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Issues In Educational Research, Vol 15, 2005
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Integrating ICT as an integral teaching and learning tool into pre-service teacher training courses

Carole Steketee
The University of Notre Dame Australia
Even though a wide cross-section of society today has accepted Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as an entrenched characteristic of its culture, education has been slow to adopt it as an integral tool within the classroom (Cuban, 2001; Elliott, 2004). Many reasons for this lethargy have been purported in the literature, ranging from inadequate professional development opportunities for teachers, to negative teacher attitudes towards technology. Similarly, an assortment of solutions to these dilemmas has been proposed. One in particular has been the push to integrate ICT into teacher education programs. Exposure to ICT during their training is expected to increase graduating teachers' willingness to integrate it into their own classroom curricula. While studies into this phenomenon have reported some degree of success, findings have been largely inconclusive (Brush, Igoe, Brinkerhoff, Glazewski, Ku & Smith, 2001; Albion, 2003). Nevertheless, these collective findings are useful in informing similar contexts. For example, the College of Education at The University of Notre Dame, Australia (UNDA) has reviewed these findings in an effort to better understand, and potentially change, ICT implementation across its own teacher training programs.

The UNDA review and its conclusions are presented in this paper, together with the definition and discussion of approaches to ICT integration adopted by various teacher training institutions. Furthermore, the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches are explored and subsequently used as a springboard for the proposal of an implementation framework that has the potential to facilitate the authentic and sustained application of ICT within K-12 classrooms.

A review of the literature

Following the systematic review of relevant education databases, numerous papers were examined for their insight into the current (2000 - 2004) use of ICT in teacher training courses. In an effort to describe and synthesise the key findings, an annotated bibliography was carried out on all relevant papers.

In reviewing these annotations, it became evident that the use of ICT within teacher training programs around the world is being approached in a number of different ways, all with varying degrees of success. These approaches were subsequently described, refined and merged into four primary approaches as follows.

  1. ICT skills development approach
  2. ICT pedagogy approach
  3. Subject-specific approach
  4. Practice driven approach
Each of these approaches is discussed in this paper, along with their relative strengths and weaknesses. Other issues to emerge from these papers (which could not be classified as an approach as such) are also discussed as related challenges.

ICT skills development approach

Governments and education systems around the world recognise the need for students to be skilled, creative and confident users of a wide range of information and communication technologies (Brush et al, 2001; Charalambous & Karagiorgi, 2002; Delargey, 2003; Lim, Hung, Wong & Hu, 2004; McNair & Galanouli, 2002; Rees, 2002; Richards, nd; Voogt, Gorokavatschke & Pourcheva, 2000; Zhiting & Hanbing, 2002). ICT is evolving into a literacy in its own right alongside reading, writing and arithmetic (KCTR-CH Group, 2000). Students must master this literacy if they are to succeed within, and contribute to, a 'technology-savvy' future workforce (Wheelwright, 1999). Furthermore, given the potential that ICTs have to foster higher order learning outcomes (Steketee, Herrington & Oliver, 2001; Jonassen, 2002), it becomes imperative that students are exposed to these new learning environments.

Teacher education courses have acknowledged their role in helping students achieve this outcome. By training pre-service teachers to use ICTs, it is hoped that they will transfer this knowledge and skills to their classrooms. In this regard, many institutions have written an ICT skills unit into their course structure. These units aim to increase student ICT competencies and generally offer the basics such as word processing, database and spreadsheet manipulation as well as email and Internet use (Brush et al, 2001).

While pre-service teachers today are more skilled ICT users than their predecessors (Richards, nd; Albion, 2003), it is a mistake to assume that they have developed sufficient skills outside their teacher education courses. Although there is greater access to computers at home today (PISA in Elliott, 2004), access is not synonymous with competency and basic skills need to be developed, reinforced and used as the foundation for the development of more sophisticated ones. As such, these skills units are justified in teacher education courses.

