Alec M. Bodzin
The SERVIT Group
Department of Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education
North Carolina State University
Box 7801, 326 Poe Hall
Raleigh, NC. 2795-7801
John C. Park
The SERVIT Group
Department of Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education
North Carolina State University
Box 7801, 326 Poe Hall
Raleigh, NC. 2795-7801
Teaching has been characterized as a culture of isolation (Schlagel, Trathen, & Blanton,1996). A practicing teacher does not usually have access to ongoing development and support in their classroom setting which promotes idea sharing or support from peers. Electronic communities for teachers have the potential to break down these teacher isolation barriers and to provide a support network for teachers in the classroom (Bull, Harris, Lloyd & Short, 1989; Casey, 1997). New science reform platforms, such as the National Science Education Standards, recommend including educational technology, especially telecommunications, in our K-12 classrooms. Teachers now have the opportunities to join on-line discussion groups on the World Wide Web, post questions to electronic bulletin boards, and share thoughts and ideas using an e-mail listserv. Many studies describe how preservice teachers learn about telecommunications technology, the kind of support required to implement such tools effectively, and the obstacles that they must overcome in order to successfully incorporate telecommunications technology into their daily practice (Bos, Krajcik, & Patrick, 1995; Caggiano, Audet & Abegg, 1995; Casey, 1994; Casey & Vogt, 1994; Russett, 1994; Russett, 1995; Sunal & Sunal, 1992; Weir, 1992).
Classroom teachers use telecommunications for a variety of reasons. A study conducted by Honey and Henriquez (1993) reported the most frequent network activities were those used for collegial exchange, including sending e-mail to colleagues and posting questions or exchanging ideas on forums and bulletin boards. Benefits of network participation include exchanging ideas about projects, requesting and giving technical support, social exchanges and discussing general teaching approaches (Ruopp, Gal, Drayton & Pfister, 1993). Increased use of outside resources is a major benefit teachers perceive of implementing telecommunications resources into their professional development (SRI International, 1997). Davenport (1995) reported 33.8% of her survey respondents used the Internet for classroom activities and 60.6% indicated they use the Internet for professional development which included research for personal use, exchanging ideas with other educators, and information retrieval. Similar findings were reported in a study by Anderson and Harris (1997) of active network users with high levels of teaching tenure, schooling, and computer experience with convenient access to equipment needed to use the Internet.
In recent years, Internet connectivity in schools has advanced substantially as a result of increased attention from national policy making leaders and community leaders. The President's Educational Technology Initiative (Gore, 1996) calls for classrooms to be connected to one another and to the outside world and for teachers to be ready to use and teach with technology. In just three years, the percentage of U.S. public schools with Internet access increased from 35 percent in fall 1994 to 78 percent in fall 1997 (Bare & Meek, 1998). More instructional classrooms are becoming connected to online telecommunications. Bare and Meek (1998) also reported that the percentage of schools with Internet access in five or more instructional rooms increased from 25 percent in 1996 to 43 percent in 1997. A 1997 report from the National Center of Education Statistics (Heavside, Riggins, & Farris, 1997) indicated that 87 percent of the schools that lacked Internet capabilities reported planning to obtain Internet access by the year 2000. If these schools are able to acquire access, 95 percent of all American schools will have Internet access in the year 2000.
