriate behaviours is very likely to be chaotic and unproductive. Potter (2000) suggested that a bank of regular sayings, which emphasised good practices, be put on the notice board of the computer room for all pupils to see. These are the rules and procedures that state the expected pupil behaviour to create an effective and harmonious learning environment in ICT-based lessons. Evertson, Emmer, Clements, and Worsham (1997, p.20) suggested five different categories of rules and procedures for the classroom: (a) procedures for room use, (b) procedures for teacher-led instruction, (c) procedures for moving in and out of the room, (d) procedures for group work, and (e) general procedures, such as distribution of materials and fire drills.
These rules and procedures are to be integrated into a workable system by teachers and should be deliberately taught to the pupils. By making the rules and procedures "concrete, explicit, and functional," order in the learning environment and pupils' work accomplishment are achieved (Doyle, 1986, p.410). Although many of these rules and procedures are established in "regular" classrooms, they can still be applied in ICT-based learning environments (Wong, 2000).
Technical Support for Teachers
In addition to the previously mentioned issues and strategies, teachers also need certain support to effectively integrate ICT in their lessons. According to Wong (2000), the most common problem a teacher faces when conducting an ICT-lesson is pupils encountering technical problems. It is therefore crucial to provide teachers with technical support, especially help in trouble-shooting ICT-related problems (Parks & Pisapia, 1994). The teachers can then concentrate on conducting the actual lessons. Technical support can come from a variety of sources, such as a computer technician employed by the school, and from the pupils themselves. The latter can be trained to assist other students in solving simple technical problems (Marcovitz, Hamza, & Farrow, 2000).
RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS
To study the classroom management issues that create a conducive environment for the effective integration of ICT in schools, the conceptual framework of activity theory is adopted to provide a well-developed and consistent design for the study. It focuses on the whole configuration of classroom management related activities during ICT-based lessons.
Overview of Activity Theory
Over the last decade, activity theory has been adopted and developed as a framework for researching ICT in education settings (Holland & Reeves, 1994; Verenikina & Gould, 1997; Engestrom, 1999). Activity theory draws on the Vygotskian cultural-historical theory of learning, with activity as probably the most important concept. Activity is driven by a collective object (goal) and motive, but it is realised in goal-oriented individual and group actions. The centrality of activity to psychology is reflected in Leont'ev's (1981, p.46-47) assertion:
Human psychology is concerned with the activity of concrete individuals, which takes place whether in a collective--that is, jointly with other people--or in a situation in which the subject deals directly with the surrounding world of objects--e.g. at the potter's wheel or the writer's desk ... if we removed human activity from the system of social relationships and social life, it would not exist ... the human individual's activity is a system in the system of social relations. It does not exist without these relations.
Therefore, activities are systems in the system of social relations. A human individual never acts directly on, or reacts directly to, the environment. Cultural means, tools, and signs mediate the relationship between human participants and the objects of the environment. In this sense, the study of ICT in schools is no longer restricted to the interaction between the computer and the participants, but rather how ICT is embodied within a socially constituted learning environment (Crook, 1991).
Activity System as Unit of Analysis
Cultural-historical activity theory takes a collective object-oriented activity system as its prime unit of analysis (Cole & Engestrom, 1993; Engestrom, Miettinen, & Punamaki, 1998). The unit of analysis allows one to observe the actual learning processes in context, where the context is the activity system. It integrates the subject (individual participant), the object, the tools, and the dynamic nature of human activities. Cole and Engestrom (1993) represented the idea of activity systems with an expanded version of the classical mediational triangle (Figure 1).
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
The classical mediational triangle draws on Vygotsky's (1978) higher and elementary functioning: "unmediated" (elementary) functioning occurs along the base of the triangle, and "mediated" (higher) functioning is the interaction between the subject and object (task) mediated by tools at the vertex of the triangle. However, this basic mediational triangle fails to account for the collective and dynamic nature of activities. The expanded version situates the subject in a community comprising of multiple individuals and groups who share the same general object. There is division of labour in the community where the distribution of tasks, powers, and responsibilities are continuously negotiated among its participants. And there are rules that mediate the relations between the subject and its community to "specify and regulate the expected correct procedures and acceptable interactions among the participants" (Cole & Engestrom 1993, p. 7).