ICT pedagogy approach

However, while the need to upskill students is important, skill alone is not enough to encourage students to confidently integrate ICT into their classroom programs (Wang, 2002). For example, in response to a government mandate that teachers integrate ICT into their teaching, teacher education institutions across China added ICT skills units into their programs (Zhiting & Hanbing, 2002.). The intention of this approach was such that teachers skilled in ICT would confidently integrate it into their classroom practices. However, based on a similar mandate in Canada, Rees (2002) found that an 'add on' approach does little to encourage students to transfer ICT skills into practice during their internships.
[Simply forcing] a teacher to integrate technology into the classroom is an exercise in futility ... What is needed is a shift in thinking so teachers will come to view technology as an effective tool to use throughout the course of planning, delivering and assessing instruction, not something that must be used to meet a government-mandated technology standard (Polonoli, 2001, p.35).
Other findings suggest that skills units encourage students to perceive ICT as a set of discrete skills that, in effect, facilitate a faster, glossier approach to existing models of teaching (McNair & Galanouli, 2002). Noss and Pachler (1999) concur and state that stand alone skills units simply amount to "doing more quickly, reliably and interactively what has always been done in [traditional teaching models] (p.200)." In short, this skills oriented model essentially supplements traditional expository patterns of classroom activity and does little to cultivate the use of ICT as higher order thinking and learning tools.

In response to these findings, others have implemented a pedagogical oriented unit in addition to a skills one (Willis & Sujo de Montes, 2002; Brown, 2002; Zhiting & Hanbing, 2002; Delargey, 2002; McNair & Galanouli, 2002). The objective of these pedagogical units is to show students how ICT can be integrated as teaching and learning tools across the curriculum. Drawing on the principles of constructivism, pre-service teachers design lessons and activities that centre around the use of ICT tools that will foster the attainment of genuine learning outcomes.

This is currently the approach adopted by the College of Education at UNDA. Students are required to complete two compulsory ICT units within their first two years; one skill-related, the other emphasising the integration of ICT in the curriculum.

This approach is useful to the extent that the skills unit enhances ICT literacy skills and the pedagogy unit allows students to further develop and maintain these skills in the context of designing classroom based resources. Students who have undergone this type of training have reported significant changes in their understandings associated with effective implementation strategies, as well as their self-efficacy as to their ICT competencies (Willis & Sujo de Montes, 2002).

Once again, however, this understanding has not been transferred in any notable way to the classroom context. In a sense, pre-service teachers perceive these stand alone ICT units to be isolated from and tacked onto the primary curriculum and, as such, make little attempt to thread it into their own instruction. While it is imperative that pre-service teachers are taught about ICT, as well as the pedagogical implications of implementation, it seems that this approach is not providing a clear enough picture of the benefits to emerge when learning with ICT.

Subject-specific approach

This dilemma has been at the root of attempts to give pre-service teachers first hand experiences about what a computer based learning environment represents, and how they can access ICT to solve problems and think in deeper, more meaningful ways (Voogt et al., 2000; Brush et al, 2001; McNair & Galanouli, 2002; Richards, nd; Couros, 2004; Dawson, Forster & Reid, 2003). Based on the belief that teachers (pre-service and practising) are more likely to use technology in their classroom only after personally experiencing the power of technology as an effective tool themselves (Rees, 2002), integration models have been adopted whereby ICT is embedded into specific subject area units (eg, Mathematics, Science, English, Society and Environment etc).

By modelling effective implementation skills in the context of genuine subject areas at university, lecturers are not only exposing students to new and innovative ways of learning, but are providing them with a practical understanding of what learning and teaching with ICT looks and feels like. In this way, ICT is not an 'add on', but an integral tool that is accessed by teachers and students across a wide range of the curricula.

A recent audit of the extent to which ICT is embedded within Learning Area Subject (LAS) units at UNDA revealed that technology is primarily used as a research tool by students beyond normal classroom activity, and other than using PowerPoint to present information to students, lecturers do not actively engage students in the use of ICT as a thinking and learning tool in the classroom.

While this subject specific integration approach has been recognised as an essential component of any teacher education program, and will be considered in future reviews of UNDA's LAS units, pre-service teachers who have undergone this type of training are still hesitant to implement ICT into their practicum for a range of reasons (McNair & Galanouli, 2002).