Some studies have been conducted on the effects of preservice and beginning teachers interacting with an electronic telecommunications network. In each of these studies, the teachers were provided with computers and modems to access an electronic network. The Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia created the Teacher-LINK system in 1984 to study the process of establishing a network to support the student teaching process with 80 inservice teachers and 40 student teachers in two school districts (Bull, Harris, Lloyd & Short, 1989). This study reported that preservice teachers used Teacher-LINK as a communications link to their university instructors during their field experiences with electronic mail (e-mail) and an electronic conferencing system. Merseth (1991) investigated the nature and type of support delivered to 39 beginning teachers who participated on the Beginning Teacher Computer Network (BTCN) at Harvard University. This study showed that first year teachers used electronic telecommunications for personal, emotional, and technical support. Jean Casey, at California State University, Long Beach, created TeacherNet, a program designed to integrate technology use during the student teaching phase of teacher training. TeacherNet's pilot project involved the researcher, six student teachers, and six master teachers (Casey, 1994). Casey's (1994) study reported the following benefits of preservice teachers using a telecommunications network: increased time to reflect on what they were learning; increased feeling of rapport with and support from their university supervisor; decreased feeling of isolation, increased self-esteem due to mastering technology; and increased knowledge and use of information access and retrieval. The preservice teachers in Waugh and Rath's (1995) study perceived that networks can enhance teacher training and support their work in the schools by using it to access resources and communicate with others. Waugh's (1996) study on group interactions and students' questioning patterns in a university course using an electronic network showed that students posted questions predominantly concerned with technical aspects and network strategies more than personal questions. An exploratory investigation of eleven preservice English teachers using telecommunications during their methods instruction and student teaching (Thomas, Clift & Sugimoto, 1996) reported that electronic mail was an asset for meeting course requirements and maintaining contact between students and instructors. The results of a study by Schlagal, Trathen, and Blanton (1996) at Appalachian State University with 15 elementary preservice teachers and five professors point to the structure of e-mail use as being an important factor in eliciting spontaneous exchanges of ideas.
Each previous study of preservice teachers utilizing an electronic telecommunications
network was conducted within the context of a restricted network environment.
These studies involved preservice teachers using electronic e-mail, e-mail
listservs, or bulletin board systems (BBS) as the community network space.
Currently, there are no studies in the literature involving preservice education
students using Web-based forums during their student teaching internships
as the online community network space.
Today, the World Wide Web (Web) is familiar to students and very accessible at various university locations, K-12 schools, and at home by students with computers. In school placements today, a preservice teacher can usually find one computer networked to the Internet that contains a web browser software such as Netscape or Internet Explorer. Recent developments on the Web have made available cheap, fast, and broad opportunities for preservice teacher to have access to university supervisors and mentors. Using the Web, college instructors can apprentice preservice teacher learning by modeling expert-like answers, providing feedback on student misconceptions, and offering key instructional help and task structuring.
Web-based forums provide a means in which university supervisors and methods instructors can continue to support preservice education students as a cohort group during their student teaching internships. Web-based forums, automatically file messages into topical discussions and update users on any new comments in a topic. This new computer technology presents a more appropriate environment for online learning than e-mail listservs or bulletin board systems by providing users a more-user friendly interface to navigate within the online system and by providing users easier access to the system from remote locations. All that is needed is access to the World Wide Web. Web-based forum discussions occur asynchronously, permitting the user to read, browse, or add to multiple discussions at his or her convenience. One does not need access to networks or systems at a particular university to participate in a Web-based discussion.
Web-based forums preserve a permanent record of the dialogue. According
to Davie and Wells (1991), this permanent record challenges all participants
to be accountable for their work, and to say precisely what they mean. By
encouraging responsibility for one's words, the transcript encourages an
awareness that words are extensions of one's self. Because a permanent record
of class discourse is generated, any member of the class can return to earlier
contributions, to rethink a position or pull together a thread of conversation,
linking an earlier thought to a current thought.
The purpose of this pilot study was to investigate the use of asynchronous telecommunications in a science education methods/curriculum course involving the use of a non-restrictive, public Web-based forum with preservice science teachers.
More specifically, this study addresses the following questions:
1) Does use of a non-restrictive, public Web-based forum serve as an effective means of support for a cohort group of preservice science teachers?
2) What were our preservice science teachers' perception of their experience interacting within an electronic professional community?
3) What barriers preservice science teachers encounter when using a non-restrictive, public Web-based forum on the Internet?
To examine these questions, a survey was given to each of our 22 preservice science teachers at the end of their teaching semester. The survey consisted of open-ended questions, Likert-type questions, and multiple choice type questions. Furthermore, a sample of preservice teacher message postings from the Web-based forum from the Fall 1997 semester was analyzed to determine specific types of discourse appearing in the forum dialogue.
