1 DISTANCE CONTINUING EDUCATION: LEARNING MANAGEMENT AND DIFFICULTIES FACED BY SCIENCE TEACHERS Paulo Sérgio Garcia, Nelio Bizzo Faculdade de Educação da Universidade de São Paulo e Núcleo de pesquisa EDEVO, São Paulo, Brazil Abstract: This study aims to highlight the management of learning and the difficulties faced by science teachers who participated in distance continuing education (DCE) programs in a public university. We analyzed the difficulties faced by these professionals, relating them to the profile of this teacher (gender, age). In parallel, we also investigated the learning management, in terms of time of dedication to the course weekly, frequency and techniques of studies. Data were collected (N=75) through interviews and questionnaires. Regarding the difficulties, from qualitative and quantitative analyzes, it were identified five domains: Content, Technology, Time, Didactic-pedagogical and Personal. The results showed that in the personal domain, involving features such as self-discipline, organization and motivation, the variables Age, Experience, and Teaching experience were impacting. Older teachers with experience in distance education and with some teaching experience had fewer difficulties over DCE in personal matters. To deal with the management of learning, science teachers studied mostly in their own home, at night, and even on weekends. Based on these results, teacher educator has available important elements to assist science teachers in the learning process at distance. Keywords: Distance continuing education. Science teachers. Learning management. Difficulties. INTRODUCTION Distance education (DE) has been a strategy for teacher education in Brazil; consequently expansionary policies are being implemented by the Ministry of Education (MEC). The creation, in 1996, of the Department of Distance Education, Decree n /96, is part of this expansion. One of the most effective MEC's policies was the creation of the Open University of Brazil (Decree 5800 of 08/06/2006). Its goal is to democratize, internalize and expand the provision of free public higher education in Brazil, offering courses of bachelor, undergraduate, graduate, and DCE. Data from Brazilian census, 2010, showed that were offered distance courses by public and private institutions. Pre-service and in-service courses, 31.5%, formed one of the largest groups (Cetic, 2010). This situation is justified by the large number
2 of teachers without adequate education in the country, a deficit of about teachers for secondary education in all areas, and in the subject of Physics (Cunha, 2006). Courses of specialization, including distance continuing education programs (37%), represented the largest group (Cetic, 2010). Science teachers (ST) attending DCE have certain strategies to cope with the demands of the course, and to conduct his learning independently (learning management). Nevertheless, in this process they also face some difficulties over the course. The management of learning (ML) is an important issue for Science teachers who attend DCE, and it helps them to deal with the demands of the course. Mueller (2000) described a tool to assist in the determination of student profiles. This tool monitors, among other things, the student access to classes, the frequencies. With this analysis, the teacher educator can assist students individually, considering different behaviors of access and study habits. Kist et al. (2001) also mentioned about a program described as "monitoring student", which allows teacher educator to check days and times used by students for studying. From this understanding, these authors recommended the design of personalized strategies to assist students in management of learning. The difficulties faced by ST in distance continuing education are also relevant, because these may reduce ST participation in DCE. Mercado (2007) showed that students, studying at distance, face some difficulties related to: a) technology, especially the use of internet, what creates problems in participating in some activities of the course (send , participate in chats); b) teacher strategies, lack of competences; c) student, delay in adaptation in the distance education course; d) time, how to administrate it adequately; e) course content, often excessive and uninteresting. These difficulties can occur in different ways and periods of the course. Some of them occur because of the management of learning adopted to cope with the demands (e.g. time management). The strategies used to deal with the ML and the difficulties affect the teacher s participation in their learning process. Understand these two elements provide information for teacher educators to assist ST in their education. In this sense, this study aims to analyze the management of learning and the difficulties faced by a group of ST who attended DCE course in public university. DISTANCE CONTINUING EDUCATION COURSE Distance continuing education course was organized and administered by the research group Science Teaching and Distance Education (Faculty of Education of the University of São Paulo). The course goal was to update science teachers, who are