Practice driven approach

In many instances, pre-service teachers are not actively encouraged, or expected to integrate ICT into their programs while on teaching practice. As part of their ICT pedagogy unit, students at UNDA are encouraged to design ICT resources for their practicum experiences, but this is not compulsory. In light of the contention that pre-service teachers often adopt traditional classroom practices that they themselves were exposed to during their own schooling (Willis & Sujo de Montes, 2002), it can be argued that unless ICT integration is explicitly tied into practicum preparation (and perhaps even assessed) then they will remain uncommitted and reluctant users.

In this regard, some teacher education courses have sought to embed ICT into students' practicum experiences. Based on a solid relationship between subject specific lecturers, tutor teachers, and ICT lecturers, pre-service teachers are encouraged and supported to design classroom programs that centre on computer based instruction and learning. Expectations in these field experiences often differ to the traditional models of practicum. For example, in a study conducted by Brush et al (2001), practicum experiences were assessed on the pre-service teacher's ability to embed ICT as an instructional and learning tool into their classrooms. This was evident in a portfolio that documented their mastery of ICT skills and integration practices.

Similarly, Graduate Diploma students at the University of Wollongong were required to design and maintain electronic portfolios throughout their course (Brown, 2002). While resources were generally designed during laboratory based or subject specific units on campus, it was for the purpose of implementing them into the classroom while on teaching practice. Based on the concept that the pre-service teacher is a learner, manager, designer and researcher (a concept developed throughout the course), pre-service teachers were expected to research their practicum school's ICT facilities, design ICT activities with their tutor teacher, manage those activities in the classroom, then evaluate their effectiveness in terms of student learning.

McNair & Galanouli (2002) also adopted a portfolio approach to ICT use during practicum. By requiring pre-service teachers to keep a reflective portfolio on their experiences of integrating ICT into the classroom, it was hoped that the analytical properties of this approach would help them understand the powerful place ICT has in the teaching and learning cycle.

[T]he potential for ICT to enhance teaching and learning cannot be realised unless student teachers think analytically about their teaching. Such analytical thinking should include the effectiveness of ICT to provide new, more efficient and flexible ways of teaching and learning (p. 183).
In this regard, the portfolios are both process and product oriented. The process of reflecting on experiences that go beyond the actual presentational and communicative attributes of ICT will hopefully encourage teachers to explore ways in which these tools can actually promote higher order learning in the classroom (McNair & Galanouli, 2002). The rich resources within the portfolios constitute a product that students can maintain and modify for later use.

This subject linked practicum agenda has been successful to the extent that pre-service teachers are motivated to design ICT experiences for authentic learning purposes and for a genuine audience. In doing so, they are encouraged to consider the quality of the content of their resources, as opposed to their ICT skills. There is also a need to consider pedagogical and practical issues if their lessons are to be implemented effectively. Zhiting & Hanbing (2002) calls this experience a 'hands-on, minds-on' one where pre-service teachers learn by doing.

Perceptions of teaching and ICT

However, this approach is not free from problems and unless there is a strong relationship between faculty wide lecturers, tutor teachers and pre-service teachers, and a genuine commitment by all parties to implement a computer-based learning environment, there is little chance of success. For example, irrespective of the pre-service teacher's willingness to use ICT, their tutor teacher's perception of, and confidence with, technology will impact heavily on actual application (McNair & Galanouli, 2002).

While studies exist into the relationship between perceptions of ICT and subsequent use, Wang (2002) suggests that a teacher's broader perception of education is perhaps a more useful indication of his or her ability (and even desire) to integrate technology into the classroom. In light of the fact that "teaching with computers requires a shift from ... traditional teaching practices" (Wang, 2002, p.2), teachers who hold teacher centred beliefs of teaching and learning will be less likely to view technology as an integral learning tool.

