Wheatley, K. F. (2003). Increasing computer use in early childhood
teacher education: The Case of a "computer muddler." Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 2(4). Available: http://www.citejournal.org/vol2/iss4/general/article1.cfm
Increasing Computer Use in Early Childhood
Teacher Education: The Case of a "Computer Muddler"
How broadly will computers be used in PK-12 teaching? Reform
efforts have often succeeded in getting many teachers to experiment in modest
ways with some aspects of those reforms, although often only temporarily,
and have also provided some stellar and enduring examples of
transformed teaching (e.g., Dunn, 2000). However, in a century of American
educational reforms, "we can produce few, if any, examples of large numbers of
teachers engaging in these practices in large-scale institutions designed to
deliver education to most children" (Elmore, 1996, p. 308).
Hoping perhaps that educational technology reforms will encounter
greater success, technology advocates have turned some of their attention
to improving the preparedness of preservice teachers, an approach
supported by the United States Department of Education Preparing
Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) grants. As a university faculty member,
I participated in a PT3 project that was aimed at increasing the infusion
of technology in a teacher education program at an urban state university.
The following is one description of the focus of this PT3 grant:
Capitalizing on the documented condition that novice
teachers teach as they were taught, the MIMIC Project provides
technology mentoring for higher education faculty so faculty can,
in-turn, model the effective use of instructional technology for
the preservice teachers in their courses. One innovative aspect
of the MIMIC Project mentoring process is that the majority of
the mentors are K-12 classroom teachers who effectively
technology into their teaching. Care is taken to match
each participating faculty member with a mentor who shares
content expertise with the faculty member and can address the
faculty member's specific technology questions and needs.
During this project, and influenced by my background in motivation
and educational reform, I became especially interested in one research
question. That is, what factors are related to the incorporation of computers
into teaching, by teacher educators with average computer skills?
Rationale for Research Focus
Why focus on teacher educators whose computer skills are quite average
(in comparison to other teacher educators)? These teacher educators
are important for technology infusion efforts for two reasons.
First, greater computer use in PK-12 teaching is much more likely
if prospective and practicing teachers experience and practice a range
of computer uses in the vast majority of their courses, rather than in just a
few. Such broad usage of computers in teacher education increases the
likelihood that teachers perceive computer use as a natural part of teaching, and
will move beyond mere awareness of computer technology towards greater
skill using computers in teaching. However, such opportunities are only
possible if the majority of teacher educators with average computer skills
make reasonable and steady progress in integrating computer technology into
their teaching. This assertion is based on the assumption that teacher
educators' computer skills and use of computers in teaching form roughly
Second, for most PK-12 teachers, these "average" teacher educators
will often be more influential models (positive or negative), of computer use
in teaching than are teacher educators with much greater computer skills.
Of course, novices with respect to a reform are commonly given
opportunities to observe and learn from exemplary models. Such exemplary models
are important. Unfortunately, the more extraordinary the teaching of
exemplary teachers, the more likely it is that teachers with average skills may
conclude, "I could never do that." Indeed, research suggests that learners
often discount the success of those models who are very different from
the learners (Schunk, 1996).
More influential are those models who are similar to learners in many
ways, including ability (Schunk, 1996). Observing highly influential
models, learners think "Oh, if s/he could do it (or learn to do it), I can do it (or
can learn to do it)." However, if these "average" teacher educators
struggle greatly with computers, do not use them in teaching, or express
great pessimism about their use, then the many PK-12 teachers with
average computer skills may reasonably conclude that computer use in
teaching "doesn't work," or is impractical for people like themselves.
Therefore, these teacher educators with average computer skills, referred
to here as "computer muddlers," may be an important influence on
computer use in PK-12 education. Understanding what promotes or hinders
some muddlers progress at using computers in their teaching would allow
reformers to better help other muddlers make more consistent progress. The
focus here is not on individuals who are truly anxious about computers, nor
on those who strongly oppose computer use in teaching children for
other reasons (e.g., Cordes & Miller, 2000). Finally, the term "muddler" is
not meant to be at all disparaging, for I am the computer "muddler" whose
case is analyzed and presented here.
Research Questions, Participant, and Setting
This study focused on two research questions. First, what changes, if
any, occurred in a way in which Ia teacher educator with average
computer skillsincorporated computer use and information about computers into
my teaching? Second, what factors supported or undermined these changes?
