This study investigated teachers’ conceptions of technology integration into their teaching from two renowned technical and vocational education (TVE) institutes in New South Wales, Australia. Thirteen teachers were interviewed using qualitative techniques informed by the phenomenographic approach. The analysis of the data revealed that TVE teachers perceived the use of technology in teaching in four qualitatively different ways: (a) upgrading teacher knowledge, (b) ease of communication, (c) effective teaching, and (d) flexible teaching. Some findings align with existing phenomenographic studies of teachers’ conceptions held in the context of university education. This study contributes to teachers’ conceptions literature by identifying “flexible teaching” as one of the most significant conceptions of teaching within the context of TVE teaching in particular and higher education in general. The findings of the study could have an impact on teaching practice and faculty development programs in both TVE and other higher educational institutes.
- blended teaching
- role of technology
- technical and vocational education
- TVE teacher
There has been a growing debate on what improves the quality of teaching in higher education. A substantial amount of studies conducted reporting teachers’ conceptions of teaching in different contexts show evidence that students’ learning outcomes largely depend on quality of teaching (Ellis, Goodyear, Prosser, & O’Hara, 2006; González, 2009, 2011; Kember, 1997; Prosser & Trigwell, 1999). Constructivist and social constructionist views of teaching claim that student-centered teaching approaches have influence on the quality of teaching (Aypay, 2011). Selection of teaching approaches for teaching is not a haphazard process; rather it requires careful thinking and decision making. A range of cognitive process (thinking, reasoning, and judgment) is involved when a decision about teaching approach (methods and strategies) is made. Teachers’ associated conceptions of teaching play a significant role in which teaching methods and strategies teachers choose for their teaching (Kember, 1997; Prosser & Trigwell, 1999). Knowing teachers’ conceptions of teaching provides a means for understanding the overall thinking behind a selection and in turn improving the selection of teaching approaches and, consequently, expediting better learning opportunities for learners.
Research has also indicated that effective use of technology in higher education teaching and learning is one of the factors contributing toward the improvement in quality of instruction. The nature of teaching and learning in higher education has been changing unceasingly because of the rapid advancements in technology (Jimoyiannis, 2007; Voogt, 2010). Technology, in this study, is considered as a combination of all forms of digital devices (both hardware and software). This includes computers, interactive whiteboard, Internet, printer, email, learning management system (LMS), and networking tools that are integrated into teaching and learning in both face-to-face and blended (combination of face-to-face and online components) contexts of technical and vocational education (TVE). The traditional teacher-centered approaches are now being replaced by dynamic and interactive student-centered learning environments because of the new emerging technology (Davis, 2002). The new generations of teachers are now expected to be not only a great source of information about curriculum design and delivery but also an agent who is supposed to minimize the gap between how technology is applied in classroom teaching and the opportunities offered by technology to enhance student learning (Northcote & Lim, 2009). To survive in this global pace, teachers need to be sufficiently competent in using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in educational settings.
Teachers in higher education are expected to use technology in innovative ways that provide students an engaging and empowering learning experience to prepare them to interact with global networked society (Kopcha, Rieber, & Walker, 2015). Due to rapid advancements, technology-integrated teaching and learning systems in TVE institutions are continuing to progress (Armatas & Papadopoulos, 2013; Pellone, 1991), and many of the TVE institutions have already preferred the potential benefits of incorporating technology in their teaching. The potential benefits of technology-enhanced teaching (e-learning, blended learning, mobile learning) are not only well recognized in technical and further education (TAFE) institutions in Australia but also in many other TVE institutes worldwide. Many of these institutes have already gained the acceptance of technology progression into their teaching, for example, Europe (Hämäläinen & De Wever, 2013), China (Wang & Xu, 2014), Africa (Van Brakel & Chisenga, 2003), and the like. Despite its global importance, teachers’ understanding of the role of technology in TVE teaching context has not been fully explored, particularly from a constructivist teaching and learning perspective. The role of technology in TVE teaching is a relatively uncommon context of investigation, which needs to be understood more thoroughly with the help of empirical investigation. Exploring teachers’ understanding and experience of technology integration in TVE is an important aspect for the researchers across the globe due to two main reasons: (a) It connects with teaching practice and students’ learning that is also supported by promoting interactive teaching and learning (Bester & Brand, 2013) and (b) TVE institutions continually uptake technology in their teaching and learning. To investigate these issues, additional in-depth research is needed. Therefore, the aim of the research was to explore TVE teachers’ ways of experiencing technology integration in their teaching practices in detail. This aim helped in forming the research question:
Research Question 1: What are the different ways in which TVE teachers’ conceptualize the role of technology integration in their teaching?