Adopting activity system as the unit of analysis for this study, the subject is the teacher in the ICT-based lesson and the object is the effective management of the ICT-based lesson. The outcome will then be a conducive learning environment that provides the necessary condition for the effective integration of ICT. The teacher is one of the participants of the community in the ICT-based lesson where the community consists of the teachers. pupils, and technology assistants (TA). In this community, there is division of labour among its participants to mediate the creation of the conducive learning environment. Rules and tools in the ICT-based lessons also help to mediate between the teacher and the effective management of the lesson.
The Collective Case Study
To provide an in-depth examination of the classroom management issues that create a conducive environment for the effective integration of ICT in schools, a collective case study approach is adopted. The collective case study is the study of the particularities and complexities of cases obtained by extensive descriptions and analysis of those cases taken as a whole and in their context (Stake, 1995). The "cases" for the study in this article are two primary schools in Singapore, East Primary, and North Primary School. The two schools are selected based on their high degree of ICT integration reported in a questionnaire survey of all Singapore schools.
The questionnaire survey consists of five different categories: School ICT culture, pupil use, teacher use, management of ICT resources, and staff development. Responses to the questionnaire are made on a five-point scale, where point 1 of the scale is associated with no or little integration of IT, point 3 is associated with moderate integration of IT, and point 5 is associated with high integration of IT.
To ensure accuracy of the conclusions drawn, data from the observations of ICT-based lessons, face-to-face interviews with teachers, and focus group discussions with pupils were used in the multiple strategies process. Multiple strategies involve gathering accounts of different realities that have been constructed by various groups and individuals in the school; and hence, enhance reliability and validity of the study.
Observations of ICT Lessons
Observation facilitates the collection of rich data in natural settings. Richer data means a better description and understanding of what goes on in a particular context and improves the provision of clues and pointers to other layers of reality (Silverman, 1994). It also helps to generate and refine questions during the informal and formal interviews with both pupils and teachers regarding an observed behaviour or action. A semi-structured observation was adopted to allow for a more open exploration of the learning environment. During observations of the ICT-based lessons, a record of events was kept based on the observation checklist that included layout of the room, lesson objectives, lesson sequence, types of ICT and non-ICT tools used, rules, and roles of the participants. The checklist for the observations was inextricably tied to the activity theoretical framework.
Fifteen ICT-based lessons were observed in each school. The ICT-based lessons were in different subject areas: Mathematics, Science, English, Mother-tongue language (Chinese, Malay and Tamil), Art, Music, and Social Studies. Most of the lessons observed were conducted in the computer rooms, mediated by ICT tools that included CD-ROMs, Internet, and open tools (word processor and presentation application). Only three of the lessons were conducted in the classroom with a data projector and a computer.
Face-to-Face Interviews with Teachers
Although observation allowed collection of data through the researchers' direct contact with the learning environment, it was not always possible to have intimate, repeated, and prolonged involvement in the life and community of the participants. Moreover, it was necessary to take into account of the way the teachers interpreted and understood their worlds. It allowed for the explanation of certain behaviours or actions of the teachers that had been observed.
Three teachers were interviewed in each school after the observation of their ICT-based lessons. The 45 minutes interviews were tape-recorded. An unstructured interview format was adopted to encourage meaning making by narrative recounting. A list of topics that the researchers wanted the teachers to talk about was generated for the interview: objectives of ICT-based lessons, reasons for using ICT and non-ICT tools, roles of the participants, rules and procedures for the ICT-based lessons, professional background of teacher.
Focus Group Discussions with Pupils
Focus groups are group interviews that rely, not on a question-and-answer format of interview but on the interaction within the group. This reliance on interaction between the participating pupils elicits more of the pupils' point of view by allowing a struggle of understanding of how others interpret key terms/ideas and a debate of issues raised (Morgan, 1993). Moreover, pupils may feel more at ease when they are in a group, and that may encourage more spontaneity, especially if the pupils are classmates or close friends (Bers, 1994).