Given that the average age of teachers in Australia is 46, and that, as Becker (1991) contends, their perceptions of education are a product of their own traditional schooling, it can be inferred that, at present, teacher centred approaches are more prevalent than student centred ones. Because pre-service teachers tend to mimic the practices and beliefs of their tutor teachers, even those who are motivated to use ICT on practicum will be less inclined to do so if this approach is not generally promoted by the teacher.

Furthermore, because most practising teachers would have had little or no exposure to computers in their own education (Albion, 2003), their ICT skills are possibly still developing. In relation to this, McNair & Galanouli (2002, p.191) note "Where [lecturers and tutor teachers] are in a skills-developing situation themselves, the role of ICT in teaching is likely to remain at the level of presenting old teaching in new ways". Once again, this does not positively impact upon the pre-service teacher's attempts to integrate ICT during teaching practice as a tool for students to learn and think with - as a resource that mediates and supports the learning process.

If computers are to be used in this way, then teachers need to confront their perceptions about the nature of learning, the role of the student and, in particular, the role of the teacher (Niederhauser, Salem & Fields, 1999). While such conceptual changes can be addressed through professional development opportunities for practising teachers, it is also necessary to help pre-service teachers develop a clear vision of their roles as teachers (Wang, 2002). Because pre-service teachers' perceptions of education are also shaped by their schooling, it is imperative that they are encouraged to articulate these beliefs and engage in experiences that will encourage them to adopt views whereby teachers guide student learning, and computers are identified as powerful tools that support the learning process.

ICT implementation frameworks

This review has been useful to the extent that it has exposed a range of different approaches to ICT integration into teacher education courses and the varying levels of success these approaches have achieved. The integration models, where pre-service teachers access a range of ICT applications in the context of their subject area units, have been more successful than the stand alone ICT units. When ICT is 'added on' to the curriculum, students have difficulty in making the connections between ICT skills and ICT as a learning tool. Furthermore, when ICT training is tied to the students' practicum experiences, they are better equipped to integrate it into their own classroom programs.

Although some of these studies do discuss constructivism as being integral to effective pedagogy within ICT environments, there is a distinct lack of exploration into how constructivist principles actually guide the roles of the teachers and the students and the nature of the instructional design in general. Constructivist learning environments have been widely accepted as the most conducive to computer-based learning (Cole & Engeström, 1993; Evans, 1998; Jonassen, 2002; Jonassen & Reeves, 1996; Lajoie, 1993). If, as Wang (2002) suggests, teachers who work in technology-rich classrooms are unable to teach in traditional, transmissionist ways, then they must be guided in their efforts to identify constructivist pedagogies that actually work.

While Brown's (2002) description of the teacher's multifaceted role (learner, manager, designer and researcher) is useful, it stops short of exploring the numerous other factors that contribute to effective ICT learning environments. This is problematic given that the whole configuration of events, activities, contents and interpersonal processes within classrooms are important determinants in the success and failure of ICT learning environments (Salomon, 1993).

In this regard, the Distributed Learning Environment (DLE) framework is helpful as it provides a comprehensive and practical guide for teachers wishing to implement computers as powerful learning tools in their classrooms (Steketee, Herrington & Oliver, 1999). The DLE is based on a social constructivist perspective of learning where discourse and collaboration is highly valued, and students are encouraged to distribute their learning between social, physical, symbolic and intellectual resources found within the learning environment. When learning is distributed, cognition is not solely an individual pursuit, but rather is shared amongst resources found within the learning environment (Pea, 1993). A type of communal partnership is developed within which students, together with other students and resources, construct new knowledge and understandings.

Even though learning is inherently a social construct (Vygotsky, 1978), and the idea that learning is facilitated by cognitive resources is far from new (Nickerson, 1993), collaborative and distributed learning in the classroom is not a natural phenomenon. The traditional expository and individualistic nature of classroom practice is well established and continues to influence new generations of teachers (Willis & Sujo de Montes, 2002). As such, if pre-service teachers are to be encouraged to distribute their thinking and learning, a DLE needs to be explicitly engineered and implemented.

