Teachers computer anxiety: implications for professional development

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1 Education and Information Technologies (1997) Teachers computer anxiety: implications for professional development GLENN RUSSELL School of Education, Faculty of Education and the Arts, Griffith University, Gold Coast, PMB 50, Gold Coast Mail Centre, Queensland 4217, Australia. GRAHAM BRADLEY School of Applied Psychology, Faculty of Business and Hotel Management, Griffith University, Gold Coast, PMB 50, Gold Coast Mail Centre, Queensland 4217, Australia. Changes in society s expectations mean that school teachers need to be able to use computers in education with minimal anxiety. Some 350 primary and secondary school teachers completed a questionnaire that identified sources of computer anxiety and provided teachers with the opportunity to suggest solutions. The teachers were very supportive of the use of computers in education, but reported moderately low levels of computer competence. A number of suggestions for the reduction of computer anxiety are made, based on teachers first-hand accounts, and an analysis of trends in the quantitative data. The implications of these suggestions for teachers professional development are explored. KEYWORDS: professional development; teacher education; computing; teaching methods; attitudes. INTRODUCTION The study reported in this paper examined the nature, extent and implications of computer anxiety in teachers in government schools in Queensland, Australia. The practical significance of these findings are related to teachers professional development in school-based computer use. Some 350 primary and secondary school teachers responded to a questionnaire that asked about sources of computer anxiety, and encouraged teachers suggestions and solutions. These responses are # 1997 Chapman & Hall

2 18 Russell and Bradley discussed against a background of trends identified in the literature, and implications for policy concerning teachers professional development are explored. Teachers computer confidence and the need for this study With the increased emphasis on the use of computers in education, it is reasonable for society to expect that teachers will have the knowledge and confidence to use computer technology effectively in the classroom. Increasingly, in primary and secondary schools, teachers are expected to know not only how to use computers, but how to use them effectively with students. There is a general belief that computers will continue to be important for students both in their school years, and for the remainder of their lives. However, there is now considerable evidence to suggest that school teachers in many countries are not confident in the use of computers. Becker (1991) found that computers in USA schools were used as a means of enrichment, or for teaching computer literacy, rather than integrated by subject teachers into lessons. A more recent study in the USA (Rosen and Weil, 1995) reported that a majority of 488 teachers surveyed in elementary and secondary schools were actively avoiding the use of computers if they were available. Between one-third and two-thirds of teachers who were not using computers were doing so because they lacked confidence with, or felt frightened by, computers. In the United Kingdom, research by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST, 1991) has indicated that there were insufficient numbers of teachers trained in the technology, and that teacher confidence was an important factor in explaining why computers were not being used more effectively in schools: Attitudes and self-confidence are major factors,..., many teachers are sceptical about computers, or less than confident about their ability to use them,..., in 1988 only 56% of primary teachers felt confident in the use of computers. (Vol. 2, p. 26) In addition, Pelgrum and Plomp (1991) report a study of the use of computers in education world-wide, in 19 educational systems. The information in this study provides a snapshot of the situation in 1989, and confirms that in many countries, there was a concentration on the use of computers for drill and practice, and learning about computers. In a later analysis of the situation, Pelgrum and Plomp (1993) emphasise the relationship between teachers knowledge and skills, and training. Overall, teachers lack of confidence in their ability to use computers in the classroom is likely to be related, at least in part, to their training and professional development. Teachers lack of confidence in their ability to use computers effectively in classrooms can also be understood as a form of computer anxiety, or cyberphobia. Cyberphobia refers to a fear or anxiety about computers, and is related to a more general fear of machines, or technophobia. There is little recent research about school teachers and their concerns about computers. Rosen and Maguire (1990) provide a meta-analysis of 81 research reports related to cyberphobia, where they note that very little empirical work has been done

