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Analysis of Computer Use in Developing Country Education

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Published: Mon, 12 Feb 2018

Abstract

This study identified the extent to which Iranian secondary school principals used computers and explored the relationship between a numbers of variables related to ICT use. These factors included high level of computer access, strong perceptions of the attributes of ICT, high level of computer competence, as well as the high level of transformational leadership behaviours, all contributed significantly to the level of computer use by principals. All four constructs are equally important but have varying impact on computer use. Therefore, all four constructs should be viewed in an integrated manner in accordance to the conceptual model proposed in this study.

Keywords: – ICT, Secondary school principals, Computer use

Introduction

One developing country that is currently pursuing the technological track in education is Iran. Iran’s National philosophy of Education calls for developing the potential of individuals in a holistic and integrated manner, so as to produce individuals who are intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally balanced and harmonious. The catalyst for this massive transformation will be technology which will improve how the educational system achieves the National Philosophy of Education, while fostering the development of a work force prepared to meet the challenges of the next century. With respect to this vision, Ministry of Education provided ICT related workshops and courses for principals and teachers. The plan emphasized that they should acquire seven fundamental digital computing skills (Kousha & Abdoli, 2004). Although several institutions have completed the training programmes of their staff, research studies have not been done on the efficiency of this plan, knowledge, skills, and attitude that principals and teachers acquire during these courses. In fact, national programmes in developing countries are not based on research. Hence, successes of these programmes are limited (Albirini, 2006a).

In addition, the Ministry of Education in Iran has invested much more fund to facilitate integration of ICT in schools. In spite of this large expenditure of funds, the potential for ICT to alter how principals use computers for instructional and administrative purposes, how teachers teach and how children learn in Iranian schools has not been fully realized since many Iranian schools do not use ICT in their teaching and learning and administrative purposes (Jahangard, 2003). It displays that computer was provided with no supplementary measures to enable principals and teachers to develop positive attitudes toward ICT in education and to use them. Also, in exploring the literature about the implementation of ICT in schools, an area which is noticeably absent in research on ICT implementation and integration is the role of the school principals as technology leaders. Although, some research studies have demonstrated that ICT has a huge impact on the ways in which principals work (Yuen, Law & Wong, 2003; Schiller, 2003), the ICT research literature has tended to overlook the role of the principal as technology leaders (Schiller, 2003; Michael, 1998; Riffel & Levin, 1997). This gap in the research literature is rather strange because there is considerable literature relating to school effectiveness, school improvement and change which identifies the school principal as a key factor in bringing about successful change in schools (e.g. Hall & Hord, 2001; Fullan, 2002).

According to Schiller (2003), school leaders are key factors in implementation ICT in schools. They have a main responsibility for creating school change through use of ICT and facilitate complex decisions about integration of ICT into learning and teaching. Although the role of the principal in supporting technology integration is very important there are little Iranian researches on the role of the principal in the implementation of ICT. Also, little is known about the use of ICT by principals and factors that are related to their level of computer use. This article will report on these issues from an analysis of data gathered from secondary school principals in Tehran, Iran.

Review of the literature

Effective leadership is an important element in the success of schools seeking to implement change (Calabrese, 2002). Anderson and Dexter (2005) reported on the analysis of data from the 1998 Teaching, Learning, and Computing survey of more than 800 schools in the USA and concluded that “although technology infrastructure is important, for educational technology to become an integral part of a school, technology leadership is even more necessary” (p. 74). Without the support of school leaders the educational potential of information and communications technology may not be realized. They play various roles such as change agent, lifelong learner, main supporter, and resource provider in relation to ICT implementation in schools (Han, 2002). If principals want to lead effectively their school in technology integration, they should embrace technology and realize the role that technology can play in the teaching-learning process. In fact, “it is difficult to imagine a leader who does not use technology trying to convince teachers that it is important” (Cafolla & Knee, 1995, P.3). Therefore, principals need to understand the capacities of the new technologies, to have a personal proficiency in their use, and be able to promote a school culture which encourages exploration of new techniques in teaching, learning and management (Schiller, 2003).

