Effective Integration of ICT in Singapore Schools: Pedagogical and Policy Implications
By Lim, Cher Ping
Abstract This paper examines and analyses where and how information and communication technologies (ICT) are integrated in Singapore schools to engage students in higher-order thinking activities. Taking the activity system as a unit of analysis, the study documents the actual processes and sociocultural elements that engage students in higher-order thinking. By employing methods such as observations, focus group discussions with students, and faceto- face interviews with teachers, ICT-coordinators and principals, an account of how the activity systems within and between classrooms, and the schools are generated. Based on the analysis of the data from 10 schools, issues in the learning environment are discussed: Necessary (classroom management and orienting activities) and sufficient conditions (scaffolding activities and supporting school policies) for effective ICT integration in the classroom. The account also highlights the constraints of time and lack of knowledge and experience in the contexts that the teachers are working under, and how these constraints are addressed by supporting school policies in the larger sociocultural setting of the school. This account provides a sample of pedagogical and sociocultural issues that are discussed over the course and at the end of the project. Like a good guidebook, the study sensitizes the audience to what is likely to happen given a particular objective, constraint, or design. Keywords ICT integration * Activity theory * Pedagogical practices * Policies * Higher order thinking
Research studies in education have shown that information and communication technologies (ICT) coupled with the necessary pedagogical strategies engage students in higher-order thinking (Jonassen & Carr, 2000; Kearney & Treagust, 2001; Oliver & Hannafin, 2000). The primary motivation for integrating ICT in education is this belief that it supports students in their own constructive thinking, allows them to transcend their cognitive limitations, and engages them in cognitive operations that they may not have been capable of otherwise (Salomon, 1993). In Singapore, the Masterplan for ICT in Education (MP1) was launched in April 1997. The main goal of MPl was to ensure that schools integrated ICT in their curriculum so as to develop a culture of thinking, lifelong learning, and social responsibility (Ministry of Education, 1997). T`o meet these goals, four key dimensions of the ICT Masterplan were identified. They included curriculum and assessment, learning resources, teacher development, and physical and technological infrastructure.
MP1 was implemented in three phases: Phase I in 1997, Phase II in 1998, and Phase III in 1999. Schools that had a history of effective use of ICT in their curriculum were chosen to be the demonstration schools. These demonstration schools, known as Phase I schools, provided the rest of the schools in Singapore with concrete, local models of innovation in teaching and learning strategies, and in school administration using ICT. ICT was integrated into all subject areas at the primary school, secondary school, and junior college levels. There were extensive use of the Internet, software designed for the curriculum, open tools such as word-processing, spreadsheet, and mind mapping packages, and learning management systems. In these lessons, ICT was employed to facilitate the shift of learning from information receiving towards finding, collating, and synthesizing relevant information, and from learning to apply information to solving problems and communicating ideas effectively. The use of ICT also strengthened the teacher’s repertoire of skills and opened up a wider array of learning resources for students to access. This provided a greater degree of independent learning, encouraging more able students to expand their horizons beyond the standard curriculum. The rich, interactive capability of ICT-mediated learning resources also motivated and engaged weaker students, and allowed them to learn at an appropriate pace. To support the learner autonomy of the students, teachers provided them with worksheets and checklists, and engaged them in dialogues to scaffold the learning processes.
MP1 has given schools in Singapore a strong and broad base to integrate ICT in the curriculum and other school activities. By 2002, there was a basic ICT infrastructure, a starter pack of content and learning resources, a fair level of ICT competency among teachers and students. More importantly, there were changes in the learning and teaching approaches adopted by schools. As the process of ICT integration in Singapore schools reached a considerable level of maturity and stability (the second Masterplan was implemented in 2002), the pertinent question was: How has ICT been integrated in Singapore schools such that students engage in higher-order thinking? In December 2000, the author, together with a team of four others from the Learning Sciences and Technologies Academic Group and a member from the Ministry of Education (Singapore), proposed a research study, “Effective integration of ICT in Singapore schools: Pedagogical and Policy Implications”, to be funded under the Education Research Fund of the Ministry of Education (MOE) and National Institute of Education (NIE). The main objective of the 3- year project was to examine and analyze where and how ICT was integrated in Singapore schools such that students were engaged in higher-order thinking.
In this study, ICT integration is interpreted as ICT functioning as an integral or mediated tool to accomplish specific teaching or learning activities to meet certain instructional objectives. For ICT to be effectively integrated in schools, it should be used as a mediational tool in these activities to
engage students in higher-order thinking. Higher-order thinking skills are “goal-directed, multi-step, strategic processes such as designing, decision making, and problem solving” that require analyzing, evaluating, connecting, imagining, elaborating, and synthesizing (Iowa Department of Education, 1989, p.7), and engagement entails mindfulness, cognitive effort, and attention of the students in the learning environment (Kearsley & Shneiderman, 1998).
By linking the effective or ineffective integration of ICT in certain classrooms with particular learning activities, situated within their larger sociocultural context, the study attempted to build a detailed account of what the participants of the classrooms have done to make the activities successful, how the activities were supported by their larger sociocultural context, and what problems were encountered. The specific objectives of the study were to
* Identify and analyze the pedagogical practices of teachers and students in the ICT-mediated learning environment that engaged students in higherorder thinking;
* Identify and describe the sociocultural setting elements that promoted or inhibited the effective integration of ICT in Singapore schools;
* Provide a holistic view of ICT integration to make pedagogical and policy recommendations.
The research study consisted of two phases. Phase one consisted of a selfreporting questionnaire that was sent out to all schools in Singapore. One of the main objectives of the questionnaire was to assess the level of ICT integration in schools by identifying the various sociocultural elements that influence effective integration of ICT. The other objectives were to serve as a screening phase to identify the case studies for phase two of the study, and to refine and guide the direction of phase two of the study. Phase one started in January 2001 with the review of literature of ICT integration and the construction of the questionnaire. The questionnaire was then piloted and refined before administering the questionnaire to all ICT coordinators or heads of the ICT department in Singapore schools in April 2001. This group was selected to be the respondents of the questionnaire as they were most likely to have the best understanding of the various issues of ICT integration in their respective schools. To ensure data integrity, the research team went down to the schools of 30 respondents, selected randomly, to validate the responses in the questionnaire submitted. There were little discrepancies between the responses of the 30 schools and the observations of the research team members.
