Technology is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other.
(C.P. Snow, as quoted by Lewis, 1971, p. 37)
Perhaps one of the more tangible recent changes in schools is the presence of technology. Admittedly, standards-based reform policy, pressures for greater accountability, and the concomitant explosion of test administration frequency are changes one can also discern. But in terms of physical presence, technology and especially computers represent an obvious change in the complexion of schools. One has only to venture into the media center of any school to see the absence of the polished wooden card catalogs that have been replaced by monitors and keyboards guiding students to the resources they are seeking. Within most classrooms, as well, technology has taken center stage. Multimedia projectors, computers, probes, and other technological devices have begun to permeate science classrooms.
Given the unmistakable presence of technology, one cannot help but wonder how these devices have influenced educational practices. After all, many of the technologies currently in use in schools are business devices that have been appropriated for purposes of schooling. Although questions about the appropriateness of business tools as educational devices should be left for others to explore (Stroup, 2003), there are some immediate questions relative to science teacher education and technology that need to be addressed.
Examining technology use from the vantage point of policy makers can be revealing. In their analysis of the technology plans of 15 states, Yong Zhao and Paul Conway (2001) reported several troubling aspects of technology implementation. These included a propensity to favor innovative technologies over more established media, an assumption that reform was an inevitably accompanied technology implementation, and the premium upon improved student test scores with substantially less attention given to improving teaching for understanding. Our perspective is much less ambitious — we prefer to consider technology for its potential but acknowledge the dangers of taking computers as an educational panacea. Our hopefulness is tempered by an awareness of the difficulties of effecting lasting change.
This article makes use of published reports of teachers’ technology uses, as well as data collected from members of the science teacher education community in an effort to examine several questions. Given the ever-changing nature of technology and the world of education, the findings represent a snapshot at a particular point in time that will surely evolve over the coming years. Thus, this study provides a benchmark against which future studies can be compared. The current study is an extension of a previous investigation and represents another step in a continuing line of inquiry regarding technology and technology usage in the preparation of teachers of science (Pedersen & Yerrick, 2000).
Technology in classrooms, whether preparing science teachers or teaching K-12 students science, has undergone tremendous evolution over the past few decades. To a large part this is due to the very nature of the types of technology available to educators at all levels. The recommendation of technology usage for teaching science is reflected in the National Educational Technology Standards (International Society for Technology in Education [ISTE], 2000) and the National Science Teachers Association’s (NSTA, 2003) Standards for Science Teacher Preparation.
The NETS recommend that teacher candidates continually observe and participate in the effective modeling of technology use for both their own learning and the teaching of their students. Stressing that technology must become an integral part of the teaching and learning process in every setting supporting the preparation of teachers, NSTA (2003) noted that general teaching skills should include the successful use of technological tools, including but not limited to computer technology, to access resources, collect and process data, and facilitate the learning of science.
As a further indication of the growth of technology, the National Education Association (NEA) compiled benchmarks for distance education (course development and structure, institutional support, teaching/learning processes, student support, and assessment) and then evaluated these benchmarks in the context of several institutions (Phipps & Merisotis, 2000). The result has been a refined set of benchmarks for distance education that accurately reflect best practices in using the Internet as a course delivery mechanism.
Along these same lines, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT, 2000) developed guidelines for distance education based upon surveys of 200 AFT members from higher education institutions. Many of their guidelines are consistent with the standards presented in the NEA report. However, the AFT report was much less subtle in its support for distance education: “The practitioners responding to our survey overwhelmingly indicated that we should move forward with distance education” (p. 6).
There is obvious support for technology at many levels as organizations such as ISTE, NSTA, NEA, and AFT advocate for technology in day-to-day instruction. Given this increased emphasis on technology use, researchers are also responding by examining various technologies and the use of technology in classrooms. Researchers have examined multimedia CD-ROMs, teaching methods, and student learning processes vis-à-vis technology development (Halyard & Pridmore, 2000) and how technology is transforming science education across America (Devitt, 1997). The U.S. Department of Education (Smerdon et al., 2000) examined how students used computers in classrooms. The report indicated that 61% of teachers (K-12) have students use computers for word processing and spreadsheet work, while 51% reported that students conduct research using the Internet. The study also examined where in the school they can access the Internet. Ninety percent of teachers indicated that access is available somewhere in the school, with 64% reporting it is available in their classrooms. Of those classrooms with Internet access, most commonly (46%) this access was via a single computer, with only 4% of classrooms having more than five computers with Internet access.
