IT Support in an M.Teach Program

John Harvey, Margaret Chan, Christine de Matos, Paul Lambert & David Reid

School of Educational Psychology, Measurement & Technology

Faculty of Education, University of Sydney, Australia.



This paper discusses the development of a number of resources designed to increase significantly staff and student experience in learning with computer assistance in a teacher training program. The project was prompted by the introduction of a M.Teach degree as a replacement for the Dip.Ed in the Faculty of Education in the University of Sydney. The resources include an orientation course, IT electives, a WWW site, e-mail, and CBL modules. Preliminary evaluation data are discussed and next step plans outlined.

1. Background

1.1 The M.Teach at Sydney University

The Faculty of Education at Sydney University has this year replaced its Diploma in Education (Dip.Ed) with a Master of Teaching (M.Teach) degree as its ëend-oní pre-service program. The new degree differs significantly from its predecessor as it is a two-year program (the Dip.Ed was a one-year course), with a strong commitment to a problem/case-based learning perspective and on-going strong links into ëpartnershipí schools. Students are encouraged to work in cooperative groups on student-developed projects based around the key and recurring themes of students, teachers, knowledge and the curriculum, schools and communities and to engage in critical reflection as a learning strategy. There is an extended internship (50 days) in the final semester of the program which can be undertaken in any agreed locality in Australia or overseas. The initial intake was 185 (approx. 1/3 male, 2/3 female, average age 26 with many ësecond careerí students) and the program has K-6 and 7-12 components (in all secondary Key Learning Areas). Successful completion of the M.Teach will earn credit towards an M.Ed and an honours strand in the M.Teach may permit direct entry into doctoral studies. Students will enter teaching (in NSW) with an advanced salary (ëfive-yearí trained) status.

To place the new program in a context, Graber (1996), following Zeichner and Gore (1990), has recently noted that teacher socialisation can be usefully characterised in terms of three models:

(a) A functionalist approach deriving from positivism which tends to hold that students are ëclean-slatesí, and passively come to assume the ideas and values of their instructors as a function of exposure and time.

(b) An interpretative approach, allied to constructivist ideas and which acknowledges that students bring to their courses assumptions and expectations. It sees ìsocialization as problematic ... and assumes that students are their own agents of socialization, developing an orientation about teaching that is highly individual and grounded in personal experienceî (p.452).

(c) A critical approach, which challenges students to examine current apparent assumptions and ideas in their professional studies which might otherwise be taken for granted. Graber notes that key topics in a critical approach are often class, gender, and race.

From this perspective the M.Teach is positioned as an amalgam of (b) and (c).

1.2 Information Technology (IT) in the Education Faculty

It has been the policy of the faculty for several years that students in all pre-service teacher training programs (B.Ed and Dip.Ed) should have experience with IT and this has been implemented through discrete courses in educational technology as well as integrated studies within ëmethodí courses. To support this the faculty has been able to develop good facilities in an Educational Technology Centre (ETC) - 3 Mac labs, 2 PC labs, an open access room with 45 stations, a multimedia lab, a TV studio and photography labs. All staff (teaching and administrative) have personal computers on their desks and are connected to the faculty LAN. A few machines are available for use in ordinary teaching rooms (on trolleys) and for staff to borrow, for example, for conferences and other meetings. The university has begun to upgrade the major lecture theatres for networked computer use (however not as yet in the theatres used by the M.Teach program unfortunately).

It is fair to say however that although this model has worked reasonably well in that all Dip.Ed students had the opportunity to become competent with at least word processing and had exposure to other common applications and some were getting additional specialist work on computers in education (in maths, science and TAS (Technology & Applied Studies), for example), relatively few students were completing their training having had any experience of learning with and through computer-assistance as a routine and pervasive activity. The advent of the M.Teach was seen as a significant opportunity to try to encourage this latter goal and the purpose of this paper is to discuss what has been put in place thus far.

1.3 The rationale for IT

Direct support for the necessity of a sound IT component can be found, inter alia, in policy statements of the NSW Board of Studies which make it clear that teachers require IT skills, the emerging IT policy of Sydney University (and increasingly, universities in general), and the joint framework statement of the Australian Computer Society and the Australian Council for Computers in Education on Computers in Schools (ACCE, 1996). The point is made in the latter that ìcontinuing changes in information technology are likely to lead to radical change in all education sectorsî, and that ìsubstantial strategic planning at all levels is necessary to anticipate this, and to prepare the people involved for substantial changeî (ACCE, 1996, p.1).