Various modes of questionnaire administration were employed to ensure a high response rate and they included personal e-mails that directed the respondents to the web-based questionnaire, personal postal mails with the hardcopy of the questionnaire attached, and telephone reminders to the nonrespondents. After 2 months, the response rate of the questionnaire was high at 87.2%. The questionnaire explored different aspects of ICT integration in schools that included school ICT culture, student use of ICT, teacher use of ICT, management of ICT resources, and staff development. Responses to the questionnaire were made on a five- point scale in which a three-point description was applied to the items in the questionnaire: point 1 of the scale was associated with no or little integration of ICT, point 3 was associated with moderate integration of ICT, and point 5 was associated with high integration of ICT.
The main findings of phase one included:
* Phase I schools in MPl have significantly higher student and teacher use of ICT, greater opportunities for staff development, and more conducive ICT culture than Phase III schools; * Independent- autonomous schools have significantly higher teacher and student use of ICT for teaching and learning than government and government- aided schools;
* The correlations among the management of ICT resources, student use of ICT, teacher use of ICT, staff development and school ICT culture were significant and highly positive.
Based on the findings of the questionnaire, three recommendations were made: (1) ICT-integration models for Singapore schools; (2) New strategies for student ICT competency development in selected government and government-aided schools; and (3) ICT competency standards for teachers and students (Lim et al., 2003).
Phase two was a collective case study of 10 schools at different levels: five primary schools, three secondary schools and two junior colleges. The sample of schools at each level was chosen based on their high degree of ICT integration that had been reported in phase one. The objective of phase two is to meet all of the specific objectives set, supported by data from phase one of the study. To gather accounts of different realities that had been constructed by various groups and individuals in the different environments, qualitative methods were drawn upon: observations of ICT-mediated lessons, face-to-face interviews with principals, ICT-coordinators and teachers, and focus group interviews with students. The focus of this paper is based on the major findings of phase two to examine and analyze where and how ICT are integrated in Singapore schools to engage students in higher order thinking activities. In order to provide a descriptive and interpretive account of such an examination and analysis, the paper considers the whole configuration of events, activities, contents, and interpersonal processes taking place in the context that ICT have been used. The activity theoretical framework was adopted to demonstrate the intimate mechanisms that linked ICT, learning, and its sociocultural setting (Lim, 2002; Lim & Hung, 2003).
The activity theoretical framework
Activity theory originates from Soviet cultural-historical psychology (Leont’ev 1981; Vygotsky, 1978), which in turn is rooted in both 18th and 19th century classical German philosophy-from Hegel’s idealism to the historical materialism of Marx and Engels, in which the concept of activity is extensively elaborated. The essence of activity in psychology is reflected in Leont’ev’s (1981, p. 47) assertion:
Human psychology is concerned with the activity of concrete individuals, which takes place whether in a collective – that is, jointly with other people-or in a situation in which the subject deals directly with the surrounding world of objects-e.g. at the potter’s wheel or the writer’s desk. However, if we removed human activity from the system of social relationships and social life, it would not exist and would have no structure. With all its varied forms, the human individual’s activity is a system in the system of social relations. It does not exist without these relations.
Therefore, human activity is socially bound; an individual never acts directly on or reacts directly to his/her environment but rather, the activity that is undertaken by the individual to achieve the object of the environment is mediated by cultural means and tools, and the dynamic nature of the activity. Taking activity theory as the theoretical framework provides important insights into the ICT integration process in Singapore schools. First, it provides a conceptual map to the major loci among which human cognition is distributed in the learning environment, with ICT as one of the mediating tools. second, it includes other people who must be taken into account simultaneously with the subject as constituents of the activity system. Third, institutionalized activities are driven by something more robust and enduring than an individual goal-directed activity, making analysis less problematic. A collective object- oriented activity system is the prime unit of analysis for activity theory (Cole & Engestrom, 1993; Engestrom, 1987; Leont’ev, 1981). And fourth, it considers the history and developmental phases of the ICT integration process.
Activity system as the unit of analysis
Engestrom (1987) represents the idea of activity systems as a unit of analysis with an expanded version of the classical mediational triangle. The classical mediational triangle represents the basic structure of human cognition that results from tool mediation. Drawing upon Vygotsky’s (1978) higher and elementary mental functioning, ‘unmediated’ (elementary) functioning occurs along the base of the triangle; while ‘mediated’ (higher) functioning are interactions between the subject (individual) and object (task) mediated by tools, at the vertex of the triangle (see Fig. 1).
The expanded version adds the crucial components of community, rules, and division of labor to the classical mediational triangle. Individuals exist in communities where there is division of labor with the “continuously negotiated distribution of tasks, powers, and responsibilities among the participants of the activity system” (Cole & Engestrom, 1993, p. 7). The relations between the individual (subject) and community are mediated by the community’s collection of mediating tools and rules. Rules are “the norms and sanctions that specify and regulate the expected correct procedures and acceptable interactions among the participants” (Cole & Engestrom, 1993, p. 7).
Taking an ICT-mediated lesson in a school as an activity system, the subject is the student and the object is to understand the relationships among the variables found in an ICT-mediated simulation package. A pool of ICT and non-ICT tools, including the simulation package, mediates the interactions between the subject and object. The student belongs to a community consisting of his/ her classmates, teachers, and ICT staff mediated by rules and division of labor. The rules include the school disciplinary rules and more specific ones like the procedures necessary to run the simulation program. For the division of labor, the student play the role of scientists, gathering, representing, interpreting, and analyzing data, whereas the teacher takes on a mediator role where he/she questions, clarifies, and summarizes to support students’ understanding of the relationships among the variables under study.