Beyond the realm of science in the K-12 classroom, researchers have also investigated the impact of technology on the preparation of science teachers, including science educators becoming familiar with electronic resources (Didion, 1997) and the use and current knowledge of technology in science educators (Pedersen & Yerrick, 2000; Odom, Settlage, & Pedersen, 2002). There are literally hundreds of studies examining the impact of technology usage on both preservice/in-service teacher preparation and K-12 students.
Researchers have examined higher education faculty members’ access and usage of technology. In a study on the use of telecommunications technology by postsecondary institutions (Warburton, Chen, & Bradburn, 2002): 96.7% of higher education faculty members report having access to the Internet. Email communication between full-time students and their professors is the highest among education faculty, with 45.9% of students reporting that they used email to communicate regarding course material (engineering/computer sciences students: 44%, natural/physical science and math: 27.5%). Faculty members who reported communicating with students or using course-specific websites represented 69.2% and 40.4% of respondents, respectively.
The adage “we teach as we are taught” can be aptly applied to technology in science education. The vast majority of future teachers receive their credentials through colleges or departments of education, oftentimes including a course in methods of teaching science. Although it would be a gross oversimplification to suggest that technology use in methods classes will invariably translate into uses in the preservice teachers’ future classrooms, one would reasonably expect some correlation. If technology is integrated into a science methods course, then it seems more likely that the next generation of teachers will incorporate technology into their science teaching. Likewise, only the most ambitious students would implement technology in their science teaching if they had no exposure to it in their methods courses. For this reason this study examined the overlaps and disparities in technology expertise and use for precollege teachers and education professors.
Uncertainties remain regarding technology use in science education—specifically, who uses technology in their classrooms and for what purpose; how familiar are educators with the technologies they are using; and how much do educators know about the technology tools that they are using? Favorable advocacy is often parti pris of studies on educational technology. Within this study we endeavored to distance ourselves from this tendency, preferring to characterize ourselves as capable users but skeptical advocates of computers within the context of science teaching and learning.
Information is available about uses of technology in public schools and in our colleges and universities. Less clear, however, is the situation within science education, and this is significant because science teachers have potentially more technology tools at their disposal than do any other academic areas. Although the Internet, electronic databases, and CD-ROMs might be used in social studies as much as in science, because of the experimental and analytical features of science (e.g., probes and modeling software) the value of preparing teachers to find appropriate uses for technology is quite high for science educators. The purpose of this study was to establish the technology knowledge and use, as well as relative levels of desired technological knowledge among members of Association for the Education of Teachers in Science (AETS) as compared to K-12 science teachers.
Three issues guided the collection and analysis of data. One issue of interest was the similarity in technology uses at the precollege level versus expressed knowledge about the same technologies at the postsecondary level. The data gathered within the present study were compared to data gathered for similar purposes about public school teachers. A second area of interest was the familiarity science educators have with different types of technology. Science educators may be using technology as instructional tools, for supporting their productivity, and for conducting research. Survey items gathered data that clearly identified the respondents’ current levels of knowledge of a wide variety of educational technologies.
The final question emerged from an organization-wide uncertainty about appropriate forms of ongoing professional development. In other words, the survey was viewed as a mechanism for discerning the technological know-how needs of the AETS membership. This was accomplished by asking respondents to indicate their desired levels of knowledge for various technological tools. In doing this we were able to compare current with desired knowledge to discover the largest gaps. Together these three research questions seemed likely to provide us with a clear sense of the current state of technology knowledge, both current and desired, within the science education community.
Methodology and Instrumentation
The methodology was based upon a previous survey of the AETS members (Pedersen & Yerrick, 2000) with one major departure. We used a web-based survey site and an email merge to invite members to participate in the study. The survey examined the differences between current and desired levels of knowledge about using technology as an instructional tool, to support research, to enhance productivity in classroom applications, and to enhance data collection and analysis.
