College Quarterly
Fall 2003 - Volume 6 Number 1
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An Exploration of the Use of Information and Communication Technologies in the College Classroom

by Valerie Lopes, M.A. (Ed.)

This is a summary of the research study completed as part of the M.A. (Education) degree requirements with Central Michigan University.

Abstract

New Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) offer unique possibilities to enrich traditional teaching and learning, but the use of these technologies has not been widely adopted by teachers. Using a qualitative approach, this study explored the use of the newer electronic or digital computer based technologies in the college classroom. The study concluded that a hybrid course structure in which web based assignments and activities were combined with face to face instruction provides an excellent means of meeting the needs of today's learners.

Introduction

"Efficient learning systems are of vital importance for competitiveness in the knowledge based society, and it is essential that we constantly seek to advance the learning environments at our institutions" (Ontario Council of Universities (OCU), 2000). The potential of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to provide innovative learning opportunities and significant advances in the research about how people learn, necessitate a profound rethinking of the structures of education (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000). ICT have had a dramatic effect on virtually every aspect of society, and there is a significant body of research findings which support its usefulness in education. In many instances what is written about these new technologies is impressive. Yet, despite a substantial investment by colleges and universities, the broad integration of technology in college classrooms remains elusive. One wonders whether teachers who are actually using these tools in the classroom support the claims in the literature.

The purpose of this study was to explore the use of Information and Communication Technologies by teachers who were using these tools in the college classroom. The objective was to describe the ways in which these teachers feel that the use of these tools have affected the teaching and learning experiences. The study identified unique attributes of ICT over and above other teaching/learning strategies. The study addressed the following questions:

  1. What were the purposes for which teachers were using Information and Communication Technology tools in the college classroom?
  2. What were the teachers’ perceptions of the use of these tools on the learning experience?
  3. What effect has the use of these tools had on the way that the teachers teach?
  4. What were the unique benefits of the use of ICT over and above other teaching/learning strategies?

Ehrmann, (1999) believes that we cannot generalize about how ICT works in all situations; however, teachers should seek methods that seem to work and customize them for their own contexts. The aim of this study was to illustrate some of the ways in which these tools can be used and to provide examples of the potential of these tools to impact on the way that teachers teach and students learn. It was not meant to provide examples of what the use of ICT was guaranteed to provide, nor was it meant to suggest that all teachers using these tools would have the same results or share similar views. There were many issues related to the use of these Information and Communication Technologies which were not addressed in this study.

Methodology

A qualitative study was carried out to explore the ways in which teachers were using information and communication technologies (ICT) in the college classroom. Johnson (1995) has suggested that research which focuses on the use of technology in education should probe for deeper understanding rather than focus on the examination of surface features. "Qualitative methodologies are powerful tools for enhancing our understanding of teaching and learning, and they have gained increasing acceptance in recent years" (Johnson, 1995, p.4). The qualitative approach was appropriate for this study as the purpose of the study was to better gain a deeper insight into the use of information and communications technologies in the classroom as perceived by the participants; insights that would be difficult to measure in a quantitative manner (Hoepfl,1997).

Sample Selection

The data for this study were collected from thirteen teachers who were currently using these technologies as part of their repertoire of teaching/learning methods; eight teachers were interviewed and five provided responses to a questionnaire. A small, purposefully selected group of teachers from colleges in southern Ontario were used in this study.

Random sampling from among all of the colleges’ teachers was not possible, as this would not have guaranteed the selection of participants with experience in the use of ICT in the classroom which was critical for this study (Gay & Airasian, 2000). Purposeful sampling was used to select the participants based on their knowledge of and experience with the use of technology in the classroom (Gay& Airasian, 2000; Patton, 1990).

The teachers who participated in this study were very enthusiastic about Information and Communication Technologies and firmly believed that the use of these tools has added value to the total educational experience. They were very comfortable with the use of computers and were intrigued and excited by the use of these technologies. They were encouraged and supported by the college to use these tools to enrich the classroom experience. In their opinions the benefits associated with the use of these tools far outweigh the limitations of and problems associated with these technologies. In view of the fact that teachers play the central role in the successful incorporation of ICT in classrooms, as they do in any change in educational processes, the teachers’ perceptions about and use of these technologies have a major impact on whether colleges will reach their goals for technology usage (Buckley 2002).