From the above discussion, the concept of activity system had provided a seminal formulation in a Vygotskian approach of a unit of analysis that serves as the starting point for a sociocultural approach towards the study of ICT in schools: “real activities of real people” over time (Cole, 1985, p. 159). To situate the activity system of an ICT-mediated lesson within a broader context (the school, education system, and society-at-large), Cole’s (1995) garden-asculture metaphor was adopted.
Situating the activity system in a broader context
Cole (1995, p. 196) drew a parallel between the role of the sociocultural researcher and the gardener that both “must attend simultaneously to two classes of concerns: what transpires inside the system (‘garden’) they study (or design and study) and what transpires around it”. He applied the garden metaphor to the Fifth Dimension, a specially designed learning environment for promoting the all-around intellectual and social development of children in the United States. His study suggested that a change of culture in the broader context, a switch of institutional setting, or a change in focus on a different activity in the activity system was likely to change the higher mental functioning displayed by the individual child. Therefore, applying the garden metaphor to the study of ICT in schools provided a more adequate and detailed account of the activity systems. Figure 2 shows the schematic overview of a sociocultural approach towards the study of ICT in schools.
In this ‘concentric’ model, successive circles represent the activity systems in the broader contexts of the ICT-mediated lesson. The activity system of the ICT-mediated lesson, with its interacting components, is in the innermost circle. The next circle represents the activity system of the course with elements such as mode of assessment (tools), curriculum (object and tools), layout of the classrooms and ICT rooms (rules), entry requirement to the course (rules and community), and roles of course participants (division of labor and community). The next higher level of context is the school where the elements to consider include the type, location, layout, and ethos of the school (rules and community), ICT facilities (tools), type of students, parents, peers (community), home computers (tools), time-tabling of ICT and non-ICT lessons (rules), and roles of different members of the school (division of labor and community).
The country’s education system is in the next circle with elements such as education policies on use of ICT (rules), examination boards (tools and community), league table (object and rules), the training and retention of teachers (community and roles), and the division of labor among major stakeholders of the education system. The outermost circle is the society at large in the country and consists of elements such as education software developers, publishers (community and division of labor), and public perceptions of schools and teachers, and expectations of employers (rules, object, and community). The activity systems at different levels may change over time, but they are always interdependent of one another. Changes that are initiated by any of the components of an activity system have an impact on the components of the other activity systems.
This theoretical framework is especially applicable to the study of ICT integration in Singapore schools where the education system and policy support in the areas of budget, curriculum, professional development, and research contribute to or hinder the implementation of MPl. When ICT is employed in schools, there is a need to review and modify existing teaching, learning and assessment practices; and hence, the education system must be responsive to adapt to these changes. In Singapore, teaching and assessment methods have been reviewed and modified continuously to nurture thinking skills and creativity, and to encourage knowledge generation and application. Various initiatives have been implemented over the years: Thinking Program, Project Work, Integrated Program and Fostering a Spirit of Innovation and Enterprise in Schools. For example, Project Work has been implemented in schools since 2000 to provide students with an integrated learning experience to explore the inter-relationships and inter-connectedness of different disciplines. In all these initiatives, ICT is perceived as a mediating tool. More importantly, MPl was implemented in the same year as the launching of the vision of “Thinking Schools, Learning Nation”. Under the vision, the MOE shifted away from an efficiency-driven education towards an ability- driven one that aimed to develop and harness the abilities and potential of every child. Such a vision was consistent with the objectives of MPl that focused on the creation of a student- centered learning environment, and the inculcation of values and nurturing of thinking skills, and creativity through the formal and informal curricula. The national ICT infrastructure (connectivity and accessibility) also affected the effectiveness of the implementation of MPl. The current phase of ICT initiatives began in 1991 with the launch of the IT2000 Masterplan. Singapore was to be transformed into an intelligent island, where ICT permeates every aspect of the society-at home, work, and play. These initiatives in infrastructure development laid the basic foundation for the introduction of ICT in education. Moreover, MPl was not formulated in isolation. It was planned and implemented to complement and support other strategies to nurture a broad-based knowledge-based economy in sustaining the economic development of Singapore. These strategies included developing universities to provide a broader tertiary education base as well as cater to specialized niches; building a core of quality commercial schools to foster on-the-job upgrading; and encouraging multi-national corporations to setup regional training facilities in Singapore. It is clear from the discussion in this section that the integration of ICT in schools is situated within the broader environmental context of the education system, the economic and social infrastructure and policies, and the global market conditions.
Research design and methods
Therefore, by adopting the activity theoretical framework, we were able to study and document both the effective and ineffective integration of ICT in schools with particular learning environments. The theoretical framework and research purpose discussed above provided the parameters, tools, and general guide for the study to address the main research question.
The ‘cases’ for the study were five primary schools, three secondary schools and two junior colleges in Singapore. At the primary level, students go through a 4-year foundation stage, from Primary One to Four, and a 2-year orientation stage from Primary Five to Six. The foundation stage includes a common curriculum that provides them with a firm foundation in English Language, their Mother Tongue, Mathematics and Science. Music, Art & Crafts, Civics and Moral Education, Health Education, Social Studies, and Physical Education are also included in the curriculum. They then sit for the national examinations, the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) that assesses their abilities for placement in a secondary school course that is most suited for their learning pace and aptitude- Special, Express, or Normal stream. The courses in secondary schools are 4 and 5 years for special/express and normal stream, respectively. The curriculum includes English Language, Mother Tongue, Mathematics, Science, History, Geography, Literature in English, Visual Arts, Design and Technology, Home Economics, Civics and Moral Education, Physical Education, and Music. Students can also do a third language, such as French, German, Japanese, or Malay (Special Program). At the end of 4 or 5 years, depending on the stream they are from, the students sit for the GCE O’ level that will enable them to gain entry into the junior colleges, polytechnics, or technical institutes. For students who opt and qualify for junior colleges after their GCE O’ level examination, they will sit for the GCE ‘A’ level examination after 2 years. Their admission is based on a point system computed from the aggregate of their GCE O’ level result. For those who do not qualify but want to sit for the cents’ level examination, they have to enroll in a 3- year pre-university course in a centralized institute. The students’ eligibility for tertiary education is determined by their ‘A’ level results. The schools in phase two were selected based on their high degree of ICT integration reported in the phase one’s questionnaire survey of all Singapore schools.