For this to occur, a complex combination of appropriate teaching context characteristics and student characteristics need to be in place to allow the necessary process characteristics to transpire (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1: Characteristics of a distributed learning environment

The teaching context characteristics comprise a wide range of complex phenomena. It requires teachers to confront their perceptions of the role of the teacher in the classroom and to adopt the belief that teaching is the facilitation of understanding. Through the careful orchestration of tasks, curricula, teaching and assessment methods teachers effectively show students how to participate in distribution through the processes of collaboration, using resources and thinking strategically. Together, these factors convey messages to students about the type of learning that is desired and rewarded, which impacts upon student characteristics.

Student characteristics relate to students' perceptions of the learning environment and their roles within it. These perceptions influence the students' commitments to the distributive learning methods, as well as their acceptance of the responsibility they have for their own learning and the learning of others. Consequently, these perceptions affect the way students approach their learning, that is, the processes they adopt.

Process characteristics refer to students' use of resources as they endeavour to learn something. Resources typically available within the classroom environment can be categorised as social, physical, symbolic and the individual's intellect. While it is possible for individuals to pursue learning tasks drawing on perhaps only one resource (eg, their prior knowledge), the premise of this framework is that cognition is most powerful when it is distributed across a variety of resources. In fact, while these resources are operable on their own, their full potential is most likely to be achieved when used in conjunction with other resources. In this regard, Steketee, Herrington and Oliver (2001) argue that the full potential of the computer is achieved when used in conjunction with the individual's intellectual resources, social resources, symbolic resources and other physical resources as they function together within a distributed learning environment.


This framework presents a useful starting point for the identification of a rigorous ICT implementation plan. While the approaches identified in this review all have their respective merits, each is potentially useless without a sound and practical understanding of how computers can be implemented as learning tools. Based on contemporary learning theory, the DLE operationalises the conceptual changes that Wang (2002) argues must occur in the classroom if the computer is to transform teaching and learning.

However, given the socio-cultural nature of this framework, it is imperative that its implementation be seen as a gradual, progressive one. Lim et al. (2004) describe their implementation of an online learning environment as an evolution within which the stakeholders gradually adopt an alternative perspective of teaching and learning. They write

[W]e need to recognise that in any introduction of new ... approaches and technologies, the most difficult obstacle to overcome for both students and tutors is a paradigm shift. The existing paradigm may serve as a filter, preventing the institution from experimenting with approaches that are contrary to prevailing wisdom. Hence, there is a need to gradually create a scaffolding structure where the changes are incrementally felt and the existing ways of doing things are addressed (2004).
It has been proposed that this 'gradual' approach be adopted by UNDA where the DLE will facilitate the implementation of various features from all four approaches. By virtue of its principle position within the framework (see Figure 1), it can be inferred that teaching context characteristics are paramount within a DLE. The fundamental nature of the variables which prevail within this component, will directly and indirectly impact upon the course of events within the other components. For this reason, any implementation of a DLE must be supported by a rigorous PD program for staff, as well as general ICT skills development.

In conclusion, pre-service teachers have a significant role to play in the sustained and authentic application of ICT in schools. It is imperative, therefore, that due consideration be given to the nature of programs they are exposed to in their teacher-training courses. This review has highlighted a number of existing approaches that have been successful to some degree. In principle, each approach is providing a necessary building block in the development of competent and confident teachers in a technology-rich world. What is lacking, however, is a practical understanding of learning environments that are most conducive to the implementation of ICT as powerful learning tools. The DLE offers this practical guide and paves the way for the transformations in teaching and learning that learning technologies have been promising for many years.


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Author: Dr Carole Steketee is a senior lecturer at the University of Notre Dame Australia and currently coordinates the Graduate Diploma of Education. She is also responsible for delivering ICT units to all cohorts of pre-service teachers. Her PhD focused on the extent to which technology can enhance learning when implemented effectively. Email address csteketee@nd.edu.au

Please cite as: Steketee, C. (2005). Integrating ICT as an integral teaching and learning tool into pre-service teacher training courses. Issues In Educational Research, 15(1), 101-113. http://www.iier.org.au/iier15/steketee.html

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