Southern Cross University
School of EducationSchool of Education
Teachers and ICT: exploring a metacognitive
approach to professional development
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Catholic Education Office, Lismore Diocese
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Phelps, R, Graham, A & Kerr, B 2004, 'Teachers and ICT: exploring a metacognitive approach to professional development',
Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 49-68.
The abstract and pdf of the published article reproduced in ePublications@SCU with the permission of AJET
Australasian Journal of Educational Technology
2004, 20(1), 49-68.
Teachers and ICT: Exploring a metacognitive approach to
Renata Phelps, Anne Graham
School of Education, Southern Cross University
Catholic Education Office, Lismore Diocese
Professional development for teachers in information and communication technology
(ICT) is currently a major priority for school systems in Australia and internationally.
The metacognitive and reflective approach to professional development described in
this paper is a response to the limitations of directive approaches to ICT learning
within a context of rapid technological change. It proposes a capability based
approach which strives to develop lifelong computer learning strategies. An important
characteristic of the metacognitive approach is that, rather than specific objectives or
outcomes being 'imposed' on learners, participants are encouraged to identify,
articulate and pursue personally relevant goals, including those related to skills,
attitudes, confidence, values and understandings, integration and school leadership.
This paper reports on a research project which investigated the applicability of such
an approach to teacher professional development. The approach was found to have
significant outcomes in terms of computer skill development, and in influencing
teachers' approaches to their own and their students' learning.
The context of teacher professional development in ICT
Computer technology plays an integral role in our personal and professional lives. The ability to
utilise this technology has become the new literacy for the 21st century and is of critical
importance in enabling Australia to compete successfully in the global community. For future
generations to maximise their capability to operate within competitive and technologically driven
economies, it is critical to foster computer abilities at every level of the schooling process, and
teachers are central to this endeavour. Just as literacy and numeracy have become imperatives in
school education, so too has 'technacy' (Seemann, 2000). For instance, in an initiative paralleling
past and current approaches to literacy and numeracy education, New South Wales (NSW) will, in
2004 or 2005, implement state wide computer skills assessments for all Year 10 students, with
plans for the later introduction of testing for Year 6 students (NSW Board of Studies, 2001). Such
an initiative reflects the emphasis on computer skills not only at the state level, but nationally and
internationally, and highlights the critical importance of all teachers assuming responsibility for
the integration of computer technology across Key Learning Areas (KLAs). As Lai (1999, p.12)
states, 'It is teachers' attitudes towards technology, their beliefs in teaching and learning and their
styles of teaching that determine how students use the Web and what sort of learning experience
will be acquired'.
The recent Inquiry into the Provision of Public Education (Esson, Johnson & Vinson, 2002) has
highlighted significant concerns relating to teacher professionalism, including a critical need to
redress the lack of fiscal support for teacher professional development. In particular, teacher
professional development in computer technology has become a major priority at state and
national level. The release of the Review of Teacher Education in NSW (Ramsey, 2000)
highlighted the critical importance of computer education for all pre-service and practising
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teachers. In this report ICT was seen as 'one of the most significant challenges now confronting
teacher education, teachers and schools' (p.68). Given the ageing population of teachers,
particularly in Australia (Esson, Johnson & Vinson, 2002; Ramsey, 2000) the majority of
practising teachers did not receive pre-service training in computer use. Yet teachers have
experienced increasing expectations to incorporate computer technology into their teaching. They
are required to have a broad range of skills to use a wide range of software and adapt these skills
to a diverse set of classroom situations. Additional pressure stems from expectations that teachers
model positive, self efficacious attitudes to their students (Delcourt & Kinzie, 1993; Russell &
It has been stated that teachers in general are not confident in their use of computers (Russell &
Bradley, 1997) and that there is historical resistance surrounding their use (Albaugh, 1997). Few
teachers have received pre-service training in computer use and many have high computer anxiety
and low computer self efficacy. Furthermore, for many teachers the gap between perceived
technological competence and learning to use computers in their teaching is often threatening and
overwhelming (Ropp, 1998). Given the isolated and independent nature of their work, if teachers
encounter difficulties there is often very little assistance or support available to them (Becker,
Numerous studies point to limitations of professional development programs offered to practising
teachers (Niederhauser, 2001; Russell & Bradley, 1997; Williams, 1998) and various alternative
models are beginning to be proposed and trialed (Bell & Coultas, 1996; Holtzberg, 1997;
McKinnon, 1989; Strudler, McKinney & Jones, 1999; Williams, 1998). As Lundin (2002) points
out, despite years of concerted effort in all Australian states, it is unlikely that more than fifty
percent of teachers have a basic standard of computer skills. ICT professional development is
essential but with computer technology evolving at such a rapid rate, directive style training
becomes inadequate or out of date in a very short period of time, months not years. Technology is
too diverse and evolves too rapidly for teachers to be reliant on workshops and seminars
(Melczarek, 2000). 'There are cases where teaching specific skills inspires some teacher education
students to adopt a technology mindset to approaching curriculum planning. However, for the
most part, this transmission model of technology adoption fails' (Ferdig, 1998).
