Bringing the World Wide Web to Ontario's Elementary Teachers
This project resulted in the publication of the Ontario Elementary Curriculum
Links web site, an online resource designed to assist elementary teachers
in obtaining pedagogical resources necessary for the implementation of
the new provincial curricula in Ontario. The Ontario Elementary Curriculum
Links web site provides links to 344 web sites relevant to specific strands
in all subject areas for all grade levels in Ontario's elementary curricula.
Users have the opportunity to submit web sites that they find for publication
on the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site so they can be shared
with others. Theoretical frameworks used to guide the development of the
Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site included both attitude research
(Ajzen, 1991) and invitational theory (Purkey & Novak, 1996). The Ontario
Elementary Curriculum Links web site is published on the World Wide Web
This project introduces the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site a web site designed to help elementary teachers in Ontario locate information and resources on the World Wide Web (WWW) relevant to their teaching and planning needs. This comprehensive and user-friendly web site organizes information and web resources relevant to any strand in any subject area in any grade level of the new Ontario curricula from kindergarten to grade 8. As well, the web site provides an opportunity for teachers who discover valuable resources to submit them for publication on the web site so they can be shared with others. From the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site teachers are able to quickly and easily find WWW resources that are pertinent to their specific curricular needs and greatly reduce the amount of time needed to be spent online searching for curricular resources.
Background of the Problem
Teaching is a fluid and dynamic profession in which educators are constantly refining their methods to reflect changes in society, culture, and curricula. The educational landscape is by no means static: educators are bound by law to teach frequently changing Ontario provincial curricula in a society and culture which is evolving at a rapid pace.
Unfortunately, in Ontario this rapid change has been accompanied by a reduction in professional development time and support available for the elementary classroom teacher to ease the transition from the old to the new. One of the teacher's greatest resources is time, and the proliferation of information technologies in elementary schools and classrooms coupled with the introduction of new curricula for every subject has resulted in a large increase in the amount of time needed to become familiar and proficient with them. Both of these challenges alone would be enough to tax even the most experienced and energetic educator, but together they have created an even greater hurdle.
As elementary teachers in Ontario seek out help to master these new challenges they are faced with many existing books, magazines, and web sites whose aim is to help teachers learn how to use the WWW and the Internet. These resources frequently provide endless lists of web sites categorized by subject area. Finding useful and relevant information on the WWW can be a daunting and overwhelming task for a newcomer to this revolutionary medium. There is a clear need for better resources that enable teachers to reduce the amount of time that is required for them to get their jobs done effectively and creatively.
Statement of the Problem Situation
There is a need for a web site designed to assist elementary teachers in Ontario in obtaining pedagogical resources necessary for the implementation of the new provincial curricula.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this project is to provide elementary teachers in Ontario with a comprehensive and user-friendly web site from which they can find information and resources relevant to any strand in any subject area in any grade level of the new Ontario curricula from kindergarten to grade 8. As well, the web site provides an opportunity for teachers who discover valuable resources to submit them for publication on the web site so they can be shared with others.
This project sought to create an inviting, organized, and useful web site that provides elementary teachers in Ontario with links to other WWW resources relevant to the new provincial curricula.
- Inviting. Teachers generally have some anxiety about using the WWW in the initial stages of their online experience. Well-designed and easy to use web sites can create a sense of security and invitation for its users that will reduce their anxiety associated with using the technology.
- Organized. One of the most difficult skills in obtaining information on the Internet and the WWW is the ability to efficiently search for it. With tens of millions of web sites (Trish Information Services, as cited in Gilster, 1997), it can be a daunting task to find specific sites relevant to an elementary teacher's specific needs. Some web sites attempt to create teacher-friendly interfaces and create lists of valuable web sites for educators but these are frequently organized by subject or grade level and can be difficult to navigate. This project presents a web site that further organizes web resources pertinent to elementary teachers in Ontario by grade level, subject area, and strand. This organizational framework further reduces the amount of time elementary teachers in Ontario need to spend online looking for professional and curricular web sites.
- Useful. An inviting and well-organized web site is irrelevant if it does not serve a useful purpose for its intended audience. Invitation and organization will draw users to explore a web site, but it is the web site's content that will keep them coming back. A useful site has content that is relevant, timely, and accurate. Elementary teachers in Ontario need information that is useful to their professional development and their teaching. This web site provides, and encourages users to provide, links to sites that suit those needs.
There is a definite need for a user-friendly web site for elementary teachers in Ontario that provides links to other web sites organized by specific grades, subjects, and strands.
Traditionally, teachers upgrade their skills and learn up to date teaching practices through personal networking, reading, courses, workshops, and seminars. These methods still valuable means for obtaining current information and resources related to classroom teaching practice take place both in the teachers' own time and during instructional professional development days. However, both a reduction in the amount professional development days provided by school boards in Ontario, and a reduction in the amount of planning time available to teachers during the working day have resulted in teachers not having as much time for professional development as they may have had in the past. What time elementary teachers have left for professional development needs to be used efficiently.
Unfortunately, time is one of the greatest necessities required for teachers to learn how to use the powerful and sprawling WWW. Elementary teachers in Ontario are faced with a growing computer presence in their classrooms. Naturally, the expectation is that teachers will use the computers in their classrooms effectively to enhance and extend their students' education. More recently, infrastructural upgrades have enabled Internet connections to be wired directly into school libraries, computer rooms, and classrooms. This connection to the Internet literally puts a world of information at the students' and teachers' fingertips. The WWW contains vast amounts of information that can enhance the learning experiences of elementary students but a difficulty arises in filtering out the many unwanted sites and finding the genuinely useful ones. The WWW is a new medium that teachers must learn how to use before they can use it effectively and many are finding that their students already know more than they do about using it! The Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web page reduces the amount of time teachers need to spend online by reducing the need to personally search the WWW for useful and relevant resources. In addition, it is simple to use and organized so that beginning WWW users can easily find specific resources.
The Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site is to be used by elementary teachers in Ontario. It is a project that is WWW-based and requires educators to venture online to use it. For many teachers new to the Internet this can be an intimidating proposition. One of the key goals of the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site is to simplify the online search experience for both beginning and experienced WWW users.
It is important to consider that there are deeper factors affecting an individual's attitude toward the WWW. Ajzen's (1988, 1991) attitude theory can help explain how attitude affects behaviour. According to Ajzen's (1991) theory of planned behaviour, whether an individual intends to perform a behaviour is determined by that individual's attitude toward the situation, the perceived social pressure to respond to the situation, and the person's perception of the ease or difficulty of performing the behaviour (p. 183). People will continue to act in ways that generate positive affect and will be reluctant to repeat actions that cause negative associations. In general, attitudes are directed at a specific target and can be used to explain behaviour. It is hoped that the reduction of negative beliefs, feelings, and tendencies about the use of the WWW will lead to a more positive attitude toward this target behaviour. It is important to encourage new users to actively participate in their online learning experiences since the direct experience of using a web resource that generates a positive response has been shown to provide a stronger correlation between attitude and actual behaviour than does an indirect experience such as reading about it or listening to another person talk about it (Doll & Ajzen, 1992).
Recent research offers both support for Ajzen's (1991) theory of planned behaviour as an explanation for the link between intention and behaviour (Leone, Perugini, & Ercolani, 1999; Sutton, 1998; Terry & Hogg, 1996; Terry & O'Leary, 1995; Madden, Ellen, & Ajzen, 1992; Doll & Ajzen, 1992), and extensions to the original framework (Aarts, Verplanken, & van Knippenberg, 1998; Conner & Armitage, 1998; Parker, Manstread & Stradling, 1995).
One of the ways to reduce or prevent negative attitudes toward the WWW is to create an inviting environment in which an individual can feel supported in their online efforts. Purkey and Novak (1996) use an invitational model to describe how to create a school culture that encourages lifelong learning in a nurturing and caring environment. Invitational education centers on five basic principles that focus on both the individual people in a system and the processes governing their interactions with each other: 1) people are and should be treated as able, valuable, and responsible; 2) educational experiences should be cooperative and collaborative; 3) the process determines the final product; 4) all people possess untapped potential which they can learn to access; and 5) potential can best be realized in individuals and a system by creating an inviting environment in which encourages growth in a positive manner (Purkey and Novak, 1996). These five principles form the foundation for an inviting system. The Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site was developed in accordance with these invitational principles.
Both attitude theory and invitational theory are important frameworks that illuminate some of the issues surrounding the design and development of the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site for elementary teachers of Ontario.
Importance of the Study
The development and publication of a web site designed to assist elementary teachers in Ontario in obtaining and sharing pedagogical resources necessary for the implementation of the new provincial curricula is a necessary and worthwhile endeavor. The Internet has emerged as a technology that is profoundly changing the way people communicate, share, and access information. Specifically, the WWW has become an increasingly useful primary information source for students and educators alike, and it is vital that teachers be encouraged to use this new technology to its fullest potential.
It is important that web sites which cater to new users are inviting, well designed, intuitive, and useful especially sites used primarily by people with minimal WWW experience. The Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site categorizes useful web sites by grade level, subject area, and strand, thus narrowing the online search experience for Ontario teachers further and providing direct links to relevant sites. This organization and level of detail enables teachers to find what they are looking for faster and more efficiently.
The Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site was created primarily for elementary educators in Ontario as a means to reduce the time necessary to find useful information on the WWW pertinent to their teaching. There are, however, other groups of individuals who benefit from this project. Educators other than teachers (e.g., principals, resource support staff), parents, and students may be interested in using the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site for personal use and exploration related to the curricular strands.
This project presents a web site that is well designed, intuitive, and contains quality content that is useful for elementary teachers in Ontario. It is a practical product that helps users find web sites relevant to each strand in every subject area for all grades from kindergarten to grade 8. The Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site provides new WWW users with an inviting starting point for their online professional experiences and provides both new and experienced users with the means to find and share web sites relevant to the Ontario elementary curricula.
Scope and Limitations
This project was primarily focussed on the creation of a web site to help elementary teachers in Ontario find other online resources related to specific strands of the Ontario curricula. The organization of the web site directly parallels the organization of the current elementary curricula published by Ontario's Ministry of Education and Training. While many of the web sites contained in the specific cells of the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site may be valuable resources for teachers using other provincial or foreign curricula, no attempt was made to organize this web site for those purposes.
Secondly, this project is an online creation that has certain prerequisites in order for an individual to use it. A minimum requirement is a computer with an Internet connection running the software required to view WWW sites (e.g. Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Explorer). Also, the type of Internet connection and its speed are major determinants of how quickly and smoothly users are able to use the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site.
Finally, due to the fact that the WWW is an ever changing and evolving
medium, one must recognize that the links contained in this project's web
site will change periodically to reflect the addition of new relevant sites
on the WWW and the expiration of others.
Outline of the Remainder of the Document
Chapter 2 begins by examining the history of the Internet and the WWW as they have grown to be integral parts of society and the educational community. Next, background information on the current curricular documents for elementary education in Ontario is offered. Third, the importance of attitude theory as it pertains to elementary teacher use of information technology is presented. This is followed by a general discussion of some of the effects that the WWW has had on students and teachers in the educational system. Invitational theory is then discussed. Finally, referring to both attitude theory and invitational theory, this chapter explains how the project culminated as a participatory web site that provides elementary teachers in Ontario with useful links to web resources organized by subject, grade level, and strand.
Chapter 3 describes the methodology used to create and implement the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site. It details the justification for this web site and explains the developmental process by which the web site was conceived, planned, created, and published.
