|Australasian Journal of Educational Technology
2009, 25(1), 101-116.
Learning about problem based learning: Student teachers integrating technology, pedagogy and content knowledge
Nanyang Technological University
University of Missouri
What should constitute knowledge bases that we expect our future teachers to gain related to pedagogically sound technology integration? Employing the Shulman's teacher knowledge base as a theoretical lens, this study examined the complexity of pre-service teachers' technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPCK) in the context of integrating problem based learning (PBL) and information and communications technology (ICT). Ninety-seven pre-service teachers in this study engaged in a collaborative lesson design project where they applied pedagogical knowledge about PBL to design a technology integrated lesson in their subject area of teaching. Data were collected from two sources: survey and lesson design artifacts. Data analyses revealed that while participants had theoretical understandings of pedagogical knowledge about PBL, their lesson designs showed a mismatch among technology tools, content representations, and pedagogical strategies, indicating conflicts in translating pedagogical content knowledge into designing pedagogically sound, technology integrated lessons. The areas that students perceived to be particularly challenging and difficult include: a) generating authentic and ill-structured problems for a chosen content topic, b) finding and integrating ICT tools and resources relevant for the target students and learning activities, and c) designing tasks with a balance between teacher guidance and student independence. The present study suggests the potential of two explanations for such difficulties: lack of intimate connection among beliefs, knowledge, and actions, and insufficient repertoires for teaching with technology for problem based learning.
In the present study, employing the Shulman's teacher knowledge base (1986) as a theoretical lens, we consider that one possible explanation for the lack of technology integration is related to technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPCK). Teachers may have difficulty understanding the complex relationships between technology, pedagogy and content, because these are often taught in isolation in most teacher education programs. Our attempt to address this TPCK issue was to engage preservice teachers in a lesson design project in which they applied pedagogical content knowledge to problem based learning (pedagogy) and technological knowledge of various ICT tools (technology), to create a subject specific lesson package (content). This paper reports on students' perceptions of TPCK and cognitive difficulties as revealed in lesson design artifacts, design, and personal reflections.
For this reason, Shulman (1986) proposed a third form of teacher knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), defined as knowledge related to "the way of representing and formulating the subject that make it comprehensible to others... an understanding of what makes the learning of specific topics easy or difficult" (p.9). In addition to PCK, he proposed six broad types of knowledge as the teachers' knowledge base: content knowledge, general pedagogical knowledge, curriculum knowledge, general knowledge of learners and their characteristics, general knowledge of educational contexts (e.g. classroom, school, communities, cultures, etc). Shulman's framework for teacher knowledge highlights the importance of the complex interrelationship between teachers' knowledge about both content and pedagogy, and the need for teachers to learn about variable ways of representing subject matter.
In another study, Barak and Dori (2005) demonstrated that well-designed project based learning supported by ICT tools (i.e. computerised molecular modeling software packages and the Web) could significantly enhance students' ability to traverse chemistry understanding levels and their understanding of chemical concepts, theories, and the structure of molecules. This ICT based project enabled students to visually construct complex molecular models and supported them to inquire into scientific phenomena and chemistry theories using the Web. Recently, van Aalst and Chan (2007) showed that collaborative inquiry processes using Knowledge Forum, a networked environment for knowledge building, could be effective for students when appropriate levels of scaffolding about portfolio assessment are provided to guide them. These examples of technology research conducted in school contexts clearly suggest that successful technology integration goes beyond simply adding a technology component into subject matter content. Instead, when technology is well integrated into curricular and assessment based on a full consideration of inter-relationships among content, pedagogy, and technology, we can expect positive effects of technology integrated lessons on student learning outcomes.
While it is encouraging to see that several previous studies have demonstrated positive effects of technology integrated lessons, as mentioned earlier, many teachers are still reluctant to use technology for teaching and learning (Ertmer, 2005; Hew & Brush, 2007). According to Pierson (2001), technology integration practices are related to individual teachers' levels of teaching expertise, their definition of technology integration, and pedagogical expertise. This finding supports the connection among teachers' personal beliefs about teaching and learning, pedagogical knowledge, and technology integration. Pierson reported that teachers who effectively integrated technology showed good understandings of unique characteristics of various types of technologies, and were able to draw content, pedagogical, and technological knowledge all together.
Furthermore, it has been suggested that knowing how to use technology for personal use is different from knowing how to use technology for instructional purposes. For instance, Keating and Evans (2001) reported that although student teachers had high confidence with technology for personal use, it did not necessarily mean that they were capable of using technology as a teacher. Most student teachers in their study had an add on technology model, described as the "three computers in the back of the room" (p.1), rather than an integrated technology model, meaning constructive ways of using technology for student learning. These previous studies suggest that pre-service teachers need to develop a knowledge base that goes beyond technology proficiency, into learning about how technology can be used for various forms of representations of subject matter.