Findings

These teachers supported the claims in the literature about the potential of ICT to revolutionize classroom practice. These teachers used ICT in the classroom for immediate and up to date access to information, to help students to learn basic concepts, to help students to visualize difficult to understand concepts, to facilitate classroom organization, to aid in note taking, to enhance the presentation of learning materials, and to enhance and facilitate communication and collaboration (Albright, 1999, Bento, 2000, Kussmaul et al, 1996, OCU, 2000). ICT expand the access to new information and support the teachers’ efforts to make meaningful learning experiences where students were actively involved in their learning.

These teachers emphatically stated that these technologies have helped to make them better and more efficient teachers and in some ways have transformed their teaching. They were better organized, able to modify course content more rapidly and completely, and found it easier to keep up-to date with changes, advances and new research in their disciplines. The course outline and syllabus, lecture notes, grades, class announcements and quizzes were easily accessed and always available to the students. These teachers made use of Course Management Systems such as Blackboard and Web-CT to develop course websites to deposit information. Email, used by all of the teachers, enabled them to respond to and connect with students more personally than before. As Partee (1996) pointed out: "physical proximity was no longer the determining factor for direct and immediate intellectual interaction" (p. 81) between students and teachers. There was only limited use among these teachers of Web based discussion boards and Chat. The electronic discussion boards augment communication outside of face-to-face classroom time and give students a mechanism to easily work together to solve problems or achieve understanding. Buckley (2002) emphasizes that these communication tools encourage the development of learning communities which support learning and extend the scope of the classroom. Wider adoption of the use of these communication tools was a goal for the future for these participants.

In addition to using these tools because they felt that the new students demand this type of service, it was apparent that one of the major reasons why these teachers used technology in their classrooms was because computers and their related tools appealed to the way that they (the teachers themselves) learned. This could also explain the conviction of these teachers that ICT has transformed the way that they teach. There was certainly a need to explore this bias and its implications for teaching/learning interactions and the use of technology in the classroom (Grasha & Yangarber-Hicks, 2000). Teachers should be encouraged to reflect carefully on the conceptual basis for their choice of instructional design and delivery.

These teachers identified time as being the most critical issue facing the use of ICT in the classroom. It was seen as both a barrier to and limitation of its use. This claim is well supported in the literature (Albright, 1999; Kagima & Hausafus, 2001; McGraw-Hill, Ryerson Limited 2002). There was no question that initially for some teachers there was a huge learning curve involved with the use of ICT. It also took vast amounts of time to develop materials and resources. Inconsistency among faculty may become a problem as some teachers with fewer skills or less time to learn them may end up feeling and looking inadequate. The use of these tools in the classroom not only enhances good teaching it also amplifies poor practice. The participating teachers all stated that they received a great deal of technical support from the administration at the colleges at which they worked. This was in contrast to what was often reported in the literature. A lack of institutional and technical support was often reported as a barrier to the use of ICT (Cardenas, 1998; Beggs, 2000; Kagima & Hausafus, 2001).

Although the potential for the use of ICT is exciting and offers many opportunities to enhance teaching and learning, there remains a need for healthy skepticism (Grasha &Yangarber-Hicks, 2000). It must be pointed out that the replacement of the blackboard and overheads with lectures delivered using electronically based tools does not necessarily result in a superior presentation. These presentation tools need to be carefully used as an auxiliary medium to present information especially when animation, variation in colour and simulations can better illustrate theories and concepts (Kussmaul et al, 1996; Partee, 1996). The success of the use of these tools was directly related to the skill level of the teacher and the ways in which they motivate the students. If a teacher or student has difficulty computing then it will be more difficult for them to teach and learn in a technology rich environment.

The study findings are summarized in the following table.

Table 1. Information and Communication Technologies
- Teaching, Learning and Unique Attributes
The Link to Learning
  • Helps to offer a constructivist approach to learning by providing interactive learning experiences
  • Students stimulated and motivated by the technology
  • Students are comfortable learning in this environment
  • Visualization aids in the understanding of difficult concepts and processes and provides links from theory to practice
  • Caters to different learning styles
  • Helps students to gain valuable computer skills which are necessary in today’s job market
  • Flexibility in learning - course information always available, always accessible
  • Aids in collaboration and group work as students can have their own group pages and discussion boards
The Influence on Teaching
  • Transforms teaching and helps teachers to be more efficient and effective
  • Aids in the organization and the structure of the course and the course materials
  • Provides innovative ways to help students learn basic concepts and skills leaving more time for teachers to focus on teaching higher level concepts in the classroom
  • Aids in the provision of interesting and creative presentations of content
  • Increases ability to provide more timely feedback
  • Changes the role of the teacher from being the source of knowledge to a guide in managing and interpreting information
Unique Attributes
  • Facilitate collaboration and communication
  • Aid in the visualization of difficult concepts and processes
  • Promote creativity
  • Enable ease in revision (multiple drafts) and updating of course content and resource
  • Provide flexibility and variety in learning
  • Provide greatly expanded access to information
  • Customize learning experiences
  • Provide access to current and literally up-to-the minute information
  • Provide a multimedia presence in the classroom