During the last two decades, a substantial number of studies have been conducted to understand how university teachers conceptualize their teaching (Åkerlind, 2004; Ellis, Hughes, Weyers, & Riding, 2009; González, 2011; Kember, 1997; Kember & Kwan, 2000; Trigwell, Prosser, & Taylor, 1994). These studies were interview-based investigations, which identified a number of different outcomes in relation to teaching in different contexts (face-to-face, blended) in university education. For example, Kember (1997) identified seven, Åkerlind (2004) revealed four, and González (2011) identified four conceptions of teaching in university teaching contexts. This major body of research mainly focused on teachers’ conceptions of teaching in higher education in two broad areas: research on teachers’ conceptions of teaching in face-to-face settings (Kember, 1997; Kember & Kwan, 2000; Prosser & Trigwell, 1999; Samuelowicz & Bain, 2001) and research on teachers’ conceptions in blended contexts (Ellis et al., 2009; González, 2009; Roberts, 2003). A brief review of these studies is presented to situate the research question of this study in the existing literature.
The major studies conducted within a face-to-face context are Dall’Alba (1991), Kember (1997), Kember and Kwan (2000), Prosser and Trigwell (1999), and Samuelowicz and Bain (1992). These studies identified distinct conceptions in their particular study. For instance, Kember proposed an intermediate category, which showed an interaction between the teacher and the student; however, González (2011) identified a novel aspect, developing (student) critical thinking. Despite these, the majority of the cited studies fall into two broad orientations: a “teacher-centered/content-oriented” side that mainly focuses on delivery of the content to the students and a “student-centered/learning-oriented” side that primarily focuses on students’ active participation in the learning process for a better understanding of the concepts.
Some leading studies on teachers’ conceptions involved investigations into both online and blended contexts (face-to-face and online; Ellis et al., 2009; Engström, Lindqvist, Ljunggren, & Carlsson, 2009; González, 2009, 2010; Lameras, Levy, Paraskakis, & Webber, 2011). For instance, Ellis et al. (2009) investigated learning technologies and González (2009) focused on distance learning, whereas González (2010) and Roberts (2003) emphasized e-learning (web-based learning). The majority of these studies broadly support both the “teacher-centered/content-oriented” and “student-centered/learning-oriented” views. However, some new findings were revealed such as Ellis, Goodyear, et al. (2006) and Ellis et al. (2009) who identified two broad categories similar to previous frameworks: (a) fragmented (content-centered) that concentrates on the accumulation and reproduction of knowledge without much focus on understanding; (b) cohesion (student-centered) that focuses on student conceptual understanding. In contrast, Lameras et al. (2011) identified three broad orientations: “teacher-focused/content-oriented,” “student-focused/content-oriented,” and “student-focused/process-oriented.”
Most of the studies in the existing literature have been investigated in university settings, where conventional face-to-face teaching and blended teaching are standard. Little research has been conducted focusing on teachers’ conceptions of the role of technology integration in teaching in TVE contexts. To our knowledge, only one study was found that was conducted by Bliuc, Casey, Bachfischer, Goodyear, and Ellis (2012) in the TVE contexts investigating teachers’ views of blended learning and approaches to blended teaching. A total of 81 teachers from TAFE NSW with experience in using blended learning were invited to participate in a questionnaire-based phenomenographic study. They identified five conceptions of blended learning, namely, (a) blended learning to empower students for lifelong learning; (b) blended learning for students’ needs and learning goals; (c) blended learning to improve students’ access to learning and to meet their practical needs; (d) blended learning as an aggregation of face-to-face, online, and other types of technologically driven delivery; and (e) blended learning as the use of technology-teaching tools. These findings presented some new understanding of blended teaching in TVE. For example, the categories “empowering students for lifelong learning” and “focusing on students’ needs and learning goals that address their individual needs” were not identified in the previous similar phenomenographic studies of Roberts (2003), González (2009), Ellis et al. (2009), and González (2010). Thus, newer studies in this domain are required that may provide useful insights contributing to existing literature.