3 effectively teaching general science to young students (11-15 years old), on the nutrition topic. The course was free of charge for the participants. According to the course official program, the general objective was to update science teachers who taught in elementary school, exploring the new legislation on food labeling. One of the specific objectives was to cover the current modifications in legislation proposed by Agency for Sanitary Surveillance (ANVISA), which regulates the labeling of foods as well as recommendations for food intake. In this course, science teacher received information on practical and theoretical educational about foods (Feusp, 2007). Table 01 summarizes the main information about the DCEC: Table 01 Objectives and activities of the course Objective Activities Course The course was 60 hours in duration, with 58 hours online duration and two hours for final assessment at the university. Its total Number enrolment Course Structure Video lesson of duration was two months. The course had an enrollment of 120 science teachers each semester, had a teacher educator (coordinator), and a team of undergraduate and postgraduate students. The course had a website where STs could download materials, including eight (8) video lessons (VL) and powerpoint slides for each class. The video lessons were videos which presented educational material for introducing a new topic to be learnt by science teachers. Such VL were one of a key part of the course organization. Still in relation to the methodologies there were forms of interaction such as sessions of question and answers and discussions in predetermined schedules. This emphasized the interaction process and collaborative learning, and also maintained a synchrony of study among teachers. One of the main strategies to maintain a certain synchronicity in teachers' work was called "lightning question." This question had a participatory nature, being characterized as a challenge with a scheduled time, usually on the weekend. When a teacher received this question he had limited time to respond. Each video lesson' duration was about one hour long. The methodological structure of the VL included questions, problems, and homework. This strategy aimed to create new expectations among teachers regarding new content and at the
4 Science teacher participation and forms of communication Teacher educator Course evaluation same time, encourage them to participate in the proposed challenges. In these VL were also presented research related to the reality known or experienced by science teachers. The main form of communication was . In one version of the course over a period of just two months, science teachers exchanged over s. Science teacher participation happened, among other things, watching the VL during the week, sending comments, preparing questions, working to solve challenges and contributing sending materials, such as: text, tables and surveys. The role of the teacher educator was crucial to the success of the DCEC. He planned the course and the educational design. He decided on learning theories to be used during the course, reflected on science teacher s participation, and on the forms of teacher support. He also decided about the media and the technologies, the infrastructure, the methodological, and the forms of assessment used. He, with course tutors, worked motivating the participants, encouraging them to participate (including Saturdays and Sundays), acted identifying STs difficulties and correcting activities. Finally, they created emotional connections, which are important to the success of STs in the course. The course evaluation process was based on three instruments: participation in the course, considering the quality and relevance; final exam at the university, and written work. Regarding the final exam, which was individual, there were three models (test A, B, C), with a value of 5.0 points, and consists of 36 multiple choice questions with a duration of two hours. METHOD This study, based on case study methodology (Yin, 2005), examined the management of learning and the difficulties faced by science teachers who attended distance continuing education programs in a public university. The selection of ST took into account their participation in courses in 2007 promoted by the Faculty of Education (University of São Paulo). The course was selected, because it was free, performed at a public university and it was about continuing education.
5 Interviews and questionnaires were used to collect the data. This type of data collection enables triangulation of mixed methods, favoring the validity of data (Flick, 2009, p ). The interview technique was used with 12 ST from three cities (state of São Paulo - Brazil). These ST were selected considering that they teach Science in elementary school (student from 11 to 14 years old), lived in different cities and some of them were approved (09) and some were failed (03) in the course. The interview, semi-structured, collected information about profile (gender, age, education, professional activities and ST relationship to new technologies), about the management of learning, and about the difficulties faced over the course. Data from these interviews were analyzed using grounded theory approach, which is an inductive method, consisting of collecting and analyzing information concurrently (Strauss; Corbin, 1998). From the analysis of the interviews a questionnaire was designed, consisting of openended questions, and one Likert scale. Initially for its validation, a pretest was performed with 11 ST from the same study population. The sample consists of 75 science teachers (13 male and 62 female). The questionnaire collected information about the profile: gender, age, academic background; graduate degree (yes/not); type of institution; teaching experience (in years); technological fluency (relationship with the computer, internet and EAD. As for management of learning five categories were investigated: time of dedication to the course (weekly), Weekly Frequency, Periods, Location of Access (i.e. home, school), Methods of study (i.e. the most common techniques). Regarding the difficulties it was used a Likert scale. This is a type of nominal scale, and measures attitudes and opinions of individuals. Uebersax (2006) says that attitudes are analyzed as latent variables that arise from the sum of responses to a set of statements. The scale contained 35 items ranging from zero to four. After analyzing the pretest and prior hypotheses it was created five groups of latent variables called domains: Domain of Technology (DT), Content (DC), Time (DTe), Didactic-pedagogic (DDP) and Personal (DP). The consistency of these five latent variables was checked using Alpha of Cromback. Table 02 provides information on what was investigated in each domain and its respective Alphas.
