Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

A Virtual Change Agent: Motivating Pre-Service Teachers to Integrate Technology in Their Future Classrooms

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

A Virtual Change Agent: Motivating Pre-Service Teachers to Integrate Technology in Their Future Classrooms

Article excerpt

In the last 20 years, technological advances have resulted in new opportunities to use technology to improve learning and instruction. As a result, there is an increasing demand on teachers to develop the skills to make effective use of technology (Ertmer, Conklin, Lewandowski, Osika, Selo, & Wignall, 2003). Much technology has been placed in schools such as computers, educational software, etc., and much training for teachers' skills and knowledge of teaching with technology has been provided. Despite these efforts, many teachers still do not integrate technology effectively even when they have the technology and initial training (Beavers, 2001; Hope, 1998). This situation is attributed to a variety of factors, including lack of proper teacher education (Ward, West, & Isaak, 2002). Researchers have suggested that teacher education with regard to technology integration should go well beyond teaching technical skills. Specifically, training and education should take into account teacher motivation regarding the use of technology (Llorens, Salanova, & Grau, 2002).

Pre-service teacher education provides fundamental experience for the use of technology (Thompson, Schmidt, & Davis, 2003). Our focus is on issues involving pre-service teacher motivation (Doering, Hughes, & Huffman, 2003). Time and curriculum constraints in pre-service teacher training courses often limit an instructor's ability to provide support beyond introduction to and limited use of specific technologies. Methods to supplement the instructor's supportive role are needed. Methods of support such as mentoring and networking among teachers have been studied (Ward et al., 2002; Weidmann & Humphrey, 2002). However, these human-mediated supports are not always accessible or convenient. Therefore, pedagogical agents--animated human-like computer interface characters designed to facilitate learning--may be a potential solution in cases where human resources are not available (Baylor, 2001). The use of such agents to provide additional support for technology integration in pre-service teacher education is the specific focus of this paper.

Pedagogical agents respond to the learner in a social manner through human-like interactions (Kim & Baylor, 2006b). The human-like characteristics of pedagogical agents are advantageous for enhancing more positive and vivid interactions with pre-service teachers. In addition, pedagogical agents may also be perceived as empathetic, credible and trustworthy, positioning them to serve as effective agents of change. When pedagogical agents are perceived as empathetic, credible and trustworthy, they have been demonstrated to be effective in influencing attitudes (Baylor & Plant, 2005; Ryu & Baylor, 2005).

In situations where the adoption of an educational innovation is a desired outcome, the concept of a change agent is relevant (Fullan & Stiegelbauer, 1991; Rogers, 1995). A change agent is generally an individual who facilitates the diffusion of an innovation for potential adopters (Rogers, 1995). The concept of a change agent has been highlighted in the context of educational technology innovations (Ellsworth, 2000; Huberman & Miles, 1984). However, most of the research has focused on the effects of a human as a change agent and has not considered the problem of insufficient human resources.

"Situational dependency" (Silverman et al., 2001, p.227) suggests that pedagogical agents are helpful when there is a need to increase companionship and decrease complexity. A pedagogical agent, then, would be valuable as a change agent in the context of educational technology integration given that it can provide virtual human companionship and can help decrease the perceived complexity of technology integration.

A variety of roles and functions of pedagogical agents have been studied. Four major roles for pedagogical agents have been identified: (a) an expert who provides information, (b) a mentor who advises, (c) a motivator who encourages, and (d) a companion who collaborates (Baylor & Group, 2003; Baylor & Kim, 2005; Kim & Baylor, 2006a, 2006b). …

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