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Category: Research
Teaching and Learning Forum 2008 [ Refereed papers ]
ICT support systems for pre-service music teachers: Are they valued?

Anita Fuhrmann and Andrea Stanberg
School of Music, The University of Western Australia

The first teaching practicum for pre-service music teachers can be daunting and challenging as their skills and identity as teachers are developed in a primary school context. This study was part of an ongoing project, investigating the use of information and communications technology (ICT) resources while pre-service teachers undertook their first practicum. These resources included an unmoderated discussion board and a web-based resources directory. Both resources were made available to the pre-service teachers through WebCT. Content analysis of discussion board postings, survey and focus group discussions were used to investigate the pre-service teachers' perception and use of these resources.


Background

At the University of Western Australia (UWA), pre-service teachers in the Bachelor of Music Education program complete their first teaching practicum in their third year of study. Practicum presents them with a new and practical environment where they begin to develop their identity as teachers. Speaking of the practicum experience more generally, Mayer (2002) notes that it is common for pre-service teachers to feel disconnected from their peers as they undertake the experiences of their first practicum placement. Furthermore, the participants in this study were the only pre-service music teachers in their respective host schools. Most primary schools in Perth have only one music specialist and are therefore unable to support more than one pre-service teacher during the practicum period. Mentors are the most important contributors to pre-service teachers' support network, providing information, resources and feedback on teaching. However, the practicum experience can be enhanced greatly through peer-mentoring and access to selected information and resources from the world wide web. (Herrington, 2001, Bodzin, 2000).

For this, the second year of the study, two information and communications technology (ICT) resources were made available to a class of pre-service music teachers at UWA, through a unit created in the WebCT environment. They had access to a discussion board and a web-based directory of resources. The discussion board was a forum within WebCT that was unmoderated in the sense that pre-service teachers initiated and carried the discussions. Pre-service teachers and university practicum supervisors contributed to the board by posting questions or comments, which could be viewed and discussed online.

Research suggests that online discussion boards are an effective tool as part of teachers' pre-service training. They can be used to create a support network or "community" of teachers, help diminish the sense of isolation experienced by pre-service teachers in country areas (Herrington, 2001), facilitate discussion on topics set by a supervisor and encourage critical/ deep level thinking (Lim & Cheah, 2003). The work of Ramsden (2003) and Herrington (2001) has focused on this tool's effectiveness for early career teachers. However, very little research has looked into the purpose and usefulness of discussion boards for teachers' first practicum experience, particularly whether an unmoderated forum is valued by pre-service teachers in this context and the role it can play in their practicum experiences. In the first year of this study, Stanberg (2007) investigated pre-service music teachers' use of this tool in a class of 22 pre-service teachers. It was used by all pre-service teachers and was found to be a useful system for peer-mentoring while on practicum, maintaining a strong sense of community among the participants.

Ideally, the level of mentor support on practicum is very high and mentors are expected to direct their pre-service teachers to relevant resources. Online resources add a further dimension to the toolkit available for pre-service teachers. There are countless websites offering useful resources for music teachers, though their quality is greatly variable. The web-based resource directory in this study was designed to help direct pre-service teachers to web pages relevant to their practicum. Resources were categorized under the following headings: curriculum links, lesson planning, assessment and evaluation, reporting, learning theories, learning styles, discipline and classroom management, effective communication, learner motivation, organizing learning environments, bullying, working effectively with parents, professionalism and professional development, the ethical teacher, teacher competencies and standards, school directory, curriculum resources, discipline and classroom management. Each heading contained a list of url addresses that linked to online resource and information pages relevant to music teaching. A graphic directory, set out as a music classroom environment, linked these pages (see Figure 1). Research by Graham and Thornley (2000) and MACQT (1998) suggests that many beginning teachers find it difficult to relate what they learn in lectures to classroom practice. The graphic environment places the resource links in a classroom context, aiming to provide a smoother transition for the pre-service teachers' application of theoretical knowledge to a practical setting.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Web based resources directory: Home page within WebCT