I am a faculty member in early childhood education (PK-3) at a
medium-sized urban state university. I have a master's degree in early
childhood education, a doctorate in educational psychology, and have spent the last
17 years teaching about and studying early childhood education. My
perspectives on computer use in education are influenced by my background
in educational psychology and early childhood education, and by my
experiences researching educational reform efforts. I participated in a PT3
project from September, 1999 through June, 2001. On this project I learned
about computer uses in early childhood teaching from a local second
grade teacher, and learned about computer use in teacher education from
other project participants.
There are several ways in which I qualified (and still qualify) as a
"muddler" in my use of computers. I use computers for much of every workday, but
in very limited ways (word processing, e-mail, occasional searches of
library databases, or the Internet). I had never created nor modified a database
nor spreadsheet, and had only modest Internet skills. My limited attention to
and use of computers in teaching is described later, in the results section.
Data Sources and Data Analysis
Data came from multiple data sources, from as early as 1995,
through January, 2002. Data sources included course syllabi, and written plans
for, records of, and reflections on computer use in teaching; agendas for
specific class sessions; and the reflective logs of my computer use in teaching
that were completed for the PT3 project.
The design of the study contains features of case study and action
research. A case study design was an appropriate choice for researching my
research questions, because of the power of case studies for developing in-depth
and contextualized understandings (e.g., Stake, 1995; Yin, 1994). As with
most types of action research, I analyzed the data during and after its
collection, to discern repeating or salient themes in my computer uses in teaching,
and my related thoughts and beliefs. The exception to this is the data from
1995 through the beginning of my involvement in the PT3 project (Fall,
1999), none of which I considered to be "data" at the time. These data
(class agendas, notes, reflections,) were only revisited beginning in
1999-2000, and the analysis of these data informed my "baseline" description of
my thoughts about and uses of computers in teaching, prior to the PT3 project.
My own reflections on, and analysis of, computer uses in teaching
were shared with, and influenced by two other individuals. During my first
year on the PT3 project (1999-2000), I discussed my evolving thoughts
and beliefs about computer use in teaching with my second grade
mentor teacher. From 1995 through the present, I sporadically discussed
my thoughts and beliefs about the appropriateness of computer use in
early childhood education with another early childhood teacher educator
whose office is adjacent to mine. Both of us had mixed feelings about computer
use in early childhood education. We had more frequent discussions during
the second year of my participation on the PT3 project (2000-2001), and
faculty member and I began going together to visit the 2nd grade
mentor teachers' classroom. Having these shared observations of computer uses
in an early childhood classroom made our discussions about such computer
use much more grounded and engaging, and led to a joint presentation at
a technology conference (Volk & Wheatley, 2001) in which we addressed
the potential advantages and disadvantages of computer use in early
As is typical of small-sample research, especially practitioners' research
into their own teaching, the validity and generalizability of this research
are uncertain. Only those who test the findings in their own teaching or
programs can know their usefulness. However, such reflective research on
one's own teaching and learning has become increasingly common (e.g.,
Ball, 1993; Barton, 1999), and it has the potential for revealing critical details
and advancing theoretical understanding of education-related phenomena.
Computers in Teaching, Before PT3 Project
Computer-related content. Prior to the PT3 project, the computer
content in my courses was limited to discussing criteria for evaluating
educational software (in one course), and one brief class discussion (in two
courses). The examples that I used of computer uses in early childhood
education were primarily from my own experiences using computers (Apple IIs)
in teaching preschool, in the mid-1980s. I had little practical knowledge
to share with classes about computer use in first through third grades,
having never seen computers used in these grades.
My use of computers in teaching. Before my involvement in the
PT3 project, my technology use in teaching consisted primarily of
overhead transparencies and videotapes. Once or twice a year, I would briefly
and reluctantly model the use of early childhood software programs (with
a computer hooked up to a video projector), and facilitate discussions
about the software's quality. This modeling was so infrequent that I always had
to re-learn how to connect the computer and video projector, and how to
work the video projector controls. I sometimes skipped this activity
altogether, because it was too much trouble. I clearly could have been classified
as being at the "survival" level of computer use in teaching (Holland, 2001).
This level of teaching about computer uses in education actually
represented a regression in what my students experienced and learned about
computers in class, for during the mid-1990s, the aforementioned early
childhood colleague and I had annually brought in an early childhood software
expert to do presentations for students. This expert demonstrated early
childhood education software, discussed software evaluation and research on
children's use of computers, and had students work at computers,
Students' computer use. Students were not required to use computers
to complete course assignments. The only computer knowledge required in
any assignment consisted of a few software evaluation criteria, required in
one course. Because the early childhood education program has many
students with little or modest computer skills, many students in our program
made little use of computers unless required to do so by their instructors.