3 Teachers computer anxiety 19 with elementary and secondary students or their teachers (p. 178). Attention has, rather, been focused on the attitudes of other groups, including university students (Barrow, 1985; Rosen and Weil, 1990; Rosen and Weil 1995). We do know that teachers report high levels of work-related stress, and that new and difficult technology is at least a minor source of this stress for approximately half of Queensland s teachers (Bradley, 1992). Our concern is that if teachers feel negative or apprehensive about computers and are therefore reluctant to use them, their attitudes and apprehensions may be passed on to students, and students may have to give up academic goals or modify them as a result (Rosen and Weil, 1990). Cyberphobia can be a genuine concern for some teachers. It may significantly affect the quality of teaching and learning when teachers use computers in their classroom. We are convinced that computer fear is very real for teachers. These concerns deserve serious attention in the pre-service and professional development of teachers. A pragmatic view suggests that the complete elimination of cyberphobia may be unlikely, given the available resources of education departments and private schools. However, the identification of anxiety sources and levels, strategies for their reduction, and an overview of teachers first-hand opinions on computer anxiety reduction remain important issues. There is evidence that computer anxiety can be reduced. As Rosen and Weil (1990) maintain, We know that computerphobia exists and is fixable. (p. 281). The question that then arises is how cyberphobia may be reduced in a specific population, in this case with primary and secondary school teachers. Some of the suggestions for reducing cyberphobia include the idea of training managerial level personnel first to provide positive role models (Davidson and Walley, 1984), and using psychotherapy (Rosen and Weil, 1990; Rosen et al., 1993). However, these proposed remedies originate from tertiary education or business contexts. A teacher s computer-related responsibilities are likely to differ from the tasks undertaken in these reported studies. For instance, a teacher education trainee who is confident in the use of a word processor at university may still exhibit computer anxiety when working with a group of school students who are using a computer simulation as part of their curriculum. For this reason, the crosscontextual application of cyberphobic solutions is seen as problematic. Studies of cyberphobia in school teachers provide some indicators of preferred solutions. Gresard and Loyd (1985) provide a case study that argues that staff development programmes can be effective in improving the computer attitudes of teachers. Rosen and Weil (1995) urge the use of confident computer users as role models for cyberphobic teachers, and Bloom (1985) maintains that cyberphobia can be reduced in education trainees by the use of skill building, including relaxation, practice and provision of basic facts about computers. However, a perceived limitation of these studies was that teachers experiences and preferences were given inadequate consideration as a basis for the courses of intervention suggested. In Australia, a study by Kemmis (1987) argues that much of teachers professional development with computers is not long-lasting or

4 20 Russell and Bradley effective. One possible reason for this conclusion is that organizers of professional development activities have used a top-down paternalistic approach that assumes that experts know what teachers want. A review of the literature relevant to cyberphobia and school teachers indicated to the authors that it was necessary to ascertain not only the levels and nature of cyberphobia in teachers, but to allow teachers to suggest how it might be reduced. This approach suggested a combination of quantitative and qualitative research. For Miles and Huberman (1984), findings of qualitative studies have a quality of undeniability, in that the organization of words into incidents or stories has a concrete, vivid and meaningful flavour. As Patton (1980) argues, qualitative and quantitative studies need not be mutually exclusive. This project therefore collected data in categories that indicated the nature and levels of teachers cyberphobia, and open-ended written teacher comments from which patterns of data emerged. Aims and methodology of the study The project aimed to determine the nature and extent of cyberphobia in teachers in government schools in Queensland, Australia. It also examined the implications of cyberphobia for teachers professional development. The questions guiding this project were derived from a two-year study of undergraduate student teachers enrolled in computer education units at Griffith University, Gold Coast, and further refined in the context of the available literature relating to cyberphobia and teachers. Three independent sources of computer anxiety were identified in this preliminary work, which were then used to refine the test instrument further. These fears included concerns about computer damage, task performance and social embarrassment. Statistically ineffective items were deleted from the final questionnaire, and an open-ended comment section was added to allow for teachers extended responses. To assist in the administration of this questionnaire, the Department of Education, Queensland, provided a disk containing the names and school addresses of 670 randomly selected teachers, excluding those in non-teaching positions. The teachers included primary and secondary teachers in urban and rural areas. After removal of additional names where respondents may not have been practising teachers, the researchers were left with a total of 611 names. Of these, 11 names were randomly removed from this group, and the remaining 600 names were used in this study. Questionnaires were sent to these teachers. Responses were anonymous. Some 350 teachers responded to the survey, and these responses are reported in this article. A more detailed account of the statistical analysis of these data can be found in Russell and Bradley (1995). RESULTS The results of this study are presented under four headings: computer access and usage, computer competence and anxiety, past training and professional