1.4 Emergence of the Internet

The Internet has been described as ìa chaotic network of millions of computers containing information. No-one owns it, no-one organises it and there are no rules for its useî (Longstaffe & Furber, 1995, p.5). Not a promising start for an educational resource one might think, but current levels of publicity about and interest in the Internet seemingly would leave little room for arguing other than it is a, even the, major phenomenon of this decade. It is perhaps worth recalling that in 1969, according to a UK Department of Trade & Industry (1996) report, just 4 computers comprised the network and as recently as 1984 it was still only about 1000. By 1995 this had grown to 10 million. The same report estimates that within 5 years it will extend to 170 million for the WWW (67% of PC users) with 200 million users on e-mail (79% of PC users).

The report estimates that presently there are some 6 million hosts in OECD countries with 70% of these in North America. Host site growth is put at 90%. There is a marked difference in current user classifications however, between Europe and UK - a pointer perhaps to future developments. In the UK, 74% of users are in the academic sector and 25% in commerce (plus 0.4% government and 0.6% semi-commercial). In the USA on the other hand, commercial users head the list at 41%, then academic - 34%, 7% government, 6% military, 7% networks, and 5% semi-commercial. The report argues that the Internet is currently in a phase of ëmainstream uptakeí characterised by a proliferation of applications which are ìuseful and funî. By the end of the decade this phase should move into ìubiquityî in which its use will be transparent to the user population and usage will be on a par with that of the present telephone system. If so, it cannot be ignored.

Support for such a view seems widespread. Reflecting on his 16-year term as Librarian at the University of Sydney, Dr Neil Radford has written:

By far the most astonishing and far-reaching change I have witnessed is the emergence of information in electronic form. It began as a light drizzle in the late 1970ís, a few drops here and there of one database or another bravely mounted on a distant computer and sometimes accessible by slow trans-Pacific lines. The drizzle became a gentle rain, then a downpour, and now a torrent, surging forward, carrying the Library and its users with it. I doubt that the book will ever be completely submerged by the force of the electronic deluge, but there can be no doubt that old ideas of access to information have been totally turned around in the last decade or less. The future will be increasingly electronic and it is not an original thought to say that the pace of change will surely accelerate. (Radford, 1996, p.1)

1.5 Benefits

It is nonetheless clear from the literature however, that the case for CBL remains open. Meredyth and Thomas (1996), for example, in introducing an IT and Teaching special feature in the Australian Universities Review note, ìwe present a picture of IT in which there are few easy solutions, minimal human redundancy, and the expenditure of vast amounts of time and moneyî (p.10). Peek (1996), in relation to the WWW, remarks that ìthese are exciting times, they are also uneasy ones. What traditions, industries and institutions will survive? ... What we may be witnessing now is the Webís ëgolden eraí when many experimental offerings are available, and, for the most part, still without significant direct cost for the userî (p.665). Longstaffe (1996), writing of developments in the UK argues that, ìprovision in UK universities remains patchy, but the need to give students access to the Internet, as well as to provide them with computer-based learning material and IT skills, will be something universities cannot afford to ignoreî (p.36).

In addition to the requirements of the university and the NSW Board of Studies (the principal employer of our graduates) in regard to IT skills as noted earlier, it is our inclination to agree with Peek, Radford, Longstaffe and many others in recognising that we may well be in the midst of a remarkable era. It is our aim then to assist in providing a resource for staff and students to experience first-hand extensive IT in teaching and learning that will enable them to develop a personal view of its present and potential role in education.

2. The elements planned as IT support in the M.Teach program

(a) An 8 week x 2 hours orientation Information Technology course.

(b) Options (electives) available in IT.

(c) All M.Teach students provided with e-mail accounts (no charge).

(d) Easy access to the Internet from all computers in the Faculty.

(e) A comprehensive M.Teach WWW site.

(f) The development of units of study which depend on the site (eg, case studies)

(g) Use of on-line evaluation and self-testing modules.

(h) Development of CBL resources (using Authorware, Director, etc.)

(i) Computers available and employed in lecture theatres and seminar rooms.

(j) Over time, the development of aspects of a ëvirtualí school.

(k) Exploration of e-links with other institutions with similar programs.