Obstacles to Computer Infusion
Miscellaneous obstacles. These obstacles included difficulty
getting hardware and software to work, lack of technical support, difficulty
scheduling computer labs, and the enormous time and effort it took me to
prepare for using computers in class. These obstacles exist for those with
greater skill with and interest in computers, but they are especially problematic for
a computer muddler.
Teacher efficacy beliefs. The most profound obstacles to my infusion
of computers into my teaching related to "teacher efficacy," which refers
to teachers' beliefs regarding their ability to teach skillfully and affect
valued student outcomes. There are various models of teacher efficacy
(e.g., Soodak & Podell, 1996; Tschannen-Moran & Woolfolk Hoy, 2001),
each focusing on slightly different teacher efficacy beliefs.
Because of the many studies in which greater teacher efficacy (i.e.,
greater confidence) has been found to be associated with use of more
desirable teaching strategies, or other positive teacher characteristics, teacher
efficacy has been of interest to researchers and policymakers for over two
decades. The usual assumption is that "Greater efficacy leads to greater effort
and persistence, which leads to better performance, which in turn leads to
efficacy" (Tschannen-Moran, Woolfolk Hoy, & Hoy, 1998, p. 234).
In contrast, "Lower efficacy leads to less effort and giving up easily,
which leads to poor teaching outcomes, which then produce decreased
efficacy" (Tschannen-Moran, et al., 1998, p. 234).
My case is best understood through a modified version of the categories
of teachers' efficacy beliefs regarding using computers in science
teaching, introduced by Enochs, Riggs, and Ellis (1993). This modified conception
of "teaching efficacy" focuses on teachers' outcome expectancies,
efficacy expectancies, and their beliefs about their ability to learn to teach in
new ways. As used here, "outcome expectancies" are teachers' beliefs about
the likely student outcomes that would result from particular teaching actions,
if those teaching actions were executed skillfully. "Efficacy expectancies"
are teachers' beliefs about their ability to skillfully carry out the teaching
actions in question. The concept of teachers' "beliefs about their ability to learn
to teach in new ways" refers to teachers' confidence about their ability
to master new teaching methods or curricula, with or without
assistance. These three types of efficacy beliefs can be thought of, respectively, as "Does
such teaching work, if done well," "Can I do it well," and "Can I learn to do
it well?" For me, obstacles to increased computer infusion into
teaching appeared, and continue to appear, in my lack of confidence in each of
these three areas of efficacy beliefs, as described next.
Outcome expectancies. Knowing of no research identifying
positive outcomes of computer use in PK-3 teaching or teacher education left
me unsure of the efficacy of such teaching (aside from supporting
technological literacy). This uncertainty provided me with little motivation for
such teaching. I also wondered if early childhood computer use contradicted
a fundamental assumption in early childhood education, that concrete
learning experiences (e.g., involving real three-dimensional objects) should
precede more abstract experiences (e.g., with representations of those objects, as
in computer programs). Many early childhood professionals have
voiced concern that the abstract nature of computer activities may make
them inappropriate for young children. Although I recognized that this
"concrete-to-abstract" issue was more complex than some realized, my
concerns remained. This concern was reinforced when the director of our PT3
project voiced similar doubts about early childhood computer use.
Furthermore, although I was skeptical of the claims some made
about negative effects of computers on young children (e.g., Healy, 1998),
I believed that software could undermine children's learning in two
ways. First, I believed that the strong audiovisual appeal (e.g.,
cartoon characters) of many programs could actually undermine children's
learning. This potential negative side effect of educational software was
consistent with research I had read, in which highly interesting elements in
"text" sometimes detract from children's learning of core content. It was
also consistent with my own learning experiences, for example, when I
have found myself attending to the interesting moving graphics in
PowerPoint presentations, instead of focusing on the content. Second, I believed that
the high level of sensory stimulation in software might make children
"stimulus junkies," with a kind of "addiction" or dependence on experiences with
high levels of audiovisual stimulation. If so, children's computer use might
make focusing on learning experiences with less stimulation (e.g., reading
books, listening to teachers) increasingly difficult. Such attention to the
possible long term negative effects of learning experiences, regardless of
their apparent immediate effectiveness, is one key consideration in
"developmentally appropriate practice" (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997), the
authoritative statement in the early childhood field regarding quality education.