The main concluding ideas that can be drawn from the above review are as follows: (a) Although a substantial amount of research has been carried out to investigate teachers’ conceptions in higher education in different contexts, prior research has not yet conclusively investigated TVE teachers’ conceptions of the role of technology integration in their teaching and (b) it was found that recent studies in this paradigm (teachers’ conceptions of blended teaching) identified useful facets that were not properly discerned in the previous research. For example, Bliuc et al.’s (2012) study, as we stated earlier, identified new conceptions in the blended context. From this review, we felt that exploring TVE teachers’ understanding and experience of technology integration in both face-to-face and blended contexts, as an emerging research area, will contribute new knowledge and facets that can enhance our understanding further. With these aims, in this research, we explored TVE teachers’ conceptions of technology integration in their teaching.
Theoretical and Methodological Underpinnings
We situate this research in the existing constructivist literature that entails the detailed study of human behavior (understanding, feelings, emotions, experience, and thoughts) in real life situations (Fielding & Schreier, 2001; Thorne, 2000); therefore, we chose phenomenography as a qualitative research approach in this research. The use of qualitative methods in phenomenography helped us undertake a detailed study of TVE teachers’ understanding, experience, and thoughts about technology in both face-to-face and blended teaching contexts. This methodology presents students’ and teachers’ conceptions that are built on their different levels of understanding of learning and teaching, which in turn provide powerful insights for improving tertiary education (Entwistle, 1997). It is evident that phenomenographic studies contribute new knowledge about different conceptions and approaches to teaching and learning in different contexts. A significant number of studies on teachers’ conceptions of teaching in face-to-face teaching context could be found in the literature (Åkerlind, 2004; González, 2011; Kember, 1997; Prosser, Trigwell, & Taylor, 1994). The findings of these studies have contributed to improving teachers’ pedagogical practices and students’ learning outcomes. However, most of the empirical research on teachers’ conceptions of and approaches to teaching in blended contexts has been done in the university sector. The sector has benefited significantly from this research approach (González, 2009, 2010, 2012; Lameras et al., 2011). Therefore, phenomenography was chosen as the most appropriate research methodology to investigate the research problem that was set for this study. The next sections explain about phenomenography, research design, and analytical procedures through which the findings in this study were revealed.
Phenomenography concentrates on people’s understanding of particular phenomena in a limited number of ways, generally referred to as “categories of description” (Marton, 1981; Marton & Booth, 1997). To elucidate this approach further, Åkerlind (2012) stated, “a core premise of phenomenography is the assumption that different categories of description or ways of experiencing a phenomenon are logically related to one another, typically by way of hierarchically inclusive relationships” (p. 116). The focal point of phenomenography can be represented by the word “conception” (Carbone, Mannila, & Fitzgerald, 2007; Marton & Pong, 2005), which refers to teachers’ perceived understanding of a given phenomenon (Sappa & Aprea, 2014). To comprehend people’s own understanding and meanings ascribed, Marton (1988) elaborated on the process and divided it into referential and structural components (Figure 1). The referential component is linked with the “what aspect” that is the meaning of the object of interest. It is defined as a particular phenomenon being understood or experienced. The structural component is linked with the “how aspect” that is to find out the relationships or hierarchical structure among the identified categories (Khan, 2014). The main purpose of this study was to identify how TVE teachers’ understand and conceptualize the role of technology integration in their teaching in qualitatively different ways that were revealed from participants’ collective rather than individual experience. In relation to this, Åkerlind (2012) informed, “phenomenographic research aims to explore the range of meanings within a sample group, as a group, not the range of meanings for each individual within the group” (p. 117). Therefore, sample selection, data collection, and interpretations of the data were informed by this research approach, which are described as follows:
To select a sample, the relationship between the participants’ awareness and the purposes of the study is a vital criterion. Also crucial is the selection of an appropriate sample size. Marton and Booth (1997) suggested taking a small sample purposively from a particular large population. Trigwell (2000) stated that a minimum of 10 to 15 participants may provide possible variation in participants’ experience of a particular phenomenon. Variation in participants’ experience is an important aspect in this research approach. Therefore, it is necessary to choose participants from different levels of experience and features such as age, gender, disciplines, institutions, and so on, for maximum variation in the outcome space (Åkerlind, 2004; Green, 2005). For this study, guidance was drawn from existing phenomenographic literature, and 13 technical and vocational teachers from two TAFE institutions of New South Wales, Australia, were purposively chosen who had direct experience of using technology in blended contexts. To create a reasonable variation in experience of using technology in TVE, participants were selected from various disciplines and included participants with different levels of experience, age, and gender. This study obtained approvals of the Human Ethics Research Committees (HERCs) of the participating TAFE institutions and from the University of Sydney. The head teachers from the desired disciplines were requested to forward an invitation letter along with a Participant Information Statement (PIS) to all teachers in the department. The PIS clearly explained about the nature of research study and about their voluntary participation in this study. To meet the ethical requirement, participants signed the consent forms before their participation in this study. The main characteristics of the sample are presented in Table 1.