To date, elements (a) to (f) are in place and ongoing, (g) and (h) are partially developed, and (i) to (k) are being planned. The work has been supported with a CAUT grant and ëQualityí funds.

The orientation IT course provided experience with basic applications (largely using ClarisWorks), e-mail (Eudora), accessing remote databases (telnet), and the WWW (Netscape). Limited experience was also provided on what might be termed ëtraditionalí educational technology: paper aids and boards, the OHP, film projectors, video, and reprographics.

During first semester work proceeded on the M.Teach web site ( It contains course outlines and the normal hand-outs which accompany courses, a ëlate breaking newsí section, a ëwhatís newí section, an extensive range of support material (key and supplementary readings to support lectures, seminars, and case studies), an ëM.Teach students speak outí section (student publications), links to relevant external sites and recommendations as to mailing lists. The project has been also generously supported by the NSW Board of Studies which has permitted use of several sets of its curriculum documents (distributed using Acrobat and running as an intranet). In general we have endeavoured to mirror the range of resources found on the Internet which Brannigan (1996) has usefully summarised as: documents, computer software, on-line information services, databases and datasets, campus information systems, library catalogues, and mailing archives.

Options (6 x 2 hours, offered in Semester 2 of Year 1) allow interested students to pursue additional work and include Classroom Video, DTP, Further Classroom Computing, and Exploring with Netscape. This is proving popular with some 30% of M.Teach students electing to take an IT-oriented option (there are many non-IT courses also on offer). The program directors have indicated that the IT courses will need to be expanded in 1997.

Such IT support for tertiary courses is of course no longer that notable (eg, Maurer, 1995), however for staff and students in this faculty it is still a significant step and one which sharply focusses the distinction between declarative and procedural IT knowledge.

3. Preliminary Evaluation

This year there will be three formal surveys of M.Teach students and one of staff involved in the program. To date two surveys of students have been completed and there has been informal feedback from staff. Each survey was conducted on-line (which proved in itself to be an excellent way of arousing interest in expanding the studentsí ideas of how computers can be used in teaching) using items with a response scale reading from ënever/nilí to ëextensively/expertí (or equivalent) and nominally scored from 0 to 100.

3.1 Survey 1

Work done during the orientation IT course and the first student survey (early March) indicated that the existing experience base of the students was quite low apart from a moderate familiarity with word processing. Selected items are provided below:

N= 172: males = 52 females = 120

Question (0 = 'never/nil' .. 100 = 'extensively/expert')

ï At school, to what extent did you use computer-based learning software?

Means: males = 5.1 females = 6.5

ï At university, to what extent did you use computer-based learning software?

Means: males = 19.9 females = 21.1

ï To what extent are you experienced with word processing for essays , reports?

Means: males = 55.2 females = 49.0

ï In general, how would you rate your level of ëcomputer competenceí?

Means: males = 41.6 females = 30.5

ï To what extent are you experienced with e-mail procedures?

Means: males = 15.8 females = 9.4

ï How would you rate your level of experience with the Internet?

Means: males = 11.4 females = 4.9

ï To what extent are you anxious about your ability to cope with learning about computers?

Means: males = 32.6 females = 66.0

In most instances males expressed somewhat higher levels of experience and less anxiety than females.

There were however marked high levels of anticipation with regard to using computers in their own futures as teachers:

Question (0 = 'nil /unimportant' .. 100 = 'greatly/very important')

ï To what extent do you believe teaching and learning can be improved with computer-based procedures? Means: males = 73.4 females = 70.0

ï To what extent do you expect to use computers in your own teaching?

Means: males = 65.6 females = 60.0

ï To what extent do you see ëcomputer competenceí as an essential skill for teachers in our schools ?

Means males = 85.6 females = 87.0

3.2 Survey 2

A second survey of students was conducted after the 8-week IT orientation course and the results were encouraging.

We were most successful in doing what we had had most experience of, that is, increasing the knowledge, enthusiasm and confidence of students with word processing, databases, spreadsheet and graphics work.

The course also was quite successful with e-mail. Students reported that they found Eudora easy to use, and that they were using it. In response to the question: ëWhat importance would you place on having e-mail available when you start teaching in a school?í, the mean rating on a scale of 0 (ënoneí) to 100 (ëessentialí), the mean for males was 61.6 and for females, 71.8.