Study aims

This project investigated pre-service teachers' use of information and communications technology (ICT) resources. Stanberg (2007) conducted the first part of this study with a cohort of 22 pre-service music teachers from UWA who were undertaking their first practicum experience in 2006, particularly examining the use of an unmoderated discussion boards to facilitate a peer-support network. This, the second year of the study, examined the next cohort of pre-service teachers completing the same program. In addition to the discussion board, this second part of the study also investigated their use of the web-based teaching resource directory. It sought to discover:

Participants

This qualitative case study involved 14 third-year pre-service music teachers at UWA. The Bachelor or Music Education course requires pre-service teachers to complete two periods of teaching practice in a primary school and two periods in a secondary school. Each practicum is 20 days in length. The study was conducted as the pre-service teachers were undertaking their first practicum in a primary school in their third year of study for the degree.

The participants' experience with WebCT varied considerably. All had been exposed to WebCT to some degree, mostly to access course materials such as lecture recordings and handouts. None of the participants had used an online discussion board before. This tool and the resources directory (also within WebCT) were demonstrated to the pre-service teachers before their practicum. The participants were asked to navigate the resources site before practicum in order to gain familiarity with it. They were also asked to contribute to the discussion board and while on practicum and use it as their "own" environment to support one another. No assessment was attached to the use of either resource. The university supervisors made it clear that they would leave the forum to the pre-service teachers except where it seemed appropriate to comment or where they were asked a question. In this sense, the discussion board was 'unmoderated'.

Methods

Three methodological tools were used in this study. Firstly, content analysis was used to describe the nature and themes of the discussion board postings. Henri's criteria for online discussion analysis (1992) was identified as an appropriate framework for this analysis and was used in the first part of this study (Stanberg 2007). This model has been widely used for this kind of analysis. Under this framework, discussions are analysed by (1) participation rate, (2) interaction type, (3) social cues, (4) cognitive skills and metacognitive skills and knowledge. This analysis was complemented by a survey, which asked the pre-service teachers to comment on their use and perception of the discussion board and its relevance to the practicum experience (see Appendix 1). Finally, focus group discussions were conducted in two groups of six participants to ascertain the participants' perceptions of the discussion board's role in their practicum experience, the usefulness of the web-based resource directory and the participants' views on how this resource could be improved.

Results and discussion

The discussion board postings were analysed using Henri's model and content analysis was undertaken.

Table 1: Participation rate for the present study compared to the previous study (Stanberg, 2007)

WeekTotal number
of messages
Total number of University
Supervisor's messages
Average number of
messages per participant
Present study
n=14
Previous study
(Stanberg, 2007) n=22
Present
study
Previous study
(Stanberg, 2007)
Present
study
Previous study
(Stanberg, 2007)
18127 275.640.91
22535 031.791.45
31127 110.711.18
41957 041.352.41
52252 051.572.14
Total158198 32011.078.09

Participation rate

The discussion forum was dominated by the pre-service teachers, as intended. As shown in Table 1, each participant contributed an average of 11 messages over the practicum period. The 'tracking' function within WebCT recorded the number of times messages were opened by individual pre-service teachers. Though this did not indicate the number of times a message was actually read, it was useful as a comparative measure. The number of posted messages for individuals ranged from zero to 28 and the number of viewed messages ranged from zero to 588. Two pre-service teachers chose not to view or contribute to the discussion board at all.

In the first year of the study, Stanberg (2007) reported a slightly lower average number of messages per participant (nine), however, further analysis of individual contributions in the present phase revealed that the discussions were essentially carried by a group of five participants, which we will refer to as the 'core' group. The average number of contributions for these participants was 23. The mean number of posted messages for the nine other participants was 5.7. This is significantly lower than the first group at the 5% significance level (p-value= 0.006), and gives a ratio of 4:1. Stanberg (2007) observed an increasing number of messages through the five weeks of practicum. This was not the case in the present study. All but two pre-service teachers contributed in the first two weeks of the practicum but essentially only the 'core' group of five continued through the remaining three weeks.

