Teachers' Perceptions and Use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in Chinese Language Education

Teachers' Perceptions and Use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in Chinese Language Education

Dongbo Zhang (Michigan State University, USA), Shouhui Zhao (University of Bergen, Norway) and Li Li (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6174-5.ch011
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Abstract

This chapter reports on a mixed-methods study that examined how factors intrinsic and extrinsic to teachers influence their pedagogical use of modern Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in Chinese Language (CL) education. Three-hundred-eleven primary school CL teachers in Singapore participated in an online questionnaire survey that addressed four ICT-related variables: competence to use ICT, availability of resources and support, perceived usefulness of ICT, and pedagogical use of ICT. The results show that the four variables were significantly correlated, and teachers' pedagogical use of ICT was predicted significantly by all the other three variables. To supplement the questionnaire survey, Focus Group Discussions (FGD) were conducted on a randomly selected sample of the teachers who participated in the survey. Teachers reported local (e.g., ICT facilities and resources) as well as global (e.g., national high-stake examinations) factors that determined how ICT-mediated pedagogy was strategically blended with non-ICT-mediated traditional pedagogies. In conclusion, the authors argue that achieving the desired effects of learning through ICT integration necessitates consideration of factors intrinsic to teachers as well as those extrinsic to them that often shape the teacher-intrinsic factors.
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Background

Teachers and ICT Integration in Language Programs

The unprecedented growth of modern Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), including more recent Web 2.0 and cloud computing technologies, has brought about tremendous opportunities for learning and is redefining what we need to learn and how we learn in the 21st Century. On the one hand, ICT literacy has now arguably been necessitated as a component of our knowledge base in coping with the fast-changing world where the abundance of technologies has transformed almost every aspect of our everyday experience (New London Group, 1996; Warschauer, 2001); on the other hand, modern ICTs of various forms serve as learning tools and provide learning environments to enhance the acquisition of knowledge and skills mandated in traditional school curriculums, such as science and math (Oldknow, Taylor, & Tetlow, 2010). The affordances of ICT for second/foreign language teaching and learning, with no exception, have also been widely endorsed (Blake, 2007; Evans, 2009; Thomas, 2009).

Addressing the challenges brought about by ICT advancements to learning necessitates pedagogical integration of ICT in school education. It is often a pedagogical requirement across curricula that teachers integrate ICT into their instructional design and use ICT to support students’ learning and achieve maximal effects of learning (International Society for Technology in Education, 2007). However, a discrepancy is not uncommon between policy or curriculum mandates and actual practice with regard to pedagogical integration of ICT; pedagogical translation of ICT can often be very limited, and its effect on learning can be far from the level of satisfaction that policy makers and curriculum developers expected to achieve (Cuban, 2001).

ICT integrations come under conditions (Ertmer, 1999, 2005; Zhao & Frank, 2003; Zhao, Pugh, Sheldon, & Byers, 2002). A myriad of factors have been reported that may affect ICT integration in education. Ertmer and associates (Ertmer, 1999, 2005; Ertmer, Ottenbreit-Leftwich, & York, 2006) created a two-tier framework to discuss factors that are barriers to or enablers of pedagogical integration of ICT. The first-order factors are extrinsic to teachers. Studies on teachers’ pedagogical life revealed that what teachers do and do not do are shaped by many social and institutional factors that do not pertain to teachers themselves (Borg, 2006). These factors can be global and include educational system (e.g., high-stake standardized testing), policy initiatives, curriculum mandates, as well as local that include school policies (e.g., heavy workloads or lack of time for innovation), leadership, availability of facilities and instructional resources, and technical, administrative, and peer support (e.g., Egbert, Paulus, & Nakamichi, 2002; Lam, 2000; Lim & Chai, 2008; Lim & Khine, 2006; Zhao & Frank, 2003; Zhao et al., 2002). Egbert et al. (2002), for example, conducted a questionnaire survey on 20 in-service teachers who were teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) learners at diverse educational levels and had previously taken a graduate course in Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL). Some teachers reported that they barely used or were unable to integrate CALL activities in their teaching. Time, resources, support, and training were indicated as top factors. One teacher, for example, specifically mentioned that the computer labs in his/her school were too crowded to have a time scheduled for students to work in them. Lim and Khine (2006), based on their interviews with teachers, ICT heads-of-department and school principals, identified a set of strategies that would promote ICT integration, which included, for instance, appointing technical support staff, giving sufficient time for teachers to prepare for ICT-mediated lessons, and school leaders providing support in addressing teachers’ ICT concerns.

In addition to teacher-extrinsic or contextual factors, teachers’ practice can also be directly influenced by their cognitive system, or factors that reflect teachers’ mental lives (Borg, 2006, p. 1). Those factors are intrinsic to teachers that constitute Ertmer and associates’ (e.g., Ertmer, 1999, 2005; Ertmer et al., 2006) second-order barriers to change or enablers that facilitate change in technology integration. As Ertmer, Addison, Lane, Ross, and Woods (1999) noted,

when educators and researchers look for reasons why teachers are struggling to use ICTs effectively, it may be important to look at what they have (in terms of beliefs and practices) in addition to what they do not have (in terms of equipment). (p. 68)

Second-order or teacher-intrinsic factors pertain to the knowledge, beliefs, and thoughts of teachers with respect to ICT and its pedagogical applications. What teachers know and think about ICT in education and how they perceive the usefulness of ICT have a clear influence on their practice.

Sometimes teachers may not be equipped with adequate skills in ICT and the application of ICT in instructional practice, which can be attributed to inadequate ICT preparation within teacher education programs or in-service professional development opportunities to address their knowledge/skill gap in pedagogical use of ICT (Egbert et al., 2002; Lam, 2000; Peters, 2006). Correlation-based studies show that the extent to which teachers command knowledge and skills to use ICT, or how confident they believe they are in handling ICT (i.e., perceived easiness of ICT use), have a direct influence on their practice of ICT-mediated pedagogy (e.g., Teo, 2011; Teo & Noyes, 2011). As Lam (2000) noted, that classroom computer use is often very scare is not because, as some suggested, teachers are technophobes, but rather because they lack confidence in using computer technology due to the inadequate training and support they have received or could receive from their previous training programs, their schools, and other sources.

In addition to knowledge or competence, what teachers think and believe, or their philosophies about technology in teaching and learning, also have a clear influence on what they do and how they enact a curriculum and integrate ICT in language programs (Egbert, Huff, McNeil, Preuss, & Sellen, 2009). Many studies have revealed that positive attitudes toward ICT and perceptions of or beliefs about the usefulness of ICT for teaching and learning promote, or a lack of them hinders, pedagogical integration of ICT (Lam, 2000; Teo, 2011; Teo & Noyes, 2011).

The above factors, teacher-extrinsic and teacher-intrinsic, work together in determining teachers’ pedagogical decision making with regard to the use of ICT. As Borg (2009) comments, understanding of what teachers do, and do not do, requires reference not only to what they think, know, and believe, but also to the context in which teachers’ knowledge, thoughts, and beliefs are formed and their practices unfold. Examining ICT integration necessitates consideration of both teacher-extrinsic and teacher-intrinsic factors and their inter-play.

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