According to Albirini (2006a), access to computer resources has often been one of the most important barriers for the integration of technology in both developed and developing countries. Norris, Sullivan, Poirot and Soloway (2003) reported on the analysis of data from the snapshot survey of more than 4,000 K-12 schools in the USA and concluded that there was a significant and substantive correlation between level of access to computer and level of computer use. Also, Rogers (2003) stated that the perceived attributes of an innovation are one of the important factors in explaining the rate of adoption of an innovation. A large amount of the variance in the rate of adoption of innovations, from 49 to 87 percent, is explained by five attributes: relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability (Rogers, 2003). The five attributes refer respectively to: (1) the degree to which an innovation is perceived as better than the idea it supersedes; (2) the extent to which an innovation is perceived as consistent with the existing values, past experience, and needs of potential adopters; (3) the degree to which an innovation is perceived as relatively difficult to understand and use; (4) the extent to which the results of an innovation are visible to others; and (5) the degree to which an innovation is experimented with on a limited basis. Regarding the relationship between perceived innovation characteristics and computer technology adoption, Al-Gahtani (2003) conducted a quantitative research in Saudi Arabia and found that relative advantage, compatability and observability were positively related to the adoption of technology, whereas complexity was negatively correlated. Hence, innovations that are perceived by individuals as having greater relative advantage, compatability, observability, and less complexity will be adopted more rapidly than other innovations (Rogers, 2003).

Principals’ attitudes toward ICT have been recognized as an important factor for the success of technology integration in education (Han, 2002; Mooij & Smeets, 2001; Rogers, 2003). Attitude is defined as a positive or a negative feeling associated with performing a specific behaviour (Ajzen & Fishbein, 2005). In fact, an individual will have a favorable attitude if he or she believes that the performance of the behaviour will lead to mostly positive results and vice-versa (Ajzen & Fishbein, 2005). Ajzen and Fishbein (2005) indicated that attitudes consist of three elements: affect, cognition, and behaviour. The affective element refers to the individual’s emotional feelings or liking of a person or an object. The cognitive element refers to the person’s knowledge about a person or an object. The behavioural element refers to the person’s overt behaviour towards a person or an object. A complete description of attitude requires that all three components be assess by obtaining measures of all the three response classes (Ajzen & Fishbein, 2005).

Han (2002) conducted a case study on pre-school leaders’ practices in the use of ICT and found that principals who have positive attitudes toward technology are very helpful and supportive in introducing these new technologies into the school. For example, they encourage their colleagues to have ICT training, equip the school with sufficient computers and ensure staff has access to relevant technology. Apart from that, Liaw (2002) stated that no matter how capable the technology is, the effective implementation of technology depends upon users’ positive attitudes towards the technology. According to Noraini Idris et al. (2007), individuals with positive attitudes will have positive feelings about people and situations; have a sense of purpose, excitement, and passion; approach problems in a creative manner; make the best out of every situation; realize that attitude is a choice; feel that they have control of their thoughts; and feel that they are making a contribution through their work. Therefore, principals who have positive attitudes toward ICT feel more contented using it and regularly incorporate it into their tasks (Kersaint, Horton, Stohl & Garofalo, 2003).

According to Rogers (2003), innovation-decision process consists of five steps which are knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation, and confirmation. These five steps usually follow each other in a time-ordered manner. Knowledge is the first stage of the successful adoption of computer technologies and it is essential for other steps in the innovation-decision process. If principals do not have enough competent in computer use, they cannot be expected to adopt computer technologies into their instructional and administrative tasks. Without the knowledge and skill of computer technology, principals might have a high level of uncertainty that influence their opinions and beliefs about the innovation (Rogers, 2003). In line with this idea, Felton (2006) stated that competence is a key to the use of computers by principals on a daily basis. In fact, competence in operating a computer and in utilizing software may improve the quality and efficiency of administrative performance in schools. Improved quality could lead to improved decision-making. In order to achieve high levels of principal’s competence in ICT, there is a need to provide training, and perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a great deal of literature evidence to suggest that effective training is crucial if principals are to use ICT effectively in their work (Kirkwood, 2000). If training is inadequate or inappropriate, then principals will not be sufficiently prepared, and perhaps not sufficiently confident, to make full use of technology. Hence, lack of principal’s competence and lack of quality training for principals can be barriers to principals’ use of ICT.

Many technology experts have indicated that the integration of ICT in education should occur in the light of the cultural conditions of the country and the prevailing school culture (Albirini, 2006b; Govender & Govender, 2009). In fact, cultural barriers, either societal or organizational, are very important among the barriers to the adoption of technology. Societies and organizations can overcome most of the technical barriers through different means of support, but cultural barriers are harder to deal with. It is widely accepted that culture, within a society or an organization, shapes individuals’ perceptions of innovations. In the field of education, it has been noticed that principals’ reactions to technology innovations are mediated by their cultural perceptions (Felton, 2006). According to Rogers (2003), a cultural perception is a very general idea of social system norms. Also, it refers to the cultural suitability of computers (Thomas, 1987). Furthermore, Albirini (2006a) carried out a study examining the factors relating to the teachers’ attitudes toward ICT. He collected evidence from high school English teachers about their perceptions of computer attributes, cultural perceptions, computer competence, and computer access. The sample consisted of 63 male and 251 female teachers. The results showed that computer attributes, cultural perceptions, and computer competence are factors that explain the greatest amount of variance in computer attitudes. Also, he stated that cultural perceptions toward different computer-related technologies are key factors related to both the initial acceptance of these technologies as well as future behaviour regarding their usage. Similarly, Lee, Choi, Kim and Hong, (2007) conducted a study on the relationship between users’ cultural profiles and technology adoption in the context of the mobile Internet. Their findings of large-scale on-line surveys in Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan indicate that cultural factors have a significant influence on users’ adoption perceptions of mobile Internet services. So, they concluded that cultural differences are a contributing factor in the adoption of technology, particularly in third world countries.