Three groups of six pupils were chosen from each school for the focus group discussions. The groupings were done according to the levels that the pupils were from--Primary 3, 4, and 5. Each group had a 30-minute discussion conducted in the classroom or the computer lab. A list of topics and questions was used to guide the group discussions: objectives of ICT-based lessons, ICT and non-ICT tools, ICT-based lessons and learning, rules and procedures, and division of labour among participants. These topics were generated from the activity theoretical framework and the literature review. Care was taken to ensure a natural progression across topics in the list, with some overlap between them; an artificial compartmentalisation of the discussion might defeat the purpose of using focus group discussions (Morgan, 1993).
From the various sources of data collected, units of information were identified. These units became the basis for defining categories. It was essential that the activity theoretical framework informed these units with respect to the availability of ICT tools, establishment of rules and procedures, support of ICT-based activities by non-ICT and ICT tools, and division of labour among participants (teachers, students, and TAs). These units were situated in the ecological settings of the activity systems (ICT-based lessons in the two schools).
ECOLOGICAL SETTINGS OF THE TWO CASE STUDIES
East Primary School
The study in East Primary School, a government-aided school, was carried out from September 17, to October 2, 2001. Government-aided schools are schools managed by a board of governors, usually from clans or religious organizations, empowered to recruit staff of their own. At the time of the study, there were 2118 pupils in East Primary School, consisting of boys and girls with ages ranging from 7 to 12. The average class size was 40. The school had a staff strength of 80 teachers and 10 support personnel. There were two computer rooms where each had been equipped with about 40 computers, data projector, pull-down projector screen, and whiteboard. These computer rooms were fully air-conditioned.
A TA was available to address technical problems that might arise in the computer rooms, such as program failure and CD-ROM access problem. The ICT learning packages that were used included Midisaurus for Music, I-Micro and RoboLab for Science, and a wide range of CD-ROMs for other subjects, such as English, Mathematics, Social Studies, Art, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil. The school had also converted certain areas in the school into free access corners with a total of 12 computers for pupils to engage in independent learning during tea or lunch breaks.
North Primary School
The fieldwork in North Primary School, also a government-aided school, was carried out from August 21, 2001 to January 8, 2002. All 720 pupils were girls between 7 to 12 years old. The average class size was 40. There were 31 teaching staff and 4 support staff, including the TA. There was one fully air-conditioned computer room with about 40 computers, data projector, pull-down projector screen, whiteboard, and two printers. Some of the IT learning packages that were used in North Primary School included Midisaurus for Music, Crayola for Art, and CD-ROMs such as MathBlaster and ZARC for Mathematics. The area outside the school general office was converted to a free access area with 6 computers.
FINDINGS AND DISCUSSIONS
Availability of ICT tools
Under the Singapore Masterplan for ICT in education, launched in April 1997, all schools were provided with ICT tools, both hardware and software. One of the goals of the Masterplan was to ensure that by the end of 2002, all 368 schools in Singapore would be equipped with the necessary hardware, software, and infrastructure that would support an ICT integrated learning environment. At the launch of the Masterplan on April 28, 1997, the Minister of Education in his opening speech elaborated on the rationale for the Masterplan:
Singapore's Masterplan for Information Technology (IT) in Education lays out a comprehensive strategy for creating an IT-based teaching and learning environment in every school. It will be one of our key strategies for equipping our young with skills that are critical for the future--creative thinking, the ability to learn independently and continuously, and effective communication (Ministry of Education, 1997).
By December 1999, the teacher-computer ratio was 2:1 for all schools and pupil-computer ratio was 6.6:1 for primary schools. The schools were also given funds to purchase educational software and other peripherals annually. The schools have the autonomy to identify and purchase ICT resources that best meet the needs of their students and teachers. The music teacher in North Primary School, during the interview, recalled how she persuaded her school to purchase Midisaurus, a music software:
The school has always been supportive of the use of information technologies (IT). I came across Midisaurus in a music workshop and asked for a demo copy to explore. After evaluation, I put up a proposal to purchase 50 copies of the CD-ROMs. The school has funds for the purchase of hardware and software, so it is up to the individual teacher to propose the purchase of IT resources that are useful for their students.
