An Investigation of the Organizational Impact of Computer Technology in Classrooms: A Community of Practice Approach
This study examines the organizational impact that computer technology has on science teachers teaching actions through the community of practice framework (Lave & Wenger, 1999). The organizational impact of computer technology refers to teachers’ personal styles and creativity in constructing personally pertinent individual models of teaching with computer technology (Kerr, 1996a). Data were collected using a variety of qualitative methods: observations, interviews, focus group interviews, and metaphors. Findings revealed that social interactions within the communities of practice were organized around the concept of legitimate peripheral participation. The nature of the legitimate peripheral participation was a determinant of social interactions that were either liberating or domesticating for students.
This study examines the organizational impact that computer technology has on science teachers when they teach with computer technology. The organizational impact of computer technology refers to teachers’ personal styles and creativity in constructing personally pertinent individual models of teaching with computer technology (Kerr, 1996a). The construct of community of practice provided portraitures of the organizational impact of computer technology from teachers’ perspectives. Essentially, the adoption of this construct as a theoretical framework gave a view of how teachers provide access, engagement and membership to their students when computer technology became part of the teaching process. In addition, it also gave a view of some of the liberated and domesticated effects (Boyd, 1991) of the organizational impact of computer technology on student learning.
So far, the
educational computing literature in relation to science teaching has been
adumbrated by educational computing as teaching (Anderson & Demetrius,
1993; Ardac & Akaygum, 2004; Bell, 2000; Hakkarainen, 2003; Hickey,
Kindfield, Horwitz, & Christie, 2003; Jorde, 2000; Linn, 1998; 2000; Linn
& Slotta, 2000; Russell, Lucas, & McRobbie, 2004; White, 2000). For
example, research from the “Web-Based Integrated Science Environment” (WISE)
project (Linn & Slotta, 2000) and “Knowledge Integration Environment” (KIE)
On the other hand, others (Carter, 2000; Nickerson, 1995; Perkins, 1985; Perkins, Crismond, Simmons & Unger, 1995) state that teachers possess explanation structures that frame their teaching actions with computer technology. While others (Bigum, 1997; Bromley, 1997; Bromely & Apple, 1998) contend that these explanation structures take the form of programs of actions enabling educative experiences in the classroom. Moreover, some studies (Boyd, 1991; Lauzon, 1999) claim that theses programs of actions in the classroom have the potential to be liberating and/or domesticating for students in terms of the educative experience. Lauzon’s description of students in teaching and learning settings with integration of computer technology captures the issue of liberation versus domestication of students:
Learners are constructed as passive recipients and while they may be engaged in so called active learning, the concept is usually applied as a rhetorical trick designed to deceive-learners may be actively engaged with the technology but they may not be actively engaged with the material in critically meaningful ways. That is, learners may ask how but not why (p. 266).
According to the community of practice theory students must socially participate in a community to acquire knowledge. This community of practice is characterized as a process of social interaction that takes place within a framework of legitimate peripheral participation. This legitimate peripheral participation occurs when students acquire the necessary tools, skills, knowledge, beliefs, and values to actively participate in the community through processes of co-participation with knowledgeable peers (Lave & Wenger, 1999; Lauzon, 1999). The theory further asserts that relevant concepts, ideas, theories, beliefs, values and appropriate actions (the normative ways) (Billett, 1998) held by knowledgeable peers delineates the boundaries of the legitimate peripheral participation and co-participation between knowledgeable peers and learners. Lave and Wenger (1999) state that the teacher (the knowledgeable peer) is a member of the community of practice who structures classroom contexts for teaching-learning processes through the community’s learning resources. By doing so, teachers provide the framework for legitimate peripheral participation: social interaction between students, teachers and the curriculum. The significance of this construct of community of practice, in relation to the study, was that it framed the study from a person-centered vision of technology (Kerr, 1996b; Budin, 1999) adding emphasis to the teachers’ perspective (Bowers, 1990; 1997; 1998a; 1998b; Budin, 1999; Kerr, 1996a; 1996b) of the organizational impact of computer technology in classrooms.