Chapter 4 is the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site. It is located on the WWW at http://www.oocities.org/Athens/Oracle/8314/oeclgrid.htm. It is a collection of 202 web pages containing links to 344 other web sites on the WWW relevant to the Ontario curricula from kindergarten to grade 8.
Chapter 5 summarizes the present project and examines the implications of the development and publication of the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site. Reflections on its utility and perceived effectiveness, as well as recommendations for future enhancements and revisions are then discussed.
The following literature review serves many purposes. First, the history of the Internet and the WWW as they have grown to be integral parts of society and the educational community is examined. Second, background information on the current curricular documents for elementary education in Ontario is offered. Third, the importance of attitude theory as it pertains to elementary teacher use of information technology is presented. This is followed by a general discussion of some of the effects that the WWW has had on students and teachers in the educational system. Finally, a brief overview of invitational theory is followed by an analysis of the characteristics of web resources that deal with new curriculum, the WWW, and the attitudes of teachers in an inviting way.
Background Information about the Internet and the WWW
Introduction. The Internet has emerged as a new technology that is profoundly changing the way people communicate, share, and access information. It is has created an intriguing paradox: the ability to interact with many more people than has previously been possible throughout history can now be accomplished in physical isolation. Rather than having created a generation of antisocial individuals working alone on computers, global telecommunications has given rise to a rediscovered public life that has brought people closer together through communication (Johnson, 1997). Access to this worldwide network of information that is now available to educators is an important step in the continued evolution of the WWW as an educational resource and it is vital that teachers be encouraged to use this technology to its fullest potential.
History of the Internet. In the fall of 1969, four computers scattered across four western United States university campuses were networked, enabling users to remotely log in to each other's computers and run their programs (Moschovitis, Poole, Schuyler, & Senft, 1999). ARPAnet, as it was labeled, was the genesis of the Internet.
Fourteen years later, in 1983, the United States government divided ARPAnet into two entities MILNET for military use, and the general Internet for all other traffic (Moschovitis et al., 1999) and public and academic use began to increase.
Over the next eight years the use of the Internet continued to grow. Email allowed connected users to send messages quickly and cheaply, and telnet and gopher enabled people to access information and work on remote computers without physically being at the computer terminal containing the resources. Still primarily a tool for academics, the Internet grew slowly during this time among public users.
Perhaps the most influential point in the Internet's history occurred in1991 with the development and introduction of the WWW by Tim Berners-Lee, a physicist working at a particle physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland called CERN (Hoyle, 1998). Berners-Lee created the WWW to provide a standard platform for exchanging graphics, text, and sound across the Internet using hypertext markup language (HTML). The WWW changed the Internet from a world of textual documents into a dynamic and visual network. To illustrate the phenomenal growth of the Internet and the WWW between 1995 and 1999, the number of Canadians actively online increased from 8.5 per cent in 1995 (Angus Reid Group, Inc., 1995) to 55 per cent in 1999 (Angus Reid Group, Inc., 1999b). That figure translates to over 12.7 million Canadians connected to the Internet in a four-year period.
In the past 30 years the Internet has evolved from an academic experiment into a sprawling, world wide network connecting millions of users and computers, enabling information and communication to flow instantaneously between any two connected points. It has created interactivity, hypertextuality, and connectedness (de Kerckhove, 1997). According to de Kerckhove, interactivity unites people with computer hardware, hypertextuality provides interactive access to anything from anywhere, and connectedness enables two or more people to converse or collaborate from a distance. These three qualities create unlimited possibilities for learning opportunities in today's elementary classrooms.
Attitudes Toward the Internet and the WWW. The Internet and the WWW have quickly become major influences in the world of education, business, culture, leisure, and even personal relationships. Individuals can not help but be affected by new technology in some manner in today's society. This can be a contentious issue, for not all individuals view the pervasiveness of new technology in the same light.
Technologically pessimistic individuals view computers, information technology, the Internet, and the WWW as negative influences on the lives of individuals and to the stability of society. Generally, these people lament the loss of physical interaction between individuals (e.g., Stoll, 1995), ridicule virtual reality (e.g., Talbott, 1995), condemn the increased pace of our technological world, and question the actual benefits that informational technologies provide.
Technologically optimistic individuals, on the other hand, believe that
new technology affects individuals and society in a positive manner. These
individuals are characterized by their beliefs that information technology
can eliminate gaps between the advantaged and disadvantaged in society
(e.g., Negroponte, 1995), increase productivity in business (e.g., Worzel,
1997), generate opportunities for new social interactions (e.g., Turkle,
1995), improve educational instruction and opportunity (e.g., Logan, 1995;
Tapscott, 1998), and even help us transcend our current physical limitations
(e.g., de Kerckhove, 1997; Dewdney, 1998). While some of these ideas may
appear grandiose and unattainable, the optimists' underlying convictions
are based upon the belief that new technology has the ability to improve
Personal opinions and attitudes toward the WWW notwithstanding, the Internet has become a major societal influence. More importantly for elementary teachers, it has become an educational issue.
The New Ontario Elementary Curricula
In 1997, the government of Ontario released two curricular documents, Language Arts and Mathematics, with expectations clearly defined for elementary students from grade 1 to grade 8 (Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1997a; Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1997b). These documents signaled a new approach to elementary education from the existing practice. Whereas the previous curriculum was heavily holistic, the new documents are very specific. Instead of having to demonstrate proficiency in general and specific outcomes which were blocked in three year intervals, students now have specific expectations for knowledge and performance based on individual grade levels. These two new documents set the stage for the rollout of the remaining subject documents throughout 1998. In total, from kindergarten to grade 8 there are presently 191 strands containing 4158 specific expectations of student achievement across nine subject areas (Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1998a; Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1998b; Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1998c; Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1998d; Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1998e; Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1998f; Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1997a; Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1997b). As part of this standardization of the provincial curricula, each student in Ontario is expected to achieve and each teacher is expected to teach the same expectations regardless of geography.