Indeed, in the area of educational IT training, the more general criticism of teacher professional
development made by Barth (1986) might be considered particularly relevant in that 'most forms
of teacher development activity leave untouched the incompetent, insult the capable and at best,
are ineffectual'. A further indicator of the ineffectiveness of many training programs for teachers is
provided by Loveless (1995, p.xii): 'It is not possible to consider the use of IT in classrooms
without reflecting upon one's beliefs about learning and teaching. IT capability can be seen as
much more to do with an approach to ways of learning and working than as the development of a
set of skills'.
Esson, Johnson & Vinson (2002) highlight that, for too long, there has been a focus on 'training
and development' rather than 'professional development' and their report points to the potential
value of reflective approaches which are part of an everyday process of improvement in the
natural setting. Learning to use computers involves learning to adapt to change, to be flexible,
intuitive and above all persistent, and learners who know how to be self directed and independent
will be more successful than those dependent on structured routines or guidelines (Ropp, 1997,
1998). Effective professional development requires more than skills training; it involves changes
in attitude, values and beliefs that develop confidence for ongoing learning. These issues
obviously present challenges to teacher preparation and professional development programs. They
point to a need to move away from skill objectives to focus more on teachers' approaches to
learning, their beliefs, attitudes and metacognitive understandings. It entails helping individuals
come to terms with the nature of technological change and their own abilities to confront this
change. Of implicit importance here is a focus on effective learning strategies which empower
learners to continue to learn computer skills throughout life.
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There is a strong case to be made, therefore, for approaches to professional development where
teachers are required to be more self directed in identifying what they need to learn and in
undertaking the actual learning. Teachers need to develop adaptive computer learning skills. They
need to develop self efficacious approaches to information technology, an ability to learn from
colleagues, support personnel and students (Rea, Hoger & Rooney, 1999); in essence, they need to
engage in self directed and lifelong computer learning. Research such as that by Zhao et al. (2001)
emphasises the importance of a positive attitude to integration, enthusiasm, lack of anxiety and
approach to learning and teaching as key factors in adoption of technology by teachers. These are
aspects rarely addressed in directive style professional development programs.
Why a metacognitive and reflective approach?
'Metacognition' refers to knowledge concerning one's own cognitive processes, and the active
monitoring and consequent regulation of these processes in the pursuit of goals or objectives
(Flavell, 1976; Flavell, Miller & Miller, 1993). Paris and Winograd (1990) and Jones and Idol
(1990) discuss two dimensions of metacognition: 'self appraisal' and 'self management'. Self
appraisal refers to reflections about one's knowledge state and abilities, including what you know,
how you think, and when and why to apply knowledge and strategies. Cognitive self management
refers to 'metacognitions in action' (Paris & Winograd, 1990, p.18), or the ability of the individual
to plan and implement appropriate strategies and to monitor, adjust and 'trouble shoot' their
The benefits of metacognitive teaching approaches lie in their ability to transfer responsibility for
monitoring learning from teachers to learners, and in promoting positive self perceptions, affect
and motivation among learners (Paris & Winograd, 1990). Metacognition has also been explored
by Zimmerman (1986; 1994) in his discussion of self regulated learners. Self regulation is the
process whereby 'students activate and sustain cognitions, behaviours and affects, which are
systematically oriented toward attainment of their goals' (Schunk & Zimmerman, 1994, p.309).