In order to examine the potential benefits of preservice science teachers engaging in an electronic professional community for science teachers on the World Wide Web, we have constructed a Web-based forum called the SciTeach (Science Teaching) forum. The SciTeach forum is a place where science teachers can share ideas, reflections and conversations on teaching and implementation of technology in the classroom and other instructional pedagogy, while also providing support for each other as members of an electronic professional community. The SciTeach forum is designed with NetForum software. NetForum is a Web based group communication and collaboration system provided by the University of Wisconsin Biomedical Computing Group. The program is written in Perl and works on any UNIX-based system with Perl 22.214.171.124 or later that supports CGI subdirectories. Forums are organized into discussion topics and messages. A simple, intuitive toolbar allows user access to NetForum features. Forums can be created and managed by "forum owners" with the administrative tools via the World Wide Web. Forum topics and messages can also be edited via the administrative tools. Forum owners can customize many of a forum's features and can add html codes into the headers and footers of each of the forum's web pages.
We chose to use the NetForum software to create the SciTeach forum for several reasons. Our university already had a site license to use the software. The software is easy to use. The software empowered us to structure the discussion topics on the forum in any order of our choosing. The software also enables any user to add a new discussion topic to the forum. Within each topic area a user can post a new message, reply to a message, or reply to a reply of a message. When users first enter a topic area, they are presented with a list of message and reply titles. Each message and reply title displays the author of the message and the date the message was posted on to the forum. The most recent message is listed at the top of the screen. Each message and reply title is a hypertext link. The user clicks on a message or reply title to view the posted message. The software also enables the user to read an entire thread of successive replies to the original message.
The SciTeach forum can be accessed by anyone with a connection to the World Wide Web. A special e-mail account is not a requirement to read forum messages or post messages on to the forum. Unlike many other previous studies involving preservice teachers using telecommunications during their student teaching semester, we did not have additional funding to equip our preservice science teachers with laptop computers and telephone modems. We assumed that at least one computer in the school where a student teacher was placed would have access to the World Wide Web.
We structured the SciTeach forum to contain discussion topics relating to teaching science content, incorporating instructional technology into the curriculum, and topics relating to teaching pedagogy in general. A special topic in the SciTeach forum called "Preservice Science Teachers" was created as a designated discussion area for preservice science teachers. Student teachers were encouraged to use this area to speak freely about their experiences.
The SciTeach forum is placed in the context of a larger web site on the World Wide Web called IMSEnet (online available at http://www.ncsu.edu/imse). IMSEnet is a "Network of Instructional Materials for Science Educators" which was created originally as a support network for the IMSE (Instructional Materials in Science Education) CD-ROM.
The participants in this study were composed of 22 prospective secondary school science teachers enrolled in the Professional Semester (Methods of Teaching Science, Instructional Materials in Science, Seminar in Science Education, and Student Teaching) at North Carolina State University during the fall of 1997. The participants had completed the majority of their academic requirements for a Bachelor of Science degree in Science Education . Students were on campus daily for course instruction during the first five weeks of the semester. All students attended an Instructional Materials in Science course for two hours during these five weeks. This course was taught by three university instructors. Students were divided into different Methods of Teaching Science courses based on their science concentration area. The Methods of Teaching Science course was taught by different instructors than the Instructional Materials in Science course. For the following ten weeks, each student was assigned to a public school in a school district near the university for a student teacher internship. Student teachers were supervised by a university instructor from one of their "on campus" semester courses.
The preservice science teachers were introduced to the SciTeach forum during the second day of their Instructional Materials in Science Education course at North Carolina State University in the Fall, 1997 semester. Each student was instructed to use the forum in class and was required to post a message on to the forum which introduced themselves. As part of the course work for their Instructional Materials course, all students were expected to post three messages each week to the SciTeach forum.
Our preliminary analysis of the forum discourse reveals four emerging themes occurring. These are:
1. Socio-emotional - Messages pertaining to sharing classroom experiences; personal issues (e.g. managing time); student teacher needs; social acknowledgements.
2. Science pedagogy - Questions or comments relating specifically to teaching science content; e.g. - instructional laboratories, lessons, curriculum planning.