While the curricular documents isolate very specific expectations for many subjects, information technology is not one of them. The Ontario Ministry of Education and Training chose not to detail information technology expectations in a specific document. Instead, information technology expectations are integrated into many of the existing subject areas. It is the Ontario Ministry of Education's position that information technology is an integral component to many subjects and improves students' learning experiences in a more natural and holistic manner, rather than being a specific subject itself (Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1998a; Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1998b; Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1998c; Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1998e; Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1997a). This integration of information technology expectations into numerous subject areas shows that students are expected to demonstrate the efficient use of information technology in various situations.
Chodzinski (1998) observes that the implicit assumption in these documents is that teachers have the skills necessary to teach, assess, and evaluate these expectations. Based on the curricular expectations from kindergarten to grade 8, interviews with field-based experts, and discussions with beginning teachers, he developed a list of expected computer competencies for elementary teachers in Ontario. His study concludes that elementary teachers should be expected to understand current computer jargon, physically operate the computer hardware and software appropriate to subject matter, have the ability to use both Windows and Macintosh operating systems. In addition, elementary teachers should have the ability to effectively choose and use software, know how to use the Internet and email, understand and be able to use word processing, database, spreadsheet and information management software, be willing to participate in professional development, and have an operating knowledge of computer peripherals such as printers, scanners, projectors, and digital cameras. As well, he suggests that elementary teachers need to integrate information technology into traditional instructional methods, know basic troubleshooting skills in order to keep their hardware and software running efficiently, and use information technology to improve the efficiency of daily routines such as attendance, parent communication, and student evaluation. For elementary teachers who have not had an opportunity to develop their information technology skills, acquiring these skills presents a daunting challenge. In order to help these teachers become competent users of information technology, opportunities must be provided which encourage and support their efforts.
It is important to examine teachers' attitudes toward the WWW within the context of both their professional and personal lives. Attitude has been defined as "a disposition to respond favorably or unfavorably to an object, person, institution, or event" (Ajzen, 1988, p. 4). When examining attitude within a construct such as information technology and the WWW, it is important to look at it both holistically and completely. The nature of attitude is that it is an underlying mindset, or disposition, that guides intention to act in regards to the object that the attitude is directed toward. Therefore, it is important to consider attitude when constructing a WWW resource targeting elementary teachers, for it is this attitude that will form the basis for future experiences with the technology.
Traits can be defined as an individual's characteristics that influence behaviour. A combination of factors determine overall personality, but underlying traits interact with and shape a person's intentions and actions along with attitudes that are formed as a result of experience and interpretation of the world around them (Ajzen, 1988). Examples of traits include self-esteem, honesty, independence, sociability, helpfulness, and ambitiousness. Traits influence how a person responds in any given situation. This response is assumed to be a behavioural manifestation of the underlying trait and can only be measured, observed, or inferred through an individual's verbal or non-verbal behaviour in a specific context (Ajzen, 1988). Traits are seen to be fairly resistant to change.
Whereas traits help determine a person's underlying disposition toward action, attitudes introduce an evaluative component to the construct. Attitudes help determine whether a person will respond favorably or unfavorably to any given situation (Ajzen, 1988). They are directed at a specific target, while traits deal with general actions toward many objects.
Ajzen (1988) outlines three components to the overall construct of attitude that one can use to measure this concept. First is an individual's cognitive response to a situation or an object in the form of verbal and non-verbal responses. These are expressions of belief about an object that are linked with certain characteristics or attributes. Second, affective responses deal with expression of feelings toward the target object. The third component is conative responses. These are expressions of behavioural intentions. Attitudes are generally believed to be more flexible than traits and thus are subject to change depending on the availability of new information about the target object or action. Once traits and attitudes are inferred through various assessments they can be used to explain behaviour. Ajzen (1988) uses a hierarchical model to explain how attitude affects behaviour:
The actual or symbolic presence of an object elicits a generally favorable or unfavorable evaluative reaction, the attitude toward the object. This attitude, in turn, predisposes cognitive, affective, and conative responses to the object, responses whose evaluative tone is consistent with the overall attitude.Since attitude heavily influences an individual's response to an object or event, it is important, if one is seeking continued behaviour, that the target object elicit a positive response from the user.
Another factor that helps determine whether a person continues to perform a specific behaviour is the perceived behavioural control of the situation. Ajzen (1991) defines perceived behavioural control as people's perceptions of the difficulty or ease of performing a certain behaviour (p. 183). Even if these perceptions are wrong, they are important in determining individuals' intentions to react positively or negatively to a situation. These viewpoints can be a result of past experiences, self-efficacy, self-identity, moral norms, and affective beliefs (Conner & Armitage, 1998).
Attitudes are not fixed and permanent, they are malleable. Indeed, the entire purpose of persuasion is to change a person's attitude from an existing state to another. Fortunately it is possible to change a negative attitude toward a desired action into a more positive one. If an individual's feeling toward an object or action or their beliefs about it can be modified, then their attitude toward that object or action can be modified (Rosenberg, 1960).
With an increased positive attitude toward a target behaviour, it is hoped that the behaviour will continue to be repeated. Aarts et al. (1998) suggest that once intentions lead to action on a regular basis, a person will develop the habit of performing the behaviour. For this to occur, however, the person must be initially motivated to perform the behaviour and then subsequently act upon that intention repeatedly.
Ajzen's (1991) explanations of how individuals are motivated to perform are enhanced by Sheeran's and Orbell's (1999) "implementation intention" research, based upon goal achievement theory (Gollwitzer, 1993). This research suggests that target behaviours can be reinforced through goal achievement strategies. Initially, an individual progresses through a motivational stage in which the target behaviour is introduced and initial attitudes toward it are formed. Once these have been established a volitional phase is entered in which specific plans are made to ensure that decisions are acted upon. By consciously making a plan and following through with their intentions, individuals have a greater chance of integrating a target behaviour seamlessly into their usual routine.