A key and surprising finding of this study was the way in which these teachers felt that their use of ICT in the classroom has changed and often transformed, the way that they taught. The teachers who participated in this study emphasized that the use of ICT has added much value to the teaching experience. It was important to highlight this finding because it was not accentuated in the literature reviewed and it was anticipated that this would be another reason to encourage teachers to seek ways to integrate the use of these technologies in the classroom. The findings of this study both illustrate how the use of these tools can positively impact on teaching, as well as point out some of the implications of the use of these tools. As these teachers reflected on the changes that ICT have initiated in education, they indicated that there was much to be gained from the use of these tools in the classroom. As technological advances in education abound and become even more sophisticated, it is essential for teachers to continually engage in reflective and informed deliberation about the ways we teach and learn.

The unique characteristics of ICT over and above other teaching/learning strategies, identified in this study, were consistent with the ones listed by Albright (1999). They included the ability of these tools to:

  • Facilitate collaboration and communication
  • Aid in the visualization of difficult concepts and processes
  • Promote creativity
  • Enable ease in revision (multiple drafts) and updating of course content and resources
  • Provide flexibility and variety in learning
  • Provide greatly expanded access to information
  • Customize learning experiences
  • Provide access to current and literally up-to-the minute information
  • Provide a multimedia presence in the classroom

It was evident from this study that these technologies are instruments for and not the substance of education (Sharpe & Hawkins, 1998). ICT will not accomplish much unless these tools are efficiently and effectively utilized in the classroom (Ely, 1995). It is critical for all teachers to endeavor to find the ways to best use these technologies to support their teaching and to enhance learning as supplements to traditional tools. The availability and presence of information and communication technologies demand a rethinking of the best use of the time spent in the classroom (Brown, 2001).

The World Wide Web and the Internet provides teachers with new ways to manage, process and disseminate information. Communication tools extend classroom instruction and interaction. This medium engages young people and provides them with diverse and appealing ways of learning. Now, with incredible amounts of information readily available, students and teachers must become skilled navigators of that information and also make judgments about the usefulness and accuracy of the information. The challenge was for teachers to create new learning environments that exploit the unique capabilities of the Web to enhance teaching and learning.

Hybrid courses offer teachers an opportunity to combine the innovation afforded by computer and web based learning and the use of ICT with the benefits of traditional face-to-face teaching and learning strategies. Partee (1996) believes that “as instructors are familiar with the real advantages of computer enhanced education, they will be less fearful of losing the pedagogical benefits of face to face instruction” (p.82). Grasha and Yangarber-Hicks (2000) however, discuss at great length, why they see as a major problem the potential for the use of ICT to create an impersonal mode of relationships. It was their view that the social interactions between teachers and peers play a major role in learning. They refer to Lowman’s research done in 1994 and 1995 which found that the intellectual excitement, interpersonal concern and motivating components provided by teachers in the classroom was what students valued most in learning. The findings of this study indicated that these teachers were in agreement with Grasha and Yangarber-Hicks that the human interactions in the classroom were vital to learning. The teachers indicated that real value of ICT was realized when these tools were used as supplements to enhance and enrich the activities and interactions in the classroom. The development and delivery of hybrid courses would allow teachers and students to experience the best of both of these worlds (Brown, 2001).

Recommendations

Patricia Cross (1995) notes that teaching is primarily a private profession. There is little “community” among teachers in regards to sharing the knowledge and skills of the teaching profession. It takes a substantial amount of time to develop and design interactive teaching and learning resources that utilize these new technologies; therefore, in order to facilitate the use of ICT in the classroom, it was recommended that the colleges encourage the formation of Technology Teaching/Learning Groups. The purpose of these groups would be to allow the people who were using technology to be mentors for teachers who need support and guidance in using these tools. Teachers should also be encouraged to share and utilize web based teaching materials and resources, especially those developed for generic skills.