The primary schools
The study in School A, a government-aided school, was carried out from 17 September, 2001 to 2 October 2001. At the time of the study, there were 2118 students in School A, consisting of boys and girls with ages ranging from 7 to 12. The average class size was 40. The school had a staff strength of 80 teachers and 10 support personnel. The school was in Phase II of MP1. There were two computer rooms each of which had been equipped with about forty computers, data projector, pull-down projector screen, and whiteboard. A technology assistant (TA) was available to address technical problems that might arise in the computer rooms, such as program failure and CD- ROM access problems. The ICT learning packages that were used included Midisaurus for Music, I-Micro and RoboLab for Science, and a wide range of CD-ROMs for other subjects. The school had also converted certain areas in the school into free access corners with a total of 12 computers for students to engage in independent learning during tea or lunch breaks.
The fieldwork in School B, also a government-aided school, was carried out from 21 August 2001 to 8 January 2002. All 720 students were girls aged 7-12 years. The average class size was 40. There were 31 teaching staff and 4 support staff, including the TA. The school was in Phase III of MPl. There was one fully air-conditioned computer room with about 40 computers, data projector, pull-down projector screen, whiteboard, and two printers. Some of the ICT learning packages that were used in North Primary School included Midisaurus for Music, Crayola for Art, and CD-ROMs such as MathBlaster and ZARC for Mathematics. The area outside the school general office was converted to a free access area with six computers.
The case study in School C, a government school, was carried out from 3 July to 22 August 2002. There were about 1,800 students in the school, consisting of Chinese and Malay students from ages ranging from 7 to 12. The average class size was 36. The school had a staff strength of 70 teachers and eight support staff. The school was in Phase I of MPl. There were three computer laboratories, 21 computers each in two of the laboratories and 15 computers in the third one. There was also a music laboratory with 15 computers. A TA was available in the school to provide technical support and resolve technical problems that might arise during the ICT-mediated lessons. The school had about 62 different CD-ROM titles. All these were housed in the school server and could be retrieved within the school’s local area network via the Virtual Drive Network.
School D started out as a government-aided mixed primary school but later, became a full government school offering English as a first language and Chinese and Malay as second languages. The case study in School D was carried out between 2 August 2002 and 10 Feb 2003. It had an intake of about 1,000 students. Most of the students were from low to middle income families. Altogether, there were 39 trained teaching staff and eight non-teaching staff, including a TA. The school was in Phase II of MP1. The school’s ICT facilities include two computer laboratories, a multimedia resource library, and an educational web portal that enables students, parents and teachers to communicate via email and e-forum.
School E shared many similar characteristics with School C. The fieldwork in the school was carried out between 3 September and 6 October 2003. The school was in Phase II of MPl. All classrooms in the five primary schools were equipped with a data projector and a desktop computer. And the computer rooms were equipped with more than 40 desktop computers per room, enough for a class of 40 students to engage in individual work, and flexible enough to support pair and group work.
The secondary schools
School X was a government mixed secondary school catering to students who have successfully completed their PSLE. The case study was carried out between 9 and 25 September 2002. Altogether, in 2002 there were 54 teachers and 1,012 students in the school. The school was in Phase III of MPl. The students in School X would undergo 4-5 years of education with different curricular emphases. Depending on their PSLE results, some students would undergo the Express course while the rest would enter the Normal course. There were various ICT facilities for both staff and students to use. They included ICT resource rooms, ICT-mediated Science laboratories, ICT laboratories, ICT work stations in the library, school-wide network he Internet and a design studio. All classrooms were equipped with a teacher’s computer, data projector, and a visualizer. School Y was an all boy’s schools and has consistently been ranked among the top secondary schools in Singapore, based on its students’ academic performance in the GCE O’ level examination. The case study was carried out between 31 January 2002 and 10 April 2002. There were 105 teachers and 28 non-teaching staff working in the school, including two TAs. There were about 1,200 students who were drawn from among the top 3% of primary school students. The students underwent a 4 year course before they sit for their GCE O’ level examinations. School Y was in Phase II of MPl. The ICT facilities in the school included ICT-mediated science laboratories, four computer laboratories (three full laboratories with 40 computers, and one half laboratory with 20 computers), three auditoriums with audio- visual rooms, reading rooms with network access points and power points, and a campuswide wireless system. There was also a library and media resource center, which housed a collection of about 30,000 books and info-educational digital video discs, laser discs, compact discs, CD-ROMs, and video tapes. A typical classroom in School Y had a teacher’s personal computer linked to a dataprojector projector.
School Z shared many similar characteristics with School X. The case study in the school was conducted in March 2004. The school was in Phase II of MPl, and was an autonomous government school.
The Junior Colleges
Junior College P had been consistently ranked among the top six out of 14 junior colleges in Singapore, based on the students’ academic performance in the Singapore-Cambridge cents’ level examination. The field study in Junior College P was carried out from 18 January 2002 to 21 May 2002. At the time of the study, there were 120 teachers and 1,600 students. The students were drawn from among the top 10-15% of secondary school students. They consisted of boys and girls with ages ranging from 17 to 19. The students could opt for either the Arts or Science stream and they were required to offer three or four A-level subjects, the General Paper and a mother tongue (Chinese, Malay, or Tamil). The students could opt for either the Arts or Science stream and they were required to take three or four A-level subjects, the General Paper and a mother tongue (Chinese, Malay or Tamil). The college had many facilities for its staff and students to use. For example, the teaching and learning facilities consisted of computer-enabled classrooms, science laboratories with life science equipment, computer laboratories, five lecture theatres, a 800-seater auditorium with audio-video facility, and reading rooms. Junior College P also had a library and media resource center. The library and media resource center had a collection of more than 1,000 CD-ROM titles. Altogether there were 16 computers with Internet facilities, of which two were linked to a scanner and printer.