Attitude theory provides a framework that helps to explain why people continue some behaviors and cease others. Ajzen's (1991) theory of planned behaviour provides a good explanation for the link between intention and behaviour (Sutton, 1998; Terry & Hogg, 1996; Terry & O'Leary, 1995; Doll & Ajzen, 1992; Madden & Armitage, 1992). Applying this construct to the present project, it is presumed that a positive attitude toward the WWW will elicit positive cognitive, affective, and conative responses in the user that will lead to the continued use of the WWW as a professional resource by elementary teachers in Ontario.
The WWW in Elementary Schools
The introduction of the WWW into Ontario classrooms has been expanding rapidly across the province over the past five years. While the level of availability still varies from school to school and even between school boards in Ontario, the WWW has made a major impact in the accessibility of information for both teachers and students alike. According to a 1998 Angus Reid, Inc. poll, 81 per cent of Canadian adults believe that information technology has had a positive effect on Canadian children's education. Teachers need to be online and using information technology effectively in order to help students acquire the skills they need to succeed in today's world.
Elementary teachers do appear to be generally accepting of new technologies, but are careful to temper their acceptance with careful regard for possible negative effects. This may be because change is inherently unsettling to individuals (as well as societies), and also because most technologies that survive and become part of our social evolution do so because they simplify an existing task or function (Logan, 1995). We are reluctant to give up our established order, but at the same time we are excited by the possibilities that new technologies bring. Elementary teachers understand that it is important to critically examine the ultimate effects of a technology before embracing it, if possible, since simplicity in one arena can lead to larger problems in others, an example of this being the automobile. Cars eliminated the problems associated with travelling by horse, but led to greater air pollution and urban congestion. The WWW could be viewed as the automobile of the 1990s.
One reason technologically utopian academics may fail to connect with elementary teachers is that the academics' ideas and positions may not appear to immediately affect elementary teachers. Before attempting to introduce new information technology, it is important to consider those that are being affected by it (Lawton & Gerschner, 1982). Fortunately, the cautiously optimistic visionaries usually present ideas that appear to take this into consideration they are connected to the present, while looking to a logical future. Paul Levinson (1979, as cited in Levinson, 1997) explains that all media become more human in their performance as they evolve: telephones are a more natural way of communicating than Morse code; color photography is more natural than black and white; motion video is more natural than static images. With the WWW, the ability to integrate all of these natural technologies is becoming a reality for many people. Levinson's analysis directly parallels the educational landscape in that education is constantly evolving and building upon previous advances in programme and new learning. The WWW is a more natural way of using information technology than having students utilize their computers for word processing and skill repetition. Elementary teachers need not fear it, but they should be aware of it.
One of the reasons that the Internet has been introduced into Ontario's elementary schools with such vigor and promise is that it has provided an equitable distribution of the global resources available to teachers and students. Any student, teacher, classroom, or school with access to the Internet has access to the same information that would previously have been available to only an elite few such as universities, large libraries, or wealthy individuals. Viewing documents and images online now makes it possible for learners to use these resources at their home or in their classroom rather than having to go to the physical location of the data. The Internet provides equitable access for all that have a connection. That is one of the primary beliefs that drove educators, the government, industry, and administrators across Ontario to wire the province's elementary schools. Non-access at elementary schools in Canada is no longer a substantial problem since every public school and First Nations School in this country that has requested WWW access was connected by Industry Canada and its partners as of March 30, 1999 (Manley, 1999).
Student Use of the WWW. Before examining the nature of teachers' relationships with information technology and the WWW, it is useful to examine how these factors influence student learning. Minott-Bent (1997) states that "children's traditional classroom tools are still vital. But for children to assemble and modify their ideas [and] access and study information, they are inadequate" (p. 18). Additional research has presented a strong case for students using computers as learning tools for the collection and synthesis of information rather than delivery systems for repetitive drills and prepackaged activities (Lowther, Bassoppo-Moyo, & Morrison, 1998).
The WWW has extended the capabilities of the individual computer. Students now have access to information from millions of points around the globe. Not everyone, however, views this as a positive step forward for elementary education. Arguments have been made that computers externalize learning rather than internalize it, resulting in an education that is less reflective and personal (Monke, 1998). As well, a 1998 poll showed that 56 per cent of Canadians believe that there is too much emphasis on using computers rather than on doing the basics (Angus Reid, Inc., 1999a).
In response to these arguments, Tapscott (1998) explains that learning
is a social activity that the WWW does not change. Education always has
required students to take external experiences and generate personal meaning
from them. The WWW does not limit this activity; it extends it by providing
access to resources previously unavailable to the student. He also argues
that effectively integrated technology actually produces better reading,
writing, and math skills. The WWW enhances the learning of the basics.
It is a motivator. Online experiences encourage discovery and investigation
and it is the communication of this new learning that excites students
to read more and produce better writing. But in order for students to have
these experiences their schools must provide them with the hardware to
do so, and their teachers must provide an inviting environment in which
students can take advantage of the WWW.
Teacher Use of the WWW. The Ontario curricula have specific expectations regarding the integrated use of information technology with numerous other subjects (e.g., Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1997b). As such, it is the teachers' responsibility to be competent in information technology, or at the very least to have a working knowledge of it, so that they can effectively help their students achieve those expectations. Unfortunately, teachers also can be significant obstacles in the move to introduce the WWW into the elementary classroom (Tapscott, 1998). Whether it is a general reluctance to accept information technology, or an overt technophobia (Brosnan, 1998a), teachers who do not adapt to the "new basics" are barriers to their students' education. Considering the importance of information technology in the workplace and in the classroom, it is worrisome that the majority of teachers perceive themselves to be computer novices (Chodzinski, 1998).