this study were six in-service secondary school science teachers in the
Participants’ teaching and
learning actions were strongly centered around the preparation of their
students for the General Certificate of Education
examinations (GCE “O” Level Examinations) jointly administered by the Ministry
of Education, Republic of Singapore, and the Cambridge University, United
Kingdom. Thus, participants’ instructional and classroom foci were
geared towards these examinations. In the
In this study, participants’ teaching actions with the use of computer technology was examined over a five month period. Primary data sources included observation of participants’ teaching actions in their classrooms; transcripts of classroom discourse from aforementioned observations, individual interviews, focus group interviews, and participants’ natural metaphoric language identified within the transcripts from classroom discourse, interviews, and focus groups.
Analysis as described by Bogdan and Biklen (1998) was used. An analysis template constructed from the major constructs of the community of practice theory was used to inductively analyze the data. Validity was ensured through techniques of multimethods, triangulation, member checking, and tracking of negative evidence (Lincoln & Guba, 1985).
Findings revealed that a number of themes framed participants’ perceptions of the organizational impact of computer technology in their classrooms. First, social interactions (access, engagement and membership) within the communities of practice were characterized by three perceptions that centered on the concept of legitimate peripheral participation: legitimate peripheral participation was organized around the imagery of a journey; legitimate peripheral participation required a facilitator role; and legitimate peripheral participation required a guide role. Second, social interactions were shaped by a mutual investment perspective and a motivation perspective. Third, the mutual investment perspective underscored social interactions that were liberating for students and this perspective did not figure in social interactions that domesticated students. Table 1 captures some of the features (science content, classroom activities and the role of the computer technology) of participants’ classrooms and the role of
Participants’ Classroom Activities with the Integration of Computer Technology
Role of Computer Technology
Describe the properties of acids and alkalis
Use of data-logging probes (pH) sensors to measure pH changes
Data collection, plotting graphs and analysis
Interpret speed-time, velocity and acceleration graphs
Use of data-logging probes (motion sensors) to measure motion changes
Data collection, plotting graphs and analysis
Identify and name covalent and ionic compounds
CD-ROM based activity provided 3D structures of chemical compounds which students could rotate and have closer views of chemical bonding types
Describe the reflection of sound and sound waves
CD-Rom based simulation of experiment to measure the speed of sound
Use of data-logging probes (sound sensor) to measure sound and present them as sound waves
Determining the acceleration of gravity: calculating “g”
Use of data-logging probes (motion sensors) to measure motion changes
Data collection, plotting graphs and analysis
State the factors that affect the rate of diffusion in cells
CD-ROM based interactive simulation activity that enables the manipulation of cell size
Measuring the caloric values of common foods
Designing a bomb calorimeter using PowerPoint™
Describe the female reproductive tract in relation to structure, function and fertilization
CD-ROM based activity that provides an interactive journey into the female reproductive tract
computer technology in their teaching action during the five month period of the study. It also captures the student, teacher, computer technology and the teaching and learning activities that were extant within this type of community of practice.
Legitimate peripheral participation as a journey
Participants’ community of practice was organized around the imagery of a journey. The imagery of classroom lessons as journeys depicted participants and their students, together with the computer technology, moving towards a destination: the fulfillment of lesson objectives. Thus, this journey, like any other, required landmarks that guided the participants towards that destination. These landmarks sustained the journey by enabling participants to focus on the very act of teaching actions. Unique to this imagery of journey was the recurrent image of a “pitstop” among participants’ verbatim verbal data. This pitstop imagery depicted a stop along the journey towards the destination. This pitstop imagery brought about a change in participants’ roles as well: from that of a facilitator to that of a guide, as participants and students moved along the journey.