The study in Junior College Q was carried out from 15 July 2002 to 15 January 2003. The school had also been consistently ranked among the top six junior colleges in Singapore. At the time of the study, there were 130 teachers and 1,750 students in the school. The facilities in Junior College Q were very similar to the ones in Junior College P.
The collective case study
Observation of ICT-mediated lessons
A semi-structured observation was adopted to allow for a more open exploration of the learning environment. During observations, a record of events was kept based on the observation checklist that included layout of the room, lesson objectives, lesson sequence, types of ICT and non-ICT tools used, rules and procedures, and roles of the participants in the community to engage students in higher- order thinking. The checklist for the observations was inextricably tied to the activity theoretical framework and the literature review on ICT integration issues.
Taking the ICT-mediated lessons as the activity system, 15 ICT- mediated lessons were observed in each school. The ICT-mediated lessons were in different subject areas: Mathematics, Science (Physics, Chemistry, and Biology), English, Mother tongue (Chinese, Malay, and Tamil), Art, Music, Humanities (Geography and History), and Social Studies. Most of the lessons observed were conducted in the computer rooms, mediated by ICT tools that included CD-ROMs, Internet, data-logger, and open tools (word processor, spreadsheet, Geometric Sketchpad, and presentation application). Only about 15% of the lessons observed were conducted in the classroom with a data projector and a teacher’s computer.
The analysis of data collected proceeded alongside the collection of data in the observations. For example, preliminary analytic notes made in the righthand column of the field notes acted as a reminder of lines of enquiry that might prove to be fruitful. These notes were used to develop the analysis and provided a structure for future observations. The approach of analysis adopted was similar to the ones used for the data from other qualitative methods adopted in phase two. Moreover, the analyses of data from these methods usually took place alongside one another.
Face-to-face interviews with teachers, ICT-coordinators and principals
Although observations allowed collection of data through the researchers’ direct contact with the learning environment, it was not always possible to have intimate, repeated and prolonged involvement in the life and community of the participants. Moreover, it was necessary to take into account of the way the teachers interpreted and understood their worlds. Three teachers were interviewed in each school. The teachers were interviewed after the observation of their ICT-mediated lessons. The 45 min interviews were audio-recorded. An unstructured interview format was adopted to encourage meaning making by narrative recounting. A list of topics that the researchers wanted the teachers to talk about was generated for the interview: objectives of ICT-mediated lessons, reasons for planning and implementing certain activities, reasons for using ICT and non-ICT tools, roles of the participants, and rules and procedures to engage students in higher-order thinking during the ICT-mediated lessons. They were also asked to talk about the problems that they faced in the ICT-mediated lessons with respect to engagement and higher-order thinking, and how they addressed these problems by designing activities to support the engagement.
The principal and ICT-coordinator from each school were also interviewed. Similar to the teacher’s interview, the 45-min unstructured interview was audio-recorded. The list of topics generated for the purpose of these interviews included: objectives of the school with respect to ICT integration and higher-order thinking, school ICT Masterplan (if any), roles of Ministry of Education, partner schools, school administration, head of departments, support staff, teachers, and students, rules and procedures for accessing ICT resources and computer labs, and developing time-table, and structure in place to support teachers’ integration of ICT.
Analysis of data was carried out alongside transcription. The process was very similar to the one used in the observation, where preliminary analyses were written on the right-hand margin of the transcriptions. However, the data collected by means of interviewing were the active construction of some version of the world by the interviewer and interviewee, appropriate to what each has taken to be self-evident about the other person to whom he/she was speaking and the context of the question. Therefore, the interview data was interpreted against the background of the context in which the interviews were conducted.
Focus group discussions with students
Three groups of six students were chosen from each school for the focus group discussions. The groupings were done according to the levels that the students were from: Primary 3, 4, and 5 for the primary schools secondary 2, 3, and 4 from the secondary schools, and Junior College 1 and 2 from the junior colleges. Each group had a 30 to 45-min discussion conducted in the classroom or the computer lab. A list of topics and questions was used to guide the group discussions: objectives of ICT-mediated lessons, ICT and non-ICT tools, rules and procedures, division of labor among participants, and teaching and learning activities that engage them in higher- order thinking during the ICTmediated lessons. These topics were generated from the activity theoretical framework and the literature review.
In the case studies, data analysis within each method, between methods, within each case, and between cases took place alongside the data collection and data processing. The ongoing analyses helped to undo biases and errors that might have crept into the fieldwork and fine-tuned the research methods to reflect a better understanding of the setting. The data collected was continually subjected to a filtering system. From the various sources of data, units of information were identified. In this study, these units became the basis for defining categories of pedagogical practices and sociocultural elements that engaged students in higher-order thinking.
An example of how the analysis has been carried out for classroom management issues is presented as follows. It is essential that the activity theoretical framework informed these units with respect to the availability of ICT tools, establishment of disciplinary and educational rules and procedures, and division of labor among participants (teachers, students and TAs). Table 1 shows the units of information that have been categorized with respect to the components and mediations of the activity system. These units are situated in the activity systems (ICT-mediated lessons in the schools).
As the analysis was ongo the categories were flexible and non- exhaustive; that is, new categories were identified, developed, redefined, or redeveloped from the analysis of each interview, each observation, or each assessment. The categories were constantly reviewed for overlap and completeness. Those categories with similar properties were collapsed into a broader category. The categories generated were then examined to establish the extent to which they fitted into the theoretical framework. Such a technique provided the collective case study research with greater flexibility and validity. In summary, the design and methods discussed above allowed for a holistic approach towards the study of ICT in its learning environment and broader sociocultural settings. These methods were informed according to the theoretical framework that continually reminded the author that an account from a particular observation, interview or assessment should be understood and interpreted by reference to a larger sociocultural setting.
Findings and discussion
This section discusses the findings from the collective case study, and focuses on examining and analyzing the necessary (Lim et al., 2003; Lim & Chai, 2004) and sufficient conditions (Lim & Khine, 2004, 2006) for the effective integration of ICT in the classroom and the supporting context of the school.