5 Teachers computer anxiety 21 development, and preferred models of computer training and professional development. Computer access and usage Overall, the teachers participating in this study were very supportive of the use of computers in education, with 91% agreeing with the proposition that the computer is a necessary tool nowadays. One teacher commented that, It is essential that all teachers become computer and technology literate. A number of teachers, however, qualified their support with concerns over teacher access to computers. Typical of such comments was the following: I spoke to many of my colleagues and we were of the opinion that we would use computers more if they were available to us to use! For some teachers, the actions of the employing authority were at variance with the rhetoric of press releases and public announcements. As one teacher put it: It is something which I believe requires attention and with technology a major priority/focus for education I m surprised the government isn t doing something positive and pragmatic about its propaganda! Another teacher believed that the low numbers of computers available in her school tended to mean that computers in classrooms would be used merely for individual drill and practice, which was unsatisfactory and would reduce teacher interaction with the computer. Some teachers believed that they comprised a disadvantaged subgroup. Included in this group were some contract or supply teachers, who felt that although they thought computers were important in education, the professional development needs of their group were not currently being addressed by the education department. Teachers in small rural towns also perceived themselves as disadvantaged when one of the suggested solutions was the completion of an external computer-related course. Some of these teachers found it impractical or inappropriate to contact universities for upgrading of their qualifications, and noted that courses in small towns offered by a technical and further education college (TAFE) must be done when they have enough students. Several teachers noted that although they personally believed in the importance of computers, some school administrators regarded computers as less important for junior primary school grades. One teacher wrote that: computer education is not viewed as being important or necessary in any grade below [Grade] 5 at our school,..., lower grade teachers can forget about help or money being spent in their area. Another teacher observed that, in her opinion, all money for computers at the school went to years six seven, and other grade levels were not considered. There is an implication in these findings that the teachers in lower grade levels in primary schools will, in some cases, continue to struggle to improve their computer skills

6 22 Russell and Bradley against a background of perceived inequitable computer distribution within the school. Access to computers at home and at schools was seen as important by many teachers. One teacher commented that: If I had a computer at home I would get more into it but cannot financially afford one at this stage, while another remarked that: teachers who need to use computers for any amount of time in their classrooms need every opportunity to use computers for their own use. Some ways this could be brought about [include] encouragement to take computers home to use, teacher purchase programmes by corporate sponsorship, [and] tax exemption for teacher purchasers. The link between computer anxiety and access to the technology was further emphasised by the teacher who commented that most anxiety about computers is generated by the fact that access to computers is limited. The existence of outdated equipment, particularly in remote areas, was a cause of concern for a number of teachers. Words such as ancient, obsolete and antiquated featured in several responses. One teacher in far north tropical Queensland explained that climatic problems at the school had led to rusted mechanisms. Computer competence and anxiety Most teachers in this study indicated that they possessed moderately low levels of computer competence. Only 22% of the sample agreed with the statement that they have no difficulty understanding the technical aspects of computers, and only 39% agreed that they were successfully using a computer nearly every day to help me with my work. By comparison, 42% agreed that computer terminology seems like a foreign language to me, and 43% agreed that apart from wordprocessing, I have no computer skills. Computer competence reported by the teachers showed significant variation based on gender, ownership and access to computers, prior computer instruction, and year level taught. Males reported more confidence than did females, and those who owned or had ready access to computers were more likely to describe themselves as competent. Teachers who had received computer instruction at university or through external agencies, and those who were teaching senior secondary and senior primary school grades were more likely to describe themselves as being competent with computers. Although levels of computer anxiety among teachers were not generally high, one-third of the sample agreed that computers were a source of anxiety. Furthermore, only one-third claimed to be always calm and relaxed when working with computers. Several teachers wrote comments similar to the teacher who remarked that: The cords at the back of the computer look complicated and worry me when the

7 Teachers computer anxiety 23 computer is shifted I always feel like I could break something. Generally I feel computer illiterate and everyone around me knows more than me. Sources of teachers anxiety with computers can be categorized as being related to the tasks involved in using computers, the fear of causing damage to computers, and the embarrassment associated with the inept use of computers, in that order of importance. The highest priority in any related professional development course should therefore be on the task-related use of computers. Specifically, teachers expressed concern in the verbatim comments that they needed to know how to use particular combinations of hardware and software in a classroom context. Among the sources of computer anxiety were confusion and learning requirements caused by the use of a range of different computers in schools. In particular, the existence of differing computer platforms (Macintosh and IBM) concerned one teacher, who had an IBM computer at home, and had been asked to use a Macintosh at school. Another teacher commented that each school she went to seemed to have a different computer system. Past training and professional development One of the most common themes arising from the study was the teachers belief that more experience with computers was needed to feel competent in their use with classes. Some 71% of the sample had completed no computer-related subjects when they attended school, 66% had taken no specialist computing subjects at university, and 57% had undertaken no additional training with computers outside university. Furthermore, only a minority of teachers noted that they had access to a computer at home, and described themselves as experienced and competent. Teachers were highly critical of past professional development activities involving computers. A number of teachers noted that the use of computers for teaching in schools required particular skills, which had not been addressed by any professional development activity that they could recall. Some teachers did not believe that adequate training was yet available: I feel that a lot of prime teaching/learning time is spent on computer fiddling which produces little or no result.... Teachers definitely need special training on using computers with students in the classroom so that their time-wasting is minimised and computers are used efficiently and effectively. However, the appointment of a competent computer co-ordinator who was also a full-timer teacher at the school was seen as little more than a band-aid solution in the rectification of problems caused by insufficient pre-service training and inadequate professional development. As one teacher wrote, our computer person is a class teacher and he can t just drop everything anytime someone needs help. Some teachers suggested that computer co-ordinators should be appointed with minimal teaching duties. This position was seen by one teacher as a classified, advertised position that would allow for team teaching and increase staff confidence.