Participants’ imagery of classroom lessons integrating computer technology as journeys were mediated by a number of features: acquiring a facilitator role; designating roles for the computer technology; and participation structures for students – all within the classroom context. These features collectively took the form of activity structures. Within these activity structures, participants selected the relevant and prescribed content, organized the content and related it to what their student audience already knew. By doing so, participants enabled themselves and their students to gain access to learning and to demonstrate social academic competence: social participation structures.
Within the imagery of journey three key events: set the stage for interactive teaching actions. In event one, participants set up the stage for interactive teaching and learning actions. In this event participants stated the lesson objectives, the lesson format and the purpose/role of the computer technology. This event also included the participants' verbal cues for social participation. Event one lead to event two the interactive participant-student instruction-cum-learning phase. This event closely matched the lesson objectives. This event was not a mere lecture format that incorporated powerful imageries, provided by the computer technology, to sustain the lecture. It was more a case of using the computer technology to initiate joint participant-student tasks that revolved around the academic task. These tasks provided participants and their students support and guidance structures that allowed students to interact with the concepts being presented. During these tasks the computer technology provided a platform for participants to stimulate their students with content that was animated or had interactive attributes. This situation also gave participants a platform to listen to and diagnose students' cognitive activities and relate them to further instructional actions. Students were seen as partners in this community of practice, as Anthony stated, "like participants in a workshop...we are co-learners discussing with each other...." Participants seemed to favor this because they felt that it provided an atmosphere in which they were at a "closer range" to students’ understanding. The following comment captured the aforementioned event one and event two:
…there are a lot of group discussions and the students and me are involved in the activities…the use of computer technology widens the scope for these activities…not the teacher just doing the activities…now we are finding out the content together and you get to know about things…like what they learn…from there you can guide them on and clarify…of course you cannot do without the teacher definitely…(Angela, Interview).
Event three, maintaining accountability within this community of practice did not follow any recipe and was sought through a number of measures, which were characterized by a partnership attribute. This plenary phase or the “pitstop” was a "wrapping up" session where participants or sometimes students summarized what educative performances had taken place during the instruction cum learning phase.
Data revealed that when participants integrated computer technology into their classrooms for teaching purposes they took on the role of facilitator. The facilitator role itself was underscored by two striking characteristics: a functional aspect and a cognitive aspect. Both functioned to produce and maintain a social system, where participants and students could be involved in joint activities. The following comment illustrated the functional and cognitive aspect found within the role of facilitator:
The teacher puts it all together so that the students know what to do...we don't want the students to be fumbling ...you must know what the computer is doing in the class for this particular lesson...make adjustments as well...sometimes students go off tangent… (Anthony, Interview 2).
...a facilitator for students' learning rather than a person who provides information, or delivers facts using the computer technology. I see myself as a person who facilitates learning in the classroom… (Sundari, Interview 2).
The functional aspect of the facilitator role performed several functions. As facilitators, participants provided the lesson objectives, and provided guidelines for students' utilization of computer technology or how it was going to be used for that particular lesson. The cognitive aspect of the facilitator was closely linked to the designations afforded to the computer technology and the participation structures for students. For example how the computer technology was going to function within the instructional processes: what was it going to contribute and its relationship to the academic tasks.
Data also revealed that participants held the perception that some teaching functions were impossible or inefficient when integrating computer technology into teaching. They reinforced their need to maintain accountability for their teaching actions, in light of the cultural context in which participants were situated. Central to this context was the presence of the GCE “O” level exams.
Of course one very important thing right now is preparing the students for their GCE "O" level exams and so we are bound by the syllabus so I always make sure that they understand the objectives of the lesson before they leave; otherwise sometimes they lose focus and really don't know what they have done for the day...(Tan, Interview).