Generally, increased frequency of opening (or viewing) messages was correlated with more postings (r= 0.704), excluding one participant who only contributed five messages but opened 588. The ratio of messages opened per participant for the 'core' group compared to the other pre-service teachers is 1.6:1, excluding the two non-contributors and the one who opened 588 messages. This suggests that on average, those who did not regularly post messages opened almost as many messages as the 'core' group. The participant who viewed 588 messages made the following comment:

S09: It was just good to see what other people were doing and I got quite a lot of ideas for activities to do in class of it as well when I just couldn't think of anything and I'd be trying to find stuff people would put up things and they'd be really well structured and you could just put it into your lesson plan because people had used it before and they worked well.
Even without posting many messages, this pre-service teacher felt that he was benefiting from the discussion forum and that he was a part of this online community.

In this study, supervisors were not featured as major 'voices' in the discussions and only posted three messages over the entire period. This gave a ratio of one supervisor message per 52 pre-service teacher messages. In contrast, the ratio of supervisor to pre-service teacher messages was 1:9 in Stanberg's (2007) investigation. The decreased supervisor 'presence' in the forum may be associated with less consistent contributions from pre-service teachers.

Interaction type

The participants contributed a combination of independent (isolated) postings and interaction postings. The forum began with essentially isolated posts as pre-service teachers shared contact details and asked one another to share experiences in the coming weeks. Most messages involved a participant sharing a specific teaching experience, such as a particularly successful activity or a difficult classroom management experience. Many acknowledged previous messages in the thread but it was less common for a participant to comment on another post in detail. There were exceptions where participants offered thoughtful encouragement and advice to one another.
S06: This awful boy started whispering loudly some really awful comments about me... What would you guys do in this situation?

S13: Well remember... kids can be so nasty some times but you just have to rise above it...

As the weeks of practicum progressed, messages became more interactive and interdependent. The 'core' group of five pre-service teachers seemed to become a tight-knit community within the larger group.

Though all questionnaire respondents indicated that they felt comfortable contributing to the discussion board, they also contacted peers via other means (such as phone, email or msn) while on practicum. Six participants did so regularly. For this reason, the true nature of interaction between the participants cannot be measured. The discussion board was just one of the tools they used to help develop/ maintain a sense of community during practicum.

Social cues

It was rare for any message not to include words of encouragement and social support for peers. For those who did participate, the forum did help to maintain a sense of 'community'. Several pre-service teachers recognized this when asked about the role the discussion board played in their practicum experience. Many pre-service teachers were encouraged by reading about others' experiences.
S13: ...There would always be someone (on WebCT) who had written a comment and you felt like you were in the same experiences. Yeah, it was good.
A particular thread of messages was titled "Quotes from week 1". This was the longest thread in the forum. Almost all the participants contributed to this, sharing entertaining quotes from their first teaching experiences. This highlights the essentially light-hearted and social nature of the forum.

Cognitive skills and metacognitive skills and knowledge

The participants sought to learn from each others' experiences and gain teaching ideas from one another. There is evidence of reflective thinking and reasoning, however such postings were rare. For example:
S02: One thing I really struggled with was the students trying to match my voice, in my range... Any suggestions?

S01: Maybe try to sing it in falsetto?

S02: I've thought about falsetto...but then the students won't hear a decent tone ... which is one of the things we are trying to develop in them now.

Similar to Stanberg's (2007) findings, this unmoderated discussion board did not show much evidence of higher-level thinking skills (ie. metacognitive skills and knowledge). There was only one reference to the learning processes that the teaching practicum facilitated. One participant wrote the following comment to encourage another who had a negative experience:
S13: It's all just a big learning curve and you'll grow stronger as a teacher by being exposed to all these different situations...
This study suggests further that use of a moderator (ie. university supervisor) is necessary for higher-level interaction within an online discussion forum. Several studies have confirmed this including those by Im and Lee (2004) and Lim & Cheah (2003). However, the researchers note that the use of a moderated discussion board may also have a limiting effect on the type of discussions that take place. This would be an interesting point for future research.

Pre-service teacher perceptions of the discussion board

The pre-service teachers' perceptions of the usefulness of this tool were analysed using data from the survey, focus group discussions and WebCT 'tracking' statistics. The survey was designed to measure the participants' perception of their practicum experience in terms of 'community' support, through their host schools and/ or as a peer-support community. While the responses indicated that the pre-service teachers' practicum experiences were varied in this regard, it was interesting to note that those who did not feel that they were an important member of the school community were more frequent contributors to the discussion board. As this is a small case study, it is difficult to make generalizations beyond the context of the project. However, this could indicate that contributing to the discussion board was part of these pre-service teachers' coping strategies. This was reflected in several of the participants' comments in focus group discussions. For example:
S03: I just found it ... broke the isolation you know, like you weren't the only one going through these things. I liked listening to everyone's experiences.