Classroom management issues
Managing ICT-mediated lessons is not very different from managing nonICT-mediated ones. Kounin (1970, p. 63) defines effective classroom management as “producing a high rate of work involvement and a low rate of deviancy in academic setting”. It includes “the provisions and procedures necessary to establish and maintain an environment in which instruction and learning can occur and the preparation of the classroom as an effective learning environment” (Fraser, 1983, p. 68). A well-managed classroom is then one in which students were consistently engaged in the learning tasks with few student off-task behaviors.
Taking the ICT-mediated lesson as an activity system, the main findings in the case studies highlighted three elements of a well- managed ICT-mediated lesson: availability of ICT tools, establishment of disciplinary and educational rules and procedures, and division of labor among teachers, TAs and students.
Availability of ICT tools
One of the goals of MPl was to ensure that by the end of 2002, all 368 schools in Singapore would be equipped with the necessary hardware, software and infrastructure that would support an ICT- mediated learning environment. By December 1999, the teacher- computer ratio was 2:1 for all schools and pupilcomputer ratio was 6.6:1 for primary schools. The schools were also given funds to purchase educational software and other peripherals annually. The schools have the autonomy to identify and purchase ICT resources that best meet the needs of their students and teachers. A music teacher in School A, during the interview, recalled how she persuaded her school to purchase Midisaurus, a music software:
The school has always been supportive of the use of information technologies (IT). I came across Midisaurus in a music workshop and asked for a demo copy to explore. After evaluation, I put up a proposal to purchase 50 copies of the CD-ROMs. The school has funds for the purchase of hardware and software, so it is up to the individual teacher to propose the purchase of IT resources that are useful for their students.
All classrooms in the 10 schools were equipped with a data projector and a desktop computer, and the computer rooms were equipped with more than 40 desktop computers per room, enough for a class of 40 pupils to engage in individual work, and flexible enough to support pair and group work. In all the ICT-mediated lessons observed, there was no problem that was associated to a lack of computers, educational software, or ICT peripherals. All the teachers who were interviewed stated that they have more flexibility in planning and conducting ICT-mediated lessons, as they were not constrained by the availability of ICT tools. Therefore, the availability of ICT tools in the school mediated between the teacher and his/her management of the ICT-mediated lessons that created a conducive learning environment for the effective integration of ICT in these schools.
Establishment of disciplinary and educational rules and procedures
Most teachers observed in the study set clear disciplinary and educational rules and procedures to mediate between the community of participants and his/her object of effective management of ICT- mediated lessons. Disciplinary rules included no unauthorized installation of program, no unauthorized change to the features of the control panel, and no playing of games during lesson. Besides these rules, procedures were established to minimize the occurrences of deviant behavior among students and keep them on task. For example, in the primary schools, students entered and exited the computer room in an orderly fashion according to their class index number. The computers were indexed with the index number of the student. Indexing facilitated the procedure of seat assignment and the monitoring of the ICT tools. One teacher from the School C elaborated during the interview:
Every computer is labeled with index, and the pupil of that index number will use that particular computer …even the CD-ROMs are also tagged with numbers, so that we can check any breakdown, or any mischief done to the computer. And before they [the pupils] leave, they have to turn the mouse over, so that the track ball…you can see that the track ball is still inside.
Educational rules and procedures were also established at both the preinstructional and instructional stages. In the pre- instructional stage, most teachers highlighted and demonstrated the key features and the navigation buttons of the ICT learning package before allowing students to start using the computers. In School D, when the QX3 microscope and its accompanying program were first introduced in a Science lesson with a group of Primary three students, the teacher explained the features and functions of the different parts of the microscope with the use of PowerPoint slides. She then asked the students to imitate her actions as she used the microscope and software to capture some images. This ensured that the students “did not encounter any problems when using the microscope” and they were able to “concentrate on the science experiment ((students in the focus group discussions).
In the instructional stage, worksheets and checklists were distributed to the students to guide them to complete their tasks in most lessons observed. During a Science lesson in School B, the teacher designed a worksheet to mediate knowledge construction (searching for and analyzing information based on the guided questions to construct their own meaning of scientific concepts) as her students worked through a section of CD-ROM on natural habitat. Some of her students commented during the focus group discussion that “the worksheet helped us to think about things in the computer” and “without the worksheet, we won’t know what to learn and what is important”. With these rules and procedures in place, students were then more likely to be task-oriented and engaged in their learning processes
Division of labor among teachers, TAs, and students
The responsibility of ensuring a conducive learning environment should not fall entirely on the teacher. There is a need for the division of labor among the participants in the computer room that include students and TAs. In the ICT-mediated lessons, most teachers were observed to be facilitators, helping and guiding the students in their work. As the students worked at their own pace, the teachers were able to spend more time working with the weaker students, and provided them with more scaffolding to complete the tasks. When students were able to successfully carry out and complete the tasks, they were less likely to engage in deviant behaviors that might disrupt the lesson. This role of the teacher was only possible due to the supporting role of the TA. Most of the teachers who were interviewed acknowledged the crucial role of the TA in freeing them from attending to technical problems and enabling them to focus their attention on the conduct and management of the ICTmediated lessons. The division of labor between the TA and the teacher in the ICT-based lesson has mediated between the subject (teacher) and the object of managing the lesson to create a conducive learning environment.
Besides the TAs, selected students also played supporting role for the teachers. For example, in School B, two students were chosen from each class as ICT representatives to handle basic technical procedures and problems. These representatives facilitated the smooth running of the lesson by relieving some of the burden of the teacher, so that he/she could channel more energy into conducting and managing the ICT-based lesson. A teacher in the school explained the role of the ICT representative during the interview:
The pupils will actually set up some of the things like visualizer or even laptops…we actually have at least two girls trained in IT so that…when it comes to lesson…the teacher is very busy doing other things so the teacher may need them to set up the things. They [girls trained in IT] will know how to set up the things.