3. Nature of teaching - Message postings relating to classroom instruction, methods, or management in general; issues pertaining to students with special needs.
4. Course work related - Requests for information and questions specifically
related to NCSU course assignments.
The analysis of the message threads reveals evidence of reflective discourse. Examples include: asking focused questions; seeking common meanings in teaching practice; and constructing ideas in collaboration with other preservice teachers and university instructors (scaffolding).
The following example comes from an exchange in the "Classroom Management Strategies" discussion topic section. Miranda is having discipline problems with a particular class. She posts a message to the forum which describes problems with students behaviors she is encountering, her attempts at resolving these problems, and a request for assistance.
Posted by: Miranda
Date posted: Thu Nov 6 21:47:33 1997
Subject: A tough class...
Message: I am having a problem with controlling an academic biology class. There are about 6 or 7 really loud, disruptive students in the classroom. They aren't mean, or anything like that, they're just very, very loud....constantly. I'm having so much difficulty sticking to my discipline plan consistently simply because I can't be everywhere at once. While I'm calling down one student (or giving them a discipline slip) three more are acting up somewhere else. I've learned that the best way to get the class quiet is to have them writing lecture notes. Instead of trying to get then quiet at the beginning of class, I just get the lights off and start giving notes ASAP. They usually settle down within a minute or two. The problem with this is that I HATE doing lectures all the time! It bores the students and it bores me. I'm just not sure what to do here! Every time I try an activity the students go CRAZY! Any ideas?
Kirk has had a similar experience with a class during his student teaching semester and uses the forum to share some strategies he found useful in solving some of the student behavior problems he was encountering.
Subject: Try an activity
Reply Posted by: Kirk
Date Posted: Fri Nov 717:17:54 1997
Message: I have also found my academic class to be difficult at times. I think the kids at this level have shorter attention spans than advanced or AP kids. I have found the easiest way to manage academic is to keep them as busy as possible with a variety of instructional medias. Try using short "self quizzes" as an opener followed by a SHORT lecture and then an activity. I find academic does best with material if it is short, sweet and to the point.
Wanda also has had a similar experience and offers Miranda a suggestion based on her prior experience.
Subject: Tough class
Reply Posted by: Wanda
Date Posted: Sun Nov 9 12:24:56 1997
Message: Miranda, I know what you mean that you must resort to notes to keep you class quiet. I have a class in which there are students difficult to control. I have worksheets for them, which we do together. I find that the students stay on task better than being left to their own activities. When they are doing activities they are discovering things that I do not want them to discover!
Jack, has reflected on what has been said in the previous thread of messages
and concludes that the problem lies with current pedagogical philosophies.
Subject: Classroom discipline Reply
Posted by: Jack Date
Posted: Sun Nov 9 16:05:50 1997
Message: To me the major fault lies in the fact that the schools tolerate too much to begin with. Back in the Precambrian era when I was in school, everybody knew from day 1 that there was a standard rule for every class: You come in, sit down, shut up, and don't touch anything until you're told to do so. Today we talk about developing each child's personality so that they are outgoing and sociable, which might work with 50% of them, but the other 50% are immature, undisciplined, unmotivated little gremlins who need to know the consequences of acting up. They can sit still - I've seen them do it in lunch detention, where they sit looking straight ahead without saying a word for 30 minutes. It seems a little hopeless to try and teach them when you have anything less than total control. Sorry - I've listened to what everybody has to say with an open mind, and now I'm more convinced than ever that the old system was better.
This exchange on the SciTeach forum between Miranda and her classmates enabled her to share an experience with her classmates. The content of Miranda's original message deals specifically with teaching pedagogy. She uses the SciTeach forum as a way to express tension she is experiencing during her student teaching. She uses the forum to request assistance for her problem. The replies to Miranda's original message show solidarity among the preservice science teachers. They are each experiencing a similar problem and use the forum as a mechanism to support each other. By using the forum, preservice science teachers are able to discuss problems and contribute ideas over extended periods of time. By engaging in this type of dialogue exchange, the SciTeach forum appears to serve as an effective means of socio-emotional support for a cohort group of preservice science teachers.
