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Phelps, RA 2002, 'Mapping the complexity of computer learning: journeying beyond teaching for computer competency to facilitating computer', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright RA Phelps 2002


For future generations to maximise their capability to operate within technologically driven economies, it is critical to foster computer abilities at every level of the schooling process. Teachers are central to this process. Yet, for many teachers, the need to integrate computer use in their teaching is threatening and overwhelming. This thesis argues that, given the rapid rate of technological change, skills-based approaches to computer education inadequately prepare teachers for a career of continued technological change. Effective computer education for teachers requires more than skills training. It involves changes in attitudes, values and beliefs that provide confidence for ongoing learning. Furthermore, it involves learning to adapt to change, to be flexible, intuitive and above all persistent. It requires the fostering of teachers who know how to be self-directed and independent in their computer learning, rather than those dependent on structured routines or guidelines. This thesis is the ‘story’ of an action research initiative underpinned by a belief in the importance of approaches to computer education which foster lifelong computer learning. It traces the journey of a reflexive process of change and iterative development in the teaching of an educational information technology (computer) unit to pre-service teacher education students. Over a period of three years (1999-2001) I pursued a central research question, namely: How can I develop my teaching practice to better facilitate the development of capable computer users? The research explores the distinction between a ‘competent’ and a ‘capable’ computer user and trials a range of teaching and learning approaches that aim to facilitate the development of capable computer users. From this constructivist research and teaching process a multidimensional approach to computer education emerged, founded on metacognition and reflection. This approach is demonstrated to offer many advantages over a skills-focused approach. This thesis maps the complexity of the computer learning and teaching context, arguing that simplistic approaches to teaching will produce narrow and limited learning outcomes. Rather, a holistic approach is proposed, one that moves beyond the development of computer competency toward a longer term vision of facilitating computer capability. It is argued that the role of the computer ‘teacher’ is to foster reflective awareness and develop a learning environment that can assist computer learners to become comfortable existing on the ‘edge of chaos’. This research supports previous studies which indicate the important role of computer self efficacy and the influence of factors such as perceived usefulness, anxiety, support and frequency and duration of use. However, the research also documents the unpredictable influence of these factors on individuals’ resultant approach to computers and challenges dichotomous interpretations of such factors. Appropriate attribution is also shown to be a major influence on computer capability, as are factors such as help-seeking, motivation and goal-setting, although again, these influences are non-linear. It is argued that computer capability cannot be ‘taught’ but, rather, computer educators should look to creating environments where its emergence can be facilitated. The metacognitive computer learning context developed and explored through this research is one such approach.

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