Another teacher in Junior College P added that:
… if my computer hangs in the midst of a lesson and I cannot resolve this, I’ll ask them [the ICT representatives] because they are more familiar with the school’s system, the computer system, and even the LCD projector. They are more familiar with these gadgets than me.”
When the technical problems were beyond the ICT representatives’ abilities, the teachers would then send for the technical assistant.
The division of labor among the teachers, students, and TAs had indeed facilitated the creation of a conducive environment that was the necessary condition for the effective integration of ICT in the classroom. By defining the roles of each participant in the ICT- based lesson, the teacher was then able to achieve the object of managing the lesson. The findings of the case studies have shown that the three elements discussed above mediated between the teacher and his/her object of managing ICT-mediated lessons. The outcome of the activity system was a conducive learning environment that was the necessary condition for the effective integration of ICT. In such an activity system, students were more likely to be task- oriented and reflective, and hence more likely to engage in higher- order thinking.
Orienting activities and learner autonomy
In the ICT-mediated learning environment, students have more autonomy over their learning processes as they have a substantial amount of control over their rate of learning and learning sequences. They are then in a better position to make judgments about their progress, monitor their own learning needs, and construct their own knowledge based on the information available; and ultimately, they may adopt a more favorable approach towards learning, and operate more efficiently in the learning environment (Taylor, 1996). However, these opportunities may not always be taken up when students lose control of the learning process and lack critical reflection, either due to their lack of learning strategies to learn with the ICT tools or their lack of motivation to learn.
Taking the ICT-mediated lesson as an activity system, we can study how the tools, rules, community, and division of labor mediate the orienting activities that support learner autonomy to achieve the object of engaging students in higher-order thinking. The findings in the 10 case studies have identified these orienting activities as: (1) introductory sessions to the ICT tools, (2) advance organizers and instructional objectives, (3) worksheets and checklists, (4) dialogues among participants, and (5) ICT and non- ICT tools (other than worksheets and checklists) for post- instructional reflection. In the ICT-mediated environment, orienting activities help students to manage learning with ICT, and focus on and reflect upon the task and learning objectives of the lesson (Oliver & Hannafin, 2000); and hence, achieving learner autonomy. Orienting activities provide students with a structure that guides them through a given learning task as they work with the ICT tool.
For example, in a Primary 5 Mathematics lesson at Primary School D on the concept average, the teacher first asked the class to predict how many marshmallows each student could eat in 1 min before getting three student volunteers to eat as many marshmallows as possible in 1 min. The teacher then asked her students to calculate the average number of marshmallows eaten and worked through two more examples before moving the students onto the ICT-mediated activities. During the interview with the teacher, she explained the sequences of the activities: “I’ll first need to focus my students’ attention to the concept that I’ll be covering before getting them to do the actual activity”. For the ICT-mediated activities, the students worked through a section of a Mathematics CD ROM where they were expected to take on the role of a zookeeper and calculate the average of the animal feed of each animal. Most of the students were engaged in completing the tasks. The advance organizers and instructional objectives provided by the teacher might have supported such learner autonomy. In the focus group interviews, three of the students thought that the instructional objectives gave them “an idea of what we are supposed to learn so that we can concentrate on that” and claimed that the advance organizers helped them to “link up the different concepts that they have to learn”. That is, the advance organizers and instructional objectives in the learning environment reminded students of something they already knew and focused their attention on the concepts to be employed for the learning task, and that assisted them in gathering, organizing, and analyzing information for completing the task.
Another example of orienting activities is student-student dialogues. These dialogues encouraged the students to critically reflect on what have been learnt or discussed in the lesson. In the lesson on natural habitat, two students were observed to be engaged in such a dialogue. Although a worksheet of guiding questions was distributed to them to “think about things (learning materials) in the computer (CR-ROM)”, the dialogue between the two students complemented and enhanced the critical reflection process. As the students reflected on the related concepts of natural habitat, they began to engage in remembering facts and explanations, and generating ideas and examples of the concepts. The following is an extract of one such dialogue between two students:
Student A: “Xiao Ling, take a look at question 4: Why is it important to protect the natural habitat of animals? … Isn’t it obvious that the answer is animals won’t die?”
Student B: (Paused and looked at question) “Hmmm … I think it has something to do with food chain. I was reading it but don’t understand.”
Student A: “Let me see” (Looked at student B’s screen) “Oh yes, the food chain … when one kind of animal dies, another kind will die as well.”
Student B: (Looked puzzled) “What does that mean? I don’t understand.”
Student A: (Paused and thought for a while) “You remember the food chain?” (Student B nodded) “see, when say the rabbits all die, the foxes may start to die as well.”
Student B: (Nodded excitedly) “Oh yes … yes … there is a shortage of food for the foxes and they will start to die. And maybe that will also affect other animals.”
Such dialogues among participants in the ICT-mediated learning environment have been observed to support learner autonomy by helping the students to engage on the learning tasks and supporting them to critically reflect upon the tasks that they have to complete. Therefore, from an activity theoretical perspective, the dialogues among the participants of the community mediated between the students and the rules of the task in the ICT-mediated learning environment to support learner autonomy so that the students could engage in higher-order thinking. In turn, the division of labor mediated the community and the students, where certain students and the teachers orientated the students towards their tasks.
Although these orienting activities supported learner autonomy, there were time, curriculum, and assessment constraints to the planning and organization of these activities. All 10 schools have a framework in place that supported the teachers in addressing these constraints through collaboration among teachers in lesson planning and professional development through monthly sharing sessions. By working in teams, the teachers were able to shorten the time needed to prepare the whole series of ICT-mediated lessons. In Primary School E, a Mathematics teacher explained how her department worked as a team to plan ICT-mediated lessons for different topics in the curriculum:
…depending on what level they are teaching, they look at the computer file we have and based on that, they look at the topics whereby there’s no lesson plan available, so they go and come out with one …. It’s just a lesson plan for teachers telling them how to incorporate CD-ROMs available in our selection … how to incorporate that in a lesson based on the topic.