To compound the issue, computers and the Internet are not very inviting to new users. Stoll (1995) bluntly states that "for all the talk of friendly, open systems, there's no warm welcome for novices" (p. 60). This is frequently true. The WWW needs more welcoming and intuitive sites for teachers.
Anxiety is a large factor affecting teachers' attitudes toward information technology as they begin to explore the Internet and the WWW. In a study examining low levels of computer utilization the classroom, Rosen and Weil (1995) conclude that teachers are most worried about learning to use computers and dealing with the actual machinery. It is important, therefore, to attempt to create a positive and stress-reducing online environment in which teachers are expected to operate. If teachers learn to use the WWW in a nurturing and nonthreatening manner they will feel more positive about using it in their professional work (Zilonis, 1998). Web sites that offer an intuitive interface and rich content may reduce the anxiety new users feel during their initial online ventures. After some successful online experiences, they are likely to seek out new learning opportunities.
Fortunately, research indicates that it is possible to reduce computer anxiety by simply increasing the amount of time spent using the computer (Dyck & Smither, 1994). As well, new users increase their computer use as their confidence levels rise (Al-Khaldi & Al-Jabri, 1998). In fact, increased confidence and computer experience lead not only to lower levels of computer anxiety, but to a more positive attitude toward computers (Levine & Donitsa-Schmidt, 1998). Increased positive attitudes toward computers also are found when encouragement is provided to new users (Busch, 1995).
Research demonstrates that it is important for teachers to have positive attitudes toward the WWW since those attitudes ultimately affect teacher behaviour. It follows then, that since the WWW is accessible by computer and that many of the anxieties surrounding the use of the WWW stem from the technology skills that are required to access it, an effective way to improve elementary teachers' attitudes toward the WWW is to increase the amount of time they spend using it.
To summarize, research generally shows that increased experience and positive attitudes lead to increased behaviour. In this case, the target behaviour is Ontario elementary teachers' use of the WWW. In order to increase the use of the WWW as a professional resource for elementary teachers in Ontario, there needs to be a way to encourage them to go online and to provide them with a positive experience. Fortunately, invitational theory provides a framework to guide the creation of such resources.
Information technology can transform the educational experience for students and teachers into a dynamic and interactive experience. Before this occurs, though, teachers need to be willing to accept that the WWW can be a positive component of their programme. Teachers need to have a positive attitude toward technology in order for the best possible use of information technology to happen.
Invitational theory provides a framework that describes an entire philosophy for inclusion and invitation that is based on positive encouragement and support for new learners. Purkey and Novak (1996) use an invitational model to describe how to create a school culture that encourages lifelong learning in a nurturing and caring environment.
Invitational education centers on five basic principles which focus on both the individual people in a system and the processes governing their interactions with each other: 1) people are and should be treated as able, valuable, and responsible; 2) educational experiences should be cooperative and collaborative; 3) the process determines the final product; 4) all people possess untapped potential which they can learn to access; and 5) potential can best be realized in individuals and a system by creating an inviting environment in which encourages growth in a positive manner (Purkey & Novak, 1996). These five principles form the foundation for an inviting system.
Logan (1995) provides further support for the use of an invitational model for information technology. According to Logan, the computer is a medium that liberates the untapped teacher potential since it promotes educational activity, has the potential to encourage positive self-concept and positive attitudes toward learning, and can reform education from a product-based to a process-based institution.
A key principle in invitational theory is that "the process is the product in the making" (Purkey & Novak, 1996, p. 3). When this concept is applied to a WWW resource, it suggests that participation in its creation would increase its level of invitation to the user. One way that web designers can achieve this is by encouraging users to suggest changes, add content, and communicate with the webmaster. If new users have the option of suggesting new links and sharing their own learning, then they may feel more positive toward using the resource.
An invitational approach to the problem of information technology use in elementary schools in Ontario provides leaders with guiding principles that can be adopted in order to improve reluctant teachers' attitudes about the WWW. If these guiding principles are applied to the creation and presentation of actual WWW resources, then it is hoped that the resource itself can be inviting.
The WWW and the Ontario Elementary Curricula
Anyone who has experienced the joy of finding the information they need easily and effortlessly on the Internet has probably also experienced the frustration and despair of "getting lost" online while trying to find the answer to a simple question. Generally, for new users looking for specific information there is a lot more "getting lost" than "joy" to be found online. There is usually a steep learning curve involved in using the Internet effectively and efficiently. Research shows that one of the most important factors that contribute to new users' positive experiences with the Internet is the time that they invest in using it (e.g. Levine & Donitsa-Schmidt, 1998; Busch, 1995; Dyck & Smither, 1994). According to Dyson (1998), after the initial difficulties are worked out educators who are online find that,
The Net makes it cheaper and easier for teachers to learn from others, to form networks outside their own schools, to trade ideas, and to learn from the best practitioners in their field. Teachers can use it to communicate with other teachers, share best practices, arrange joint field trips, follow up on contacts they made at teachers' conferences and of course to find all kinds of information and instructional material. (pp. 108-109)In order to become proficient at finding information on the Internet, one needs to spend time discovering its conventions, investigating interesting web sites, making mistakes, and learning to navigate the endless sea of web pages and directories that they are presented with during their online travels.
Web page design and construction affects its usability, especially with new or reluctant users (Brosnan, 1998b). It is important, therefore, to build web sites with the target user in mind. Presently there are many excellent web sites geared for elementary educators (e.g., Education World, http://www.education-world.com; Kathy Schrock's Guide for Educators, http://discoveryschool.com/schrockguide/) that organize valuable web resources by subject or grade level. Users could literally spend hours searching through these types of sites attempting to locate information relevant to the specific strands of the Ontario curricula. To help make the search easier for elementary teachers new to the WWW, a web site with valuable links was needed that organizes resources by grade level, subject, and strand.