During the journey towards achieving lesson objectives, there seemed to be a temporal recasting of participants' role as a facilitator to that of a guide. Data revealed the image of the lesson as a moving object slowing down in tune with the recasting of participants into guides. The slowing down was captured as a "pitstop" where the participants as guides reconnoitered the steps taken by students through: checking for students' understanding; reinstating the relevance of the topic at hand; and wrapping up. The social context in which this “pitstop” occurred was marked by the assertion of the participants’ roles as teachers who were making sure that what had been done by their students was in accordance with objectives. This revealed the influence of the institutional focus. The following quote captures the aforementioned aspect:
The teacher's role now shifts, before the lesson the teacher does the planning, the background that makes them do the learning themselves...but now the guiding comes along...is like the summary part where I have to make sure that the students, after going through all those CD-ROMs, Internet sites or simulations, are able to...know what they are supposed to learn...because sometimes they become too out of focus and so the teacher has to focus them onto the main things again.
This recasting occurred in response to actual feedback from classroom actions and experience. First, participants claimed that there was always a possibility of students "going off at a tangent". The computer technology's attributes of animation, simulation and interactivity or the use of Internet itself encouraged this perception. Participants stated that sometimes students might be overwhelmed by these attributes and move away from the lesson at hand. The need to "wrap up" the lesson was also cited as a crucial reason for this change. As the following comments from participants' lesson extracts signaled, the role of guide was more in tune with maintaining the relevance to the topic being covered.
Let’s clarify the molecular structure again with that depicted on the screen and on your worksheet...Lets summarize what we have done, look at the ionic bond...refer to the software...are there any problems...let's look at the structure again...
(Anthony, Field note)
Since you are the experts now in your designs of finding out "g", please share it with the other groups. Pick up from one another...what are the factors that you chose or the other group chose
(Ning, Field note)
...have you considered all the recommendations given to you by the website? As a scientist you have considered many factors for the design of the fire alarm or the thermometer...you have to consider other factors as well...Lets discuss together what we have done so far. Remember you also have to present your answers...
(Tan, Field note)
The predominant function of the role of guide was to ensure that students were able to account for their learning. The guide role was cast within a social context to maintain the social relations between students and participants.
Legitimate peripheral participation as a mutual investment perspective
The mutual investment perspective was an often recurring theme of participants’ personal styles and creativity in constructing personally pertinent individual models of teaching with computer technology. This perspective held the common understanding that both participants and their students had to be partners within the instructional processes. Students had to be part of an "on going" instructional process that enabled them to build or make meaning and not just "pick up" concepts from participants or from the computer technology. Participants’ adoption of this mutual investment perspective involved a number of features. The following narrative signified some of these features.
Sometimes I just present a lesson using computer technology, just a small part of the lesson I have worksheets and exercises about it. It is quite structured. For the topic on dissolving I use the CD-ROM to show the models, to show visual pictures of how sodium chloride dissolves. Then after that they go onto write the equations. It is visual presentation, to show the meaning of dissolving, how the water works, how the water comes into the picture, so it is very difficult to describe without animation...shows what happens and delivers commentaries so they are seeing the process and theory at the same time. I use that to develop an idea of how dissolving occurs. Well with the interactivity provided by the computer technology I can stop and explain or students join in asking questions. Usually I make them predict what is going to happen next. You get their conceptions out. From there we move on, so that is sodium chloride dissolving, what about the rest like aluminum chloride? So they have the practice of writing that equation using visuals from dissolving sodium chloride to show how ionic solids dissolve.
(Anthony, Verification of coding interview)
Data revealed that participants interpreted the importance of the mutual investment perspective on the basis that it allowed their students not only to be part of the instructional processes but also enabled them to contribute to the instructional processes. For example, in the aforementioned quote, students were to “predict”, “join in the questioning” and “write the equations”. That is, the computer technology was factored in as an integral component because it enabled the participants to accomplish these joint instructional activities. Thus, the mutual investment perspective seemed to play a crucial role in positioning students. It provided a focus to situate students in a position that enabled them to be contributors to the teaching and learning processes and to gain cultural templates from these processes. The factoring in of the computer technology as an integral factor was based on this mutual investment perspective. Participants also held the notion that mutual investment could also be achieved by the use of student worksheets and the powerful visual imageries and interactivity provided by the computer technology. This notion was underpinned by the understanding that this was an extreme form of mutual investment; it was to enable students to be part of the teaching and learning, especially those students who were only interested in gaining from the teaching and learning processes and not to be contributors to them.