She went on to share how such a team approach to lesson plan design encouraged the teachers in her department to use the ICT tools available in the school:
… if let’s say the teacher is conducting a lesson on whole numbers, they will look through the department lesson plans and may select a lesson that uses a CD-ROM. If such plans are not there, that CD-ROM may just sit there and collect dust.
Such collaboration among teachers was also highlighted by an Economics teacher in Junior College Q:
the department would first meet and decide which Economics lessons would be best conducted using computers, before the actual academic term started. Once these lessons were identified, each teacher would be assigned to prepare a series of lessons. They would then start looking for computer resources (e.g. software, spreadsheet, Java applets) and consolidating them to be incorporated in the ICT-mediated lesson plans.
In all 10 schools, there were weekly, monthly, or quarterly sharing sessions of successful or unsuccessful ICT-mediated lessons at school or college level among the teachers. Each department would usually send a representative to share the ICT-mediated lessons or series of lessons that they have conducted with respect to “the rationale for using the computer package, the planning and implementation process, the experiences of the students, and the teachers’ reflection of the experience” (interview with a Science teacher in Primary School D). These sessions would “give me ideas of how I can conduct my own computer-based lessons and also give me the reassurance that if these people can do it, I can also do it” (interview with the same teacher in Primary School D). Such sessions may address the problem of the lack of linkage between professional development courses and classroom practices, and hence, teachers spend less time thinking about what they can do in class with a particular ICT tool. That is, the time is spent on customizing the idea (from the sharing sessions) for their lessons rather than reinventing the wheel.
With such a framework in place in these schools, the teachers were then more likely to organize orienting activities to support learner autonomy. As a result, students would be more likely to engage in higher-order thinking in the ICT-mediated learning environment.
Scaffolding strategies for engaged learning The basic concept of scaffolding has been defined as a support structure for learners engaged in activities just beyond their independent abilities (Hannafin, Land, & Oliver, 1999). In such an environment, teacher provides all necessary information to students needed to complete a given task and follow-up by the detailed advice, directing students’ attention, and alerting the sequence of activities that will lead to completion of the task. With scaffolding, students are able to direct their own learning goals and accomplish the tasks. In the context of this study, several scaffolding strategies have been observed that engaged students in the computer-mediated lessons:
* Orienting strategies to direct student attention to key variables, concepts, and visual cues;
* Peer interactions to facilitate cognitive thinking and metacognitive skills;
* Modeling to guide students to generate questions and elaborate thinking;
* Prompts (including question-generation, elaboration, and reflection prompts) to promote knowledge integration.
An episode of a modeling strategy was observed in a Mathematics lesson mediated by a complex 3-D modeling software, Strata Studio Pro. Earlier on in the lesson, the teacher had shown her students some basic features of the software and also demonstrated to her students how to create some simple 3-D shapes such as spheres, cubes, and cones. The teacher then asked her students to explore Strata Studio Pro in pairs and assigned them the task of creating a sphere and placing it exactly on the tip of a cone. Most of the students were able to accomplish this task without much difficulty. Next the students were asked to create an empty box and the following interactions were observed:
Student: There, we’ve managed to create the box. It’s quite simple… (This was echoed by some other students).
Teacher: Well, you’ve a box all right…but it’s not empty.
Student: Oh!!! (Students were suddenly aware of the problem and proceed to rectify it)
The solution to the problem, however, was not as simple as the students initially thought. Students were seen experimenting with various features of the software to create an empty box. A few managed to do it but it was through a tedious and roundabout way. After a while, the teacher demonstrated to her students a very simple and straight forward way, via the use of the “subtract” feature to create an empty box. The teacher did not show the students how to use this tool initially, as she wanted them to explore the software on their own and in the process found out the difficulty or hassle of completing the task without the use of the specific tool. Only when the teacher scaffold the students by modeling the desired behavior of the specific tool, did the students realized the simple and elegant way of solving the problem. Indeed, after the demonstration of the tool, many students were able to independently create empty boxes with ease.
Another episode of a prompt strategy was observed in a lesson on urban geography mediated by the Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000 software. The teacher had run the software program showing a passenger’s view from an airplane in a flight from the new Hong Kong International Airport to the old Kai Tak airport. The teacher then instructed his students to map out the places they saw as the flight progressed. The scenes in the program were realistic and detailed. A few minutes later, the teacher stopped the ‘plane’ near the old Kai Tak airport and asked the students to discuss with their partners what they had mapped out. The following interactions showed how the teacher gave prompts to one group of his students:
Teacher: What do you think would be the impact of such a route on land use? [pointing to the former route taken by pilots when they had to land in Kai Tak airport].
Student 1: The buildings along the route could not be too tall.
Teacher: Yes, that’s right…otherwise the airplanes would have hit the buildings. Is there anything else?
Student 2: I think some forms of industries would be built along the route.
Teacher: OK. But what kind of industries do you think?
The teacher continued to probe his students’ understanding of the types of industries suitable along the particular route. Later on the teacher asked, “Now that the airport has moved away, what do you think will be the impact on the land use? Would it be like Notting Hill (London’s most fashionable area, Notting Hill, was described as “a massive slum, full of multi-occupied houses, crawling with rats, and rubbish” only 40 years ago-definitely a no-go area), something quaint?” This led to an extended conversation between the teacher and students about the probable uses of the old airport in Kai Tak. The aforementioned episode showed how the geography teacher wanted his students to make decisions about how a particular plot of land was to be used. Here the teacher, as the more knowledgeable person in the learning environment, employed prompts to engage students in identifying important issues and their consequences on urban planning.
The above scaffolding strategies were illustrative examples of the types of strategies that had been observed in the study. When these strategies were used by the teachers in the ICT-mediated learning environments, the students were observed to be engaged in the learning processes of organizing information, explaining and elaborating the concepts, planning The learning tasks, reflecting and revising their plans, and evaluating the learning outcomes. These strategies included orienting activities, peer interactions, prompts, and modeling. First, the orienting strategies provided clear instructions, expectations and objectives of the lessons to direct students’ attention to the key variables, concepts and visual cues, and provide them with a structure to wor