Evaluation of educational computer programmes as a change agent in science classrooms.
Muwanga-Zake, Johnnie Wycliffe Frank.
MetadataShow full item record
This evaluation started with preliminary research into the situations and problems in science classrooms and computer laboratories. The preliminary research identified teacher-centred lessons, learner and teacher conceptualisations, large numbers of learners per classroom, assessment, and a lack of interest in biology as some of the major problems in South African classrooms. The current research (because it is continuing) uses two Educational Computer Programmes (ECPs); a Computer-Aided Assessment (CAA) programme which is designed to alleviate problems in assessment, and Zadarh (a constructivist adventure game) designed to solve problems in biology classrooms, to further investigate some of the identified problems and find out the learners' and teachers' views on the utility of these two ECPs. The use of these two ECPs had not previously been investigated appropriately, especially in disadvantaged communities where teachers had little knowledge of the use and of evaluating ECPs. Therefore, a major concern for this study is that previous ECP evaluations excluded teachers and were not comprehensive enough especially for deploying ECPs in disadvantaged communities. A review of the methods that had hitherto been used, indicated that quantitative, mostly, behavioural and cognitive, pre-test post-test methods were prominently used, despite the shift in instructional design to constructional design, which embrace qualitative aspects of learning. Also, instructional design has evolved from behavioural models to include constructivist microworlds, which were unfairly evaluated by excluding qualitative benefits. Thus, this study seeks a more comprehensive evaluation strategy, in which teachers play the role of co-evaluators and which captures the qualitative and quantitative changes that software programs impart upon teachers' classroom practices, with sensitivity to the multiple disciplines in a program, as well as to the value systems of teachers. Comprehensive evaluation processes were facilitated during which 26 teachers in 23 schools in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and Mpumalanga Provinces embarked upon the evaluation of the two ECPs. Evaluations were based upon a developmental, constructivist and interpretative approaches, by which teachers took ownership of these evaluations. Comprehensive evaluations revealed benefits from CAA and Zadarh, as well as benefits from direct teacher participations in the evaluations. CAA (Question Mark in this case) instantly provided diagnostic data. However, it was evident that the quality of diagnosis and remediation depended upon the quality of the test items, and the learning as well as the teaching strategies. Factors that could militate against the use and full utilisation of CAA in the schools where the study was done included the cost of software for CAA, teachers' capacity to set diagnostic test items particularly in a multiple-choice format, teachers' ability to interpret data produced by CAA, and teachers' skills in remedying their classroom problems as well as learners' problems. This study found that by playing Zadarh learners were able to construct knowledge through discovery and were attracted to the enjoyable aspects of this educational tool. Learners remembered most of those moments in the game during which they were both stuck and trying to solve problems on their way through Zadarh. Therefore, Zadarh can provide useful learning experiences with fun, and can improve motivation towards learning. Debilitating factors against the use of Zadarh and CAA include school curricula, which do not accommodate innovations, inflexible timetables, and classroom approaches that are teacher-centred. It was clear that the success of using computers in education would depend upon the ability of teachers to evaluate the ECPs, and to integrate ECPs into school curricula. drive these interactions played an important role in the successful integration of ECPs into classroom. One way of achieving such success is to include teachers as evaluators and co-designers of ECPs. Evaluations of ECPs therefore should: i) allow the teachers and learners, through social dialog, to identify how software could solve problems; ii) establish the compatibility of the software with the school curriculum; iii) ascertain the capacity of school computers to execute the software; and iv) provide support to the teachers in the use the software. Evaluations should benefit teachers and learners. The study concluded that a post-modern, developmental, and constructivist evaluation process might be one of the ways of enhancing training teachers in the use of the ECPs, in the concepts that the software deal with, and in evaluation. In that way, a socially contracted evaluation is comprehensive and can serve as a change agent through which teachers reflect and act upon improving their classroom practices.