S14: It was alright as a sense of community so we're all in the same place.

Survey responses indicated the discussion board was most useful for maintaining a sense of community with peers, obtaining encouragement from peers and sharing teaching experiences. Of 30 message threads, eight (27%) involved sharing ideas/ resources and most were not sufficiently detailed to be easily implemented by peers. Several comments from the participants' focus group discussions indicated that this was not a particularly effective as a means of sharing and obtaining teaching resources.

Reasons for low contributions

The focus group discussions were useful for ascertaining the participants' perceptions of the online tools. This research tool was particularly effective in encouraging individual participants to explain reasons why the discussion board was frequently or infrequently used. Lack of time was identified as an important reason why some participants rarely contributed to the discussion board and two pre-service teachers did not use it at all. This may also be a reason why the discussion board content lacked evidence of higher-level thinking skills.
S05: I found I would have liked to have used it more but I just didn't have the time...
One pre-service teacher felt that contributing to the discussion board was not important to her practicum experience. Two others commented that it was useful for them at the beginning of practicum, but they didn't need the support from this forum once they had 'settled in' to practicum and became more confident. Another participant found the discussion board interesting and entertaining but considered it a "gossip column" that was not really useful to him. Those who frequently contributed to the board tended to give more positive comments on its' usefulness. Social dynamics may impact on the use of such a forum, since the observed use has greatly differed between this cohort and the similar group studied previously by Stanberg (2007).

Web based resources directory

This resource was not frequently used by these pre-service teachers during the study period. Content analysis of the focus group discussions was effective in revealing key reasons why this was the case. Several pre-service teachers indicated a lack of flexibility in their teaching programs. Their mentor teachers guided them as to what would be taught and what resources to use, so they felt they had no need for further online resources.
S10: My mentor had them in a set program...

S13: My school's doing Musica Viva, so I already had plans to follow...

Some pre-service teachers felt that the quality of online resources was not as good as those available at their host school and felt they did not have enough time to "sift through information" and find resources relevant to their programs.

The lesson planning section was accessed the most frequently and described as the most helpful in the focus group discussions. More theoretical articles were not viewed as particularly useful in their first practicum experience. One participant commented that such articles would be helpful if read before practicum but they seemed to be viewed as 'extra reading' and not a priority, due to increased demands on the pre-service teachers time during this period.

The participants' comments about how this resource could be improved included the following: improved ease of navigation (more specific categorization within sections) and including references to more music games. One of the focus groups discussed the possibility of the directory being more interactive so the pre-service teachers could add lesson plans to the site. For this to be effective, contributions would need to be closely monitored and carefully organized in order to be of use during practicum.

Participants in the other focus group discussion agreed that this resource would be more useful in their first year of teaching, where they do not have a high level of mentor support and they are required to plan longer-term teaching programs as opposed to isolated lesson plans. Such a forum has been effective in facilitating peer-support for maths teachers in rural areas. (Herrington, 2001). Music teachers are often isolated from peers in the sense that they are frequently the only music teacher in their school. For this reason, beginning music teachers may find such a resource to be valuable.

Conclusions

The discussion board was utilized as a peer-mentoring forum to some extent, though contributions varied considerably. Those who frequently contributed to the forum found it helpful for establishing a sense of community, encouraging one another and, to a limited extent, sharing teaching resources and ideas. There was only limited evidence of higher-level thinking skills being facilitated by the forum. As noted by Stanberg (2007) and Im & Lee (2004), this may be due to the discussion board being unmoderated and guided by the pre-service teachers. A forum mediated by a tutor or supervisor where pre-service teachers were to be assessed on their contributions would likely encourage higher-level thinking skills. Contributions to the discussion board were not required as part of formal assessment for the practicum unit. For this reason, the relatively low participation rate could be viewed as an indication that this type of interaction was not highly valued for pre-service teachers' first practicum. While the forum did serve to create a sense of community, this was could be viewed as an exclusive community in that not all participated. Nonetheless, the very fact that everyone could access the forum placed all participants on a 'level playing ground' in that all had the opportunity to contribute and benefit from involvement in this community.