Interviewing is one of the most preferred methods of data collection in phenomenographic research as interviews can provide rich data that can be probed as deeply as required (Åkerlind, 2012; Åkerlind, Bowden, & Green, 2005; Marton & Booth, 1997). Therefore, in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted during the period September 2012 to April 2013, which provided the opportunity to explore teachers’ understanding of specific phenomena and also provided opportunities for clarification of data during interviews (Åkerlind et al., 2005; Bowden, 2005). The first author conducted face-to-face semi-structured interviews that took place on a one-on-one interview basis. This study did not conduct any follow-up interviews by following Green’s (2005) recommendation that “unlike naturalistic inquiry where follow-up interviews are often used, phenomenography normally relies on one interview per participant” (p. 40). Each interview took 40 to 60 min and started with general questions about teachers’ experience of technology into their teaching such as “What is the usefulness of technology to you when it is used in teaching? What are the purposes of using technology in teaching practice?”
At the beginning of each interview, some structured questions were asked and mainly followed by “what-” type questions such as “What does teaching mean to you when technology is used in it?” As interviews moved further, some unstructured follow-up questions were also asked to encourage participants to explain further as well as to clarify their responses. For example, when a participant responded, “I like teaching through discussions by using technology,” the researcher asked, “Could you please explain that further? Why is it important? Could you provide more examples?” The main purpose of the interviews was to explore the experience of the TAFE teachers’ technology use for teaching as extensively as possible.
In accordance with advice from existing phenomenographic literature (Bowden, 2005), the data analysis procedure for this research started after completion of all interviews. A digital audio recorder was used to record the interviews that were then transcribed verbatim to perform the analysis. There is no single technique for data analysis in phenomenographic research (Marton, 1986). For example, Sjöström and Dahlgren (2002) used seven steps for analyzing the data: familiarization, compilation, condensation, preliminary grouping, comparison, naming, and contrastive comparison. On the contrary, González (2010) employed five steps: reading interview transcripts several times to get familiarity with transcripts, focused reading and adding annotations, construction of an initial list of categories, rereading of transcripts with preliminary categories in mind, and finally, finalization of categories of description. It is imperative to state that these five steps do not conflict with Sjöström and Dahlgren’s (2002) seven steps. The later study employed a concise way to accommodate the former seven steps in university teaching where technology (eLearning) was focused. The current study chose to follow five steps of González (2010) in analyzing data as the main focus of both studies was on technology. The first step of data analysis was familiarization with the data to develop an understanding of the responses of the participants in the interviews. The first author made necessary corrections in the transcripts after reading the whole individual transcripts several times, which was common practice in this research approach (Bowden, 2000). The first author also prepared personal notes for each of the transcript including the participants’ demographic information. The accuracy of the transcripts corresponding to their audio files was carefully checked, and through this process, similarities and dissimilarities of responses were identified within the transcripts. The next stage involved the identification of similar answers given by the interviewees that were then linked to the relevant sections that were previously identified based on similarities and dissimilarities. The subsequent task was to determine preliminary categories based on their central meaning (Bowden, 2005) as well as the logical relation between categories (Marton & Booth, 1997). In this step, the first author followed an “open-minded attitude,” a common recommendation for phenomenographic data analysis (Åkerlind, 2005; Bowden, 2005; Prosser, 2000). This recommendation suggested that the categories of description should be discovered and should not be derived from existing frameworks or biases. The researchers discuss about the preliminary categories to ensure that there was no bias involved in analyzing the data as phenomenographic analysis ideally could be accomplished collaboratively (Marton & Booth, 1997). The preliminary categories were checked against the interview data, and the relevant quotations for each category were selected based on their core meaning. In this stage, the research team followed Bowden’s (2005) recommendations: (a) Except interview transcripts, we did not consider other evidence and (b) bracketing of our own conceptions relating to technology-enhanced blended teaching. To confirm the final outcome space, the end results of phenomenographic research, this study followed Marton and Booth’s (1997) recommendation of three criteria for judging the quality of the outcome spaces: (a) The individual category of outcome space should reflect something distinctive about the way of experiencing the aspect of the world, (b) the categories are logically connected in a relationship that is frequently hierarchical, and (c) the outcome space should be parsimonious. That is, the critical variation in experience is presented by as few categories as possible. Thus, the final outcome space was discerned depending on internal key features and elements shared among each category.