Ertmer and Newby (1996) extended Zimmerman's notion of self regulated learning in their
discussion of 'expert learners', a concept which adds the ingredient of reflection. By way of
definition, Ertmer and Newby state that 'expert learners use the knowledge they have gained of
themselves as learners, of task requirements, and of specific strategy use to deliberately select,
control and monitor strategies needed to achieve desired learning goals' (Ertmer & Newby, 1996,
p.1). In other words, they are aware of the knowledge and skills they do or do not possess, and use
appropriate strategies to actively implement or acquire them. 'Expert' learners are therefore self
directed and goal oriented. In contexts of rapid change, expert learners' metacognitive strategies
provide distinct advantages: 'When asked to deal with novel situations, the specific cognitive skills
and learning strategies we have available become more critical than the limited content knowledge
we may possess' (Ertmer & Newby, 1996, p.7). As has been pointed out by Ropp (1997; 1998) in
novel situations, an understanding of 'how' to learn by using specific cognitive skills and strategies
distinguishes expert learners from novices who may have an equal unfamiliarity with the content
of the domain. It is these approaches to learning, and the desire to empower learners to continue to
support their own professional learning in ICT beyond the period of the intervention, which
underpin this research.
Background to the study
During 1999-2002 an action research project investigated the use of a metacognitive approach to
undergraduate pre-service teacher computer education (Phelps, 2001; Phelps & Ellis, 2002a,
2002b, 2002c; Phelps, Ellis & Hase, 2001). A metacognitive process was developed and refined
and strategies and prompts were formulated to scaffold students' engagement in productive
reflection and relevant metacognitive engagement. In particular, participants are prompted to
consider: their past and current feelings, attitudes, beliefs and motivations regarding computer use;
their computer self efficacy and attributional patterns; their educational or social concerns
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regarding ICT; their past, current and potential ICT learning strategies; and goal setting and goal
achievement. This metacognitive approach to computer education was found to be beneficial in
helping students overcome computer anxiety and in developing appropriate lifelong learning
strategies for computer use.
This paper focuses on subsequent research which aimed to investigate the relevance and
transferability of this approach to the context of professional development of teachers in ICT. In
particular, this research aimed to:
Explore the relevance of the metacognitive and reflective approach with practising teachers;
Trial the implementation of the approach within a professional development framework,
including issues of remote delivery supplemented with face to face workshops, support
materials and online interaction;
Identify issues impacting on the successful implementation of the approach for teacher
professional development; and
Identify areas for refining the model and process.
The Catholic Education Office, Lismore Diocese, expressed an interest in working with Southern
Cross University in trialing this approach to ICT professional development of their teachers. In
particular, they wished to focus initially on secondary teachers throughout the Diocese. The
Lismore Diocese extends from Tweed Heads in the North of NSW to Laurieton on the Mid-north
Coast of NSW, with 10 secondary schools educating 6835 students and employing 550 teachers.
The geography of the Diocese posed challenges for access to professional development because of
the time and cost involved in travel. The format for the professional development thus needed to
take account of this consideration.
It was not feasible to provide release for teachers and workshops were held on weekends.
However, the negotiated professional development framework was structured to allow participants
the option to complete two assessment tasks in order to obtain accreditation for one unit at
postgraduate level, thus enabling credit toward a Graduate Certificate or Master of Education.
Promotional information was distributed to all secondary teachers in the Lismore Diocese.
Volunteer participants were sought and, following a very high level of interest in the program, a
sample of 40 teachers was selected by the collaborating partner organisation to include a balance
of experienced and inexperienced, anxious and confident computer users. This sample of 40
represents 7% of the teachers within secondary schools in the Lismore Diocese. The research
followed a pre-test, intervention and post-test approach. The professional development experience
extended over a period of two school terms and involved participants in attending 2 workshops,
interacting with self paced print, CD and Website based resources, and participating in online
communication. The metacognitive process was scaffolded through the first workshop and the
print based 'Thinking' module, which involves teachers in identifying their initial feelings,
motivations and beliefs, and the appropriateness of various learning strategies in achieving their
own self identified learning goals. They were also required to reflect on at least one school or
classroom based initiative. It was expected that teachers who chose to complete the assessment
tasks and fully engage with the readings and theory would spend approximately 150 hours of
learning (to be equivalent to that required in a postgraduate level course). However, it was
explicitly acknowledged that a portion of this learning would occur as a result of rigorous
reflection on their day to day classroom practice.
Data were collected from participants before and during the intervention using pre- and post-
intervention surveys, together with reflective journals maintained by participants; observations
made by researchers during workshop interventions; online interactions; unstructured interviews
with participants and documentation of discussions with CEO personnel. Interviews were also
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conducted with around one third of participants 6 months following the intervention, to determine
the longer term outcomes of the professional development intervention and the rate of adoption
and integration of technology in their teaching practice.