These concerns, or "negative outcome expectancies," were only modestly
balanced by some vague faith I had in the potential benefits of computer use
Finally, based on past experiences, I sometimes anticipated feeling
negative emotions (frustration, embarrassment) when I used computers in
teaching. Embarrassment appeared as "I ought to know how to do this," and
frustration, especially about the time it took to resolve computer problems in
class, appeared as "I'm wasting students' time." These negative outcome
expectancies further undermined my motivation to use computers in teaching.
Efficacy expectancies. I also doubted my ability to skillfully use
computers in teaching (e.g., setting up and navigating the hardware or
software). These negative efficacy expectancies appeared in variants of the
thought "I'm not sure I know how to do that." Unfortunately, such thoughts
were often accompanied by other negative efficacy expectancies in the form
of "I'm not sure I know how to fix it (or figure it out) either." These
doubts were grounded in my past struggles (and failures) to get hardware
and software to work as hoped. These two types of negative efficacy
expectancies strongly undermined my motivation to use computers in teaching.
I certainly bore some responsibility for these doubts, as I typically
spent little time learning the computer technology involved. Although
more time sometimes resulted in much more confidence about
using computers in teaching, I was typically not motivated to spend this
time, given my doubts about the effects of computer use (negative
outcome expectancies), and due to other time constraints.
Efficacy beliefs can create "self fulfilling prophecies." For example,
when individuals doubt the effectiveness of particular actions (negative
outcome expectancies), or their skill at executing those actions (negative
efficacy expectancies), or both, motivation and performance often suffer. In
such cases, they simply may not attempt those tasks. Even if they do
attempt them, they often put less energy and thought into the tasks, think
less strategically when they encounter obstacles, and are less likely to
persist when obstacles appear. Such behaviors make failure more likely,
thus reinforcing the initial efficacy doubts. This pattern of self-fulfilling
prophecies was often manifested in my case.
Efficacy beliefs regarding
learning. Fortunately, negative efficacy expectancies regarding current skills may not undermine motivation, if
one has confidence in one's ability to learn the skill in question
(positive efficacy beliefs regarding learning; see Schunk, 1994).
Unfortunately, before my involvement on the PT3 project, I doubted my ability to
learn much about using computers in teaching, given my professional focus,
and time constraints. Thus, I lacked this alternate support for my motivation.
Computers in Teaching, During and After the PT3 Project
My first research question was, "What changes, if any, occurred in way
in which Ia teacher educator with average computer
skillsincorporated computer use and information about computers into my teaching?
Despite the many obstacles noted earlier, there were quantitative increases
and qualitative improvements in the infusion of computers into my
courses, during my project participation and afterwards. These changes appeared
in three areas: (a) content changes, (b) changed computer use in teaching,
and (c) changed assignments.
Content changes. Changes in course content included additional
information about software evaluation criteria. This information was added to
my early childhood foundations and curriculum courses, with specific
to curriculum issues in the latter course. Previously, I neither used
computers nor covered any computer content in the curriculum course. Other
new content included the national technology foundations standards for
teachers developed by the International Society for Technology in Education
(ISTE) (1999), and the national education technology standards for students
(ISTE, 2000), now addressed in both courses. Also, the technology standards
for teachers (ISTE, 1999) were added to my foundations course.
Information from various websites and numerous website resources were added to
course readings and references in both courses.
Perhaps the most enriching content additions came from observing
and interviewing my mentor teacher from the PT3 Project, which provided
me with information about current classroom uses of computers. The detail
and real-life examples thus gained were a substantial improvement over
my outdated anecdotes. This information also allowed for more
detailed discussions of computer uses in early childhood education.
Information about scheduling computer use in primary grade classrooms was
particularly important, because most of my students planned to teach in grades K-3,
and found it difficult to grasp how the use of a few computers would fit into
the daily schedule in primary grade teaching.
My public stance towards using computers in PK-3 education changed
in some ways, but not others. One change was my increased emphasis on
the importance of children's technological literacy. One unchanged element
was that I remained a "cautious optimist" (see Cuban, 1993) about the effects
of using computers to teach children and adults. I was most convinced
about computers' capacity to help students acquire computer literacy,
practice academic skills, research topics, and receive additional feedback.
However, limitations of current software, or my ignorance of better software, left
me with doubts about the efficacy of educational software. I also
remained uncertain about the effects of Internet use in PK-3.
Changed computer use in teaching.
The most dramatic change here was my increased use of e-mail to communicate with students in my
curriculum courses, after rarely using e-mail for such correspondence before the
PT3 project. This was very useful for corresponding about students'
multiple revisions of sections of lesson plan assignments. This was my area
of strongest confidence about computer use in teaching.
