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A multidimensional approach to determinants of computer use in primary education: teacher and school characteristics

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The central aim of this study was to test a model that integrates determinants of educational computer use. In particular, the article examines teacher and school characteristics that are associated with different types of computer use by primary
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  A multidimensional approach to determinants ofcomputer use in primary education: teacher andschool characteristics J. Tondeur, M. Valcke & J. van Braak Department of Educational Studies, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium Abstract The central aim of this study was to test a model that integrates determinants of educationalcomputer use. In particular, the article examines teacher and school characteristics that areassociated with different types of computer use by primary school teachers. A survey was setup, involving 527 teachers from 68 primary schools in Flanders.Aseparate questionnaire wasadministeredtoinformationandcommunicationtechnology(ICT)coordinatorsfromthesameschools to gather additional information about cultural and contextual school characteristics.The combined impact of both teacher and school characteristics was explored through a multi-level analysis. Besides the importance of school characteristics, the results reveal differentialeffects of specific characteristics on specific types of computer use. Cultural school character-isticsforinstance,suchastheschools’opennesstochangeandtheavailabilityofanICTschoolpolicy plan, are positively related to the use of computers as a learning tool and to the adoptionof ICT in view of basic computer skills. In contrast, no cultural school characteristic seem tobe associated with the use of computers as an information tool. In a comparable way, teachercharacteristics are associated with specific types of computer use, e.g. the variable gender. Ingeneral, male teachers report integrating computers more often. In this study, it appears thatgender differences only exist in relation to the adoption of computers as an information tool.The results demonstrate that a multidimensional approach provides more insight into the char-acteristics affecting computer use. Keywords computer use, multilevel modelling, primary education, school culture, school policies,teachers. Introduction Researchers are now beginning to face the critical char-acteristics associated with ICT (information and com-munication technology) integration, such as computerattitudes (van Braak  et al . 2004; Albirini 2006), com-puter experience (van Braak 2001; Bovée et al . 2007)and computer training (Tan et al . 2003; Galanouli et al .2004). However, current studies succeed only partly inexplaining differences in the integration of educationalcomputer use. One of the reasons for this might be thatmost researchers have investigated the influence of justa few characteristics on the integration process; therehas been little overlap between these fields of interests.As a consequence, studies tend to ignore the complexsystemic nature of ICTintegration (Tang &Ang 2002).In addition, research focusing on ICT integration isgenerally limited to the study of factors at class level.Until now, little empirical studies have been set up thatstudy the impact of school related factors. In our view, Accepted: 23 April 2008 Correspondence: Jo Tondeur, Department of Educational Studies,Ghent University, Henri Dunantlaan 2, B9000 Ghent, Belgium. Email: jo.tondeur@ugent.bedoi: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2008.00285.x Original article 494 © 2008 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2008 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (2008), 24 , 494–506  researchhastoinvestigateteacherandschoolcharacter-isticsinconcurrence.Thelatterrequiresmoreadvancedstatistical techniques. For that reason, we explored thecomplex relationship between teacher and school char-acteristics and ICT integration by means of multilevelanalysis.An essential advantage of this statistical tech-nique is that it recognizes the hierarchical and/or clus-teredstructureofvariablesinamultidimensionalmodel(Rasbash et al .2004).Inthiscaseteachersareclusteredwithin schools. To ignore this relationship risks over-looking the importance of school effects.AnotherdifficultyisthatICTintegrationineducationcan be defined in different ways. On the base of a previ-ous study (Tondeur et al. 2007a), we distinguish thisbetween three different types of educational computeruse:‘basiccomputerskills’,‘theuseofcomputersasaninformationtool’and‘theuseofcomputersasalearningtool’. The main objective of this study is to determineteacher and school characteristics that help to explainthe differences in implementing these three types of computer use.There are many factors influencing computer use ineducation.Aframework that helps structure this varietyin processes and variables is therefore helpful. In thepresent study we adopt a framework that is based onconcentric circles to organize the determinants of ICTintegration (Veenstra 1999; Veenstra & Kuyper 2004;Meelissen 2005). The model in Fig 1 was srcinallydeveloped to illustrate differences in student achieve-ment (Veenstra 1999) but is considered to be appropri-ate for this study.The core of the model represents the dependentvariable(s), the extent to which ‘types of educationalcomputer use’are being implemented. Further, we dis-tinguish two categories of