All classrooms in the two primary schools were equipped with a data projector and a desktop computer. And the computer rooms were equipped with more than 40 desktop computers per room, enough for a class of 40 pupils to engage in individual work, and flexible enough to support pair and group work. In all the ICT-based lessons observed, there was no problem that was associated to a lack of computers, educational software or ICT peripherals. All the teachers, who were interviewed, stated that they have more flexibility in planning and conducting ICT-based lessons, as they were not constrained by the availability of ICT tools. Therefore, the availability of ICT tools in the computer rooms mediates between the teacher and his/her management of the ICT-based lessons that creates a conducive learning environment for the effective integration of ICT in these schools.
Establishment of Rules and Procedures
Although the rules and procedures established in a non-ICT based classroom apply in an ICT-based classroom, there are additional rules and procedures to be established in the latter. This is due to the addition of computers, printers, monitors, CD-ROMs, and other ICT resources. Moreover, pupils are often less familiar with ICT-based classrooms than non-ICT based ones. The rules and procedures include both discipline-specific ones and educational ones. The former include rules and procedures for room use, moving in and out of the room, teacher-led instruction, and general tasks such as distribution of worksheets. The latter include rules and procedures for educational activities such as group work and note-taking. This section discusses both types of rules and procedures.
In both schools, the discipline-specific rules of the computer room were clearly displayed on the wall. They included no water bottles or food in the computer room, no unauthorised installation of programs, no unauthorised change to the features of the control panel, no running about in the computer room, and no playing games unless the teacher gives permission. Besides setting rules, it is also important to establish procedures for pupils to follow when they are in the computer room. These procedures minimise the occurrences of deviant behaviour among pupils and keep the pupils on task.
All the pupils in the focus group discussions agreed that the discipline-specific rules and procedures were reasonable and they ensured the smooth running of the ICT-based lessons. A few of them elaborated on the importance of rules and procedures during these discussions: "... if not (no rules), we're talking too much and we don't follow the teacher's instructions, we do our own things" and "if there are no rules about the computers, other people may mess up the computers. We already have something to work on for the class, and if the computer is messy, then we've got another problem to think of and it makes it very hard for us."
Some discipline-specific procedures that were observed in both schools included the following:
* Pupils entered and exited the computer room in an orderly fashion according to their class index number. Each of them knew their assigned seats and there was no rushing. The computers were indexed with the index number of the pupil. Indexing facilitated the procedure of seat assignment and the monitoring of the ICT tools. One teacher from the school elaborated during the interview:
Every computer is labelled with an index, and the pupil of that index number will use that particular computer ... even the CD-ROMs are also tagged with numbers, so that we can check any breakdown, or any mischief done to the computer. And before they [the pupils] leave, they have to turn the mouse over, so that the track ball ... you can see that the track ball is still inside.
* Some teachers grouped or paired pupils with ICT skills with those who needed more support using ICT. Such an arrangement facilitated the learning process of pupils who were weak in ICT skills as they were able to better engage in the task. It also eliminated the need for these pupils to frequently interrupt the teacher for help. For example, one teacher in East Primary School paired pupils who were weak in typing with those who could type well. She also made sure that no "playful" pupils were put together.
* Pupils turned on the computers only when the teacher gave instructions to. In both schools, some teachers would get the pupils to turn off their monitor or move to the front of the computer room (away from the computers) when they were explaining a concept or giving instructions. These procedures ensured that the pupils paid attention to the instructions and explanations.