Another satisfying change was my improved use of computers in
classes. First, I reached a reasonable comfort level in demonstrating and
early childhood software using a computer hooked up to a video
projector, an activity I then added to my curriculum course. Second, my
emphasis during these sessions shifted, from primarily software evaluation (e.g.,
ease of use), with very modest attention to the software content, to
analyzing primarily the curriculum potential of particular software. Although this
was a move toward treating computers as less of a novelty and more of
an integral curriculum tool, this process only sustained many of my
existing negative outcome expectancies regarding use of computer software.
Third, students in my class, for the first time, explored Internet sites during
class time, in a session that I helped arrange, but which students
facilitated. Fourth, I began bringing my laptop computer to class frequently, and
using it both as an instructional tool and to record assessment data on
students' performance on class assignments. This then led to more conversations
with students about the ways in which computers can help teachers
organize information, and be more productive. More modest changes that were
still satisfying to me included greater use of software tools (e.g., different
fonts, color printing, landscape view for documents, and clip art).
The most promising (and perhaps surprising) change is underway, as I
am overseeing the creation of a small computer lab (5 computers, printers,
a scanner), in a former storage room connected to the early
childhood teaching room. This facility will help me and other early childhood
faculty overcome a host of obstacles to using computers in teaching, all
associated with having no easy access to multiple computers during class time.
When the lab is completed, regular student and instructor use of computers
during class time will be vastly easier. This change appears especially
important. My infrequent the computer use in teaching, and the lack of student use
of computers during class, may have sent the implicit message to students
that computers cannot be easily used in instruction, despite whatever I said to
Changed assignments. Knowledge about and use of computers
became necessary in new and altered assignments for my courses. In my
curriculum course, students corresponded by way of e-mail with me about lesson
plan drafts, and were required to write lesson plans incorporating
computer literacy outcomes, and to justify these outcomes in relationship to
developmental appropriateness, and to the national education technology
standards for students (ISTE, 2000). Also in that course, I required students to
write detailed lesson plans centered on websites or educational software.
Students in all of my courses were required to use resources accessed by way of
Internet in research assignments and group presentations. This is
modest computer use. However, I had become aware that some students had
been completing these assignments without using either the computerized
library databases or conducting Internet searches. Finally, I added more
content regarding computers to final exams in two courses.
Factors Affecting Computer Infusion
In relation to my second research question, various factors supported
my increasing infusion of computers into my teaching. These fell into
three broad categories: (a) PT3 project factors, (b) outcome expectancies, and
(c) reconceptualized efficacy expectancies.
PT3 project factors. As a junior faculty member focused on my
own research and on promotion and tenure, I would have never participated
in the PT3 project if there were no stipend. In turn, without the PT3 project,
I was absolutely certain I would have
decreased my attention to and use of computers in teaching during the time period in question. Also
important was the expectation that project participants try out new technology uses
in teaching, and share them publicly at meetings or conferences.
These expectations kept me thinking about and experimenting with ways to
infuse computers into my teaching, despite my persistent doubts about
computers. These expectations were much more manageable for me because the
PT3 project administrators exerted little pressure on participants, and
were supportive of various uses of technology in teaching.
Preparing for presentations at the 2001 Society for Information
Technology & Teacher Education (SITE) conference (Wheatley, 2001a) and a
local technology summit (Volk & Wheatley, 2001; Wheatley, 2001b) kept
me thinking about computers in teaching much more than I would have
otherwise. The computer lab idea developed out of this sporadic but
continuing reflection. Project participation clearly promoted this reflection, for if
it were not for the PT3 project, I would have otherwise been perfectly
content to have spent virtually none of my time since 1999 thinking about
computer use in teaching.
Also helpful was observing a mentor teacher who used computers
in seemingly meaningful, but not highly sophisticated ways, and at a
level where I lacked knowledge of computer use. As computer
muddlers, such modeling seemed more convincing and attainable for me and for
most of my students than more sophisticated computer use would have
been. However, a few students were practicing teachers who reported
using computers in more sophisticated ways than the mentor teacher was, and
they seemed to benefit little from the examples of computer use in the
mentor teacher's classroom.
Finally, I found involvement with the PT3 project much more
palatable because of the PT3 project director's own skepticism about computer use
in early childhood education. In contrast, I often struggled to have
productive discussions about computers with strong technology advocates, finding
their zeal and use of technical language frustrating.
Outcome expectancies. My concerns about likely outcomes of
computer use in teaching, which can be thought of as either "negative
outcome expectancies" or concerns about the "developmental appropriateness"
of such teaching, continued throughout the PT3 project and afterwards.