However, despite the publicity in the media at large and the easy access to the WWW provided in the labs, students did not rush to become web surfers. The expressed mean number of accesses to both the M.Teach homepage and other sites was less than 5 for both males and females over the period of the survey (Feb to April). Even less used was telnet to contact remote databases with a mean of less than 1 access per student. It is our impression (a formal survey is to be conducted shortly) that this mirrors the behaviour of colleagues in the faculty: e-mail is readily acknowledged as valuable, but the WWW is not yet, by and large having the same attraction.

3.3 Other comments

A vote of support was provided by a group of students who responded to an expressed need for a longer IT course (from females in particular) by starting student-organised workshops following the formal end of the initial IT course. This has now developed into a student-run elective course in IT in the Options phase of Year 1.

We are about to do a further survey of the M.Teach group to see to what extent the influence of the IT orientation course has been sustained and whether use of the M.Teach page and related web work has increased as the concepts (not to say deadlines for assignments) have matured.

Staff reactions have been mixed. As noted below the most critical next step will be to develop strategies to better integrate the resource with existing procedures. Two reactions from staff are instructive:

First a success: ìI have found the IT support for the M.Teach very useful. I used the homepage to post an article I had written which was relevant to the primary course and there was an enthusiastic response from the students that it made access so easy. I also received correspondence from a number of Americans who had read it on the WWW. It also, as you know, topped the list of ëaccessesí (hits) for the homepage which was personally gratifying.î

Second, an apparent failure, but one which carries clear lessons: ìYou asked why academics are not using it so much. My own position is that anything to do with the Internet is so slow and unreliable that I am avoiding it as far as possible. Perhaps others have more time than I, but I do not see it as cost-effective at this time. Perhaps when search engines and/or protocols for identifying items are more sophisticated, it will be more efficient, but for now, Iím afraid not.î

A simple point underlined by this response is that it is easy to forget that we who work in the ETC with the best equipment and ready access to excellent technical advice can forget that colleagues a few offices away are using early LCs or 386 machines with 4MB RAM.

We quizzed staff on their apparent reluctance to let us have their lecture notes to put up. Replies expressed concerns over being ëripped offí by other academics using their material, to insufficient time to turn rough notes into presentable copy (ìa 50 minute formal lecture occupies about 15 pages of script if it is delivered word for word. I havenít done this for years. I use notes that make sense to me but which would require considerable modification before putting on the homepageî). We think these are understandable responses and it will be a task to be met next year. On the plus side has been a decision by the facultyís M.Ed Committee to seek ways of incorporating and extending the M.Teach site to be a resource for that program.

A somewhat surprising finding from the students was the extent to which some at least are making use of their e-mail accounts for off-course activities: ìE-mail is great, fantastic, wonderful, convenient etc etc rave rave. First time Iíve had an opportunity to use it. I use it mostly to keep in contact with friends overseas and interstate actuallyî. It might be objected that here is an example of the university network subsidising private and essentially non-academic activities. Perhaps so, narrowly viewed, but consider this response: ìI have been making great use of e-mail communicating with philosophy students at a Hungarian University who have asked me to contribute to their homepages and have invited me to Hungary which I am doing in the break after prac. [the in-school phase of the program]î. It is surely a relatively short step for the former student to develop into the latter and this is part of the thinking behind our intention to establish e-links with other institutions with similar programs.

The third example is of a student who is using it for both purposes: ìI use it for both personal and professional things - a great way to contact my extensive overseas family and to organise coffee with friends who have graduated and who are never home. I use it also for listservs - at the moment for an Aboriginal Studies listserv from ANU, plus Yahoo Picks of the Week. I also use e-mail for contacting staff members of the faculty and find it very useful as a way of contacting other MTeachers whose phone numbers I do not necessarily know, or when I have the same thing to say to my study group and donít want to repeat myself a 100 timesî.

There were also problems however - complaints that sites are slow or fail to load, that navigation is confusing, that e-mail messages are returned 'address unknown', and that important e-mails are not answered. One student ended her reply to our survey with the advice to ëkeep your sense of humourí. We would but agree.

4. Next steps

As noted above the orientation IT course provided experience with basic applications, e-mail , accessing remote databases, and the web. Other questions (not shown above) in the initial survey indicated a strongly expressed need for traditional educational technology topics and these were included but a way will need to be found for increasing this element without increasing the face-to-face component - hopefully CBL to the rescue.