6 Table 02 Domains and Alphas Domain DT: investigated the difficulties faced by ST in relation to computer use, internet use, video lessons and support materials (e.g. slides PowerPoint). DC: difficulties in relation to the course content, teacher's explanations, and practical use of the knowledge of the course. DTe: difficulties to participate in the course activities, to reconcile activities and demands from the family or job. DDP: difficulties regarding the assessment methods used, and the interaction among the participants over the course. DP: difficulties in relation to the motivation for the course activities, the maintenance of responsibility, and to organize ways of studying. Alpha 0,767 0,762. 0,709. 0,817 0,818 Data were analyzed using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS 16.0 for Windows) and "R"(http://www.r-project.org). To compare the domains related to gender, graduate degree, previous exposure to DE, nonparametric tests (Mann- Whitney test) were used. To compare the teaching experience and the three main domains, the Kruskal-Wallis was used. The correlation between age and each of the domains variables was analyzed using "p" Spearman. To determine which domain had the greatest impact on the science teachers initial motivation, Friedman test was used. For all comparisons, we adopted a significance level α = RESULTS AND DISCUSSION The profile of the Science teacher who attended this distance continuing education course can be seen in Table 03: Table 03 Science teacher profile Profile % Gender female 80% Average 33 years Major in Biology 60% Work in state public schools 54% Work in elementary education 79% More them five years of teaching 56% experience Did not have any experience with DE 52%
7 The group of ST has an average age of 33 years, most of them were female, most worked in state public schools; in elementary education; with more them five years of teaching experience. Finally, 52% did not have any experience with DE. The management of learning presented revealed some strategies used by science teachers to cope with the demands of distance continuing education course: Table 04 provides information about learning management: Table 04 Strategies and time Strategies used Time of dedication to the course (weekly) Frequency Location of Access Methods of study Time/ technique Between two to three hours Between two to three times a week home, workplaces, and Internet cafes Reading activities We highlighted from these data the fact that most ST had studied in your own home, 18% in their workplaces, and a small group (almost 3%) used Internet cafes. The use of Internet cafes (this phenomenon) can be understood by considering that there are already several places like these in many cities in Brazil, and the cost of use has become greatly reduced. It is very possible that this situation be an indicative of a specific demand of teachers. We can think that the school environment, or where ST were exposed to continuing education, perhaps was not the most suitable place for professional development. In fact, when science teachers seek an available time at home (to study) seem to indicate the need for certain intimacy for learning. At school it is natural that they should constantly meet multiple demands, while at night in their homes there are more suitable conditions for concentration and dedication to learning. This indication can be very useful to the leaders of school systems, because the school has been considered one of the best places for professional development, and as we saw, when ST have the opportunity for making a choice they opt for their own home. Regarding the difficulties, the analysis of the variable Sex and the five domains yielded no statistically significant difference, but on Age variable was found a negative correlation (Table 05), although weak, with the DC (r = , p = 0.039) and DP (r = , p = 0.07), indicating that the older are ST the fewer difficulties they faced in these two domains. Table 05 summarizes the data:
8 Table 05 Correlation between Age and Domains AGE R p-valor* DTE -0,120 0,307 DC -0,239 0,039 DT -0,126 0,280 DDP -0,164 0,162 DP -0,309 0,007 *Spearman correlation Related to the DC, this suggests that ST that had different education and had some teaching experience had more knowledge in science. This correlation also indicates that the older ST were the easier to maintain discipline, organization and motivation (DP). This situation shows that ST younger had greater difficulties in organizing and maintaining self-discipline. It indicates that teacher educator (in distance continuing education courses) have to pay more attention with younger in relation to content, personal organization and motivation. The graduate degree variable (yes/not) and the five domains showed statistically significant differences in DDP (p = 0.025). Science teachres who attended such courses had fewer difficulties. As this domain was composed of items related to the methodology and assessments, it seems that those professionals that had already experiences in DE were more familiar with these issues. Table 06 indicates the results: Table 06 Correlation between Graduate Degree and Domains. Graduate Not Yes degree Maen (SD) Mean (SD) p-valor* DTE 8,19 (6,14) 6,62 (4,07) 0,398 DC 5,94 (4,03) 4,97 (4,41) 0,213 DT 12,75 (5,07) 12,87 (4,52) 0,932 DDP 12,69 (4,90) 9,77 (5,99) 0,025 DP 11,97 (5,87) 9,87 (4,78) 0,072 *Non-parametric Mann-Whitney test. With regard to DE experience, science teachers that have never studied at distance showed greater difficulties in DTe (p = 0.012), in DDP (p = 0.050) and DP (p = 0.010) than those who attended at least one course.