These concerns kept me cautious about computer use, but they were balanced by
a slightly increased confidence in certain uses of computers.
I became slightly more confident about some uses of computers in
early childhood education, for two reasons. The first reason was my
increased recognition of the importance of computer literacy skills. I was persuaded
of the importance of this by observing preschool children with and
without computer experience, and by the mentor teacher's comments on the
differences between second graders with varying levels of computer
experience. The second reason was the mentor teacher's conclusion that
students' computer use benefited their subject matter learning. I may have found
the mentor teacher's conclusions reasonably convincing because I judged her
to be a quite good teacher, and she was reflective and balanced (in my eyes)
in evaluating the merits of computer uses in teaching. Furthermore,
the software programs that the mentor teacher's students used were not
as "cartoonish" as some programs I had encountered, and they seemed
to provide students with reasonable learning opportunities.
I also became more convinced that some computer uses in
teacher education could be beneficial. My changed assignments clearly supported
increased computer literacy for many students. Decreased "turnaround time" on
drafts of students' work, made possible by e-mail, allowed me to give
more rounds of feedback than previously. What was most satisfying was
that this allowed me to help students revise their work until they achieved
a higher level of mastery. Unfortunately, my own lack of computer
skills probably limited the types of computer uses I attempted and succeeded
with in my own teaching.
Also, I doubted that the computer uses that I considered most
successful with adults would translate well to most grade levels of early
childhood education. Thus, I had doubts about young children effectively
conducting Internet searches or using e-mail to correspond with teachers about
their work. These doubts may have reflected my ignorance of what
young children are truly capable of with computers. Such ignorance may
be common among early childhood teacher educators.
expectancies. One striking development was my reinterpretation of my teaching efficacy when using computers.
This reconceptualization was motivated by my conclusion that my
current thinking about my teaching efficacy when using computers was
simply irrational and counterproductive.
This reconceptualization involved three changes. First, the belief "I
should be able to skillfully use this computer technology (or fix it) by myself"
was largely replaced by "Computer technology is so complex, and I have so
little time, there's no reason to expect myself to know how to use it or fix
it alone." Instead, I shifted towards believing that I should expect that I
could often only use computers with
assistance, and would often need others to simply fix things for meand that this was a permanent state of
affairs, given the rapidly changing technology and my status as a computer
muddler. This was a significant reconceptualization of my efficacy
expectancies. Second, there was a shift in my efficacy beliefs regarding my
learning, from the belief "I can't
learn how to use this computer technology alone," to
"I can learn how to use this with help." Third, there was an affective
change, from feeling badly about my lack of computer skill, to feeling that
this situation was just fine, and in fact, was normal for a muddler for
whom computers and computer uses in education would never be a central focus.
It is important to note that from the traditional perspective, teacher
efficacy beliefs refer to teachers' beliefs about their ability to act skillfully and
affect outcomes on their own. Thus, asking for help can act as a
"double-edged sword" for although it may improve results, seeking help inherently
lesser ability, and thus, can reinforce one's doubts about one's
individual competence (i.e., efficacy). Thus, as in my case, my desire to feel
individually efficacious, or to appear so to others, often provided a disincentive
to seeking help, even when I truly needed it.
The changes described were neither total nor permanent, as the old
beliefs and feelings often reappeared. As someone for whom most of my
academic successes were individual accomplishments (or so I liked to think),
succeeding without help was an important part of my sense of self, and my
conception of what competence meant. Nevertheless, I was often able to
convince myself that the new ways of thinking and feeling about "my"
computer competence was vastly more rational and productive.
I made the most progress in learning about and using computers when
the new beliefs and feelings were most salient, and little or no progress when
the old ones were most salient. I sometimes got stuck for days or weeks when
I didn't know how to do something with hardware or software, thinking
I should be able to solve the problem myself. Reminding myself of this
more rational way of thinking about computer competence was usually enough
to get me to ask for help, and make progress once again.
These new beliefs and feelings represented an alternative conception
of teaching efficacy, one that I used to regulate my own motivation,
learning, and performance. For example, I began to ask myself "Who can help me
set up or learn to use some new computer technology today?" and "How could
I use others' help to better infuse computers into my teaching?" As a
computer muddler with serious time constraints, this felt like a much more sane
and motivating way to approach my own computer learning and
performance than my old ways of thinking. With others' help, hardware and
software issues were often quickly resolved, or I learned new computer technology
to use in my teaching (e.g., new software). Thus, somewhat paradoxically,
one critical step to improving my teaching efficacy with computers was for me
to become less focused on and concerned about my individual
teaching efficacy with computers.