Then, an important question is how to help student teachers develop a firm base of TPCK. It appears that researchers and teacher educators have employed authentic, design based learning where student teachers are engaged in solving authentic problems through design processes (Angeli & Valanides, 2005; Kearney, 2006; Koehler & Mishra, 2005; Koehler, Mishra, & Yahya, 2007). For instance, Kohler and Mishra (2005), and Koehler, Mishra and Yahya (2007) used an approach called Learning Technology by Design, describing it as a collaborative learning context in which a student teacher is engaged to become "a practitioner, not just learning about practice" (p.135). Here, design is both process and product, sensitive to the nature of particular subject matter. Thus, those who are participating in the design process need to rethink about the complex interplay of pedagogy and content, and also affordances of technology to achieve their design goals. Kohler and Mishra (2005) reported that participants who engaged in Learning Technology by Design were able to move from seeing technology, pedagogy, and content as separate constructs towards a more integrated and inter-related construct.
Another important point is that the development of TPCK should be viewed as a long term purpose beyond one single course in teacher education. There is a need for more systematic and macro-level implementation in teacher education programs. For example, Niess (2005) discussed how a particular teacher training program was designed to foster the development of TPCK in an integrated manner, encompassing pedagogy courses, subject specific technology courses, and student teaching. Similarly, Angeli and Valanides (2005) argued that the development of TPCK should be understood under broad contexts of school environments, individual teachers' previous experiences, and epistemological beliefs about teaching and learning.
Previous discussions around espoused and in use theories may imply that TPCK should be considered with underlying beliefs and actual practices, rather than focusing on knowledge itself only. For instance, Riel and Becker (2000) found that teacher's use of technology for teaching and learning is closely related to the ability to translate their beliefs into teaching practices: "the most talented leaders with a strong constructivist orientation could not possibly ignore one of the most powerful tools for constructivist learning, and so they would naturally invest their time and energy in learning how to use them" (p.33). However, it is not simple to change teachers' belief systems about teaching and learning. In an ethnographic study that traced three teachers' use of laptop computers, Windschitl and Sahl (2002) found that "the technology did not initiate teachers' movements toward constructivist pedagogy" (p.198). Instead, teachers made decisions to use technology when they could see that the potential of the technology was congruent with their beliefs about learning.
Furthermore, simple views and beliefs about technology integration are often obstacles for the development of TPCK. Angeli (2004) found that pre-service teachers had certain concerns and misconceptions about the pedagogical uses of ICT. In her study, participants expressed skeptical beliefs about ICT integration, such as the following concerns or misconceptions: that ICT a) promotes passive learning, b) isolates children from the social milieu, c) limits children's fantasy and creativity, and d) provides canned knowledge. In summary, previous research suggests that there is a need to address the issue of TPCK for successful technology integration, and personal beliefs about pedagogy and technology should be considered for the development of TPCK.
As shown in Figure 1, the pedagogical knowledge examined in this study was problem based learning (PBL). The main task of the Collaborative Lesson Design was to design a PBL package with an integration of various information and communication technology (ICT) tools. Content knowledge included english, mathemtics and science which were the student teachers' teaching subject areas. To complete this assignment, student teachers worked in pairs for approximately four weeks. Various terms concerning teacher knowledge used in this study are defined as the following:
Figure1: The relationship among content, pedagogical and
technological knowledge as examined in the present study
Although the average scores on pedagogical design and technological design were very similar between groups, mean scores on each criterion varied. Participants received the lowest average scores on these three criteria: 1) incorporation of ICT (M = 2.82, SD = .67), 2) process skill and tasks (M = 2.86, SD = .50), and 3) scaffolding and supporting materials (M = 3.00, SD = .61).
