A look at Bate’s A Bridge too Far? Explaining Beginning Teachers’ use of ICT in Australian schools

Bates paper, A bridge too far? Explaining beginning teachers’ use of ICT in

Australian schools, discusses the findings of a recent study of how 35 first time teachers used information and communications technologies in the classroom. In this paper, Bate seeks to explain how and why ICT is used or avoided in specific educational contexts. Bates paper is well researched and draws on the former research of Mishra and Koehler which we covered in week 2. Bate suggests that there are two major factors in the how and why ICT is used in educational contexts. They are the education philosophy of the teacher and the socio-cultural setting of the school that they are working in.

Firstly, Bate suggests that the educational philosophy held by a teacher has a major impact on that teacher’s use of ICT. I could not agree more, as a hybrid social constructivist humanist who emphasises the importance of learner centred problem solving work (thought I do not accept the entire constructivist scheme in regards to epistemology and ontology), I am more likely to use ICT in a manner that facilitates problem solving activities, while also giving students an opportunity to have some fun in the learning process. In my case technology is seen as a tool which is to be used to transform student assessment, rather than as a means to communicate content. Instead of filling out a worksheet on major historical human rights documents I would much rather have students make a rap out of the major points in the documents and communicate those major points by writing a rap as a group and recording it using the ‘art of rap’ app on iTunes (Not only does musical skill increase cognitive development but it is also fun and engaging). Secondly, a schools culture is even more influential on the effective use of ICT in the classroom than the teacher. Schools can actively block the use of ICT through their structures and policies, withholding resources, training, and opportunities from teachers who would otherwise use ICT. In fact, the influence of foundational beliefs is not particular to teachers or school leaders. The actions of all participants in the process of education (parents, students, teachers and administrators, researchers, tertiary education institutions) are shaped by their fundamental beliefs about the function and purpose of education.

Bate spends a portion of his article describing the methodology of the research which he is discussing. In short beginning teachers that were fresh out of university were selected so as to ascertain how current graduates (who have been trained in the use of ICT in educational settings) integrate the use of ICT into the classroom. The research took the form of Interviews, classroom observation, and questionnaires about the use of ICT in the teacher’s classroom and their school environment.

The findings of the research can be summed up as follows. First, those who used ICT used it predominantly in student centred scenarios. Second, though all teachers were ICT competent, were trained to incorporate ICT into their pedagogical approach, and had an education philosophy that valued ICT and sought to use it to enhance the learning experience of students whenever possible, this had little impact on the actual use of ICT in their classrooms.  Third, the effective use of ICT was directly linked to the socio-cultural dynamic of the school. This was seen as the most prominent barrier to the effective use of ICT in the classroom, and I must agree, Bates research is clear on this point. Public schools with low resources, a lack of ICT infrastructure, and policy that underemphasised the need for ICT were completely deficient in ICT integration with little to no access to computers in classrooms, while Catholic and independent schools which had high resources, a well developed ICT infrastructure, and policy that openly welcomed the use of ICT in the classroom facilitated the effective use of ICT in the classroom. Fourth, in some situations there was a focus of a school on certain content knowledge outcomes (numeracy and literacy) at the expense of ICT integration. This was caused by a perception that there is no link between the correct use of ICT and meeting content knowledge outcomes. Bate is quick to point out that much of the software available to teachers is Australia is targeted at increasing numeracy and literacy, so  this is a false perception caused by ignorance .

To solve these issues Bate suggests several changes that must be made in order to facilitate the effective use of ICT in the classroom. First, he suggests an overhaul of the authoritarian teacher student relationship, in favour of the teacher acting as a facilitator with students having a high locus of control over their learning. Bate suggests that the boundless resources offered by the internet allow student autonomy in information gathering, making this approach highly applicable for the digital generation. I agree with Bate on this point, it is better that students learn to learn via problem solving than that they can accurately regurgitate  content knowledge, and it is clear that access to the internet and other ICT software (with supervision) provides the resources to make this learner centred learning more effective. Second, ICT infrastructure must be developed so that ICT can be efficiently used in the classroom. Third, teachers need to integrate ICT into the assessment process (much like Jen has used blogs to ascertain our performance). Third, much thought must be put into the integration of ICT into the classroom. It is not a simple matter and concerted effort must be put in to see that ICT is implemented effectively.

My only criticism of Bate’s paper is that the sample size of the research was too small to see the effects of the many variables that are in play in the entirety of our education system on the integration of ICT. Other than that his paper is a masterful analysis of the difficulty of integrating IT in the classroom and provides several well thought out solutions to these problems.

 

Resources

Bate, F. (2010) A bridge too far? Explaining beginning teachers’ use of ICT in Australian schools. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26(7).

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