Epistemic Beliefs of Teachers in Technology-Rich Community College Technical Education Programs

Article excerpt

Dramatic changes in the nature of work and its organization emphasize the need for workers to address complex and ill-structured problems and to produce knowledge useful in the workplace. Integrated use of computer-based technologies in education-for-work and workplace learning programs can address this need. Such potential, however, depends on the epistemic beliefs of teachers and trainers, as well as institutional and socio-cultural factors. The purpose of this study was to develop a better understanding of the epistemic beliefs of teachers in such programs. Our findings indicate that the teachers observed use technology largely to transmit content to their students and to control the overall delivery and pace of that transmission process. The constructivist promise inherent in computer technology was largely unrealized in the pedagogical and curricular practices observed.

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Recent changes in the workplace and the nature of work are having profound effects on what workers need to know and produce. A critical aspect of this change within the United States and other industrialized countries is the rapid growth of and reliance on information technologies (IT) to enhance performance and productivity. These changes are associated with a profound shift in our fundamental assumptions about the nature of working knowledge--of what it is that needs to be known and how workers come to know (Berryman, 1993). These shifts in knowledge have profound implications for education-for-work and workplace learning programs. It is within these programs that workers acquire the dispositions, knowledge, and skills required in their work and how these can be used to address the tasks and problems they confront in their work. Assumptions about the nature of knowledge and how it is acquired and used are reflected in the curricula, teaching and training strategies, and assessment methods of these programs (Pratt & Associates, 1998). In particular, beliefs of the teachers and trainers responsible for designing, implementing, and assessing these programs influence what counts as knowledge and how that knowledge is acquired (Clarebout & Elsen, 2001; Clark & Peterson, 1986; Fang, 1996; Hofer & Pintrich, 1997; Pajares, 1992).

This study focuses on community college education-for-work programs (technical education) in which the use of computer technologies is considered integral to the knowledge and skills being fostered. We refer to this context as technology-rich environments. Community colleges have a history of adapting and responding to societal needs and nontraditional learners (Cohen & Brawer, 2002). Furthermore, there is considerable rhetoric that characterizes these institutions as having an emphasis on the learner and learning-centered methods of pedagogy (Barr & Tagg, 1995; Grubb & Associates, 1999; O'Banion, 1997). Therefore, these institutions represent an ideal context for the study of the adoption and use of emerging technologies and pedagogical methods related to the use of technology.

The purpose of this study was to determine the beliefs that teachers in these programs hold about the nature of knowledge, how learners come to know, and the role of computer-assisted instruction in the learning process.

Background and Rationale

Many of the jobs affected by recent technological innovations involve what Grubb (1996) refers to as midlevel or technical skills. In the United States, community colleges and technical institutes have traditionally trained people in these midlevel skills. Heavily influenced by behavioral and information-processing views of learning, many technical education programs reflect structured, mechanistic, and repetitive conceptions of pre-IT era organizations (Doolittle & Camp, 1999). The programs use job and task analyses to create traditional curricular and instructional structures, such as behavioral objectives and skills standards. …