variables both at the indi-vidual teacher level and at the school level. The teacherlevelincludesacategoryofstructuralteachercharacter-istics and a category of cultural teacher characteristics.The structural characteristics such as ‘computer ex-perience’ and ‘gender’, form the outermost circle. Theculturalteachercharacteristicsareplacedasaninterme-diate circle between the structural characteristics andthe dependent variables. They comprise, among others,the ‘teacher’s beliefs about good education’and ‘com-puter attitudes’. At school level, a similar distinctionis made between contextual characteristics (e.g.infrastructure) and cultural school characteristics (e.g.leadership, ICT school policy). Our central aim is totest a model that integrates both cultural and structuralcharacteristics when explaining differences in levels of ICT integration, both at individual teacher level and atschoollevel.Followingthisframework,wecandevelopadeeperinsightintotherelationshipsbetweentheinflu-encing characteristics. Furthermore, this study exploresthe relationship between these characteristics on differ-ent types of computer use in primary education. Background Some researchers make a case for a more holisticapproach to study innovations in schools such as ICTintegration (Salomon 1990; Kennewell et al . 2000;Fullan 2001; Kozma 2003). They assume an integral,multidimensional relationship between computer useand a set of personal, pedagogical and organizationalfactors. In this respect, researchers are faced with thechallenge of investigating the many influencing charac-teristics of ICT integration in conjunction with eachother.Inthisbackgroundsection,wereviewtheempiri-cal literature grounding the importance of the variablesand processes that are presented in the five concentriccircles of the present research framework. In particularweconcentrateonstudiesthatlinkthesevariablestotheuse of computers in education. Yet this list of factorscannot reflect the full complexity of ICT integration.The knowledge base presented in this paper is byno means definitive or exhaustive. Understanding oneelementleadstothenecessitytounderstandthefounda-tion on which that element rests, which in turn can leadto the discovery of other significant elements (Beach &Lindahl 2004). First, we elaborate on the dependentvariables. Types of computer use in classCultural teacher characteristicsStructural teacher characteristicsCultural schoolcharacteristicsContextual schoolcharacteristics Fig 1 Conceptual model of the study, based on the structure ofconcentric circles by Veenstra (1999). Determinants of computer use 495 © 2008 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2008 Blackwell Publishing Ltd  Types of educational computeruse ICT has ballooned to encompass many aspects of tech-nological devices. However, in the present study, wecentre on computers (laptop, desktop) as the centretechnological tool, with or without peripheral devices.‘ICT integration’ and ‘the adoption of computer use’will be used as interchangeable concepts. In the litera-ture, a range of definitions, classifications and typolo-gies can be found to determine types of educationalcomputer use (Tondeur et al . 2007a). Some studiesdetermine computer use by reporting the time teachersand pupils spend using computers (e.g. O’Dwyer et al .2004). In other studies, the focus is rather on the adop-tionofspecificsoftwareapplications(e.g.Kent&Facer2004).Although these studies are valuable, they hardlyhelp to clarify the qualitative nature of educational useof computers. Only a limited number of studies centreon the instructional objectives pursued by integratingcomputer use. The study of Ainley et al . (2002) is anexceptioninthiscontextsincetheyfocusonhowICTisused for learning and instruction. They differentiatebetweencategoriesofeducationalcomputerusesuchas‘computersasinformationresourcetools’and‘comput-ersasauthoringtools’.Similarly,Waite(2004)reportedteachers’responses about the aims and uses of comput-ers for literacy in primary schools.Although each of the available studies enriches thewhole picture of educational computer use, a compre-hensiveinstrumentthatintegratestypesofcomputerusein the context of primary education is yet not available.Therefore, a prior study was set up to identify a typol-ogy of actual computer use in primary education(Tondeur et al . 2007a). The results suggest a three-factor structure: ‘basic computer skills’ (to developpupils’technicalcomputerskills),‘theuseofcomputersas an information tool’ (to research and process infor-mation)and‘theuseofcomputersasalearningtool’(topractice knowledge and skills). In the present study, werelate these three types of computer use to teacher andschool characteristics. Cultural teachercharacteristics The individual teacher ‘as a learner’ is at the centreof educational change processes (Stoll 1999). Teacherexperiences,beliefs,emotions,knowledge,skills,moti-vations,etc.,interactwithinthelearningcontext.Teach-ers’ perceptions about and actions towards changingand developing their teaching methods are influencedbywhattheybelieve,aswellastheirknowledge(Fullan2001). Their priorities, therefore, are extremelyimportant. Each teacher experiences his or her owncareer pattern, which influences the desire to learn andthereadinesstoengageineducationalinnovationactivi-ties (Huberman 1988).Whatkindofteachercharacteristicsaffectstheadoptionof computer use? Many studies have focused on mea-suring the impact of computer attitudes (Shapka &Ferrari 2003; van Braak  et al . 2004; Bovée et al . 