The discipline-specific rules and procedures observed in East and North Primary School communicated the teachers' expectation of the pupils' behaviour. Of all the 30 lessons observed in both schools, there were only 2 lessons in East Primary School and 1 in North Primary School that lacked a conducive learning environment. In one of these lessons in East Primary School, there was a lack of discipline-specific rules and procedures. For example, a few pupils were working on their workstations and some were talking among themselves when the teacher was giving instructions prior to the ICT-based activity. Moreover, the pupils in this lesson have failed to enter and exit the computer room in an orderly fashion, and many of them were not seated according to their index numbers.
For the other 2 lessons that were observed to lack a conducive learning environment, the main problem appeared to stem from a lack of educational rules and procedures, especially for carrying out group work and taking notes from the ICT package. During group work in these 2 lessons, 1 or 2 pupils in each group usually dominated the discussions and tasks. The rest of the pupils displayed off-task behaviours such as daydreaming, talking among themselves, or engaging in another task other than the task at hands. Research studies have shown that simply putting pupils in groups and asking them to work together does not automatically result in cooperative learning (Sheingold, Hawkins, & Char, 1984; Sharan, 1994). Sharan stated that educational rules and procedures are necessary to create a conducive environment for cooperative learning. They include ensuring individual accountability, teaching of cooperative social rules/procedures and establishing positive interdependence.
The pupils in the focus group discussion at North Primary School recalled how their teacher assigned each of them with a role, and hence ensured individual accountability: "I was the recorder and I have to record everything the group has discussed, without any mistakes, and then passed to the presenter," "The teacher only assigned us with roles during the first few lessons, after that, she said we can take care of ourselves and assign ourselves," and "There were the group leaders, the noise controller, the recorder and the presenter whenever we have group work. Everybody was responsible for something." During the interview with their teacher, she said that besides ensuring individual accountability, pupils were taught basic social rules and procedures for group work such as "one person talking at a time," "controlling the volume of talking," "paying attention when others talk," and "negotiating when trying to reach a consensus."
Therefore, to create a conducive learning environment, teachers have to set clear rules and procedures, both discipline-specific and educational ones, to mediate between the community of the ICT-based lesson and the object of effective management of the lesson.
Support of ICT-based Activities by Non-ICT and ICT Tools
Pupils cannot be assumed to be "expert" learners in the ICT-based learning environment. They may lack the technical skills to navigate and learn in the ICT learning packages; or/and they may lack the motivation to learn using the ICT learning package. If these assumptions are not addressed, pupils may lose task-orientation and display deviant behaviours that are disruptive (Lim, 2001). Therefore, teachers need to employ ICT and non-ICT tools to support the ICT-based activities such that the assumptions of the "expert" learners are addressed. Such practices were observed in both schools at various stages of the ICT-based lessons: preinstructional activities, instructional activities, and postinstructional activities.
Most of the teachers reviewed previous concepts and made links to the concepts to be covered in the ICT-based lessons. Some teachers highlighted and demonstrated the key features and the navigation buttons of the ICT learning package before allowing pupils to start using the computers. The teachers, mediated by the whiteboard, visualiser, teacher's computer, overhead projector, and data projector, carried out these presentations and demonstrations that created a conducive environment for learning.
These activities, supported by ICT and non-ICT tools, are especially important when a new hardware and/or software are being introduced, as in the case of North Primary School. When the QX3 microscope and its accompanying program were first introduced in a Science lesson with a group of Primary three pupils, the teacher explained the features and functions of the different parts of the microscope with the use of Power Point slides. She then asked the pupils to imitate her actions as she used the microscope and software to capture some images. This ensured that the pupils knew how to use the microscope and its accompanying program. The pupils in the focus group discussions found the introduction and demonstration of the microscope helpful as they "did not encounter any problems when using the microscope" and they were able to "concentrate on the science experiment."
Most of the instructions for the ICT-based activities were usually given to pupils as handouts or projected onto the screen by way of the teachers' computer. When pupils were clear about the tasks that they were to complete, they were more likely to be task-oriented and motivated. When instructions were confusing, as observed in a lesson in North Primary School, pupils were found to display more deviant behaviours. In the focus group discussion, one of the pupils who was talking to his partner during the lesson, commented that he did not know what the ICT-based task was about and he was "lost in cyberspace" when carrying out the task.