Administrators have to take a critical look at the issue of time. Green (2001) indicates that the results of the Campus Computing Survey show that this issue was for the most part not dealt with at the Colleges. Teachers need to have time in their schedules to dedicate to planning and preparing for the use of ICT in the classroom, time for training and time to explore and experiment with these tools. There was a crucial need for this issue to be addressed.

In response to the needs of a technologically advanced society, colleges must provide an education that makes effective use of these information and communication technology tools. These technologies must be valued for what they can contribute to the teaching/learning experience and understood for their limitations. They undoubtedly provide a way to deliver learner-centered, interactive and effective instruction. The challenge is for teachers to design and develop programs that fully utilize the capacity of ICT and to integrate this with the human interactions in the classroom in order to achieve more than either the teacher or the computer, alone, could achieve.

The professors who participated in this study were purposefully selected based on their proficiency in the use of technology and because they explored and experimented with the new technologies to find ways to use these tools to enhance teaching and learning. It would be valuable to repeat this study and to speak to teachers who are not using these tools or have encountered difficulties with the use of these tools in the classroom. The sample used in this study was small and it would be valuable to explore the perceptions of a large group of teachers about the impact and influence of these technologies on teaching. There is also a need for research to determine the issues, advantages and challenges faced in the development and utilization of hybrid courses. What combination of face to face instruction and web based course work would be best to ameliorate learning?

A Final Thought

The 1990 Carnegie Foundation report described the scholarship of teaching as:

"a dynamic endeavor involving all of the analogies, metaphors, and images that build bridges between a teacher’s understanding and the student’s learning. Pedagogical procedures must be carefully planned, continuously examined, and relate directly to the subjects taught .... teaching, at its best, means not only transmitting knowledge, but transforming and extending it as well" (p.23-24, emphases in original)" (as cited in Cross, 1995 p. 13).

More than a decade later this description of teaching takes on a greater significance in light of the findings of this study and the potential of ICT to enhance the educational experience in the classroom.

References

Albright, Michael, J. (1999). Teaching in the Information Age: A New Look. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 80, 91-98.

Beggs, T.A. (2000). Influences and Barriers to the Adoption of Instructional Technology. Proceedings of the Mid-South Instructional Technology Conference. Murfreesboro, TN. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service ED 446 764)

Bento, R. (2000). Using The Web To Extend And Support Classroom Learning. College Student Journal, 34 (4), 603-608.

Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L. & Cocking, R.R. (Eds.). (2000). How People Learn Brain, Mind, Experience ,and School. Commwassion of Behavioral and Social Sciences Education National

Research Council. Washington: National Academy Press.

Brown, D.G. (2001). Hybrid Courses Were Best. Syllabus, 15 (1), 22.

Buckley, D. P. (2002). In Pursuit of the Learning Paradigm Coupling Faculty Transformation and Institutional Change. EDUCAUSE Review, 37 (1), 29-38.

Cardenas, K. (1998). Technology in today’s classroom: It slices and it dices, but does it serve us well? Academe, 84 (3), 27-29.

Cross, K. P. (1995). Educating for the 21st Century. Paper presented at “Leadership 2000” the Annual International Conference of the League for Innovation in the Community College and the Community College Leadership Program (7th, San Francisco, CA, July 23-26, 1995). (ERIC Document Reproduction Service ED 386232).

Ehrmann, S. (1999). Asking the Hard questions About Technology and Education. Change, 31 (20), 24-29.

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Kussmaul, C., Dunn, J. & Bagley, M. (1996). Using technology in education: when and why, not how. College Teaching , 44, 123-126.

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Partee, M.H. (1996). Using E-Mail, Web sites and Newsgroups to enhance Traditional Classroom Instruction. Technological Horizons in Education, 32, 78-92.

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Valerie Lopes has a M.A. (Education) degree from Central Michigan University, a B.Sc. from the University of Toronto and an Advanced Diploma in Cytogenetics from the Michener Institute of Applied Health Sciences. She currently provides consultation in educational instructional design for the Faculty of Applied Arts & Health Sciences, King Campus, Seneca College. She may be contacted at (416) 491-5050 Ext. 5206 or valerie.lopes@senecac.on.ca.

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• The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College Quarterly or of Seneca College.
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