2007).Attitudes towards computers may be defined as specificfeelings that indicate whether a person likes or dis-likes using computers (Simpson et al . 1994).Ageneralfinding is that teachers adopting a more positive com-puter attitude are more likely to use computers inthe class (van Braak  et al . 2004). Other cultural teachercharacteristics that can be connected to the educationaluse of ICT are ‘innovativeness’ and ‘teachers’ educa-tional beliefs’. Innovativeness refers to the willingnessto adapt to an innovation compared with others in thesame social system (Rogers 1995). A high degreeof innovativeness implies a clear knowledge aboutthe innovation, favourable attitudes and an intention toadopt the innovation (van Braak 2001). The findings of van Braak  et al . (2004) underpin the role of innovative-ness as an important determinant to explain the use of computers in class.It is also acknowledged that teachers’ educationalbeliefsareassociatedwithspecificusesofcomputersinthe classroom (Becker 2001; Ertmer 2005; Song et al .2007). Several studies explain this by hypothesizingthat teachers who use computers do so because theirconceptions of using ICT fit into their existing teachingbeliefs or belief system (Niederhauser & Stoddart2001). A variety of instruments are available todetermine teachers’ educational beliefs. Woolley et al .(2004) for instance developed the ‘Teachers BeliefsSurvey’. In their instrument, the dimension ‘traditionalteaching’ mainly focuses on traditional approachesto the curriculum and assessment. The second dimen-sion, ‘constructivist teaching’, embraces student-centred approaches to teaching and learning. Currentresearch shows that low-level computer use tends tobe associated with teacher-centred practices, whereashigh-level use tends to be associated with student-centred or constructivist practices (Ertmer 2005). 496 J. Tondeur et al. © 2008 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2008 Blackwell Publishing Ltd  Structural teachercharacteristics Research about computing in education puts muchemphasis on the ‘gender issue’ (Shashaani 1997;Volman & Van Eck 2001; van Braak  et al . 2004). Forexample, it was found that female teachers report sig-nificantlylowerlevelsofeducationalcomputerusethantheir male counterparts (van Braak  et al . 2004). Not allstudies, however, show consistent results. Shapka andFerrari (2003) found no gender differences in computeroutcomes and argue that gender differences are gradu-ally dissipating. Another structural teacher charac-teristic is ‘computer experience’. Research showed thatcomputers are more intensively used by teachers whohave more years of computer experience (Shashaani1997; Rozell & Gardner 1999).Also ‘age’is frequentlyrelated to computer use (e.g. Bradley & Russell 1997).When controlled for computer experience however,class use of computers does not seem to be age-related(van Braak  et al . 2004). Cultural school characteristics ICTintegration can be seen as a specific case within thewider field of school improvement. Research set out toidentify the factors influencing ICT integration showedthat these same factors could be applied to schoolimprovement in general (Otto &Albion 2002; Dawson&Rakes2003).Inthisrespect,animportantfactoristhedevelopment of a shared vision concerning the useof computers for teaching and learning (Hughes &Zachariah 2001; Otto & Albion 2002). It appears thatteachers working in schools that are engaged in ICTplanning are more likely to apply ICT in an innovativeway (Kozma 2003). Analysis of the available researchalso reveals the importance of leadership in managingICT integration. School principals are in a position tocreate the conditions to develop such a shared ICTpolicy. Several studies (e.g. Anderson & Dexter 2000;Dawson & Rakes 2003) support the claim that leader-ship promoting change is a key factor when it comes tomerging ICT and instruction. Other school-relatedfactors that can be connected to educational computerusearethedegreeofcomputertraining(Galanouli et al .2004) and ICT-related support (Lai & Pratt 2004).Baylor and Ritchie (2002) conclude that training has animportantinfluenceonhowwellICTisembracedintheclassroom. Lawson and Comber (1999) stress the needfor ongoing support by an ICT coordinator, who is in agoodpositiontoguideandsuccessfullyintegrateICTatschool level.A final characteristic emerging from the literatureregarding ICT integration is ‘school culture’(e.g. Ken-newell et al . 2000; Tearle 2003), which can be definedas ‘the basic assumptions, norms and values, andcultural artefacts that are shared by school members’(Maslowski 2001, pp. 8–9). These meanings and per-ceptions can be linked to the ‘readiness’ of a school toadopt the planned change (Tearle 2003), as well as toteachers’ actual take-up of ICT (Bennett et al . 2000).Any attempt to improve a school that neglects schoolculture is, according to Fullan (2001), ‘doomed to tink-ering’ because school culture influences readiness forchange. But school culture is complex because it islargely implicit, and can hardly be measured in a directway (Hargreaves 1994). In the present study, we centreon two other underlying aspects of school culture:‘innovativeness’(Maslowski 2001) and ‘goal oriented-ness’ (Staessens & Vandenberghe 1994). A school’sinnovativeness reflects the staff’s attitude towards edu-cationalinnovationsandtowhatextenttheyadaptthem-selves to changes; goal orientedness reflects to whatextent the vision of innovations are clearly formulatedand shared by the school members (Devos et al . 