Reliability in this study was achieved through the use of appropriate methodological procedures to obtain quality and consistency in data collection and analysis (Åkerlind, 2012; Kvale, 1996). This study preferred dialogic reliability check along the line proposed by Åkerlind (2012), that is, to enact a reliability check in this research in which the interpretive steps provide a clear discussion with appropriate examples and incorporate details to clarify each step. After preliminary categories were decided on, these were discussed with the research team who had experience of phenomenographic data analysis (see the appendix). To further ensure reliability, all interpretive steps were discussed with the research team to confirm the emerged set of categories. Besides, as we mentioned earlier, quotations from interviewees were given to establish and support the final outcome spaces. The researcher team consulted with each other whenever any confusion was emerged.
The analysis of the data revealed that teachers held four different conceptions that fit into categories of description when expressing their views about integration of technology into TAFE teaching:
Category A: Upgrading teacher knowledge
Category B: Ease of communication
Category C: Effective teaching
Category D: Flexible teaching
The order of categories of the use of technology in TAFE teaching is not intended to propose that one is better than others. Rather they are ordered from a less complete understanding (because the main focus is on the teachers’ task of acquiring knowledge) to more complete understanding (because the main focus is not only acquiring knowledge but also offering student-centered teaching). Each category holds qualitatively different meanings with unique features, and is elaborated below with the results from the transcripts. At the end of each quotation, an identification number was used to keep interviewees anonymous, allow record tracing, and keep to ethical agreements.
Category A: Updating Teacher Knowledge
In this category, the role of technology in TAFE teaching is viewed as a way for teachers to update and seek further knowledge on a constant basis. Teachers generally use technology-supported tools to update two distinct aspects. First, every teacher’s knowledge is incomplete and requires updating. Knowledge in any discipline, for example, computer, electrical, mechanical, civil, is changing rapidly, thereby creating a pressure (external and internal) on a teacher to update their knowledge to cope with the changing pace. For example, the following extract indicates how teachers acknowledged the incompleteness of their knowledge as,
I use a lot Google [search engine], because during the time I prepare for my class, even I’m a teacher, but that doesn’t mean I know everything. I want find out [new information] and so I do research [on Google]. (N05-I1)
I also have access to lots of other sites to learn about materials used in this product [design a gearbox] and how to select materials for the design so I use other resources as well. So, I would say it’s mostly looking for the latest developments in material looking for latest technology and you basically get this information so quickly [by using the internet], ’cause you don’t have to look for books and stuff. So, it’s readily available and you can easily access and I use a lot of Internet resources. (N05-I1)
Second, due to the changing nature of knowledge, teachers continually need to update their resource materials. Every year, teachers generally update their lectures, class notes, and presentations. The participant teachers informed that they updated their resource materials by continually adding new information:
Well, every semester I update the programs that I use. I research for any additional new information to accumulate in it. (N12-I1)
Thus, in this category, TAFE teachers perceived technology integration as a way to add new knowledge to their teaching.