Overall, results from analysing lesson design artifacts revealed pre-service teachers' lack of understanding in three major areas:
|Context / scenario||3.12||.48|
|Process skill / tasks||2.86||.50|
|Scaffolding / supporting materials||3.00||.61|
|Incorporation of ICT||2.82||.67|
|Appeal of display||3.18||.70|
|Continuity / closure||3.41||.64|
|Overall technical quality||3.57||.61|
|Note: Each criterion is 5 marks.|
Firstly, student teachers tended to use technology as a mere delivery medium rather than an instructional tool supporting cognitive activities. For example, several pre-service teachers' PBL lessons consisted simply of a presentation of problem statements and a collection of Internet resources. Secondly, several groups' designs required mostly low order thinking skills leading to one single solution, rather than incorporating ill-structured (i.e. problems with multiple solutions) and higher order thinking skills. Finally, lack of understanding on teachers' roles confused student teachers about how much and what kinds of scaffolding strategies they needed to embed in the lessons. For instance, while some of student teachers pre-specified all the learning activities, some provided little scaffolding so that students would have to find their own resources and answers.
|What, in your understanding, are the essential characteristics of PBL?||Authentic problems/tasks||38|
|Student centred learning approach||29|
|Teacher's role as a facilitator||26|
|How, do you think, the problem based learning help students learn?||PBL helps students learn independently and be responsible for their own learning.||25|
|PBL helps students think metacognitively, critically, and/or creatively||24|
|PBL helps students learn essential skills such as information searching skills, communication skills, and technical skills.||13|
|PBL help students learn through collaborating with peers.||13|
|PBL helps students apply what they have learned to real life.||12|
Nonetheless, there was a discrepancy between knowing and doing. When applying their pedagogical understanding of PBL, student teachers had several difficulties as observed in the lesson design artifacts. Participants reported the following problematic and difficult areas:
Firstly, as PBL is driven by problems, participants felt that creating meaningful authentic problems in their content area was the most difficult task. Those who indicated having difficulties with problem statements stated that they were not sure about (a) how to make problems interesting, authentic, and ill-structured, and (b) what components should constitute problem statements. The following open ended comments indicate this difficulty with problem generation:
The problem statement defines the entire PBL. The challenge was to design a good problem statement that could allow the students to be engaged and allow ICT to be incorporated in it (S15);Secondly, personal levels of ICT related skills was another area that students perceived to be challenging. Those who were most challenged by integrating ICT tools and resources attributed their difficulties to no experience or lack of experience in using ICT tools. Some student teachers had to learn new software programs as they had no prior exposure or experience:
It is difficult to think of an authentic problem that ties in with the specific learning concepts and objectives (S51); and
It is difficult to come up with a problem statement that is ill-structured but yet needs to be easily understood by students (S59).
I'm not a very IT savvy person. I have to spend a lot of time learning all the basic of various software and applications (including PowerPoint) in order to start off the project. I have ideas but putting them into IT is simply a challenge for me (S37).It is important to note that students perceived some tension between ICT tools and pedagogical use. That is, even those who had better levels of ICT skills expressed the difficulty of selecting tools and resources appropriate for their target groups of learners and designing learning activities. The following responses indicate this challenge in selecting pedagogically sound ICT tools and resources:
With the myriad of resources available, it was hard for me to select the appropriate one for the pupils to use and learn (S11);Finally, the last two items, designing tasks and defining roles for teachers and students, indicate preservice teachers' difficulty with scaffolding design. The notion of scaffolding, closely linked with the zone of proximal development (ZPD) by Vygotsky (1978), is viewed as the form of proving assistance to a learner to solve a problem or task that is beyond his or her current range of competence, but can be achievable with interaction with more capable people (e.g., parents, teachers, and peers) or through the mediation of tools. The technical dimension of scaffolding is that tools and resources (e.g., visualisation and modeling programs) can be used to help students learn independently by providing external and cognitive support (Pea, 2004). While participants in this study understood the importance of scaffolding in the PBL approach, they struggled with the extent of how and what to scaffold, as revealed in the open ended responses as well as the lesson design artifacts mentioned earlier. Participants' comments on scaffolding design include:
We must take into consideration pupils' ability when choosing the right tools/resources (S48);
The problem of marking the package ICT based, which cannot be otherwise substituted with non-ICT tools (S57).
In order to design an effective task for pupils, we went through a lot of thoughts. We had difficulty designing a task that is not drill and practice yet at the same time, pupils can consolidate their learning from there (S50);
We had to strike a balance between making the tasks suitable for independent learning and at the same time provide scaffolds for them. In addition, the tasks had to be innovative and creative, thus we took a rather long period to finalise this aspect (S76);
I wasn't sure how much information I was to give to the students and how much to let them find out on their own (S86).