8 24 Russell and Bradley The quality of professional development in computer education was a concern for some. School in-service education was seen by one teacher as deadly dull and earnest with too little time to learn and too high expectations. Another teacher criticized an approach to professional development that forces teachers to complete a product, such as a word-processed exercise, in a limited amount of time. Preferred models of computer training and professional development To determine teacher preferences for models of computer training and professional development, the teachers were invited to rank-order six possible strategies for reducing computer-related anxieties. The mean rankings are given in Table 1 for the total sample (n ˆ 333, rather than 350 because responses from 17 teachers were unusable), and for that subsection of the sample (n ˆ 129) whose score for computer anxiety was above the scale midpoint. This latter group of teachers may be viewed as in particular need because their self-reported levels of computer anxiety were moderate to high. As can be seen from Table 1, the most favoured options for both groups of teachers were opportunities to observe skilled colleagues, and participation in training courses conducted on school premises. The idea of a support, or selfhelp group of teachers was the least favoured strategy. Statistical tests (t-tests or one-way analysis of variance (ANOVAs)) were computed Table 1. Mean rankings for computer anxiety-reduction strategies for all teachers in the sample and for those teachers with moderate to high levels of computer anxiety Mean rankings a All teachers Moderately anxious teachers Strategies (n ˆ 333) (n ˆ 129) Room set up at school in which teachers muck around with computers Support group of teachers who meet regularly to help each other with computer problems Opportunities to learn by observing skilled colleagues working with computers Availability of a designated school-based computer adviser Computer training programs conducted by an external consultant at school Computer course leading to certification at an external site a Rankings where 1 ˆ most appealing/most likely to be effective for you, and 6 ˆ least appealing/least likely to be effective for you.

9 Teachers computer anxiety 25 to determine whether or not the preferred anxiety-reduction strategies varied with demographic and school-related factors. Few significant differences were found. The major exception to this generalization was with respect to the school sector in which the respondent taught. Preferences for participation in courses conducted either at school or at an external site were significantly stronger among primary school, than among secondary school, teachers. Conversely, secondary teachers tended to regard the support group, and the informal muck around, options more positively than did the primary teachers. One other between-group difference is worthy of note: like the primary school teachers, teachers of high-school manual arts, outdoor education and physical education were consistently in favour of participation in computer courses at external sites, especially when compared with English, humanities, maths, science and commerce teachers. Rankings of the various anxiety-reduction strategies did not vary significantly with sex, age, prior computing courses completed, school size, school location, or ownership/access to a computer. Table 1 indicates that the preferences of the teachers subgroup who reported moderate to high levels of computer anxiety did not differ substantially from the preferences of the sample as a whole. Additional perspectives on preferred professional development models emerged from the qualitative data. There was strong resistance to the idea that teachers ought to pay for professional development courses in computing, and attend them in their own time. One teacher reported more anger than anxiety when she noted that she had been asked to pay $100 (Australian) to go on a course to update in the past. A number of teachers maintained that it was the employer s responsibility to provide training in school time to reduce computer anxiety. One respondent wrote: Ed. Dept is very eager for teachers to become computer experts in their time and at their expense. On top of [individual school details deleted] and God knows what else they ll think up for us to do. It might help if we became robots so we wouldn t need any sleep at all. For one teacher, reduction of anxiety would not be achieved by bringing in expert computer trainers. This was because of the possibility that they would put teachers down if they could not follow the instructions or if they had no prior computer knowledge. Teachers indicated that they were anxious about being viewed as incompetent with computers by both staff and students. Fear of the machines themselves, wrote one teacher, was not the problem so much as the fear of being labelled as computer illiterate. Such teachers would perpetuate their illiteracy by finding excuses not to use computers. Among solutions for reducing computer anxiety, peer assistance was more likely to be supported if the computer co-ordinator was not also a full-time teacher. Asking peers for help was sometimes seen as creating unreasonable demands on colleagues: Peers can be helpful and generous, but the reality is that their contribution to my development would be at the cost of their own time and have the consequence of