The instrument was a web-based questionnaire. The questionnaire had two general sections, technology usage and needs and demographics. The technology usage and needs section contained seven subsections:
1. Using technology as an instructional tool.
2. Using technology to support educational research.
3. Using technology to enhance productivity.
4. The effects of computers in the classroom.
5. Computer usage in science.
6. How to use the Internet to teach science.
7. How to use other technologies in the classroom.
Demographic data was collected with 19 items, which included
1. Highest degree earned.
2-4. Degree areas.
5. Teaching levels.
6. Certification areas.
7. K-12 teaching experience.
8. Availability of a media center at one’s institution.
9. Teaching responsibilities.
10. College/university rank.
11. Conference attendance.
12. Current publications.
13. Internet training.
14. Location of Internet training.
15. Location of Internet use.
16. Creation and/or maintenance a science or science education website.
17. Last year completing a science course.
18. Last year completing an education course.
19. Name, address, and institution. (Appendix A)
The questionnaire was written as a form and placed on a website using Microsoft’s FrontPage. A form is a collection of fields that can be use for gathering information from people visiting a web site. The data in this study was submitted directly to an Excel spreadsheet (see Appendix B for technical procedures). A backup copy of each response was automatically emailed to a different site. An email merge of AETS members was used to solicit participation in the survey. The email message included the survey website address, how the information would be used, and a confidentiality statement. A record of invalid email addresses and responses was kept, and those addresses were deleted from the master email list. A follow-up email request to participate in the survey was sent 1 month later using the updated list. For each survey item, respondents were to give an indication of their present level (current) and hoped for (desired) level of technology knowledge using a 5-point Likert scale. A value of 1 represented a very low level of knowledge, while 5 represented a very high level of knowledge. The data reported here represent the contributions of 274 individuals.
For each prompt, respondents were to give an indication of their present level (current) and hoped for (desired) level of technology knowledge using a 5-point scale. A value of 1 represented a very low level of knowledge, while 5 represented a very high level of knowledge. This pattern of current and desired knowledge was used for each item. Items were categorized into subsections and Cronbach alpha was used to estimate the internal consistency of the instrument (Ferguson & Takane, 1989). The range of values for the subsections was 0.77-0.94. The overall value was 0.97 (Table 1).
Major Categories of Survey and Distribution of Items
No. of Items
|As an instructional tool within your teaching|
|To support educational research efforts|
|For enhancing productivity|
|Effects of computer use on …|
|How to use a computer in science for …|
|How to use the Internet to …|
|How to use other technology in the classroom|
In the following three subsections, we address the corresponding research questions are addressed. For the first question we took advantage of published data on technology uses by classroom teachers and compared that data to the information collected for this study.
Comparison of Teachers and Professors
Teachers were asked to indicate the frequency with which they used computers or the Internet to assist them in accomplishing certain goals: maintaining student records, making class presentations, and so on (Lanahan, 2002). Professors were asked similar questions, although the differences in the uses of technology represent the differences between the work of teacher versus professors: Professors were not asked about their use of technology to gather lesson plan information (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Comparisons of technology uses as reported by teachers (reported as % who said “a lot”) and professors (rated on a scale of 1 to 5).
Having gathered the data from the two groups using different techniques, the most accurate way to compare the two is to examine the relative weights. The use of technology that was most heavily weighted for teachers was record keeping followed by communication with email. In contrast, communicating with email was the technology use for which professors reported having the strongest knowledge, with multimedia presentations and access resources (e.g., research databases) having greater weight than record keeping. One explanation for teachers’ technological premium on record keeping could be the escalating importance of tracking individual student progress (the “accountability pressures” may not be as new to the profession as we might believe; see Lortie, 1975). Another reasonable explanation for the differences relates back to Internet access. If teachers had easier access to the Internet, especially from their classrooms, perhaps email would be used much more. Or the differences may simply be reflective of the demands and responsibilities that distinguish teaching from professoring; for the former the workday is fairly tightly scheduled, while the college professor may teach as many hours in a week as a teacher does in a day. As a consequence, their needs for technology differ.
