The new national curriculum for schools in Norway from 2006 requires teachers to acquire a high degree of digital literacy in all subjects (Erstad, 2006; Krumsvik, 2006). However, in order to incorporate digital literacy in an effective way, there is a need for innovative pedagogical approaches to ICT. Traditional ICT teaching methods do not provide understanding of ICT on a deeper level than memorizing details of the software, reproducing information about buttons, menu commands, and dialogue boxes (Herskin 2004; Sein, Bostrom, & Olfman, 1998). Furthermore, despite the emphasis on ICT in secondary schools, ICT pedagogy is still in its infancy and there is a lack of essential computer skills among teachers, partly because, in contrast to mathematics, ICT as a school subject is a young discipline (Woollard, 2005). While there is a huge literature on the use of ICT as a tool in teaching and learning, there is much less published research work on the teaching of ICT as a school subject. As a result, there have been in the past and there persist even now strong disagreements about the nature of ICT or similar designations, such as informatics or computer science, its aims, content, teaching and learning methods, and assessment approaches (Hammond, 2004). In line with international research in the field of school informatics (Dagdilelis, Dagdilelis, Satratzemi, & Evangelidis, 2004; McDougall & Boyle, 2004; UNESCO, 2002; Watson, 2006; Woollard, 2005), this paper argues that innovative pedagogies based on contemporary learning theories can be a catalyst to incorporate digital literacy in an effective way. In line with the cognitive, constructivist, and situated learning theories, this paper presents a learner-centered ICT teaching method that is supposed to provide the students with a more thorough understanding of ICT as a school subject. To assess the pedagogical value of the method, it is intended to involve student teachers, having a university degree in informatics, in applying and evaluating the method in their teaching practice in upper secondary schools (the last three years of secondary education). Hence, the main objective of this work is to investigate the effectiveness of the ICT teaching method, and critical factors of success, through successive cycles of experiments based on the Design-based research paradigm (The Design-Based Research Collective; 2003).
In this section the research methodology and associated research goals and questions are presented.
Design-based research is "an emerging paradigm for the study of learning in context through the systematic design and study of instructional strategies and tools" (The Design-Based Research Collective, 2003, p. 5). The purpose of Design-based research is to develop theories about the learning process and the pedagogical means that are designed to support that learning (Barab & Squire, 2004). The essential characteristic of Design-based research is that it describes a continuous cycle, or feedback loop, of gradual refinement of the proposed theories. Refinements are continually made through successive cycles of experimentations, where the shortcomings of each cycle are identified, re-designed, re-implemented, and re-evaluated. Each cycle has four major phases: analysis, design, implementation, and evaluation. To better focus on the process as a research methodology, depending on information and producing results, two columns labeled inputs and outputs are shown in Figure 1. Inputs are influencing factors. Outputs are results of the process steps. Design-based research in ICT education involves four major phases:
1. It begins with the analysis of the learning problems of current educational practice in the field of ICT education. A critical literature review is conducted, thereby generating the formulation of hypotheses and research questions of interest.
2. It continues with the design of a learner-centered ICT teaching method, based on a theoretical framework, which will be used to overcome the learning problems. The framework supports the designers' work, forming the foundation for implementation and evaluation.
3. Then, an attempt at implementing learner-centered ICT teaching in secondary schools is performed, using multiple, both qualitative and quantitative, methods for collecting empirical data, e.g. survey questionnaires, interviews, observations, etc.
4. Finally, implementations of learner-centered ICT teaching are then evaluated. The evaluation is concerned with the systematic analysis of the data collected according to the specification implicit or explicit in the theoretical framework.
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Research Goals and Questions
The underlying hypothesis of this work is that the learner-centered ICT teaching method has the potential for improving the learning of ICT in secondary schools. To test this hypothesis, the application of the method should not be limited to a single experiment since possible learning benefits can be achieved only through the continuous cycle of analysis, design, implementation, and evaluation of the ICT teaching method. Accordingly, this work consists of four research goals:
1. To analyze the learning problems and deficiencies associated with current pedagogical practices in ICT education in upper secondary schools.
2. To design a learner-centered ICT teaching method that will be used to solve the learning problems of current educational practice in ICT.
3. To report on and evaluate an implementation of the method in upper secondary schools, and to find out whether student teachers are able to apply it successfully.
4. To discuss the implications of the method and to identify critical factors of success when applying it in upper secondary schools.
To explore implementations of the ICT teaching method in upper secondary schools, this work examined the following research questions:
1. How do student teachers, having a university degree in informatics, apply and evaluate the learner-centered ICT teaching method in their teaching practice?
2. What are the critical factors of success in trying out the learner-centered ICT teaching method in upper secondary schools?
Current State of ICT Education in Secondary Schools
The new national curriculum for schools in Norway from 2006, which is the latest reform in the 10-year compulsory school, requires schools and teachers to acquire a high degree of digital literacy in all subjects. As a result, digital literacy has become mandatory in all fields and should be integrated into all subjects. Digital literacy describes the ability to make use of ICT in learning and work activities (Erstad, 2006; Krumsvisk, 2006). Implicit in the concept of digital literacy is the realization of the potential inherent in ICT for better learning.
In order to clarify the concept of digital literacy, it is important to understand the role of ICT in secondary schools. According to Webb (2002), three categories can be identified: learning ICT as a school subject (or school informatics), using ICT as a tool for learning, and learning through ICT. ICT as a tool and learning through ICT are not considered in this paper.