Legitimate peripheral participation through motivation
The interest/motivation perspective reflected the conception that the integration of computer technology into teaching actions resulted in student motivation and interest towards the content being taught. Participants related this conception to the attributes of interactivity, animations, and simulations that the computer technology afforded the classroom context. The interest/motivation perspective was however channeled towards attracting students’ attention to the lesson objectives. The following narrative illustrated this perspective held by the participants in this study.
I chose to use the sound file. It is very sensitive so it responds very well. The girls sort of enjoy it, more fun but at the same time they are creating the sound waves, the sound or noise they make gets detected and the sound file picks it up and the sound wave forms on the screen. They can spot the difference between waves, the rarefaction and compression...that's good. I guide them along, sometimes we compare sounds and I ask them to predict the type of wave…I realize that since they are enjoying and learning at the same time I actually allocated more time although this lesson could be finished in twenty minutes or less. I actually let them play with it more.
(Ning, Classroom Case)
This interest/motivation perspective was interpreted by participants as helping them to foster student participation based on the attributes of the computer technology.
Liberating and domesticating social interactions
In addition, some of the participants’ perceptions reflected normative teaching-learning processes that were either liberating or domesticating to the students in participants’ classrooms. Social interactions were liberating for students when participants designated the computer technology with a number of specific roles: first, the computer technology supported student construction of knowledge through the processes of interactivity, simulation, and visualization; second, the computer technology, as a information resource, equipped students with the necessary concepts to build up their knowledge; and, finally, the computer technology helped students to develop their conceptual understanding through the processes of interactivity, simulation, and visualization. The following quote from Sundari, extracted from an interview captured the aforementioned perspective:
The use of the CD-ROM (9 month miracle) enabled me to show the actual movement of the ovum and the sperm ... how the ovum is fertilized ... the path that the sperm takes ... how it fertilizes the ovum and how the fertilized ovum moves down the fallopian tube towards the uterus and how the embryo is formed. It had a lasting impression on them because we actually maneuvered down the female reproductive tract together ... the CD-ROM gave us the opportunity...I am sure they are able to recall what they had seen ... they become part of the movement they told me when to stop ... and sometimes they maneuvered in the wrong direction ... I stopped and they ask me why ... they give me explanations ... sometimes it is funny but the questions really help ... I can reinforce like a pointer ... they understand the process not just the textbook diagram...
Within this context, knowledge construction was seen as a mutual investment made by both students and participants; and as participants taking on facilitator and guide roles respectively. The use of computer technology by participants enabled their students to approach a concept through questioning it; comprehending the explanations that surround it; to showcase the concept's relationships with other concepts; and by supporting knowledge construction rather than transmitting the knowledge. For example, from the above quote, the process of fertilization was related to students’ knowledge construction through the approaches of animation, simulation and interactivity provided by the computer technology.
But some of the social interactions involved the computer technology being assigned with roles like helping students to consolidate the required content for the lesson: domesticating. The consolidation was typified by the computer technology reinforcing, and reiterating the learned content through visuals, and drill and practice tests. The following quote extracted from an interview with Woo exemplifies this group of participants’ insights for domesticating teaching actions with computer technology:
Although it is basically very helpful in terms of teaching and learning, it will be very good if we have a lot of time to go out and source out all the best CD-ROMs, and Internet sites but we have very little time for that. Actually I can incorporate computer technology into every lesson one or two minutes at the end of the lesson after we have learnt a certain concept I show them a photograph of tropism and I ask the students what is the stimulus. Why is it behaving in this way at least there are photographs to help them see what tropism is.
It is obvious that when the computer technology is assigned to bring about domesticating actions in the classroom, students were not actively engaged in the knowledge construction process, instead they become passive learners engaged with what the computer technology is providing: visuals and information. In contrast, liberating actions resulted when the computer technology was supporting student construction of knowledge through the processes of interactivity, simulation, and visualization.
