MELISSA-X

MELISSA-X was the one-year extension phase (2012-2013) of the 3-year project titled MELISSA (Measuring E-Learning Impact in primary Schools in South African disadvantaged areas). The project was funded under the Swiss-South-African Joint Research Projects frame, by the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation and the Swiss National Science Foundation. The project was a research partnership between the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa, and the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI) in Switzerland, coordinated by Prof. Lorenzo Cantoni (USI) and Prof. Wallace Chigona (UCT).

Aims and participants: MELISSA aimed to measure the impact of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in teacher training. In its regular 3-year course, it involved in-service teachers in six disadvantaged schools in the Cape Town area, while during the extension phase it involved pre-service teachers studying at two Western Cape Universities. MELISSA-X was designed to explore to what extent ICT training could help pre-service teachers to meaningfully link the use of technology to their pedagogical practices. The project looked at relationships between teachers’ technological skills, computer- and self-efficacy, attitudes towards ICT in education, and intentions to use technology in future teaching.

Methodology: Two training modules were designed and delivered in MELISSA-X: The first module imparted knowledge and skills for using interactive whiteboards to support teaching and class engagement activities. The second module introduced participants to the use of digital storytelling (DST) in education. Data were collected at several points before, during and after each training, using a multi-method approach including: observations, questionnaires, semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and the digital stories produced by participants.

One of the participants in the digital storytelling course, sharing her story script with her peers.

One of the participants in the digital storytelling course, sharing her story script with her peers.

Results: The results for the extension phase were grouped in four categories. Salient findings for each are reported below:

(1) Teacher and computer self-efficacy. The first phase of the project had revealed that no significant positive correlation could be established between computer and teacher self-efficacy. In other words, teachers’ increased confidence in using technology was not associated with an increase in the confidence of being (or becoming) a good educator. MELISSA-X qualitative data showed that the same applied as well for pre-service teachers: the education students involved thought that knowing how to use ICT would make them more equipped, yet not better educators.

(2) Social meaning of technology. One of the most significant findings was that the way students looked at digital technology was influenced by living and learning in an environment marked by socio-economic divides. In education, technology was thought to mark 1) the edge of innovation, separating the old, traditional models of education from the new, engaging, fun and creative ways of teaching and learning; and 2) the edge of development, by which technology was seen as a mark of socio-economic development, singling out well-off schools from disadvantaged schools. Likewise, technology knowledge and skills were deemed essential for being able to compete adequately on the job market, in education as well as other professions.

(3) Attitudes towards ICT & education were patterned on the ABC construct of “attitude” in social psychology, separating between cognitive, affective and behavioural attitudes:

• At cognitive level, all participants shared three beliefs: in technological pervasiveness, technological constant evolution, and the role of technology in driving societal and educational change.

• Affective attitudes went from fear of being left behind to passion for technology; and

• At the conative or behavioural level, students demonstrated commitment to keep constantly updated on ICT innovation and integrate technology in future teaching practices.

More details on the results can be read in the paper:

Sabiescu, A., van Zyl, I., Pucciarelli, M., Cantoni, L., Bytheway, A., Wallace Chigona, W., & Tardini, S. (2013) Changing Mindsets: The Attitude of Pre-service Teachers on Technology for Teaching. Proceedings of the International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD ‘13). Cape Town, South Africa, 7-10 Dec. 2013.

(4) Trainings: response and design. The two trainings offered as part of MELISSA were generally well received, and resulted in both interest in the technology and technology-enhanced imparted, as well as acquisition of associated skills. One of the significant drawbacks indicated by participants was lack of time and the difficulty to engage in-depth with course activities during their busy schedules. The analysis of the trainings in comparison with the technology trainings they were getting in their university revealed another interesting aspect: In universities, ICT training courses were taught as focused modules on specific technologies (E.g. MS Office programs).

Frame from one of the digital stories produced by participants during the DST course.

Frame from one of the digital stories produced by participants during the DST course.

No courses attempted to bridge technology uses to teaching methods and specific subject matters. This training approach served to consolidate patterns of interaction with technology to educational technology that was evident already from the first MELISSA findings with in-service teachers: ICT were seen and used as separate support tools, with little influence on the way of teaching, the delivery of educational content, or students’ engagement with it. The digital storytelling course offered by MELISSA was an exception to this trend, as students could see how the same subject matter could be taught differently by using digital media and creative activities.