Category B: Ease of Communication
In the second category, the use of technology is seen as a means to communicate with students and among other teachers in TAFE. Specifically, teachers use different technology-supported tools to communicate easily and effectively. For example, many teachers use email, social media, communicator, text messaging, and module to communicate with students and colleagues. One participant teacher stated,
To relate with the students these days, because you can communicate with students better if you use ICT [technology]. It is faster. (N04-I1)
Technology, in this category, is also viewed as a tool for assessing students’ learning and a medium for occasional discussion and communication. For example, teachers use technology for uploading their quiz questions, assignments for students who later upload their completed assignments. Sometimes, teachers invite students to discuss online on a synchronous or asynchronous basis with students and/or other teachers. Teachers can also use technology for announcements about changes in quiz dates or a space for keeping in touch:
So that’s really how I use the ICT [technology] in that classroom. Submit the assignments, peer-to-peer evaluation, discussion forums, general repository of information where they get to do it back and forth, and communication tool between students and between the student and the teacher. (N01-I2)
So I can use them as a [sic], an intellectual resource or as a communicative resource. (N10-I1)
In brief, TAFE teachers perceived technology as a supportive tool for communicating with both colleagues and students, discussing occasionally with students in a synchronous and/or asynchronous basis and assessing students’ learning.
Category C: Effective Teaching
In Category C, the role of technology in TAFE teaching is considered as a way of delivering teaching effectively. Inside a classroom, students are coming from diverse backgrounds and have different skill levels—For example, some are slow learners or fast learners, some like presentations, some like reading, and some may have other learning preferences. In addition, students may have different knowledge backgrounds and have distinctive learning styles. Teachers therefore need to choose from a myriad of teaching tools that match with students’ learning styles. This awareness was derived from teachers’ responses such as the following:
I’m also aware that that’s [using one technology tool] not going to suit every learner in my classroom. I need to make sure that there are diverse applications, diverse methodologies in play to pick up all of the different learning preferences. (N09-I1)
What would be different is the approach that I take, obviously because people from those different cohorts [different backgrounds] have very different foundation, knowledge levels, and so I would have to adapt my presentation in accordance with that. (N07-I2)
In addition, this category indicates that teachers use various forms of technology to engage students in activities. The participants mentioned that one of the main reasons for using technology is to invite students to become involved in different activities such as quizzes, analyzing different problems, and summarizing concepts by using interactive smart boards and other ICT-supported tools:
So having an interactive smart board where they have to get up and do a quiz, tap the board, move things around and put things together. They can [do many things], it’s whatever works. That’s a thing really why we use and why we should use the technology. (N03-I1)
[I use] YouTube clips and then ask them to watch that video clips carefully, and then I actually ask them to answer the questionnaire before [watching the video] and after watching the video. They can answer certain questions [before watching the video], and after watching video they can answer most of the questions. So that is like an activity, watch video and answer questions. I found that they actually relate very well to that sort of resources. I can actually keep them engaged better . . . I think learning is bit more effective if teachers use such resources. (N05-I1)
In short, TAFE teachers, in this category, considered technology as an effective tool to enhance classroom teaching by offering various tools for enhancing their teaching.
Category D: Flexible Teaching
In this category, the use of technology is viewed as a medium for offering a flexible teaching and learning environment. The emphasis is on using technology to provide a relaxed platform for teaching more effectively in a wider range of contexts. In this category, there are two main reasons to use technology for flexible purposes. The provision of flexible opportunities for student learning is a primary goal—For example, students generally use various sorts of mobile devices such as smart phones, iPads, or other electronic devices in their learning. In most cases, they do not rely on printed material such as textbooks or hard copy study materials in or outside the classroom. They have either softcopy that is stored on their mobile devices or they prefer to go online to search for related information. Within this context, some teachers in TAFE offer flexible teaching and learning through mobile devices. Such interpretations were made from teachers’ responses such as the following:
Especially for the new generation, and the students who come to class with their iPhone, iPad and they do not carry any textbook. If we [teachers] give them more flexibility, more online resources, [it] will make their study easier. (N13-I2)
Some courses are offered in a blended mode—For instance, at the beginning of a semester, students need to attend regular classes to understand the course contents, objectives, and learning outcomes; to become familiar with class teachers; and to receive teaching instructions and learning materials for the next fortnight or other period. During this time span, teachers offer online teaching and resource material by using different technologies. Therefore, students can attend online classes from anywhere and at any time as explained by the following participant:
You [students] enroll, you come here every three weeks, we’ll give you update in face-to-face, but on the days which you can’t get in, use the Internet. You can read the lectures, you can view videos, you can work through examples, you can see work examples if you want. And see how they cope. It is the change of the working patterns that we can also address. (N05-I1)
In brief, this category showed a wider experience of using technology in TAFE teaching context. The use of technology is not limited to classroom teaching; rather it goes beyond the classroom context.