Of the 38 participants returning the initial survey, 20 (53%) were male and 18 (47%) were female.
The average number of years' teaching experience was 19, with a minimum of 3 and a maximum
of 28. The most common age bracket of participants was 41-45 with 11 teachers below the age of
40 and 17 above the age of 46. One teacher was in the age bracket 26-30 and one teacher was 60+.
Of the 38 respondents, 8 were from Maths, 6 from English, 5 from Personal Development, Health
and Physical Education (PDHPE), 5 from Science, 4 from Technology and Applied Science
(TAS), 4 from Human society and its Environments (HSIE), 2 from Religious Education, 2 from
Languages other than English (LOTE) and one each from Agriculture and Visual Arts.
Characteristics of participants
There were two very distinct groups of participants, differing markedly in terms of their level of
computer use, their perceptions of encouragement and support, their attitudes, feelings, learning
confidence and skills in relation to computers. While the majority used computers for
approximately 1 hour per day each day, 4 teachers used computers less frequently than monthly,
with one teacher 'never' having used computers. Twenty-one percent (21%) 'never' used computers
with their students and only 8% did so daily. While the majority of the teachers felt encouraged
and supported in their computer use approximately 29% did not. The majority expressed a positive
attitude toward computer use but again, 14% did not like working with computers and 35%
indicated at least some level of computer anxiety. The majority liked the challenge of learning
new computer skills but 16% did not. Notably 31% of participants did not feel that they were
effective computer learners. Between 36 and 41% of participants indicated they would not be
confident learning in contexts of high independence, while 46% indicated some degree of
confidence in such contexts. Levels of perceived usefulness were, however, very high across the
Less than half of participants indicated that they employed some form of reflection in their
computer use (notably this question was asked before the topic on reflective practice was covered
with participants). Only 29% of participants indicated that they reflected regularly about their
attitude toward computers (49% did not) and 24% of participants indicated that they regularly
adjusted their computer learning strategies. Participants were also asked to indicate their level of
confidence in performing various computer skills. More than 80% of participants were confident
with tasks such as opening up a document or a program, printing a document or finding a specific
Web site, and more than 50% were confident with such skills such as installing software, setting
up a computer, creating a bookmark or favourite, and performing basic email functions. However,
less than 50% of teachers could confidently perform other skills such as saving images from the
Web, changing the 'effects' of a graphic, producing a school newsletter creatively and
professionally, using a spreadsheet or a Webquest. When asked to describe their overall
confidence with computer skills 45% indicated mid to high confidence and 33% indicated low to
very low confidence. Thus, while some of the participating cohort were highly experienced and
confident with computers, about one third were not.
Findings and outcomes
Fostering self regulated goal setting and achievement
An important characteristic of the metacognitive approach to ICT professional development is
that, rather than specific computer learning objectives or outcomes being 'imposed' on learners,
participants are encouraged to identify, articulate and pursue personally relevant goals. Focus is
placed on assisting participants to identify individual goals, including those related to skills,
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attitudes, confidence, values and understandings; integration or practice and/or school leadership.
Participants were encouraged to state their initial aspirations at the first workshop and then to
continually revisit these goals while engaging metacognitively with the learning process and
content. An analysis of teachers' 'restated goals', expressed through their journals or through the
discussion list, did include changes in skills based and integration based goals, but notably,
metacognitive goals assumed greater centrality in this restating. Examples included developing
increased confidence; having a go at solving computer problems before seeking assistance; not
being concerned to make mistakes; able to assist their own students to encompass self directed
learning; to complete the course well; to become more "capable" and, as one participant stated, 'to
review my "relationship" with computers and maybe make it a partnership!'