This project culminates in the publication of the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site a web site created as a professional resource elementary teachers in Ontario with links to WWW resources organized by grade level, subject, and strand. The site is participatory, collaborative users are able to submit new links for inclusion and inviting. It is hoped that the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links interface helps generate a more positive attitude toward WWW use in elementary teachers through its utility and ease of use, thus leading to greater use of the WWW as a professional resource in the future.
The Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site provides specific links to sites relevant to specific strands in all subject areas for all grade levels in the elementary provincial curricula of Ontario.
There are currently many web sites that provide comprehensive lists of links to other educationally relevant web sites. These sites, however, tend to be organized either by subject matter or by grade level. Searches of the WWW have found that those sites that do feature strand-specific references associated with the Ontario curricula are incomplete (e.g., http://resource.mediacentre.com/science/escience/index.html). There are many excellent education sites on the WWW with extremely valuable information, but they take time to search and locate information specific to what is being taught in the Ontario classroom. There is a need for a comprehensive web site that categorizes WWW resources by strand.
Process of Development and Implementation
Development of the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site consisted of six major steps that were essential to its success.
First, the web site needed to have a server that could be used to publish the final product on the Internet. The hardware and cost involved in establishing a unique domain name was prohibitive for this project so an alternative means of publication was necessary. Presently, there are many different web sites that offer free hosting services for web sites and files. These web sites offer registered users free space to house their web page files and free publication services, thus allowing individuals to create, store, and publish their personal web sites. It is at one of these sites, Yahoo!GeoCities (http://www.geocities.yahoo.com/home/), that the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site is located. The space reserved for this project is located at the following web site: http://www.oocities.org/Athens/Oracle/8314. The site will be housed at this location until either Yahoo!GeoCities changes their web hosting site structure, or until they no longer provide this service. Should either of these occur, then a new host site will be found for the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web page.
Second, the actual web pages needed to be coded and constructed. These
pages were created in hypertext markup language (HTML) using Netscape Composer
software. The final file structure included 191 web pages for the curriculum
strands in the Ontario elementary curriculum documents and 11 organizational
Third, web sites that were relevant and useful for Ontario elementary teachers were found and documented for inclusion in the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site using Internet search techniques and print resources. Once sites were found that were relevant and useful resources for particular grade levels, subject areas, and strands they were coded into the appropriate web page.
Fourth, the actual Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site was published online. This entailed uploading all 202 html files to the reserved space (http://www.oocities.org/Athens/Oracle/8314) on the server at Yahoo!GeoCities.
Fifth, in order for the site to be effective it needed to be used by its target audience. The web site was publicized on the Halton District School Board's intranet so that elementary teachers there had immediate knowledge of the site and could begin to use it for planning and searching. As well, the site was submitted to the major search engines and major education web sites for inclusion in their databases. On August 24, 1999 the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site was submitted to search engines AltaVista, Excite, HotBot, Infoseek, and the Microsoft Network Web Search through the publishing service Submit-It! (http://free.submit-it.com/). In addition, individual submissions were made to search engines WebCrawler (http://www.webcrawler.com), What-U-Seek (http://wwww.whatuseek.com), Lycos (http://www.lycos.com), Planet Search (http://www.planetsearch.com), and to educational databases Education World (http://www.education-world.com) and @SchoolNet Canada (http://www.schoolnet.ca).
In order to monitor the use of the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site, counters were coded into each subject area organizational web page. These counters keep a running record of how many hits each web page has received since its publication on August 11, 1999.
Based upon suggestions by users, the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site introduction page was redesigned to provide a more inviting and intuitive interface. In the Science and Technology, Social Studies, History, and Geography web pages the themes for each strand within the subject areas were detailed, rather than solely indicating the strand names. For example, the Science and Technology cells were changed from a link list of the five Science and Technology strands to a matrix with each topic identified within each grade level and strand. A visitor seeking links to grade 5, Science and Technology, Life Systems sites now clicks on a "Weather" link rather than a link labeled "Life Systems." As well, the colour scheme was reworked to provide more visually enticing web pages. Overall, these revisions resulted in a web site that is easier to use and more visually inviting.
Appendix A contains the responses from Halton District School Board elementary teachers in response to a query about the need for the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site, and the query itself. The response was overwhelmingly positive and indicated that this web site would be beneficial to elementary Halton teachers. The responses from teachers and administrators, along with a review of the existing resources of this nature suggested a need for this project to be undertaken.
Following the publication of the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site, another email was posted on the Halton District School Board's intranet inviting teachers to visit the site and to provide feedback regarding its ease of use, design, and resourcefulness. Once again, the responses to this query were very favourable (see Appendix B).
In the first two weeks after the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site was published the main introduction page received over 225 visits from users as a result of the one email posted on the Halton District School Board's intranet. This was an encouraging beginning considering that many teachers had not yet returned to school during the summer months and did not have access to the intranet at home. The submission of the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site to numerous search engines and educational databases, coupled with the start of the school year, is expected to increase the visibility of the site and lead to an increase in the number of visits it receives.
The Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site is located on the World Wide Web at http://www.oocities.org/Athens/Oracle/8314/oeclgrid.htm. It is a collection of 202 web pages containing links to 344 other web sites on the WWW relevant to the Ontario curricula from kindergarten to grade 8. Figure 1 contains the 11 organizational web pages and 191 individual links pages classified by grade level, subject area, and strand which constitute the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site.
This project presents the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site, an online resource for Ontario's elementary teachers providing links to hundreds of web sites included specifically for their relevance to the Ontario elementary curricula. As well, the web site provides an opportunity for teachers to submit valuable web sites that they find for publication on the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site so they can be shared with others. The 202 web pages that make up the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site resides on the WWW at http://www.oocities.org/Athens/Oracle/8314/oeclgrid.htm and can be accessed by anyone with a graphical web browser such as Microsoft Explorer or Netscape Communicator.
Theoretical frameworks used to guide the development of the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site include both attitude research (Ajzen, 1991) and invitational theory (Purkey & Novak, 1996).