Discussion and Implications
What can be learned from my case study? The following discussion
analyzes the factors that affected computer infusion in this case, and
possible implications for working with teacher educators, especially
those with average computer skills. Because this study was limited to one case,
the following analysis also relies substantially on the areas of
motivation research and theory that relate to factors that were salient in this
case, especially self- efficacy research.
PT3 Project Factors
Many of the project-related factors that were influential in this case may
be influential for a substantial percentage of muddlers (with computers or
other technology). Stipends may be especially important for eliciting the
participation of faculty with average computer skills, especially given the time it
can take muddlers to master new computer technologies. Stipends for
participation may be especially important for those who are skeptical about
computers in teaching, and have modest intrinsic motivation for attempting
Also, a low level of pressure from the PT3 faculty, representing more of
an "autonomy supportive" model of interaction (e.g., Deci, 1995), may often
be helpful, and may support well individual's intrinsic motivation to
infuse computer technology into their teaching. In contrast, use of external
controls, (e.g., rewarding teacher educators for specific computer uses
in teaching), may seem appealing to some. However, it is enormously
complex to design effective reward systems for teaching (Cohen, 1996).
Furthermore, extrinsic reward systems may undermine some faculty members'
intrinsic motivation to use computers in teaching and result in only superficial
and temporary compliance with expectations for computer use in teaching
(e.g., see Kohn, 1993).
Having mentor teachers model computer uses in teaching that are
slightly beyond faculty members' current abilities might be expected to be
universally effective. For muddlers, this often means fairly simple computer uses
in teaching. Faculty muddlers with more confidence than I had about
the efficacy of computers in teaching might benefit more from mentor
teachers whose use of computers in teaching is fairly sophisticated, and from
greater optimism about computers among project personnel and participants.
Finally, time is an especially critical issue for muddlers, as they often
take much longer to integrate computers into teaching than do those with
skill. Patience with muddlers may pay off. For example, my biggest
step with computer infusion (the computer lab) only got underway in earnest
six months after I stopped participating in the PT3 project, then was delayed
for seven months, and only now is being set up.
My doubts about the effects of computer use in teaching and
teacher education (i.e., negative outcome expectancies) were a key obstacle.
They reduced my motivation to use computers in teaching. For
technology advocates aiming to change such doubts, research provides some
guidance. Three of the primary influences on efficacy beliefs (mastery
experiences, vicarious experiences, and social persuasion; see Bandura, 1997)
Mastery experiences refer to an individual's history of successes
and failures, are the strongest influence on efficacy beliefs. To promote
teacher educators' robust confidence regarding the effects of computer use
in teaching and teacher education (i.e., positive outcome expectancies)
they must experience teaching successes with computers. Because
efficacy beliefs are context specific (Pintrich & Schunk, 2002), teacher
educators should experience these successes both in teacher education and in the
grade levels and subject matter areas their courses address.
Vicarious experiences are observations of others' performance,
successes, and failures. Models are more influential if they are similar in many ways
to observers. Technology advocates could better influence outcome
expectancies if teacher educators observed teacher education models with
skills similar to theirs, and in teaching contexts similar to theirs.
Social persuasion refers to others' efforts to influence individuals'
efficacy beliefs. Social persuasion was exerted here, as a credible mentor
teacher's conclusions about the benefits of early childhood computer use
promoted my increased confidence in such teaching. This seems promising
for technology advocates, as fairly weak evidence quickly influenced
my beliefs. However, positive effects of social persuasion on efficacy
beliefs can be easily undermined (Bandura, 1997), for example, if the
mentor teacher's conclusions were contradicted by research studies or by
respected teachers. Thus, self-efficacy theory predicts that
increased confidence in outcome expectancies that is due to social persuasion needs
to be buttressed by actual successes teaching with computers, or by
other supporting data.
I do not recall social persuasion ever supporting my confidence
about computer use in teacher education. Many colleagues had excitedly
reported the features of their uses of computers in teaching, but I recalled no
reports of the benefits of such computer use. As a computer muddler, I
especially wanted efficacy research on computer-based teaching methods (for
early childhood and teacher education) that were cheap, and easy to learn and
use. Revising this manuscript led me to read far more educational
technology literature than I would have read otherwise, and yet, I remain unsure
about the research evidence regarding computer uses in higher education.