Many participants actively monitored and reassessed their goals throughout the journaling process,
gaining affirmation from their goal achievement and the realisation that they were able to take on
more and more ambitious goals: "I think I may have achieved many of my goals in the first few
weeks!" (Teacher 21, discussion list, 8 August, 2002). Similar statements were expressed in the
following: "It is interesting - the further I go in the course the more my goals are changing. A few
weeks ago I was determined to concentrate on using spreadsheets but as I gain more confidence I
am looking further afield into becoming more proficient at email, searching the net and general
computer use". For some teachers this active role in goal setting came 'naturally' and was a
positive aspect of the course, allowing them to focus on areas most relevant to them, and
implement their learning through their day to day classroom activities, as expressed in the
When I am in charge of my own learning my goals continually change. This leads me
to reflect on the philosophy of Just in Time learning... Self-driven learning leads me
to continually move my goal posts in order for my learning to continue, either
forward or sideways. As I move forward with my use of computers I find that I am
continually wanting to do more and new things with them - each possibility opens up
another, and I seek the learning which enables me to attain my new goal... I continue
to explore, accomplish new skills, transfer learning, take short cuts, and do what I
need in order to reach my goals.
For others the active involvement in goal setting was more difficult: "It is very difficult to set
goals for yourself when you do not understand much of what you want to learn. How do I know
my goals when I do not know what would be of most use to me?" While the self paced learning
resources scaffolded teachers through a range of skill developing activities, and exposed them to a
range of implementation ideas, the degree to which various teachers embraced these ideas and
challenges did vary considerably.
Learning outcomes were diverse, reflecting the variant backgrounds of individual participants, and
included Web based research lessons with students, PowerPoint presentations for parents, staff or
students, lessons using specific applications such as spreadsheets or databases, enhanced use of
technology in producing newsletters, activity sheets and templates or exam papers and use of Web
based simulation resources instead of text books. For some teachers, using spell checking, copy
and pasting or sending emails for the first time were big achievements in themselves and all were
equally acknowledged and validated. The metacognitive approach thus enabled a group of
teachers with highly diverse computer knowledge, skills and experience to undertake productive
professional development and meet individual learning needs and goals.
Diversity in outcomes
The production of a Web based teaching and learning resource consolidated the skills and
pedagogical understandings gained through the program. It led participants to confront and
overcome initial hesitancies and build computer confidence and a wide range of skills. This task
resulted in tangible pedagogical outcomes and resources with immediate practical application in
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the classroom. Many teachers came to realise that taking on new computer learning challenges
was not only possible but enjoyable.
The metacognitive approach was also found to have broader outcomes and implications than
simply an approach to ICT professional development. ICT became a medium to engage teachers
in confronting broader issues about their own, their students' and their fellow teachers' learning.
The metacognitive approach actively fostered the formation of support structures and networks
which could support teachers' learning beyond their involvement in the professional development
initiative. As such, it would seem to hold potential as a vehicle to support change processes within
the school environment. Overall, participants indicated that the professional development initiative
met (or exceeded) their expectations. The selection process was generally seen as fair, it was
supportive to have other participants at their school, and the workshop timing and location was
generally seen as appropriate. Issues in the implementation of the metacognitive approach
included personal illness, the pressured pace of time for teachers, and the willingness of some
teachers to engage with a 'different' type of learning experience. Around half indicated that the
workload was appropriate while half deemed it to be excessive.
Teachers' reactions to the metacognitive process
There were both strongly positive and strongly negative reactions to the metacognitive approach,
and in particular the need to engage with metacognitive 'theory'. The majority of teachers were
positive or highly positive, while a small number of teachers (three in particular) provided less
favourable feedback. While this divergence in reaction had been evident in previous research with
pre-service teachers (Phelps, 2002) it was far more pronounced with this group of practising
Positive reactions are perhaps best encapsulated in comments from those for whom the approach
made a notable and significant impact. One teacher, for instance, continued to reflect on the
notions of competency and capability (Phelps, 2001) as discussed at the first workshop and noted:
I have made a conscious effort to become a more capable user. When presented with a
problem in the past I would invariably make a mental note and move onto something
else, hoping that I could ask someone's help at a later date. The result - the problem
was often not addressed.
This teacher went on to relate a successful recent instance of problem solving on his home
computer: 'This certainly would not have been an outcome in the past'. Similar views were
conveyed by another teacher:
I found Newman's article enlightening... Because of lack of time some people do the
task for you instead of explaining what to do and letting you do it. My independent
nature holds me back from seeking help, as well as the desire not to be a pest to
others. I'm sure there is also the 'embarrassment' factor just as there is for the students
we teach (who by the way I am always encouraging not to be).
There were, however, some participants who did not perceive as much value in the approach. For
some teachers this manifested simply in superficial or minimalistic engagement with the process.