The purpose of this study was to investigate the organizational impact of computer technology on science teachers as they integrate computer technology into their teaching actions. Findings from this study revealed that participants possessed models of teaching (Kerr, 1996a) or programs of teaching actions (Bigum, 1997; Boyd, 1991; Bromley, 1997; Bromely & Apple, 1998; Lauzon, 1999) for their teaching actions with the integration of computer technology. Participants organized teaching actions around the perspectives of social interactions and roles. Legitimate peripheral participation structures within the social interactions were achieved by participants’ perceptions of teaching actions as a journey, and teaching actions as mutual investment between participants and their students. These perceptions framed the participants’ personal styles and creativity in constructing personally pertinent individual models of teaching with computer technology (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Budin, 1999; Kerr, 1996b; Kerr, 1996a). This particular model of teaching with computer technology was strongly influenced by the cultural context and the institutional focus on state examinations. It must also be mentioned that the organizational impact of computer technology in teaching is also influenced by the motivational aspects provided by computer technology.
The nature of the model of teaching or the program of actions is crucial to understanding the way participants create teaching situations which are liberating or domesticating for students in their classrooms (Lauzon, 1999). Liberating teaching and learning actions took place when the mutual investment perspective, facilitator and guide roles were prevalent within participants’ teaching actions and through their designations of the computer technology to provide animation, simulation and interactivity that enabled their students to approach a concept through questioning it; comprehending the explanations that surround it; and supporting knowledge construction. Domesticating teaching and learning actions lacked the integration of participants’ mutual investment perspective or the facilitator role and was dependent on the participants’ guide role that helped students to be engaged with what the computer technology was providing through its visual and information capabilities. The domesticating effect present among participants teaching actions is attributed to the cultural context and the institutional focus on state examinations.
Finally, the community of practice as built by participants in this study was characterized as a process of social interaction that took place within a framework of legitimate peripheral participation. The legitimate peripheral participation that led to co-participation between participants (the knowledgeable peers) and their students (Lave & Wenger, 1999; Lauzon, 1999) was influenced by the teaching actions as joint activities (a journey taken together by participants and their students); designating roles for participants themselves; and designating roles for the computer technology: the normative ways (Billett, 1998) held by participants that delineated the boundaries of the legitimate peripheral participation and co-participation between knowledgeable peers and learners.
The study is important because the construct of community of practice helped to capture the teachers’ perspective of the organizational impact of computer technology from social aspects like access, engagement, and membership: extensions of human capabilities and contexts for social interactions supporting learning. This is pertinent as the person-centered vision of technology for education is emphasized in contrast to the predominant techno centric explanations for classroom use of computer technology. The cultural context and institutional focus were important determinants that influenced participants’ personal styles and creativity in constructing personally pertinent individual models of teaching with computer technology. The current trend of investigating inquiry-based science teaching was not an overriding factor in this research. Research is needed to derive the knowledge behind the organizational impact of computer technology and inquiry-based science teaching. Answers to questions like “What are the perspectives behind a science teacher’s decision to integrate the computer technology into the four levels of inquiry-based teaching?” need to be investigated.
Finally, the findings of this study offer interesting landmarks for teacher education and skills training. First, attending to activity structures, for example, is a relevant theoretical perspective to understand the organizational impact that computer technology has on teachers when they teach with computer technology. This study had shown that these activity structures led to authentic tasks in the classroom mediated by the teachers’ personal styles and creativity in constructing personally pertinent individual models of teaching with computer technology.
Second, the findings have shown that teachers’ personal styles and creativity in constructing personally pertinent individual models of teaching with computer technology are very specific and context dependent. The facilitator role, the designation of roles for the computer technology and the participation structures for students are key factors that influence the organizational impact that computer technology has on teachers when they teach with computer technology. Teacher education and skills training need to instill practices that enable teachers to identify these factors and not just rely on “dipping” teachers into computer technology courses and skills.
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