Ajzen's theory of planned behaviour provides a framework for explaining why individuals choose to exhibit certain behaviours. Both intentions to act and the perceived behavioural control of the situation influence behaviour.
Intentions to act are formed from both the attitude toward the behaviour and the subjective norms associated with the behaviour, so it is imperative that positive connotations are associated with the target behaviour that one is attempting to encourage others to perform in a certain manner. For the target behaviour of using the WWW for professional development and programme enhancement, an intuitive and inviting web page design can help foster a more positive attitude among initially reluctant or inexperienced WWW users. The subjective norm in the area of information technology and elementary education in Ontario is that computers and telecommunications, including the use of the WWW, are expected to be used in the delivery of certain curricula and the achievement of specific curricular expectations (Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1998a; Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1998b; Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1998c; Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1998e; Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1997a). Together, attitudes and subjective norms help influence intentions to perform a behaviour.
The second component of Ajzen's theory of planned behaviour is perceived behavioural control, which refers to the perceived ease or difficulty of the target behaviour as determined by past experience and anticipated problems or obstacles. For the target behaviour of using the WWW for professional development and programme enhancement, it is essential that the web site works reliably, is easily accessible to those that attempt to utilize it, and is easy to navigate. Generally, the more positive the attitude and the subjective norm with respect to a target behaviour, and the greater the perceived behavioural control in the situation, there is a greater chance that an individual will intend to perform that target behaviour (Doll & Ajzen, 1992). The Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site was developed with attention to, and consideration for, these factors.
One way to create a more positive attitude toward a situation or behaviour
is to make it inviting. Purkey and Novak (1992) explain how inviting systems
can nurture and support individuals in new situations by providing encouragement,
opportunities for collaboration, and flexibility in their design. If Ontario
elementary teachers feel invited to use the Ontario Elementary Curriculum
Links web site to share resources and to explore new ones, more favourable
attitudes toward the web site should occur, resulting in greater continued
participation and utilization of the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links
These two theoretical frameworks attitude theory and invitational theory formed the foundation for the development and publication of the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site.
The Ontario Elementary Curriculum links web site was then created and published on the WWW. Two hundred two web sites were coded with 344 links to web sites that are appropriate for the individual strands in the Ontario elementary curricula and the site was publicized in the major search engines and educational databases on the WWW. Feedback was obtained from the users of the web site, and based upon the suggestions and comments by those who used it, modifications were made to enhance the visual appeal and ease of use of the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site.
There is a need for a web site designed to assist elementary teachers in Ontario in obtaining pedagogical resources necessary for the implementation of the new provincial curricula and the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site meets this need. The development and publication of this web site has resulted in an online resource that provides Ontario's elementary teachers with an inviting and intuitive resource for finding web sites relevant to specific strands of all subjects of the Ontario elementary curricula. The Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site also provides users with the ability to submit resources that they have found for publication on the web site, thus creating a more participatory experience for visitors.
Implications for Practice. The Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site provides Ontario's elementary teachers with an online resource that caters to their specific curricular needs. The classification and organization of web sites by strand gives Ontario's teachers a detailed and direct link to sites relevant to their teaching more than a site organized only by subject area or grade level could provide. This structure reduces the amount of time educators will have to spend online searching for relevant web sites and enables Ontario's teachers to more efficiently obtain information from the WWW.
The participatory nature of the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site also encourages users to take an active role in the ongoing development and expansion of the web site. The WWW is a fluid entity that is constantly evolving new web sites are being added and existing web sites are being modified or removed every day. It is hoped that as the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site is used more frequently by elementary educators in Ontario they will continue to submit new web sites for inclusion in the web page.
Implications for Further Research. The creation of another online resource for elementary educators in Ontario adds another web site to a growing list of WWW resources available to assist Ontario's elementary teachers in their professional growth and curricular programmes. What differentiates the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site from others is its level of classification of the links on the web site to the stand level, rather than merely the subject area or grade level. Future research could use tracking counters for each individual web site to help determine which specific strand links users of the web site are accessing more frequently. It may be that a greater emphasis should be placed on some subject or strand areas more than others as a result of an analysis of the patterns of use by visitors to the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site.
The contribution rates to the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site by those who use it could also be monitored as an indication of the level of invitation it provides. If it is found that the web site is used frequently, yet there are minimal submissions of new web sites from users, ways to improve the level of interactivity could be examined.
As the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site grows there may be a need to further classify the links that are presented in each strand to indicate whether the linked web sites are designed for teacher use or for student use. The Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site is to be used by Ontario's elementary teachers to assist in their professional growth and personal curricular planning, but many of the links that are present on the web site are sites that could be used by students. Teachers can bookmark these sites and incorporate them into their programmes for use by students, but the present structure of the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site does not identify those sites as student resources. Future modifications to the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links web site could include a graphical icon distinguishing student resources from teacher resources to further simplify the search experience for Ontario's elementary teachers.
Technology, computers, and the WWW have ingrained themselves into our present culture and have transformed the way we live and learn. We are at the leading edge of the information age and do not know how it will evolve: there are no guarantees as to what the future holds. Today's elementary classrooms in Ontario are vastly different than they were only a decade ago due to many factors, one of which has been the introduction of the WWW into the learning environment as an educational resource.
With this change comes both uncertainty and opportunity. Teachers need to approach the WWW with a sense of caution nestled within a cocoon of optimism. Those who resist are fighting a losing battle in their call to go back to a less technological time, for as Levinson (1997) explained, there always has been some form of information revolution happening throughout history.
Instead, let us espouse a tempered, optimistic outlook toward information
technology in elementary education. Let us strive to embrace technologies
such as the WWW and resources like the Ontario Elementary Curriculum Links
web site that encourage communication, creativity, innovation, and community
within the classroom. We are all passengers on a journey into the unknown
as education seeks to redefine itself, and teachers have the opportunity
and the obligation to contribute to its shaping.
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