A number of teachers expected 'quick fixes' and 'how tos'. Notably, the metacognitive approach
did explicitly acknowledge that all computer users need such ready support and 'answers' at
various times in their learning, and learners were strongly encouraged to seek help and assistance
when needed. This encouragement included the identification of mentors, and ready access to the
facilitator of the process (the first author) via phone or email at any stage, strategies which most
learners embraced. The metacognitive approach openly discussed theory concerning help seeking,
and assisted teachers to develop strategies, networks and attitudes to enable them to seek out such
help when needed.
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One teacher in particular developed quite an antagonistic attitude to the learning approach,
commenting in the discussion list about the "lack of practical application". A meeting with this
teacher highlighted the dissonance between his expectations of the course and the metacognitive
approach, with this teacher citing specific examples of wanting to be shown how to do particular
things (for example, inserting a symbol in a Word document). Notably, it was easy to provide
these 'directions' to this teacher via the discussion list the following day, however it was unclear
whether this teacher's concerns were overcome through this demonstration of possible and
appropriate 'help seeking' strategies. While such reactions do speak of the precarious and
unpredictable success of this approach, most teachers responded either neutrally or highly
positively to the approach. It was interesting to read another participant's journal reflections
regarding the above teachers' discussion list contribution:
One of the students posted a notice on the discussion board about the lack of practical
application in our course. I think his problem isn't lack of practical application but
rather he hasn't read (understood) the philosophical underpinnings of the course.
There's lots of practical stuff on the disk but the process is more important than the
Some participants experienced initial concerns and difficulties in 'getting started' and needed
further guidance and reassurance as provided via the discussion list and informal conversations. A
number of teachers were 'up front' in acknowledging their discomfort in keeping a journaling,
although they also perceived benefits.
Broader outcomes of the metacognitive approach
A significant and somewhat incidental outcome of the metacognitive approach was participants'
capacity and willingness to apply their metacognitive learning and reflection not only to their own
professional development but to their interactions with their students and fellow teachers in their
school. One teacher, for instance, spoke of encouraging students to problem solve and explore
before asking for help; another reflected on the relevance of appropriate attribution and adaptive
help seeking to students with special needs, and another on his renewed determination to resist
'spoon feeding' students. Yet another identified a need to promote more discovery learning
through their teaching.
A number of teachers were also able to observe and identify computer anxiety and inappropriate
learning attitudes, approaches and strategies amongst their teaching colleagues, and some took
active steps to support their peers to develop computer confidence. As noted by one participant:
I believe I now understand it is not only the end result but the process of getting there
that enables me to feel confident. This has helped me understand better where my
"less computer literate" colleagues are.
Another teacher provided some insightful reflections regarding their own and their colleague's
willingness to learn with students, reflecting that it was refreshing when teachers could own up to
their own inadequacies and show students a human side. They noted how students' self esteem
could be raised by knowing that it is alright not to be extremely efficient with computers, or that
they could help others. Similar ideas were expressed by another teacher:
As teachers we must encourage our students by modelling for them the behaviour of
"appropriate attribution". If they see us encounter problems and watch as we take
steps to solve them they will be encouraged to explore a little more themselves.
The metacognitive approach also actively fostered the formation of structures and networks which
could support teachers' learning beyond their involvement in the professional development
initiative. As previously noted, teachers were encouraged to locate mentors, either within their
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schools or from friends and families. Part of the approach was to help participants to appropriately
balance their own help seeking and problem solving strategies. The importance of fostering
support within this framework is encapsulated in the following quote:
The exercise made me realise I am very keen to ask questions... but I know now that I
need to have more restraint and ask more self questions first and even rethink my
questions. It is part of that person in me that is always in a rush and would like that
little slave at my beck and call.
Collaborative learning formed a very positive influence for a number of teachers, building
networks within the school which would support ongoing learning. Not only did participants
receive support and motivation from mentors but they also, in many instances, provided it to
others, as described in the following:
I acted as a little bit of a guide to my co-learners from school. I didn't actually teach
them anything they didn't already know, but I did give some advise and help with a
few small things that I hope assisted their own learning processes. That was a very
powerful experience too as it seemed to fortify the knowledge I had gained, and gave
me the confidence to continue to try new things.
The process of 'teaching others' was (and will continue to be) a valuable reinforcement for these
participants' confidence and skills. The broader outcomes of this support structuring and the
attention directed at 'appropriate' help seeking would be interesting to follow up with participants
in future interviews.