The web-based resource directory was only used to a limited extent in the context of this small case study. The participants in the present study felt that this resource would likely be more useful for first-year-out music teachers who face planning extended teaching programs in relative isolation for the first time. A resource that allows teachers to build on the site by adding their own ideas and lesson plans would likely be helpful to new teachers.

Though research has indicated that online discussion boards and other web-based resources can be useful for pre-service teachers, this seems to depend on the particular needs and social dynamics of the group. Generally, the participants in this reported study did not value these resources as necessary for a successful first practicum experience. The main issues for low utilization of the resources were lack of time and a sense that resources outside of those available at their host school were not needed. This research project will be continued to determine how these online tools could be improved and how their use could be more effectively facilitated for future cohorts of pre-service music teachers.

Acknowledgement

We would like to acknowledge and thank Dr Robert Faulkner for his input and support of this project.

References

Bodzin, A. A. M. (2000). Dialogue patterns of preservice science teachers using asynchronous computer-mediated communications on the World Wide Web. The Journal of computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 19, 161-194.

Graham, S. & Thornley, C. (2000). Connecting classrooms in pre-service education: Conversations for learning. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 28, 235-245.

Hara, N., Bonk, C. & Angeli, C. (2000). Content analysis of online discussion in an applied educational psychology course. Instructional Science, 28, 115-152.

Henri, F. (1992). Computer conferencing and content analysis. In A.R. Kaye (Ed.), Collaborative Learning Through Computer Conferencing: The Najaden Papers (pp. 115-136). New York: Springer.

Herrington, A. & Herrington, J. (2001). Web-based strategies for professional induction in rural, regional and remote areas. Paper presented at the International Education Research Conference, Fremantle.

Im, Y. & Lee, O. (2003). Pedagogical implications of online discussion for preservice teacher training. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 36(2), 155-170.

Lim, C. & Cheah, P. (2003). The role of the tutor in asynchronous discussion boards: A case study of a pre-service teacher course. Education Media International, 40, 33-47.

MACQT (1998). Teacher preparation for student management: Responses and directions. Sydney: NSW Department of Education and Training, Ministerial Advisory Council on the Quality of Teaching.

Mayer, D. (2002). An Electronic Lifeline: information and communication techniologies in teacher education internship. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 30, 181.

Ramsden, P. (2003). Learning to teach in higher education (2nd Ed), London, Routledge.

Stanberg, A. (2007). Developing a sense of community: Pre-service music teachers and their use of WebCT Discussion Board while on practicum. Paper presented at the Australian Society for Music Education XVI National Conference, Perth.

Appendix 1: Questionnaire

Appendix 1 image file

Authors: Anita Fuhrmann is a PhD candidate at the University of Western Australia, researching the lung function and respiratory health of wind musicians. Anita began her tertiary teaching experience in 2007 under the UWA Postgraduate Teaching Internship Scheme. She teaches second and third year pre-service teachers as part of the Bachelor of Music Education program. Anita is also an instructor at the UWA Junior Music School. Email: afuhrmann@meddent.uwa.edu.au

Andrea Stanberg is a Lecturer in Music Education at The University of Western Australia. Over the past 18 years, she has worked in Australia and overseas in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. Andrea has been awarded various travel and study grants; in 2007 being a recipient of a UWA Excellence in Teaching award. Research interests include: pre-service teacher education, international education and a developing interest in Cambodian children's music.

Please cite as: Fuhrmann, A. & Stanberg, A. (2008). ICT support systems for pre-service music teachers: Are they valued? In Preparing for the graduate of 2015. Proceedings of the 17th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 30-31 January 2008. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2008/refereed/fuhrmann.html

Copyright 2008 Anita Fuhrmann and Andrea Stanberg. The authors assign to the TL Forum and not for profit educational institutions a non-exclusive licence to reproduce this article for personal use or for institutional teaching and learning purposes, in any format (including website mirrors), provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.


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