9 Table 07 Correlation between DE experience and domains. DE experience No Mean (SD) Yes Mean (SD) p-valor* DTE 7,97 (5,80) 6,72 (4,43) 0,425 DC 6,08 (4,69) 4,75 (3,60) 0,309 DT 14,26 (4,27) 11,25 (4,82) 0,012 DDP 12,45 (5,88) 9,78 (5,15) 0,050 DP 12,38 (5,59) 9,17 (4,68) 0,010 *Non-parametric Mann-Whitney test. Finally, science teachers with over ten years of teaching experience had fewer difficulties in relation to DP (p= 0.036). This finding is in according to the Age variable, where older ST also had fewer difficulties for maintaining self-discipline and personal organization (DP). Table 08 summarizes the data: Table 08 Correlation between teaching experience and domains. Teaching < >10 Post Hoc p-valor* experience Mean (SD) Mean (SD) Mean (SD) DTE 7,37 (5,48) 8,53 (5,87) 6,00 (3,93) 0,334 - DC 6,13 (4,75) 5,11 (4,55) 3,89 (2,64) 0,200 - DT 14,07 (4,59) 12,42 (3,61) 11,21 (6,00) 0,125 - DDP 12,30 (5,58) 11,47 (5,43) 9,00 (5,98) 0,140 - DP 12,47 (5,00) 9,58 (4,58) 8,787 (5,80) 0,036 <5 = = >10 <5 >10 * Non parametric Kruskal-Wallis test. FINAL IMPLICATIONS This research revealed the management of learning and the difficulties faced by a group of ST who attended DCE in a public university. The way that science teachers cope with their ML and difficulties affect their participation in the course, and consequently their learning. Such participation can mean not being successful in DCE, learn less than programmed or desired, do not face the course seriously, and create a negative image of distance education for distance continuing education. In this study, we presented in more details ST difficulties. Mercado (2007) only listed some difficulties, but did not advance regarding the association of profile (gender,
10 age) with the difficulties presented. Without creating such association, it is not possible to obtain detailed information. Such association permits us to understand, for example, that in DP (self-discipline, organization), the variables Age, Experience, and Teaching experience were relevant. Older science teachers, with DE experience and teaching experience had fewer difficulties over the course in personal issues. From the understanding of management learning and difficulties, teacher educator can assist ST using, among other things, personalized activities such as initial meetings, guidance, and private chats. These activities contribute to the ST education, and consequently to improve science teaching. REFERENCES Associação Brasileira de Educação a Distância (ABED). (2010) Censo EAD Brasil, Pearson Education do Brasil. Cunha, S. L. S. (2006) Reflexões sobre o EAD no Ensino de Física. Rev. Bras. Ensino Física, São Paulo, 28 (2), Flick, U. (2009) Uma introdução à pesquisa qualitativa. 3. ed. Porto Alegre: BOOKMAN. Kist, T. Dahmer; A.; Gaspary, L. P.; Frozza, R. (2001). Disponibilização de um Ambiente Integrado para Gerenciamento e Acompanhamento de Aulas a Distância. In: XII Simpósio Brasileiro de Informática na Educação. SBIE, Mercado, L. P. L. (2007). Dificuldades na educação a distância online. Trabalho apresentado no congresso internacional de educação a distância. Retrieved: 23 April, 2009 from Mueller, M. (2000). Aplicação da Técnica RBC na Determinação de perfis em Educação a Distância. Trabalho de Conclusão de Ciência da Computação UNISC, Santa Cruz do Sul. Strauss, A.; Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research: techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. 2 ed. London: Sage Publications. Uebersax, J. S. (2006). Likert scales: dispelling the confusion. Statistical Methods for Rater agreement website Retrieved: 20 July, 2009 from Yin, R. K. (2005). Estudo de caso: planejamento e métodos. 3. ed. Porto Alegre: Bookman.