The SciTeach forum has been a useful tool to facilitate communication between our preservice science teachers and university instructors. The forum has been used by our preservice science teachers to express their concerns about course requirements. Many messages have been posted regarding specific course-related queries and housekeeping bulletins. Here is an example of a student requesting information about incorporating video into her portfolio:
Posted by: Jean
Date posted: Tue Nov 11 18:30:43 1997
Subject: Using video...how?
Message: What is the proper procedure for using video as one of our artifacts in our portfolios? Also, how long should the video be and should it only contain one teaching event on it?
The SciTeach forum has also been used by the preservice teachers to critically reflect on the meaning of being a teacher:
Posted by: Bob
Date posted: Tue Nov 25 23:02:44 1997
Subject: Nice end before break
Message: Just about everyday has been a trial in one of my classes. I am not joking when I say I have some students who are not fit to be in a regular classroom. What has truly frustrated me however, was my inability to make a change in these kids lives. But who am I to think I could do that. They need more than teachers. It really hurt to reach out to these particular kids only to get my hand bitten. I am hard-headed however, and it took me a while to just let go (actually I'm still working on it) and concentrate on the students I could help instead of constantly stressing over those I could not. These kids don't even recognize when somebody is trying to help them. What they need is full time counseling and I can't give them that. What they need is strong families, and I can't give them that either. So, instead of constantly worrying about how I can teach these kids, I'm letting them go and working on how to keep them from interfering with the education of my other students. This isn't easy, but at least I leave school with a sense that I'm accomplishing something. Teaching is a full time job and teachers need to care and help with the health and well being of their students. But being a mom, a dad, a social worker, a probation officer, or a shrink is also full time work. I've already chosen to teach others and be a dad to my kids; I just don't have the time and energy to cover the rest. I feel real good about some of my students and the way things have gone recently. I'm glad I'll be leaving the school on that positive note.
Approximately half of our preservice science teachers in the Fall, 1997 semester stated they could access the World Wide Web (WWW) in their school placement during their student teaching experience (Figure 1). The school location where most students accessed the WWW was in their school's library (Table 1). Only one student had access to the WWW in their classroom. More than half of our students accessed the SciTeach forum from the North Carolina State University campus computer labs (Table 2). Only two students stated they accessed the SciTeach forum from their school placement. Five students stated that they had access to the WWW at home. Four of these five students accessed the SciTeach forum from their home (Table 2). More than half of the students accessed the SciTeach forum at least once each week (Table 3). 75% of our students stated that it was possible for them to access the SciTeach forum at least once a week (Table 4).
There was considerable variance in our students' responses to most of the attitudinal questions on our survey's Likert-type questions. Most student teachers felt that they had received adequate training to use the SciTeach forum (Figure 2). Most students felt that it was easy to access the SciTeach forum (Figure 3).
In general, most students felt that the SciTeach forum served as a good mechanism for facilitating communication. More than half of our preservice science teachers felt that the SciTeach forum facilitated communication with other students (Figure 4), helped them exchange teaching ideas, information, or advice (Figure 5), and enabled them to keep in touch with classmates (Figure 6). There was a mixed response from students that the SciTeach forum facilitated communication with their university instructors (Figure 7). This might be attributed to the low participation in forum discourse by some of the Methods of Teaching Science course instructors.
A majority of students felt that they gained support from others through their interactions with the SciTeach forum (Figure 8) and also felt they provided support for others through their use of the SciTeach forum (Figure 9). This type of support was socio-emotional in nature. Examples include sharing classroom experiences, personal issues, student teacher needs, and social acknowledgements. However, there was a very mixed response from our students with regard to receiving moral support through their interactions with the SciTeach forum (Figure 10). It is likely that some preservice teachers felt that the forum discourse did not assist them in dealing with the moral dilemmas they encountered during their student teaching experience. Examples include making special accommodations for students with disabilities, and management issues with extremely disruptive students.