Scaffolding activities were present in most lessons observed in both schools. Worksheets and checklists were distributed to the pupils to guide them to complete their tasks. During a Science lesson in East Primary School, the teacher designed a worksheet to mediate knowledge construction (searching for and analysing information based on the guided questions to construct their own meaning of scientific concepts) as her pupils worked through a section of CD-ROM on Natural Habitat. Some of her pupils commented during the focus group discussion that "the worksheet helped us to think about things in the computer" and "without the worksheet, we won't know what to learn and what is important."
In another Science lesson observed in North Primary School, the teacher prepared a checklist to guide his pupils to conduct an inquiry on the water cycle mediated by the Internet. During the interview, he explained the rationale for the checklist: "If the pupils are to conduct the inquiry without a checklist, they may be overloaded with information. The purpose for the checklist is to provide a focus on what they need for the inquiry and thus, they won't be lost." Such scaffolding tools ensured that pupils were able to successfully engage in the tasks and complete them. Besides worksheets and checklists, the teachers in both schools also posed many guiding questions verbally. These questions served as scaffold, guiding the pupils learning processes.
In East Primary School, a red cup was placed beside each computer to allow pupils to signal for help. It was known as the red alert cup. When pupils encountered a technical or instructional problem, they would place their cups on top of their monitors to request for help. The TA (if present) or teacher would then assist the pupils accordingly. As the use of such cups was absent in North Primary School, the pupils who encountered problems had to raise their hands and that disrupted or delayed the completion of their tasks. Therefore, the cup mediated between the rules and the community, and that created a more conducive environment in East Primary School than North Primary School.
All the teachers who were observed in both schools carried out postinstructional activities to round up the ICT-based lessons and linked the concepts learnt to the next lesson. They also briefed the pupils on the tasks to be completed by the next lesson. Most of the tools used to mediate these activities were similar to the ones used in the preinstructional activities. In East Primary School, one of the teachers used a concept-mapping software, Inspiration, to engage her pupils in the reflection of the ICT-based lessons. The teacher constructed the concept map on her computer, projected on the screen, together with her pupils. Another teacher in the school constructed the concept map with his class on the whiteboard.
The teachers in both schools employed both ICT and non-ICT tools to support the ICT-based activities to ensure that their pupils were task-oriented and engaged in their learning processes. These tools, employed by the teachers to create a conducive learning environment, mediate between the community and the object of managing ICT-based lessons.
Division of Labour among Participants
The responsibility of ensuring a conducive learning environment should not fall entirely on the teacher. There is a need for the division of labour among the participants in the computer room. The role of the teacher in the two schools was to plan for the ICT-based lessons, conduct and manage them, evaluate them and make necessary changes. They moved around the computer room to engage the pupils in dialogues while the pupils were working at the computers. However, it was observed that TAs and pupil helpers also played crucial roles.
Role of Teacher
There were only two lessons observed in East Primary School where more than two-thirds of the lesson was spent on direct teaching. The other ICT-based lessons were pupil-centred with very little direct teaching. Examples of such lessons included pupils working with CD-ROMs, composing essays with Microsoft Word, searching for information on the Internet and presenting their findings, and carrying out experiments with ICT tools such as the QX3 microscope. Although pupil learning was mediated by ICT and non-ICT tools (worksheets, checklists, and handouts), the teachers were observed to be facilitators, helping and guiding the pupils in their work. As the pupils worked at their own pace, the teachers were able to spend more time working with the weaker pupils, and provided them with more scaffolding to complete the tasks. When pupils are able to successfully carry out and complete the tasks, they are less likely to engage in deviant behaviours that may be disruptive to the lesson.