Issues in implementing the metacognitive approach
The most significant factor influencing teachers' successful completion of the professional
development approach were personal issues such as illness of participants or participant's families.
These issues were particularly pronounced given that the initiative stretched over a period of some
17 weeks and unforeseen hurdles inevitably arose in teachers' personal and professional lives. The
pressured pace of time at school was identified by many as impacting on their help seeking and
exploratory learning approaches.
Teachers involved in the initiative inevitably do encounter technical difficulties. Part of the
metacognitive approach is to explicitly acknowledge technical problems as an inevitable part of
computer use and (hence) as unavoidable in the experience of engaging with the professional
development experience. At times, however such complications can seem to be overwhelming for
the computer learner, as was expressed by Teacher 40:
I seem to be lost in a mire of hardware problems and barely able to address the issues
or areas of interest in the course that I would like to become involved with and learn
about. I've seriously considered just quitting because I am physically unable to use the
equipment - or in fact it just doesn't work.
However, as demonstrated in Teacher 40's continuation in these reflections, the metacognitive
approach can assist in confronting and working though such issues: 'this sounds to me like the
excuses that non-users have or those who are avoiding learning because it is all too new or too
difficult or too threatening etc. I don't want to quit...'. And she didn't!
A number of issues also emerged within schools in terms of teachers' abilities to implement
planned classroom implementation projects. Examples included access to digital projectors,
suitability of rooms for projection, and timetabling issues with computer labs. However teachers
were able to acknowledge that these were all the 'normal' hurdles that are an integral part of ICT
integration in classroom practice. Reflecting on these issues supported them to work through the
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problems and seek solutions, and also, in some cases, prompted teachers to instigate changes in
processes within their schools.
Another issue with the approach, and one which goes hand in hand with the inherent flexibility, is
that some teachers were not personally challenging or confronting in their goal setting and
achievement. Teacher 27, for instance, demonstrated a broad and general engagement with the
Unit content, covering all topics but at a general and non-personally challenging level. This
participant also didn't provide a great deal of evidence of taking on challenging learning
experiences. Teacher 38, in contrast, was incredibly comprehensive in critically engaging with the
resources, theory and issues explored in the course. This participant didn't, however, demonstrate
broad skill development or classroom implementation, although developing some specific skills
such as bookmarking. Notably, this individual was in an administrative position and therefore was
less able to implement learning in the classroom.
A brief case study of Teacher 10 might also illustrate the point. Teacher 10 undertook a thorough
engagement with the readings and the issues relating to ICT in learning and teaching but did not
focus on his own skill development. Despite various offers of support and assistance these were
not taken up, perhaps indicating issues with help seeking and a fear of appearing incapable or
'unintelligent'. For this teacher, unfortunately, his initial goal to 'get out of the mindset' that he
could avoid computers was not met; the avoidance seemed to continue, despite his acknowledged
'unwillingness to try and a lack of persistence in getting an outcome'. While there was little
evidence of personal skill development for Teacher 10, this participant did work through some
attitudinal and acceptance concerns:
What I need, I believe, is to see a use of computers with different eyes. I need a
paradigm shift so that when facing a task involving the use of my computer, that I see
it as a game, as a challenge...
He did conduct a lesson using digital projection of graphics downloaded from the Web, although a
great deal of assistance seemed to have been given. Following this experience Teacher 10
reflected that '...the feeling that this is a far simpler process than I had anticipated was very
encouraging'. Engagement with issues surrounding ICT integration was, however, an important
stage for Teacher 10, even if he had not been 'ready' to embrace skill development as part of the
I am now seeing technology as one of the strategies that is essential to achieve certain
outcomes. Six months ago I would have said that the parameters were far more
limited in the range of strategies that I would consider adopting within the classroom.
A small number of teachers' held dissonant initial expectations of the initiative. In one case this
led to continued antagonism toward the approach (as already documented). In another teachers'
case the statement was simply made that 'when I signed up this workload was not made clear to
me' (Teacher 39). It would seem that a critical issue in the success of the approach is accurate and
informative promotion of the initiative such that all participants are aware of the expectations and
The impact six months onwards
Interviews were conducted with those teachers indicating their willingness to be contacted six
months after the professional development initiative to determine longer term outcomes. These
interviews clearly indicated that teachers' confidence with using computers had increased
significantly as a result of the course. Comments such as the following were not uncommon:
I was very dependent now I am more independent. I thought I was pretty bad with
computers. Now I have so much more confidence. So my outlook has changed and
Page 10 of 15 AJET 20(1) Phelps, Graham and Kerr (2004) - teachers and ICT - professional deve...
this has changed my approach and strategies I use. Before I had a list with step by
step. Now I feel a lot better with trying to figure it out myself.... My approach is "get
in and have a go" because I am so much more confident.