ICT as a school subject in the new national curriculum is divided into Information Technology I and II. Information Technology I includes four topics: Digital equipment, programming, multimedia applications, and Web development I. Information Technology II includes three topics: Information systems design, databases, and Web development II. Teachers and students need to be familiar with these topics in order to acquire digital competency. More specifically, digital competency in the ICT subject involves the acquisition of a number of ICT skills. The first skill is concerned with using software tools, such as Excel, FrontPage, Photoshop, Access, and similar software for problem solving, simulation, modeling, exploration, visualization, and publication. The second skill is about using Internet for finding information, analyzing, processing, and presenting data with appropriate aids, and to be critical of sources, analyses, and results. Then teachers and students need to learn about Web design, development of interactive multi-media applications, connecting Web applications with databases, publishing and maintaining Web sites, as well as user-centered design, such as ease-of-use and ease-of-learning, subjective satisfaction, etc. Then, it is useful to acquire skills associated with software development approaches, both object-oriented and conventional methodologies, for analyzing problem situations, modeling, implementing, and testing appropriate solutions. Finally, programming with Java or similar languages is an important skill. Acquiring programming skills means analyzing the problem, breaking down the problem-solving process into its components, and designing an algorithm before coding.
However, despite the emphasis on a set of well-defined topics, the new national curriculum makes few suggestions as to which pedagogical skills teachers need to acquire in order to teach these topics. In fact, the pedagogy of ICT is still in its infancy. It lacks an extensive research base of materials like the one published for mathematics. According to the research literature (Dagdilelis et al., 2004; Erstad, 2006; Hammond, 2004; Hennessy, Ruthven, & Brindley, 2005; Krumsvik, 2006; Minaidi & Hlapanis, 2005; Webb, 2002), ICT as a school subject is confronted with a number of closely related problems that are difficult to solve. First, schools adapt slowly to technological and pedagogical changes despite the fact that many attempts at implementing ICT have been initiated since 1980 in many countries. In addition, teachers are often reluctant to abandon their existing pedagogy. As a result, teaching methods based on conventional epistemologies are still dominant despite the potentialities of innovative pedagogies based learning theories, such as constructivism and situated learning. Furthermore, teachers lack specific training and qualifications in ICT. A major problem for teachers is the complexity of software. While knowledge about the principles and functionality of software is necessary for teaching ICT, it is impossible for teachers to know all the specific features of all the software packages that they use, because software is continually being developed and improved. Another important problem for teachers is identifying suitable context of software use to develop ICT knowledge and skills. These contexts may be taken from the school context, the wider community, e.g. private or public sector, or from another subject area. Moreover, teaching resources and textbooks in ICT are still based on traditional pedagogies. Textbook publishers have difficulties to incorporate innovative teaching approaches that are suited to ICT, mostly because they are driven by marketing forces rather than pedagogical considerations. Finally, a number of ICT topics are more difficult to teach than other subjects, because they require a much greater range of professional and pedagogical skills than those required to teach a unit of work within a specific subject area.
Given the current state of ICT education, there is a need for an integrated ICT teaching strategy that recognizes the interrelations of pedagogy, ICT skills, and school environment in order to successfully exploit the potential capabilities of ICT in secondary education. To achieve this, schools must give more consideration to new pedagogies that are more suited to ICT.
Learner-Centered ICT Pedagogy: Theoretical Framework
The design of a learner-centered ICT teaching method depends on the chosen theoretical framework. The framework supports the designers' work, forming the foundation for implementation, evaluation, and research. The theoretical framework is developed in four steps:
1) Defining the psychological foundations of the learning-centered ICT teaching method based on learning theories and the learning cycle.
2) Specifying the underlying pedagogical principles of the learner-centered ICT teaching method.
3) Re-conceptualizing pedagogical principles of the ICT teaching method within learning theories and the learning cycle.
4) Defining the contextual factors influencing the use of the learner-centered ICT teaching method in secondary schools.
Psychological Foundations of ICT Teaching
Important to the design of a learner-centered ICT teaching is a psychological foundation built on solid learning theory. Literature reviews suggest that learning theories can be related to three widespread models: cognitivist, constructivist, and socially situated model of learning. The remainder of this section describes the most important characteristics of the learning theories and presents a three-stage model--the learning cycle--that retains the features of each one.
The cognitive learning theory emphasizes the learner's schema as an organized knowledge structure (Bruner, 1990; Gagne, Yekovich, & Yekovisch, 1993). Unlike behaviorism, cognitivism recognizes that the human mind is not simply a passive recipient of knowledge. Rather, the learner interprets knowledge and gives meaning to it. The cognitive perspective of learning refers to mental activity, such as analytical reasoning. When teachers apply a cognitive approach, they focus on the understanding of concepts and their relationships. If learners are able to understand the connections between the concepts, break down information, and rebuild it with logical connections, then their understanding will increase.
The constructivist learning theory views knowledge as a constructed entity made by each and every learner through a learning process. Constructivism frames learning less as the product of passive transmission than a process of active construction whereby the learners construct their own knowledge based upon prior knowledge (Duffy, Lowyck, & Jonassen, 1993; Piaget, 1971; Steffe & Gale, 1995). Constructivist learning requires learners to demonstrate their skills …