|What do you see as the main strength and main limitation of PBL?||Strength||Students learn independently and are responsible for their own learning.||24|
|Problems/tasks are interesting and innovative to students.||17|
|PBL stimulates critical thinking and forces them to think creatively.||16|
|Limitation||It is time-consuming to conduct PBL; a lot of time is involved in solving problems/tasks.||20|
|On teacher's part, it takes too much time to prepare PBL lessons.||12|
|PBL may not be effective with low ability students; PBL requires certain level of maturity.||9|
|What do you see as the main strength and limitation of integrating ICT tools into your PBL lesson?||Strength||Integrated visual aids (e.g. animation, video) make learning interesting, engaging, and interactive.||63|
|Technology integration can be adapted to students' different learning styles.||9|
|It promotes students to learn ICT tools.||7|
|Limitation||It is time-consuming to prepare and conduct the lesson.||25|
|It requires students to have enough IT skills and to have access to Internet.||20|
|It may cause technical problems.||9|
Nonetheless, student teachers also perceived several limitations of applying such student centred approaches with ICT integration. Not surprisingly, time is the most critical factor for negative responses. Student teachers stated that designing and implementing PBL lessons is time consuming. A number of students perceived that PBL may not be appropriate for low achieving students since tasks require higher order problem solving skills. Their perceptions of ICT integration showed a similar pattern. While participants were able to see the benefits of integrating technology for teaching and learning, they reported that it is time consuming and requires IT skills from both students and teachers.
On the whole, this study shows that while student teachers had good understandings of pedagogical knowledge on PBL, they experienced several difficulties applying their knowledge into designing a PBL based, technology integrated lesson. The areas that students perceived to be particularly challenging and difficult included:
Then, an important question to ask is "why do pre-service teachers have such difficulties in designing an ICT integrated lesson?" The present study suggests the potential of two explanations:
Second, it is possible that pre-service teachers in this study did not have enough repertoires about teaching with technology for problem based learning in their subject areas. Studies on expert and novice teachers provide some insights into this lack of pre-service teachers' TPCK. For instance, Grossman (1990) found that expert teachers had a solid knowledge base of their content areas, student conceptual understanding and misconceptions, and effective teaching strategies. However, novice teachers were likely to have a superficial knowledge base, and could not see the interplay between content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge. Similar to this, the present study found that participants had a superficial pedagogical content knowledge of technology integration as revealed in their comments on the difficulty of finding relevant ICT tools and resources and the use of ICT as a simple delivery tool in the lesson design artifacts. While the Collaborative Lesson Design aimed to help student teachers make intimate connections among content, pedagogy, and technology in a collaborative way, obviously one single course on ICT integration is not sufficient to build a firm base of TPCK.
Based on findings, we can describe some implications for the current practices in teacher education. The complex and situated nature of TPCK necessitates approaches in which technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge are treated as an integrated body of knowledge. In order to resolve conflicts in content, pedagogical, and technological knowledge, pre-service teachers should be continuously exposed to new and innovative teaching practices with technology throughout their teacher training. Considering that most student teachers come to the teacher training programs with little previous exposure to student centred and technology integrated learning experiences, teacher education programs should be structured in a way that allows pre-service teachers to change their limited thinking within existing models of teaching and learning with technology. Possible ways to help pre-service teachers achieve deeper connections among content, pedagogical, and technological knowledge may include:
More importantly, building a knowledge base of TPCK should be viewed as a long term trajectory that goes beyond pre-service teacher education in formal settings (Fishman & Davis, 2006). As teachers gain more experience, they can continue to expand their knowledge base and to strengthen the connection between content, pedagogy and technology. To support this long term trajectory of teacher learning, TPCK issues should be addressed as "a continuum of coordinated efforts that range from pre-service education to early teaching to opportunities for lifelong development as professionals" (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2002, p. 205). In conclusion, as Shulman (1986) stated that "those who can, do; those who understand, teach" (p.14), we suggest that teacher education should provide our student teachers with opportunities for deep understanding regarding pedagogically sound technology integration. A subject neutral and generic environment would not be successful in helping pre-service teachers to form a robust knowledge base for seeing the complex inter-relationships among content, pedagogy, and technology. Since content, pedagogical, and technological knowledge are all inter-related, this suggests that teacher education programs should be structured in a holistic manner to allow student teachers to see the connection.
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|Authors: Dr Hyo-Jeong So is currently an assistant professor in the Learning Sciences and Technologies Academic Group at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, in Singapore. Her research interests include computer supported collaborative learning, technology integration in K-12 classrooms, teachers' epistemological beliefs about teaching and learning, and seamless mobile learning. Email: email@example.com
Bosung Kim is a doctoral candidate at the School of Information Science and Learning Technologies, University of Missouri, Columbia, USA. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cite as: So, H.-J. & Kim, B. (2009). Learning about problem based learning: Student teachers integrating technology, pedagogy and content knowledge. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 25(1), 101-116. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet25/so.html