Role of Technology Assistant
In both schools, the TAs were present in most of the ICT-based lessons observed. Most of the teachers who were interviewed acknowledged the crucial role of the TA in these lessons. The TAs helped the teachers address technical problems faced by the pupils. In reality, the TAs could not be present in the computer room for most ICT-based lessons as they might be engaged in the maintenance of ICT tools in other parts of the school. In the interviews, most teachers said that they would try to attend to the technical problems themselves or expect the pupils to help one another to solve the problems. However, they would still need the support of the TAs if all else failed. One teacher in North Primary School elaborated on this point during the interview:
I'll try to attend to it and check whether if there's any problem but if I cannot handle, my immediate response will be to get the technician to handle it. Actually, the pupils will help one another and if they cannot solve the problem, they will get me, I mean get their teachers to help and if I can't handle it, I'll get the TA to handle it.
By doing so, the TAs freed the teachers from attending to technical problems and ensured that the teachers focused their attention on the conduct and management of the ICT-based lessons. That is, the division of labour between the TA and the teacher in the ICT-based lesson mediates between the subject (teacher) and the object of managing the lesson to create a conducive learning environment.
Role of Pupil Leaders/Helpers
In both schools, group leaders and assistant group leaders were assigned to collect, distribute, and return CD-ROMs, diskettes, worksheets, and checklists. These group leaders were chosen based on their seating positions; in East Primary School, they were the ones seated at the first row of the computer room, while in North Primary School, they were seated at the extreme right hand column of the computer room. In either case, the roles of the group leaders and assistant group leaders were very clear. The group leaders were supposed to collect and distribute the CD-ROMs, worksheets, handouts, and checklists, and the assistant group leaders were supposed to collect and distribute the pupils' work (for example, printouts) and personal diskettes.
In North Primary School, two pupils were chosen from each class as pupil helpers to handle simple technical procedures and problems. These pupil helpers facilitated the smooth running of the lesson by relieving some of the burden of the teacher, so that he/she could channel more energy into conducting and managing the ICT-based lesson. A teacher in the school explained the role of the pupil helper during the interview:
The pupils will actually set up some of the things like visualiser or even laptops ... we actually have at least two girls trained in IT so that ... when it comes to lesson ... the teacher is very busy doing other things so the teacher may need them to set up the things. They [girls trained in IT] will know how to set up the things.
The division of labour among the teachers, pupils, and TAs in both schools have indeed facilitated the creation of a conducive environment that is the necessary condition for the effective integration of ICT in the classroom. By defining the roles of each participant in the ICT-based lesson, the teacher is then able to achieve the object of managing the lesson; the role definitions or division of labour mediates between the community of the ICT-based lesson and the object of a well-managed lesson.
Managing ICT-based lessons is not very different from managing non-ICT based ones. The basic classroom management principles apply for both. Taking the ICT-based lesson as an activity system, we can study how the tools, rules, community, and division of labour mediate between the subject (teacher) and the object of managing the ICT-based lesson. The findings in the collective case study have highlighted the elements of a well-managed ICT-based lesson as:
1. Availability of ICT tools: When ICT tools are available and adequate in the learning environment, they mediate between the teacher and his/her management of ICT-based lessons that creates a conducive environment for effective ICT integration.
2. Establishment of rules and procedures: Teachers have to set clear discipline-specific and educational rules and procedures to mediate between the community of participants and the object of effective management of ICT-based lessons.
3. Supporting ICT and non-ICT tools for ICT-based activities: Teachers have to employ both ICT and non-ICT tools to support ICT-based activities by mediating between the community of participants and rules of the learning environment, and/or mediating between the community and the object of effective management of ICT-based lessons.
4. Division of labour among teachers, TAs, and pupils: Every participant in the ICT-based lesson has a role to play in ensuring a conducive learning environment. The well-defined roles of participants mediate between the community and the object of a well-managed ICT-based lesson.
These elements facilitate the creation of a conducive learning environment that provides the necessary condition for the effective integration of ICT in the classroom. In such an environment, pupils are more likely to be task-oriented and reflective, and hence, more likely to engage in higher order thinking.
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CHER PING LIM, YIONG HWEE TEO, PHILIP WONG, MYINT SWE KHINE, CHING SING CHAI, SHANTI DIVAHARAN
National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
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|Publication:||Journal of Interactive Learning Research|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2003|
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