Teacher change: individual and cultural risk perceptions in the context of ICT integration.

Doctoral Studies Completed Theses - 2009 Archive

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Sarah Howard

PhD thesis, conferred 2009

This study investigates teachers’ perceptions of risk and risk-taking behaviours in the context of ICT-related educational change. Perceptions and behaviours are examined through teachers’ talk about risk: their individual perceptions of risk-taking, and how perceptions relate to risk perceptions in the wider school culture. When teachers implement new teaching practices and experiment in the classroom they are taking risks. Without the risk-taking, change is not possible.

The research presented in this thesis examines teachers’ perceptions of risk in the area of ICT integration – utilizing ICT in the classroom to support student learning effectively. The research was carried out in Australia and the United States. A two-phase, mixed-method strategy was employed in the study. The first phase was primarily questionnaire-based, and captured data from both secondary and primary-level teachers, concerning aspects of teaching-efficacy, computer-efficacy, measures of playfulness & anxiety, and school culture. This phase made it possible to explore some of the relationships between these variables, develop and test instrumentation to distinguish between more and less risk-averse teachers and then select some contrasting teachers for further investigation. Phase two involved observation of these eight teachers’ teaching, several rounds of in-depth interviews, and the gathering of field notes from school visits.

The thesis shows that risk-taking needs to be understood as an interaction between personal (teacher) and cultural (school) variables. Findings revealed that a primary area of concern in teachers’ perceptions of risk was risk to student achievement. Teachers who showed more potential to take risks talked about student achievement in terms of intrinsic motivation and engagement, while teachers with less potential to take risks saw achievement in terms of quantifiable results and test scores.

Depending on a teacher’s risk-taking habits, perceived risks had more or less impact on the decision to integrate ICT into the classroom. Risk-taking behaviours related to teachers’ perceptions of the teacher role and school expectations of ICT-integration.

Teachers’ risk perceptions proved to be related to their school’s cultural type, categorized using a grid-group typology. The two case study schools were found to be hierarchical cultures. In hierarchical cultures, technology is viewed as low-risk, as long as the manner in which it is used is approved by an expert.

The findings have significant implications for the introduction of new technologies into school cultures, particularly in relation to the impact of school leadership and trust when schools are introducing ICT-related change initiatives.

Supervisor: Professor Peter Goodyear.