10 26 Russell and Bradley giving them more pressure. Therefore I am unwilling to approach already overtaxed peers. Consequently, any formalised program is preferable for someone with my values. One teacher believed that time release was the answer: If the department is serious about having teachers in schools computer literate, teachers need to be released from their classrooms for a certain time each week to work with a computer co-ordinator/adviser in a one to one or small group situation with follow-up practice time. Another teacher agreed, noting that time release should be given to teachers to spend time with an experienced computer user. One of the teachers described what she referred to as a vision for her school, where there would be a non-teaching co-ordinator who would be responsible for maintenance plus upgrade. Without time release, one teacher believed that older teachers would never be able to upgrade their skills. Several teachers also argued that the professional development model implemented in their schools was inappropriate, because they resented a concentration on formal tasks. They wanted to fiddle and play without having to have a product. This attitude to experimentation rather than a preoccupation with structured learning tasks was emphasised by the teacher who emphasised the importance of being able to muck around or play with computers. One teacher offered the following advice to colleagues: Stay and play. Don t be frightened on a computer. You can always turn it off at the end of the day. Who gives a rats if you stuff it up? It s only a machine. It can be fixed, it s not human. DISCUSSION School teachers need to be able to use computers in education with minimal anxiety. This study of 350 primary and secondary school teachers identified sources of computer anxiety and provided teachers with the opportunity to suggest solutions. The teachers were very supportive of the use of computers in education, but reported moderately low levels of computer competence. A number of suggestions for the reduction of computer anxiety are made, based on teachers first-hand accounts, and analyses of trends in the quantitative data. Access to computers is a critical prerequisite to increasing teacher confidence and competence. Statistics used by employing authorities, and glossy brochures produced by schools showing students using computers can contribute to a misleading notion of teacher access to computers. Teachers consistently asserted that regular access to computers was critical for effective classroom use, professional development and the reduction of computer anxiety. Further, this study revealed significant correlations of variables of ownership and access to computers with self-rated computer competence and computer anxiety levels, with those having regular access reporting lower anxiety levels. The findings

11 Teachers computer anxiety 27 reported above strongly suggest that access to up-to-date equipment in good working order is not something that our teachers can take for granted. Particular subgroups of teachers, such as those working in remote areas and those responsible for junior grades, feel particularly disadvantaged. Teachers suggested a number of ways in which home ownership and access could be improved. These included tax incentives for teachers who purchase computers, and leasing plans that allow teachers access to equipment at advantageous rates. Although teachers were generally accepting the new technologies, 71% indicated that they had completed no computer-related subjects at school, approximately two-thirds had taken no specialist computing subjects while at teachers college or university, and 57% had taken no additional hours of instruction in computer training outside of school or university. Teachers were quite critical of their past training with computers, and consistently referred to it in explanations of why their use of computers had been less effective than they would have liked. Teachers possessed moderately low levels of computer competence. Only onethird of the sample claimed to be always calm and relaxed when working with computers. Male teachers reported greater competence with computers in education than did females. Greater competence was also reported by teachers who owned or had ready access to computers, those who had received computer instruction at university or through external agencies, and teachers who taught senior primary and secondary school grades. Overall, the teachers in this study supported the options of observation of skilled colleagues, participation in training courses on the school premises, and computer courses leading to certification at an external site. Employing authorities now face a challenge in attempting to facilitate teacher access to this range of professional development options. Any groups of teachers that meet formally or informally at school will need to have ready access to computers, and should be supported by the school administration. On some occasions, the group may need to meet in school time, and relief teachers may need to be provided in order for this to occur. Employing authorities should encourage teachers to obtain external certifications in computer education. Encouragement could take several forms. Fees levied in external courses can be subsidized by the employer, teachers can be given time off on a regular basis to attend courses, or salary increments can be made available to those with completed qualifications. For teachers in remote areas, employing authorities should encourage teachers participation in distance education courses relevant to the use of computers in education. Greater use should also be made of intensive mode courses during school vacations. Provided that concerns over insurance and accountability can be met, teachers should be encouraged to borrow school computers when they are not required for student use. The study identified differences between primary and secondary teachers, with primary teachers being more likely to choose options such as participation in

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