2007). Contextual school characteristics In this study, contextual school characteristics relatedto computer use are limited to access to computersand software.Without adequate recourses, there is littleopportunity for teachers to integrate computers intotheir teaching (Bradley & Russell 1997). Access ismore than simply the availability of computers; it alsoincludestheproperamountandrighttypeoftechnologyavailable on the sites where teachers and students canusethem(Fabry&Higgs1997).Toachieveanoptimumeducational impact, each school should base infrastruc-ture decisions on a clear assessment of technical factorsand educational needs and objectives. In this context,the authors hypothesize that computer labs are lesseffective because the physical separation of computerand the actual classroom reduces the optimal chancesfor ICT integration in learning activities (Salomon1990; Tondeur et al. in press). Watson (1990) observedthat computers in the classroom are a more easilymanaged resource. As a result, computers are more Determinants of computer use 497 © 2008 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2008 Blackwell Publishing Ltd  accessible to pupils during learning and instruction andpromote more interactive kinds of teaching (Junaid1996). Despite the advocacy for using computers in theclassroom over the existence of computer labs, there isempirical evidence that computer lab settings may bemore efficient in learning basic computer skills (e.g.Rule et al . 2002). In this study, a distinction is thereforemade between the availability of computers in generaland the availability of computers in the physical class-room setting. Purpose As stated earlier, the main research question is:To whatextent do individual teacher characteristics and schoolcharacteristics influence the adoption of specific typesofcomputeruseinFlemishprimaryeducation?Consid-ering the theoretical framework, we study the specificinfluence of cultural and structural/contextual variablesat:(1)teacherand(2)schoollevelandinanextstep,(3)theircombinedimpacttoexplaintheadoptionofthedif-ferent types of computer use: ‘basic computer skills’,‘the use of computers as an information tool’ and ‘theuse of computers as a learning tool’. Research method Sample Sixty-eight primary schools in Flanders, the Dutchspeaking region of Belgium, took part in this study.Mainstream primary education in Flanders is aimed atchildren from 6 to 12 years old and comprises 6 con-secutive years of study. In Flanders, educational poli-cies are characterized by a high level of local schoolautonomy as to organizing classes and the number of teachers. The majority of schools opt for a year groupsystem. Classes are taught by the same teacher for mostclassroom subjects during one school year (Ministryof the Flemish Community, Department of Education2005) 1 .At least one teacher at each grade level was asked toparticipate, resulting in data from at least six teachersper school. The sample comprises 527 teachers, of which 83.5% were female. Teacher age range variedfrom 22 to 64 years, with an average age of 38 ( sd = 9.7). In addition, fifty-three ICT coordinators of thesame68schoolswereinvolvedinthestudy.ICTcoordi-nators were 36 years old on average ( sd = 9.9). Only21% of the ICTcoordinators were female. Procedure and instruments Aquestionnaire was developed in order to gather infor-mation from teachers about the central dependentvariables and about the cultural and structural teachercharacteristics presented in Table 1. In view of thedependent variable, the instrument of Tondeur et al .(2007a) was used to identify the extent to which threedifferenttypesofcomputerusewereimplemented.Thisinstrument builds on the actual types of computer usein Flemish primary education. ‘basic computer skills’(three items) identifies the use of computers as a (sepa-rate) school subject to teach pupils basic computerskills,suchas‘Iteachthepupilstomakegooduseofthekeyboardandmouse’and‘Iteachpupilslearningbasicsof operating systems used at school’. The second andthirdcategoriesrepresenteducationalusesofcomputersnot restricted to its use as a school subject. ‘computersas an information tool’ (five items) encompasses suchaspects as ‘The pupils use the computer to select andretrieve information’and ‘The pupils use the computeras a demonstration tool’. Emphasis is on researchingand processing information and communication.Finally, ‘computers as learning tools’ (four items)includes items such as ‘The pupils use the computer topractice knowledge or skills’ and ‘The pupils use thecomputer to elaborate learning content’. The respon-dents were asked to indicate, on a five-point scale,the extent to which they use the computer for varioustasks: 0 = ‘never’, 1 = ‘every term’, 2 = ‘monthly’, 3 = ‘weekly’ and 4 = ’daily’. Control of the psychometricqualityoftheresearchinstrumentrevealsahighinternalconsistency level for ‘basic computer skills’( a = 0.80),‘computersasaninformationtool’( a = 0.83)and‘com-puters as learning tools’( a = 0.77).A separate questionnaire for ICT coordinatorsprovided information about contextual and culturalschool characteristics (Table 1). Since 2002, all schoolsin Flanders receive financial support to appoint an ICTcoordinator. Their task profile includes both pedagogi-cal and technical support tasks as well as an advisoryfunctiontotheschoolboard.However,inrealitymostof thetimeisdevotedtotechnicalaspectsofICTcoordina-tion (Ministry of the Flemish Community, Departmentof Education 2005). ICT coordinators are in the best 498 J. Tondeur et al. © 2008 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2008 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
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