Most had continued learning new computer skills and programs and implementing these skills in
new ways in their classrooms, attesting to the potential lifelong learning outcomes from the
approach. In learning new skills, teachers were employing the types of exploratory learning
approaches promoted in the course.
I had the idea instilled into me that I am not going to break the computer. I drag the
mouse over the tool bar till I get what it does. I drag down the menu, open things up
and have a look around. If I change the setting I just remember what I did and go
back. Before I had the misconception or fear that I could break things.
Virtually all of the interviewed participants had found themselves working with other staff within
their school, assisting them in their own computer learning and use. Many also found themselves
continuing to draw on support networks established through the program. Most interviewees were
highly conscious of the types of strategies they were using to work with these other teachers, and
were consciously building their own and others' confidence and utilising appropriate teaching and
Of particular significance, however, was the degree to which the course had influenced
participants' teaching approaches within their own classrooms. Many had adopted aspects of the
metacognitive approach with their own students, as indicated in the following comment:
At first I was not so sure about metacognition... Learning how to learn. I did not have
much time for it. I did not know about it and was shying away from it. But now I say
to the kids "we have to learn about how to learn". I have taken this approach on board
with the kids. We can't just do things, we need to think about different ways and
approaches to problems. This has been a big improvement for me.
An important finding was the extent to which initially sceptical teachers had come to appreciate
and benefit from the process of reflection and had begun to utilise reflective learning approaches
with their own students:
Reflection was something that was new. I had not used it before as a strategy. I think
reflection is a good strategy. I use it a lot with my own learning and in the class. I
have gone back to my journal as a resource, such as techniques that I learnt or what I
was doing wrong. Reflection is a valuable tool, one we don't use enough.
These findings indicate that the metacognitive approach has broader outcomes and implications
than as simply an approach to ICT professional development. Rather, ICT is used as a medium to
engage teachers in confronting broader issues about their own, their students' and their fellow
teachers' learning. The metacognitive approach also actively fostered the formation of support
structures and networks which could support teachers' learning beyond their involvement in the
professional development initiative. As such, it becomes a powerful vehicle to support change
processes within the school environment.
Down & Hogan (2000) state that promoting more critical and reflective thinking in teacher
education programs is fraught with contradictions, tensions and dilemmas. This is also consistent
with comments made by Saylor (cited in Palmer, Burns & Bulman, 1994, p.5-6), who noted that
reflection is hard because 'one must analyse what's transpired and to some degree, make a value
judgement about it... It seems to be much safer and secure not to reflect, because I don't have to
Page 11 of 15 AJET 20(1) Phelps, Graham and Kerr (2004) - teachers and ICT - professional deve...
change that which I don't see as wrong'. While involvement in the metacognitive approach was
challenging for some teachers it was also liberating for others, and many participants came to
realise the benefits of reflection for their own and their students' learning. The highly diverse ICT
background knowledge, skills and experience of the teachers who participated in this professional
development initiative attests to the flexibility of the approach in productively meeting a diversity
of teachers' needs, and enabling everyone to learn at a level and point of readiness appropriate for
The formal framework of professional development, requiring reading and assessment but
allowing postgraduate accreditation, is arguably of interest to a limited group of teachers. Future
research is needed to investigate whether metacognitive theory, and the application of this theory
to teachers' ICT learning, can inform other professional development approaches such as peer
networking, mentoring and small group learning. The metacognitive and reflective learning
approach would also appear to have outcomes beyond the ICT focus of this research and this
research indicates that it may be a valuable approach to professional development in contexts
other than ICT. Those involved in ICT professional development in contexts other then teacher
education may also find benefit in investigating the applicability of the model within their own
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Authors: Renata Phelps and Anne Graham
School of Education, Southern Cross University
Catholic Education Office, Lismore Diocese
Please cite as: Phelps, R., Graham, A. and Kerr, B. (2004). Teachers and ICT: Exploring a
metacognitive approach to professional development. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology,
20(1), 49-68. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet20/phelps.html
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