By comparing teachers and professors in their uses of technology we found some differences. This may be explained by the distinctive job responsibilities. There are also differences in work environments (e.g., Internet access) that might translate into the varied uses of technology. In the following section the uses of technology by science education professors are explored in greater detail.
Professors and Their Familiarity With Technology
Respondents were asked to rate their current knowledge level relative to varied types and uses of technology, indicating their selection on a scale of 1 to 5 (low to high). Across all survey items, the technology with the highest current knowledge was the use of overhead transparencies (mean = 4.61) with the lowest rating being assigned to MP3 players (mean = 1.88). The modal rating was 2.79 (hypermedia and desktop publishing), and the median response was 3.14 (between posting readings electronically and demonstrating commercial instructional software). This distribution suggests that the items included in the survey were appropriate, as the respondents did not have excessively high nor exceedingly low knowledge. Technology uses with the highest current knowledge levels are presented in Table 2.
Technology Uses for Which Respondents Had Current Knowledge Levels With Modal Responses of 4 or 5
|Communicate via email|
|Co-author manuscripts using email attachments|
|Searching information on Internet|
|Read and/or retrieve online articles, books, manuscripts|
|Making presentations (e.g., via PowerPoint)|
|Accessing online indexes (e.g., ERIC, Educational Abstracts)|
|Using spreadsheets to maintain records and grades|
Except for the use of spreadsheets, all the uses of technology In Table 2 are text based. Given the nature of the work of the typical academician (writing, reviewing, reading, editing) these uses of technology seem reasonable. However, they do not represent dramatically different uses of technology; one issue that has been raised about educational technology is that it has made little impact upon the work of teachers — essentially they go about their work, and presumably how they think about their work, in ways that are parallel to teachers’ work and thinking for decades (Cuban, Kirkpatrick, & Peck, 2001). Without wishing to criticize our science education colleagues, this list suggests parallels with the lack of change in the precollege classroom; except for being paperless and faster (perhaps) the knowledge levels are probably quite similar to science education professors of 20, 30, or 40 years ago (Table 3).
Technology Uses for Which Respondents Had Very Low Current Knowledge (Modal Responses of 1)
|Electronic white boards|
|Personal Digital Assistants (e.g., PalmPilots)|
|Global Positioning System (GPS)|
|Working with qualitative data (e.g., HyperQual, NUDIST)|
|Geographical Information Systems (GIS)|
The implications of this research would clearly indicate areas in which educators have low current knowledge and could assist us in making decisions regarding areas to begin focusing professional development (Table 3). It should be kept in mind, from the perspective of the authors, that technology for the sake of technology use is not what is being suggested. Rather, the use of technology should be as a tool to assist the learner in understanding concepts. Any technology can be misused or abused. As such, all technology can be useful in the appropriate context. It is not our position to decide whether or not a particular technology is useful or a particular technological skill is useful, rather to provide the data for educators to develop a better understanding of the knowledge levels for various technologies. It is not technology for technology’s sake. It is to be a tool that assists the learner in a deeper or more efficient learning experience, and the simplest and most effective technology tool should be used.
The Differences Between Current and Desired Technology Knowledge
In a manner consistent with Pedersen and Yerrick’s (2000) study of technology use, the present study asked respondents to indicate both their current levels of knowledge and their desired knowledge levels for each of several dozen types of technology. Generally the higher mean levels of current knowledge were accompanied by higher means for desired knowledge, to the tune of a statistically significant correlation of +0.688 (df = 44), With an eye toward identifying departures from this relationship, we have selected a few technologies where the difference between current and desired knowledge is exceptional.
There were five technologies for which the modal response for current knowledge was 1, while the modal response for desired knowledge was 5 — indicative of the largest gap (see Table 4). These technological knowledge gaps were, in descending order, working with qualitative data, geographical information systems, global positioning systems, electronic white boards, and personal digital assistants. The average gap between current and desired knowledge level means for these five technologies was 1.64. Clearly if one was interested in supporting science educators and their facility with using technology, these five areas would be wise areas within which to begin.
