Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 15, Issue 1, Article 6 (Jun., 2014)
Ajitha NAYAR K and Miles BARKER
Computer labs as techno-pedagogical tools for learning biology – Exploring ICT practices in India

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The study, conducted at the start of an academic year, was confined to three states in India, viz., Kerala, Tamilnadu and Karnataka. These states were selected because their schools were frequently undertaking bold and innovative curricular experiments, involving computer labs, technology-enabling ways, and this development had the support of local IT companies.items are presented in Figure 1.


Schools.Thirty secondary schools were surveyed to identify the availability of computer labs, the nature of lab use, the nature of learning resources, and to collect information related to their biology teachers' perspectives on techno-pedagogies. These school students were 13-15-year-olds. Every school had one fully-fledged computer lab with 25-30 computers, broadband connectivity and multimedia facility. Only schools which had fully equipped computer labs and where teachers engaged in technology-enabled teaching, were selected for the study. The selected schools differed with regard to the nature of management: five were private schools (managed by private partnerships), ten were aided schools (privately managed schools maintained out of government funds) and 15 were government schools. For collecting data related to students' ICT-based learning skills, five schools were chosen, based on three criteria 1. Schools with computer labs 2. Schools where teachers were competent in use of technology 3. Schools where the teachers used computer based lessons. One was a private school, two were private aided schools and two were government schools.

Students. Two hundred students of Standard 9 (i.e. typically aged 13 years) participated in the study. This level was chosen because they were the most seasoned students with regard to technology use, having used it the previous year. The current ICT skills of students ranged from fundamental ICT literacy (20%) to Digitally proficient (50%). The remaining 30 % belonged to the average group whose ICT skills were not limited to fundamental literacy skills, nor did it extent to social network and collaborative skills.

Teachers. A total of 30 biology teachers (25 female and 5 male) participated in the study. All were highly qualified with postgraduate qualifications in botany/zoology/environmental science (M.Sc) and had undergone secondary teacher education programs (B.Ed). Their teaching experience varied from 3 years to 15 years. The teachers were familiar with technology and had a working knowledge of technology. Although 25 teachers had received training in ICT literacy, only 5 teachers had received training with regard to pedagogical use of technology.

Computer labs and laboratory sessions. Though all schools had fully-fledged labs, the nature of laboratory use varied. In some schools the lab use was not time tabled and the teachers operated on a 'Use When Needed' policy. In the larger schools, where the use of laboratory was time tabled, teachers could use the lab only at the specified time. Some schools which had time tabled laboratory use did not enforce its use; it was left to the discretion of the teacher to make use of the laboratory, if it was felt necessary. Five schools were selected for observation of laboratory sessions. The study spread over five schools because laboratory sessions were quite scarce and in many schools computer labs were used to teach biology only rarely. Students of a particular class had one lab session per week. There were 35-45 students per lab session. The sessions were of 45 minutes duration. In most cases the duration of effective instructional practices was 30 minutes. In all, ten laboratory sessions (two observations per school per week) were observed.(For details of Observation matrix see Appendix 2)

Technology-based learning resources. The software used in these biology sessions was produced by the Educational Software Company which was state-owned. The set of technology-based resources had been designed and structured in close coordination with the teachers. The topic being covered during the time of the study was Cell Structure and Function. The four learning concepts comprised: differences between animal and plant cells, parts of the animal cell, types of cells, and identification of the cellular organelles and associated functions. The learning tasks involved locating the particular icon containing the content information, reading the narration, observing the images of animal and plant cells, identifying parts of the cell, identifying the terms, and associating each term with the shape and size of the organelle. The learning also involved web-based resources. (Details in Appendix 1)

Research tools and techniques. To study the secondary school biology teachers' perspectives on techno- pedagogies a 16-item questionnaire was administered to thirty biology teachers. Each item in the questionnaire and the dimensions which need to be tested had earlier arisen from focus group discussions with a group of teacher educators having a teaching experience of 10-15 years.They rated the items in the questionnaire based on suitability for including the item and level of significance of the item. Both construct and face validity was assured by high mean rating scores obtained on the two criteria selected viz., 2.33 for construct validity and 3.20 for face validity (both values fell in the high range level with mean above [Mean + Standard Deviation]). The averages of scores were taken for item analysis. The items in the questionnaire pertained to four dimensions of techno-pedagogies: 1. learning environment 2. learning resources 3. learning tasks 4. teaching process.

To select the ICT skills for observation an observation schedule (see Appendix 2) was used which comprised of a matrix of 9 columns which depicted 9 slots of 5 minutes duration of class and the rows depicted the learning skills identified as most essential for learning using technology. The learning skills were identified by a check list which incorporated a wide range of learning skills and external raters (six teacher educators) selected the most appropriate. The skills which were selected by the majority of the external raters found a place in the rows of the matrix.

Administering the tools. For collecting data pertaining to perspectives of secondary school teachers, they were asked to rate each item against a Likert type scale with scores ranging from Strongly Agree-4 to Strongly Disagree-0. The means and standard deviations of the ratings were estimated individually for each item. Mean scores of ratings for each theme was also calculated to identify the theme which most influenced teachers' perceptions of techno-pedagogies. To study the deployment of students' ICT skills an observation schedule was constructed for observing the laboratory sessions. The observation schedule collected information on student engagement over periods of 45 minutes. The observation schedule helped in recording observations which could be reviewed later. The skills were observed over a period of 10 days with one laboratory session observed each day. To make observation effective, one student was focused on for the whole of a particular session. The learning task and the duration of time was recorded. The instructional tasks and objectives of each lab session are described in Appendix 1. The skills deployed by the students were observed and recorded against a 45 minute time frame. The preliminary skills like getting started, and fundamental keyboard skills were ignored and focus was on the learning aspect – skills like information processing, organizing content, information retrieval, constructing, application of concept learned, collaboration, networking engaging in community learning. In all the total observation period covered 450 minutes.


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