|Teaching and Learning Forum 2008 [ Refereed papers ]|
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.
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: Web based resources directory: Home page within WebCT
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'.
|Total number of University|
|Average number of |
messages per participant
(Stanberg, 2007) n=22
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.
S06: This awful boy started whispering loudly some really awful comments about me... What would you guys do in this situation?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.
S13: Well remember... kids can be so nasty some times but you just have to rise above it...
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.
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.
S02: One thing I really struggled with was the students trying to match my voice, in my range... Any suggestions?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:
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.
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.
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.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.
S14: It was alright as a sense of community so we're all in the same place.
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).
S10: My mentor had them in a set program...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.
S13: My school's doing Musica Viva, so I already had plans to follow...
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.
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.
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|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: email@example.com
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.