Relationships Among the Categories
The four categories ranged from a simple to a more sophisticated experience of the role of technology in TVE teaching. The first two categories are considered less sophisticated categories because the main focus is on technology-oriented teaching, whereas students’ conceptual development by involving active and flexible learning is given very little attention. Conversely, Categories C and D are seen as more complete when compared with the first two categories because the main focus of the teachers’ tasks shifted to students’ development by creating spaces for engaging them in active learning.
An additional important aspect that needs to be highlighted is that more completed categories (Categories C and D) include features1 (elements/components) that may not be found in less sophisticated categories (Categories A and B). The highest order category is the most inclusive in nature; that is, it generally includes elements from the other three lower order categories. In Figure 2, Category D is hierarchically above than the former three categories (Categories A, B, and C) and presents more sophisticated elements. For example, in Category D, the role of ICT is viewed not only as upgrading knowledge (A), communicating easily (B), and teaching effectively (C) but also as offering flexible teaching (D). Similarly, the Category C contains components from lower order categories, but it may not include elements from higher order Category D. That is, the use of ICT in Category C includes the various elements from previous categories. For example, using ICT for effective teaching in Category C is extended from the Categories A and B. More specifically, in Category C, upgrading teacher knowledge is an element similar to Category A, but its focus is not only related to upgrading knowledge (A) and communicating easily (B) but also related to teaching effectively (C). Therefore, Category C is hierarchically above Categories A and B, but it is lower than Category D. A similar nature is also found in Categories A and B. In this hierarchical relationship, Category A is less sophisticated than Categories B, C, and D; that is, Category A does not include components from Categories B, C, and D.
This study identified four categories of description that were categorized into two broad areas: a “technology-related” orientation (Categories A and B) and a “student-activity-related” orientation (Categories C and D). The technology-oriented side is mainly content- and information-driven, understanding where teachers mainly focus on conveying necessary information and students are generally passive recipients. In this perspective, students’ active involvement received little attention (Table 2). This finding broadly supports previous phenomenographic research (González, 2009; Kember, 1997). On the contrary, the last two categories (C and D) are considered as a student or activity orientation where teachers mainly used technology as a means to facilitate students’ learning in the form of myriad activities and to offer flexible opportunities for independent learning. This broad orientation was also found in several other phenomenographic studies (González, 2010; Lameras, Levy, Paraskakis, & Webber, 2012). Therefore, some of these findings relate to the existing literature on teachers’ conceptions.
The findings of this study also support González’s (2010) finding to use technology for communication purposes. For instance, González (2009) argued that the purpose of online learning is to foster communication among teachers and students to offer active learning. González’s (2010) study adopted the notion that e-learning is used to support occasional communication, and this relates to the findings of this research. The current study also revealed that teachers use technology for communication purposes, and this use is on occasional basis. This shows that teachers’ use of technology is dependent on local situations that determine which technology to use, why, and how. These findings were generated through “Category B” that is placed in a technology-oriented aspect. In addition, some of the findings of this study are novel and add to the existing literature on teachers’ conceptions of teaching in different contexts. For instance, “Category D: technology is used for flexible teaching” is not found in previous phenomenographic research. It is important to note that students’ active involvement has been found in the existing literature (Ellis et al., 2009; González, 2009, 2010). However, the findings of this study (particularly “Category D”) not only emphasize students’ active involvement but also extend its features on flexibility in teaching and learning contexts and is not restricted solely within the boundaries of a classroom.