Affecting students is central to the motivation to teach (e.g.,
McLaughlin, 1991). Thus, what if research support for using computers in teaching
never materializes, or is not well known, and if teacher educators doubt
the effectiveness of computer use in their own teaching? Then, many
teacher educators might have little motivation to use computers in teaching.
Perhaps this has already occurred, for despite the billions of dollars invested
in educational technology, little or no computer use in teaching or
teacher education is still common, even for example in Silicon Valley high
schools with ample computer resources (Cuban, Kirkpatrick, & Peck, 2001).
More teacher efficacy research addressing computer uses in education
is needed, for the experience of many muddlers may be that using
computers in teaching often does not really "work," or does not work well enough
to justify the time and effort involved. However, if it were clearer that
such computer uses could yield important student outcomes, then even
computer muddlers would have more incentive to invest the extra time and
effort necessary to improve their skills at teaching with computers.
Even if convincing research regarding the potential efficacy of teaching
with computers exists or existed, an important hurdle remains. Like me,
many muddlers will have negative efficacy expectancies, believing they can
use computers effectively enough to yield the kinds of results reported
in research. The alternate way of thinking about one's efficacy at teaching
with computers, described earlier, can help end this cycle. This new way
of thinking, reflecting an "I can do it with help" or even "We can do it
together," clearly helped me substantially. If teacher educators (especially
muddlers) can become convinced that this is a more rational way of
thinking about computers and computers in teaching, then increased
motivation, improved performance, and faster skill development are all more likely.
Focusing on succeeding with help is a way of perceiving teaching
efficacy that fits well with Vygotskian conceptions of scaffolded performance
(e.g., Vygotsky, 1978). Moreover, a focus on one's efficacy at using computers
in teaching with-help may influence the perceived ease of use of
computer technologies, a factor that is related to teachers' acceptance of computers
in teaching (Yuen & Ma, 2002). There is little research on this
alternative conception of teaching efficacy. However, believing that teaching
with computers is something that one often succeeds at only with help is
consistent with the frequent finding that support is one key to the success
of technology infusion efforts (e.g., Lee, 2001).
Thus, technology advocates might aim to convince teacher educators to
try to think more in terms of the probability that they can use or learn to
use computers with help, that they can trouble shoot computers problems
with help, and that they can use computers in teaching
with help. Based on self-efficacy theory, changing teacher educators' efficacy expectancies
would entail giving them many opportunities to succeed with help when
using computers in teaching, and to reflect on the important role that help
played in achieving these successes.
Kersaint and Thompson (2002) noted that it is important to explore the
role that beliefs play in technology integration. Although their specific focus
was mathematics teacher education, technology infusion efforts in many
areas may be affected by whether or not teachers' efficacy beliefs center
on succeeding alone or if they also encompass the idea of succeeding with help.
There may be gender differences in teacher educators' tendency to try
to succeed with computers and in teaching with computers "by
themselves" versus trying to succeed with help. Although the usual assumption is
that women find it easier to seek help than men do, both experience and
research suggest that many women teachers and teacher educators do not ask for
or collaborate, even when doing so would be more effective. The culture
of teaching often reinforces the ideal of succeeding alone. Thus, the
alternate conception of teaching efficacy may have utility for both male and
female teacher educators.
Researchers should study teacher educators' beliefs about succeeding
with help when using computers in teaching. This would mark a
fundamental shift in teacher efficacy research, a field in which both the definitions
and measures of "teacher efficacy" have heavily emphasized beliefs
about individual competence, and largely ignored teachers' beliefs about
succeeding with help, or through collaboration.
While my thoughts and beliefs may be very different from those of
teacher educators who are fluent with computer uses in teaching, they are
one example of the thoughts and beliefs of a teacher educator who is a
computer muddler. Due to their numbers and importance as influential models,
the many teacher educators who are computer muddlers have been and will
be an important influence on in efforts to infuse computers into teaching. In
this case, various project-related factors and my own outcome expectancies
and efficacy expectancies played important roles in my motivation, learning,
and computer infusion efforts. Many of these factors may also be critical
for supporting the computer infusion efforts of the many teachers and
teacher educators who have average computer skills. Thus, these factors
merit serious attention in future research and faculty development efforts.
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The activities and research described in this paper were supported by a
U.S. Department of Education Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use
Technology (PT3) grant.
I am grateful to Ron Abate, Judy Stahlman, Kathleen Benghiat, Dinah
Volk, Stacey DeYoung, George Walker, Abu Nasara, Stacy Zitek, and
Linda Lawlor for the ideas, encouragement, patience, and technical assistance
that they provided.