This post is something of a departure from my usual quick notes about other sites. It’s a very minor revision of my mandated report to the Faculty on conference travel.
I spent the week from 26 Feb to 7 Mar traveling and attending SITE 2005 – the 16th Annual Meeting of the Society for Information Technology in Teacher Education in Phoenix, Arizona. This was the 8th SITE conference that I have attended. Annual attendance has afforded me the opportunity to develop strong networks with leaders in the field of ICT in teacher education and to play an active role in the affairs of the society. The majority of attendees at SITE are from the USA, with smaller but significant contingents from other parts of the world, especially the UK. Attendance had grown from around 600 in 1998 to around 1500 in 2004. The slightly smaller number, around 1200, in 2005 reflects the end of the PT3 funding program in the USA.
Many of the same issues surrounding the uptake and impact of ICT in education, especially teacher education, have persisted over the years. At the same time online and distance education issues have assumed a higher profile and, over the past couple of years, there have been significant numbers of papers around ePortfolios. A new area drawing strong interest this year was the role of games and simulations in education.
The SITE Proceedings will be available in the AACE Digital Library which is easily searchable at http://www.aace.org/dl/.
What follows represents some of my thoughts on highlights from sessions I attended.
The keynotes this year were consistently thought provoking. The first day keynote from Yong Zhao of University of Michigan presented some of his work on an ecological approach to studying ICT in education. I had read some of the published material but it was stimulating to hear a first hand account of the research approach which treats ICT and its particular uses as new species attempting to establish in the existing ecology of the school. The parallels are convincing and the approach encourages researchers and implementers of ICT to take a more holistic view rather than focus on isolated implementations of technology.
The second day keynote was given by Ian Gibson, from Wichita State (formerly from USQ), the incoming President of SITE. Ian’s presentation included live connections to contributors from around the USA and from the UK. His challenge to the audience was to look beyond the technology to the effects that it could have. His examples included the work of the Global Nomads Group http://gng.org which is working with youth around the world to establish links that promote greater levels of understanding.
The third day keynote was given by Eduardo Chaves, a philosopher from Campinas University in Sao Paolo, Brazil. He spoke about the preconditions for ICT integration in education, arguing that true integration requires a change in how we conceive education and that it may be easier to achieve the shift in thinking in countries where the current education system is less effective and people are therefore more open to radical change. He presented a view of education as more about learning than teaching and of learning as integral to life. ICT is disintermediating, makes information more readily available to all and removes the need for memorising facts, allowing the focus to shift to solving real problems of the learner.
The final keynote was presented by a panel comprising Glen Bull, Peggy Roblyer, Ann Thomson and Lynne Schrum who, as editors of the key journals in the field, spoke about the need to develop a research agenda that would focus more closely on the impact of ICT on learning. This is an urgent need in the USA where the NCLB program is requiring “scientific research” to justify funding but it is equally applicable in other parts of the world. They outlined a project that, through a series of sessions at various conferences and through editorials in the journals, will work to develop a research agenda.
I attended several presentations related to ePortfolios in teacher education. The most significant was a symposium led by Helen Barrett who has been an active figure in ePortfolios for several years. Helen outlined some background about the nature and purposes of portfolios. Neal Strudler (UNLV) and Keith Wetzel (ASU) spoke about the preliminary results of their joint sabbatical project in which they have been researching ePortfolios in 6 US universities that have “mature” implementations of ePortfolios across entire programs. The initial evidence suggests that there is a wide variation in how ePortfolios are envisaged and implemented. They hope to develop guidelines for institutions seeking to introduce ePortfolios and to provide a useful basis for cost benefit analysis of ePortfolios. There appears to be clear evidence that successful implementations require significant resources and methods that ensure broad faculty support and seem to work best when the program includes an ICT course to develop skills that are reinforced in later courses as students work with the portfolio. Joanne Carney (WWU) described a research project related to ePortfolios and outlined some factors that needed to be considered. I attended a later presentation by Neal & Keith in which they presented the results from a survey of US universities which they conducted as part of their search for ePortfolio cases. There were few teacher preparation schools that had “mature” ePortfolio programs despite the expenditure of considerable time and funding on development.
I attended a symposium on games and simulations in education. The session was very well attended and covered some aspects of learning from games and degree programs being mounted to prepare games developers. There is strong interest in the potential of games to reach learners of all ages. Other departments at USQ have researchers (notably Penny Baillie-de Byl of Math & Computing) working in games development and it might be productive to engage in discussions about how we might work with them on the development and evaluation of games in education.
Following Ian’s use of simple video conferencing in his Keynote, I attended a session which reported on the use of video conferencing (iSight/iChatAV with Mac laptops and/or Marratech conferencing rooms) for remote supervision of professional experience. Students had opportunity to invite university supervisors and/or peers to observe classes that were beamed directly from the classrooms. The project was conducted in Wyoming where the population is relatively sparse and students are often a considerable distance from base for their experience. The use of video conferencing was perceived by students and cooperating teachers as less intrusive than a supervisor visit and, in some cases, saved supervisors several hours of travel in each direction. There may be value for USQ in trialing such a system.
An invited session by Judi Harris (College of William & Mary and known for her virtual architecture work on patterns of telelearning) was an unanticipated highlight. Judi led a conversation about what is meant by ICT integration and how we might better approach it in schools. The thrust of her argument was that the overlay of constructivist pedagogical assumptions that is common to most people promoting ICT might be blinding us to alternative applications that would be initially more acceptable in some contexts. She challenged us to consider meeting teachers where they are and helping them to use technologies that fit their pedagogy as a first step.
I was involved in four presentations, two with Petrea (Jerry Maroulis is third author on one), one written with Margaret Lloyd of QUT and the fourth as sole author. The first presentation with Petrea presented some results from the IRGS funded project we undertook with Jerry & Louise to look at final year students’ intentions for ICT integration during professional experience, the actual experience and the facilitating and inhibiting factors. We had a constructive conversation with Keith Wetzel (ASU) who thought that the evidence suggested our students may be attempting more with ICT than they might expect from equivalent students. One of the goals of our IRGS study was to establish baseline data against which we can compare results for the new program in coming years.
The second paper with Petrea presented results from the survey of staff that we conducted in 2004 to look at integration of ICT within the BEd courses and staff perceptions of their personal capability with ICT and priorities for development. The response from the audience confirmed that the relatively low levels of self-reported capability with applications beyond WP, PPT, email and Internet searching were typical of many teacher education faculties. there was some useful discussion of approaches to developing capability.
My paper with Marg Lloyd used activity theory as a framework for comparing data from previous studies Marg had completed with QUT colleagues with a view to finding common explanations for low levels of ICT adoption by some teachers. Our conclusion was that the teachers in the study were, in activity theory terms, confusing the tool with the object. There was some useful discussion of similar observations elsewhere and approaches to working with teachers who appeared to be reluctant to adopt ICT.
The fourth paper I presented discussed the potential for development of an online community to support doctoral students in our program at USQ. Again there were examples of similar challenges being faced elsewhere and some useful comments about approaches that appeared to have borne some benefits.
In addition to attending 35 to 40 presentations I also attended several committee meetings and met with the editor of the journal, JTATE, for which I review. Since 2002 I have been SITE Vice president of the committee for Graduate Education and Faculty Development. I chaired that meeting again this year and attended others dealing with the conference and distance education. The committee I chaired sits with several others within the SITE Information Technology/Generalist Council. Ian Gibson has chaired the council since 2002 but vacated that position on taking up the Presidency of SITE. I was elected unopposed as chair of the council which is the second tier leadership structure of SITE.