Generally, our preservice science teachers had different attitudes regarding how their interactions with the SciTeach forum had promoted their professional growth and development in becoming a practicing teacher. Much variance was reported in their responses to the attitudinal Likert scale questions regarding the SciTeach forum as a means to promote reflection on pedagogy learned in student teaching (Figure 11), and develop a broader perspective on teaching (Figure 12). A majority of preservice teachers felt that the their interactions with the SciTeach forum did not promote reflection on their teaching approaches and decision making (Figure 13). Most students felt that the SciTeach forum did not help them improve their classroom management during their student teaching experience (Figure 14). Furthermore, a majority of students felt they could not use the SciTeach forum to get help with lessons and curriculum planning (Figure 15).
A majority of students stated that the SciTeach forum is an asset to NCSU's science teacher education program (Figure 16). Less than half of the students stated they would use the SciTeach forum as a resource during their first year of teaching (Figure 17).
Table 5 lists the barriers that students encountered when using the SciTeach Forum. These included: lack of personal time; inadequate access to a networked computer; and slow response of the web server which houses the SciTeach forum.
The most beneficial aspects of the SciTeach forum stated by the our preservice science teachers are listed in Table 6. The most cited benefit by the students is that the SciTeach forum acts as a network of socio-emotional support for our preservice science teachers. Other benefits reported by our students included that the SciTeach forum provided a means of communicating with other students and university instructors, and obtaining pedagogical resources. Two students stated that there were no benefits of using the SciTeach forum during their student teaching.
The least beneficial aspect of using the SciTeach forum stated by our preservice science teachers are listed in Table 7. These included having to make time to access the forum, having to post messages as a course requirement, the use of topics by some students, and inconvenience to access computers.
The SciTeach forum appears to be effective in supporting a cohort group
of preservice teachers. The forum provides a means in which a cohort group
can share and discuss common experiences over geographical distances. Our
preliminary findings suggest that by using telecommunications with a "Web
forum" structure, preservice science teachers can provide each other
with socio-emotional support. Socio-emotional messages were those sent to
one or more forum participants with content of a personal nature. Examples
of socio-emotional discourse included personal issues of student teachers
(e.g. time management), social acknowledgements, and student teacher needs.
Preservice teachers are able to share experiences by engaging in the SciTeach
forum dialogue. This sharing of experiences appears to reduce isolation
barriers that preservice science teachers often encounter during their student
teaching experiences. The forum provides a means for preservice teachers
to receive help and support for the problems and tensions they experience
during their student teaching experiences. The open structure of the SciTeach
forum appears to be an important factor in the free exchange of ideas, questions,
and other types of dialogue among preservice science teachers. Preservice
science teachers use the SciTeach forum to post questions pertaining to
pedagogical and course-work related issues. The forum is also used to exchange
professional information such as teaching strategies and curricular material.
The forum can also serve to facilitate communication channels between the student teachers and their university instructors. Our results showed that many of our students felt that the SciTeach forum did not facilitate communications with their university supervisors. This might relate to the fact that most of our students' methods class instructors did not reply regularly to student messages posted on the forum. We believe that the active participation of all our university science methods instructors with the SciTeach forum could deliver a more desirable experience for our students.
Our preservice science teachers had a wide range of attitudes and perceptions with regard to their experiences engaging with the SciTeach forum. Many students felt it was very beneficial to interact with the forum during their student teaching semester. Other students had negative attitudes about using the SciTeach forum during their student teaching semester. This range of attitudes might be due to individual student's personality traits. Further study regarding personality factors and level of computer use may give a clue to the large variance in question response on the survey.
The barriers that preservice science teachers encounter when using a Web-based forum on the Internet appear to be a lack of adequate access to a networked computer and structuring time to engage in the Web forum dialogue. Even though we have seen a rapid increase in school connectivity to the Internet in recent years, our schools are not yet at the point where access to a networked computer is easily available and convenient to use. Based on our survey results, student teachers are not likely to use a school's networked computer to access a Web-based forum. Also, it appears that some of our student teachers could not locate a networked computer in their school placement. Some of our student teachers reported that there was no access to the Web in their student teaching placement when there actually was a networked computer with access to the Web located in their school. If preservice teacher preparation programs are expected to have students master telecommunications technology competency skills, then the students need to be provided with convenient access to the Internet in their school placements. The ideal solution to this problem would be to equip each preservice teacher with a laptop, a modem, and telecommunications software, and provide a "reflection time" period twice a week during the school day for preservice teachers to access and post messages to a Web-based forum. Given successful support to access a Web-based forum, novice teachers may well continue to bring their problems and support for one another to the web.
