Using Handheld-Computers and Probeware in a Science Methods Course: Preservice Teachers' Attitudes and Self-Efficacy

Article excerpt

This study investigates conditions and factors that affect preservice teachers' decisions to use handheld computers in scientific investigations and explores aspects of student learning and classroom practices that would be affected by handheld-based science activities. A Handheld-Based Laboratory (HBL) was designed to model strategies for integration of mobile technology into Science Methods courses and to create a conceptual change in preservice teachers' attitudes towards technology. Participants included 21 preservice teachers in a Science Methods course. Five conditions that can affect the integration of handheld technology for instruction and learning emerged from this study: (a) classroom and school environment, (b) teachers' technological background and predisposition, (c) students' prior knowledge and experience, (d) open and engaging curriculum, and (e) access to handheld computers as learning tools. Use of handheld-based science activities also enhanced preservice teachers' inquiry abilities, organizational skills, engagement in science content learning, and attitudes and self-efficacy.

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Current trends in educational reform require teachers to be proficient in science and technology (International Society for Technology in Education [ISTE], 1991, 1999; International Technology Education Association [ITEA], 2000, Thomas & Cooper, 2000). The National Science Education Standards indicate that "the relationship between science and technology is so close that any presentation of science without developing an understanding of technology would portray an inaccurate picture of science" (National Research Council, [NRC], 1996, p. 190; see also American Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS], 1990). Consequently, teachers need to be prepared to integrate technology into their teaching, and colleges of education have an increasingly important responsibility to prepare them (NCATE, 1997). One of the more recent developments in instructional technology is that of handheld computers. These small devices are mobile and flexible in their use, allow for dynamic collaboration between multiple users, and real-time data collection in scientific investigations when associated with probeware. The unique nature of handheld technology allows for almost seamless integration of technology in a learning environment, and this requires professional preparation. The current study investigates under what conditions preservice teachers make decisions about handheld technology integration, and how this integration enhances inquiry-based instruction in a science methods course and affects their attitudes and feelings of self-efficacy.

Research indicates that it takes a great deal of education and experience to achieve a comfortable level of expertise in the use of technology as a tool for helping students learn (Coley, Cradler, & Engel, 1997; ISTE, 1999; Milken Family Foundation, 2001; NCATE, 1997; Thomas & Cooper, 2000; U.S. Department of Education, 2000). Yet, technology does not permeate the typical student's preservice education experience. Reasons for the lack of technology integration in teacher education programs are manifold. For one, social cognitive factors exist that affect a preservice faculty member's choice to integrate technology into his or her courses (Dusick, 1998; Snider, 2002). These include environmental factors such as support, sharing of resources, and training, as well as personal social cognitive factors like "faculty attitude, anxiety, self-efficacy, willingness to make a time commitment and face the risks involved with using technology, competency, beliefs and perceptions of the technology's relevance, and lack of knowledge" (Dusick, p. 123). Second, the resistance of inservice teachers (who act as cooperating teachers in the preservice teacher training programs) to the institutionalization of educational technology can become a major obstacle in the process (Medcalf-Davenport, 1999; Strudel & Wetzel, 1999). …