Before discussing the implications, we discuss the limitations of this study to highlight which particular aspects this study did not cover. The participants were recruited from two Australian TAFE institutes and were relatively small in number. However, a sample of 13 participants is not unusual in practice using a phenomenographic research approach. For example, González (2009) interviewed seven teachers about their conceptions of teaching online; Ho, Watkins, and Kelly (2001) interviewed 12 academics about their conceptual change approach to improving teaching and learning. Moreover, the results depend on the setting or the context of each study; therefore, it may not be generalizable to other contexts. In addition, the aim of the phenomenographic research approach is not to provide generalizable results; rather, these studies focus on a particular phenomenon that needs to be investigated deeply to improve the existing situation. In addition, this study relied solely on interview data. What teachers said during their interviews might not be reflected in their teaching practices (Kane, Sandretto, & Heath, 2002). However, many studies in the literature rely solely on interview data, and they have the capacity to contribute to existing theory and practices (Åkerlind, 2004; Ellis et al., 2009; González, 2009).
Implications and Conclusion
The findings of the study have both practical and theoretical implications. Particularly, as technology becomes ever more pervasive in the teaching practice of a developed country like Australia, the role of technology integration in TVE teaching is becoming a major focus of research initiatives (Balaba, 2010; Pellone, 1991). The findings of this study could be used to inform these research initiatives, as this study provides a second-order experience (the findings derived from participants who had both industrial and teaching experience) of the investigated phenomena and provides new knowledge to reinforce existing effective teaching practices. The findings could further provide new insights for improving teaching practice in TAFE particularly and other TVE institutions around the world. For example, novel findings such as “Category D: flexible teaching” may influence teachers’ context-sensitive pedagogical practices and provide direction toward flexible teaching and learning in tertiary education. The findings further present a number of experiences in relation to using technology in both face-to-face and blended teaching that may influence teachers’ pedagogical approach in TVE contexts particularly and higher education in general. Previous research in this domain showed that teachers’ conceptions of teaching are linked with students’ learning style (Prosser & Trigwell, 1999). Therefore, another quite important implication of this study is to translate its findings into tangible measures to improve teaching practice through technology, which subsequently improves student learning. The findings may also promote a better understanding of how TVE teachers conceptualize incorporating technology into their teaching contexts, which will be a potential input for professional development programs to providing evidence and a cogent rationale for improving student-focused teaching in both face-to-face and blended contexts. Findings from this article may be employed by curriculum developers to update curriculum content and to redesign programs sensitive to students’ learning experience in relation to technology-supported teaching and learning. In relation to theory, this study supports the existing teacher-centered and student-centered continuum (Kember, 1997; Samuelowicz & Bain, 2001). It extends the phenomenographic research in TVE contexts that reveals new ways of experiencing technology in TVE teaching that are not commonly found in previous literature. The findings of this study show one novel conception of blended teaching (technology is used for flexible teaching) that seems to reflect independent learning. More importantly, Category D perceived a social-constructivist understanding where knowledge is constructed or co-constructed by the student with the help of technology.
In conclusion, comparatively little research has investigated TVE teachers’ pedagogical beliefs and practices. Our study offers a preliminary exploration of this gap by identifying four different ways of conceptualizing the role of technology in TVE teaching. Based on its limitations and findings, we suggest that there will be value in extending this research with a broader sample (more than 20) in various TVE institutes. Furthermore, it is suggested that observations are also included to attain a glimpse of teachers’ ways of using technology in their teaching practices. Thus, it would be valuable to conduct future studies where both the interviews and the observations are conducted with the same participants.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research and/or authorship of this article: This research was conducted through the financial support of an Australia Awards (AusAID) scholarship. It is grounded from the preliminary data set of the first author’s doctoral project.
↵1. In this article, terms such as features, elements, and components are used interchangeably.
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Md. Shahadat Hossain Khan completed his PhD from the University of Sydney, Australia. He has been working as an assistant professor of the department of Technical and Vocational Education (TVE), at the Islamic University of Technology (IUT), Bangladesh, since 2006. He has a wide experience in ICT-enhanced teaching and learning, TPCK (Technology, Pedagogy, Content, Knowledge) Framework, Curriculum development in tertiary level, professional development, at national and international levels.
Shaista Bibi completed her PhD from the University of Sydney, Australia. Currently she is working as an educational developer at the faculty of Art & Design, University of New South Wales (UNSW), Australia. She has a wide experience in online teaching, TPCK (Technology, Pedagogy, Content, Knowledge) Framework, and design cognition in Australia.
Mahbub Hasan is currently a doctoral candidate at the School of Education, University of Queensland, Australia. His research interest includes learning inquiries, technology-based powerful learning environments and E-learning in higher education.