Although there are barriers to overcome, The SciTeach forum appears to be effective in providing support for a cohort group of preservice teachers. The forum provides a means in which a cohort group can share and discuss common experiences over geographical distances. Our preliminary findings are consistent with previous research (Bull, Harris, Lloyd & Short, 1989; Casey, 1997) which suggest that using telecommunications can provide preservice teachers with socio-emotional support during their student teaching experience.
Our preservice science teachers showed interest in what was happening in their classmates' classes during their student teaching experience. Our student teachers were able to share experiences by engaging in the SciTeach forum dialogue. This sharing of experiences appears to reduce isolation barriers that preservice science teachers often encounter during their student teaching experiences. The forum provides a means for preservice teachers to receive help and support for the problems and tensions they experience during their student teaching experiences. The open structure of the SciTeach forum appears to be an important factor in the free exchange of ideas, questions, and other types of dialogue among preservice science teachers. The SciTeach forum is an instrument that our preservice teachers have used to become critical and reflective about issues of pedagogical knowledge and practice.
Our preliminary findings illustrate that much variance exists with regard to our students teachers' attitudes and perceptions of their experiences with interacting with the SciTeach forum. This variance might be attributed to learning styles, personality characteristics, students' comfort level and previous experience using telecommunications technology, or their attitudes towards using information technology. Some students perceived posting to the Web forum merely as a response to an assigned task. Student access to a networked computer might also have an effect towards students' attitudes towards participating in the Web forum. Our results suggests that there is a need for further research studies to investigate possible factors that might be contributing to the variance of our students teachers' attitudes and perceptions of their experiences with interacting with the SciTeach forum. Continued research in this area will involve addressing students' attitudes and perceptions of computers and telecommunications in education before and after their student teaching placement.
This study has spurred other research questions: Which topic areas promote the most reflective discourse? What aspects of the Web-based forum do preservice science teachers feel foster their sense of an electronic community of educators? Which topic areas promote the most exchanges of ideas among student teachers? How does peer responsiveness affect the depth of the dialogue? Does interacting with a Web-based forum promote reflection on what the students are learning, including teaching approaches and decision making? What types of mentoring do university supervisors provide on a Web-based forum? In a follow-up study, we hope to address these new questions with a more detailed analysis of the Web forum discourse and with preservice teacher interviews .
Given our results, we plan to continue to use Web-based forums with our preservice science teachers. We want our preservice teachers to not only develop expertise in their field, but to become reflective thinkers as part of their ongoing professional development. As a result of this research, we are beginning to understand how preservice science teachers can communicate with their peers and instructors from remote locations using the World Wide Web.
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About the authors...
Alec M.Bodzin is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow in Instructional Technology for Science Education at North Carolina State University. He is a science educator with a biological background and has an interest in the improvement of K-12 science education. His interests include incorporating telecommunications into science curriculum development and implementation with emphasis on the roles that visual instructional technologies can play in these areas. He is currently involved in the development of a variety of interactive multimedia projects, including CD-ROM and World Wide Web technologies as a member of NCSU's SERVIT group.
Dr. John C. Park is an Associate Professor of Science Education at North Carolina State University. He came to NC State in 1985 after completing his Ph.D. at The Ohio State University in Science Education. His interest in instructional technology spawned from his early use of the mircrocomputer in the late 70s for instruction in science. Although his main research effort is in the use of the microcomputer-based laboratory, his interests have expanded to the use of all visual technologies. Dr. Park organized the SERVIT group in 1997 to explore, develop, and research new instructional technologies in the pre-college science classroom and laboratory.
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