Technology Uses Where Differences Between Current and Desired Levels of Knowledge Were Among the Largest
Difference Between Means
|Working with qualitative data (e.g., HyperQual, NUDIST)|
|Geographical Information Systems (GIS)|
|Global Positioning System (GPS)|
|Electronic white boards|
|Personal Digital Assistants (e.g., PalmPilots)|
With the exception of qualitative data analyses, most of these technologies lack an obvious connection to the types of computers with which science educators are familiar (the exception could be video editing, which is commonly done digitally). Perhaps the gaps science educators revealed between their current and desired knowledge reflect a basic lack of awareness of these technological tools. Underneath the uncertainty is an interest in learning more, as reflected in their responses in the desired knowledge fields.
In contrast, there were several technologies where current and desired levels of knowledge were almost the same. For the items about co-authoring manuscripts using email attachments and communicating via email, the modal response for both current and desired knowledge was 5. Additionally, six technologies revealed a modal current knowledge level of 4 with a desired knowledge level of 5 (see Table 5). Notably, the mean desired level of knowledge for word processing was actually lower than the mean current level of knowledge. This suggests that science educators’ knowledge about word processing is excessive; one implication is that more knowledge (and energy) has been devoted to formatting documents than the respondents feel is actually useful or necessary.
Difference Between Means
|Read, retrieve online articles, books|
|Making presentations (PowerPoint)|
|Accessing online indexes|
|Co-author using email attachments|
|Using spreadsheets to maintain records|
|Communicate via email|
The sense of preparedness expressed by teachers for using technology is strongly related to the amount of professional development they receive (Smerdon et al., 2000). As teachers receive more hours of in-service training about using computers and the Internet for instructional purposes, the number who feel well to very well prepared increases proportionately. For those who advocate for technology as a powerful tool within the larger science education milieu it is apparent that teacher confidence is responsive to professional development.
By considering the data gathered by the U.S. Department of Education, we were able to compare teachers’ uses of technology with the knowledge reported by science educators. As one would expect, even though both groups fall within the general category of “educators” their work is far from identical. The predominant use of technology by teachers is for the purposes of record keeping, while the professors in the current study do less “bookkeeping” with their technology but instead are more knowledgeable about technology for communicating via email, accessing databases, and making multimedia presentations. One possible expectation is that teachers’ uses of technology may shift to make greater use of more innovative technologies, including telecommunications.
The second goal of this study was to establish the current levels of knowledge that the participants had about various technologies. Science educators seemed especially knowledgeable about such computer-based technologies as those involving email, word processing, and seeking information. For several technologies, science educators reported very low current levels of knowledge. Several of these technologies have less obvious connections to the typical desktop computer (e.g., geographic information systems, global positioning satellites, and electronic whiteboards), although familiarity with using computers to conduct qualitative analyses of data was also an area in which current knowledge was reportedly low.
Third, the data gathered for this study revealed that professors recognize the variety of educational technologies that exist and have the desire to learn more about some than others. By comparing current with desired knowledge levels we were able to identify technology uses for which professional development would seem most advisable. The participants were not equivalently interested in all things shiny, electronic, and new but revealed greatest interest through the size of the current-to-desired knowledge gap in working with qualitative data, making use of satellite-based tools (i.e., GPS and GIS), and editing video footage.
What is required in order for educational technology to take root in science classrooms? In their study of technology implementation, Zhao, Pugh, Sheldon and Byers (2002) emphasized that to concentrate upon the technology itself is unwise. They identified the salient roles played by the context of the school, the nature of the innovation, and the teachers themselves. Not surprisingly, Zhao et al. (2002) identified the teacher as the most significant factor in the success of a technology’s implementation. As efforts are expended to deepen the sophistication with which science educators utilize technology, this attention to the user must be heeded. Only by making the human element front and center of any technology innovation can we hope that the electronic tools will prove beneficial rather than cause the sorts of damage against which C. P. Snow has cautioned us.
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Gentry 226, Neag School of Education
University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT 06269-2033
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