It has become apparent from staff and student comment that improvements need to be made to the navigation procedures for the M.Teach homepage. It is easy to increase the amount of material while overlooking that without a clear and simple index users will never find it. We expect that on-going RAM upgrades will allow the use of Netscape 2+ which will permit frames which may help and we have now also included a local search facility. This is but a local reflection of the wider problem of drowning in a sea of information while not being able to find 'anything', that web users know all too well and is expressed in the staff quote above. Work however is beginning to emerge (eg, Comber (1995), Lindgaard (1994), Nielson (1993)) which offer research-based guidelines to assist developers.

We also would now agree with Schamber (1996) who notes that the core idea of a ëdocumentí has become unclear, eg, is a thread of e-mail messages a single document? Who owns the intellectual content of a set of hyperlinked documents or of a collaborative document? An aspect of this was expressed by the staff member noted above who felt that the web offers no protection against theft of research material.

Work by one of the team (Margaret Chan) with final year TAS B.Ed students on student development of web material has met with such success that another of our aims next year will be to empower more M.Teach students to do this.

But perhaps the most significant issue to be addressed is to develop integration strategies which will function well across upwards of 200 students and 50 teaching staff. The problem has been highlighted by Thornbury et al (1996): ìthe integration strategy ... is widely recognised within the learning technology community as being more critical in the success or failure of introducing a new resource into teaching than the quality of the resourceî (p. 19).

Thornbury et al (1996, p. 20) report that their work as the lead site for the MENTOR TLTP (UK) project indicated three key features for successful integration:

(a) Regular, structured advice to students on which material to use and to what depth it should be covered. It was found important that this advice be given in a structured manner, for example, a weekly handout.

(b) Linking other learning activities (eg, lectures and tutorials) to the progress expected with the module. This provides motivation for students to make regular use of the system.

(c) An opportunity for discussion and face-to-face problem solving between students and lecturer.

This makes good sense and will be tried but while point (c) does not present any problems (it does of course assume all staff are comfortable with the system and this is not the case yet), points (a) and (b) may be somewhat at odds with the teaching-learning strategy of the program, that is, manifestly an interpretative-critical perspective.

The project to date has had the invaluable support of a full-time Research Assistant (Christine de Matos). When our grant runs out however this will cease. Douglas Hofstader in his work Godel, Escher and Bach put forward Hofstaderís Law which says that ëit always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstaderís lawí. We agree. If departments are to make extensive use of CBL ways will need to be found to avoid depending on individual enthusiasts on staff to do the job, but thatís not an original comment of course (cf, Longstaffe, 1996).

It is a truism nowadays to note that a piece of CBL software, a remote database, and now the web is not simply another ëbookí, and that getting into the habit of routinely using electronic means to augment or even replace traditional print is not a trivial change of habit for students and staff alike. Our experience to date bears that out. Work planned includes further investigation of factors which may influence why some staff and students in the M.Teach program are more inclined than others to experiment with teaching and learning with IT (eg, Kearsley and Heller, 1995; Relan and Smith, 1996). This information is considered one of the keys if we are to move closer to the goal of pervasive integration.

Recent reviews of the impact of CBL (eg, Ayersman, 1996; Davies & Crowther, 1995; Felix & Askew, 1996; Longstaffe, 1996; Meredyth & Thomas, 1996) remain guarded in their conclusions. Davies and Crowther examined six assertions as to the advantages of CAL relevant to the M.Teach program: that CAL increases efficiency, increases student motivation, facilitates active learning, facilitates experiential learning, is consistent with student-centred learning, and leads to better learning. Their conclusion:

It has been argued in this paper that there is a need to separate the myths surrounding this technology from the realities. In order to gain maximum benefit ... it is important that the key differential advantages are used as a base from which to develop appropriate courseware. It is equally important that the limitations of the technology are recognised, and that courseware development is not based upon unrealistic expectations of its applicability. The existence of this new technology provides an opportunity to reconsider the course development to match this new environment (p.6).

It is the hope for the initiative described in our paper that it will contribute to assisting both the teaching staff of the faculty and the teacher trainees through their first-hand experiences with the technology to develop an objective appreciation of those strengths and weaknesses and be able to apply IT wisely in their own fields.


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The authors thank their colleague Bruce Keepes for his comments on an earlier draft of this paper.


John Harvey, Margaret Chan, Christine de Matos, Paul Lambert & David Reid © 1996

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