According to Flanagan and Jacobsen (2003), leadership plays a key role in the success of technology utilization in education. Thomas (2001) stated that there is a strong link between educational technology and school leadership. Leadership style is exhibited by the leader could help or hinder technology infusion (Flanagan & Jacobsen, 2003; Thomas, 2001). One of the best styles of leadership that can change and transform individuals is transformational leadership (Northouse, 2001). Transformational leadership occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality (Bass & Riggio, 2006). In other words, transformational leadership is a process that both the manager and followers should change themselves (Northouse, 2001). Although the transformational leader plays an essential role in precipitating change, followers and leaders are inextricably bound together in the transformation process (Northouse, 2001). This type of leadership is becoming more and more important to organizations, as workforces become more diverse, technology improves and international competition heightens.

Transformational leadership is comprised of four distinct dimensions: charismatic leadership or idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation and individualized consideration (Bass & Riggio, 2006). Idealized influence (attributed) demonstrates attributes of principals that motivate respect and pride and display a sense of power and confidence; idealized influence (behaviour) refers to the principals’ behaviour to communicate values, purpose, and importance of mission; inspirational motivation refers to leaders that motivate and inspire others by challenging them to exert effort; Intellectual stimulation stimulates followers’ efforts to be innovative and creative by questioning assumptions, reframing problems, and approaching old situations in new ways; and individualized consideration focuses on development and mentoring of followers and attends to individual needs(Bass & Riggio, 2006).

Beatty and Lee (1992, as cited in Thite, 2000) conducted several case studies of the implementation of CAD/CAM systems in numerous British and Canadian companies in an effort to investigate the linkage between leadership and technological change in organizations. Through semistructured interviews and using a critical incident approach to assessing leadership abilities, the researchers tracked managerial involvement throughout the implementation process. The outcome of their qualitative research suggests that a transformational approach to leadership is likely to be more effective in overcoming barriers to change than a transactional leadership approach that concentrates on technical problem solving to the neglect of people and organizational issues.

According to Burns (2003), transactional leadership involves exchanging one thing for another. In fact, the effective transactional leaders are expert in giving and taking. This style is useful for stable situations but is less useful for organizations that are faced to environmental turbulence or rapid change (Kirkbride, 2006). Transactional leadership was measured by contingent reward and management-by-exception­ (active and passive). Contingent reward leaders explain the expectations of followers and the compensation they will receive if they meet their performance expectations. Management-by-exception-active leaders attend to followers’ mistakes and failures to meet standards and management-by-exception-passive leaders react to correct action after problems become serious enough (Bass & Riggio, 2006).

Regarding the importance of transformational leadership as an influence on principals’ use of technology, Christopher (2003) conducted a study at the University of Virginia. A self-designed instrument was used in this study. Leadership items were taken from Bass and Avolio’s Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire Leader Form. Surveys were sent to a random sample of 397 principals throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, and 185 principals participated in the survey. Her analysis indicated that the overall extent that principals used decision support technologies was significantly correlated with their perceptions of all four transformational leadership behaviors (individual influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individual consideration). Also, she suggested that educational leadership programs should be provided to train principals to use technology as a management tool. If principals do not use technology on a consistent basis; the principal should not expect the faculty to use technology regularly. Modeling the use of technology provides an affective method for exposing teachers to new strategies and demonstrating to the staff that it is acceptable to take risks and make mistakes, without the fear of retribution (Dawon & Rakes, 2003)

The study

The purpose of this study was to identify the extent to which secondary school principals use computers in Tehran (a large province in Iran) and to explore factors related to level of computer use by principals. Selected factors used in this study were based on Rogers’ (2003) diffusion theory, Technology Acceptance Model, and previous researchs which include perceived computer attributes; computer competence; computer access; principals’ attitude toward computers; leadership style of principals; and cultural perceptions. Principals’ profiles (gender, age, and administrative experience, type of school, and academic degree, as well as information regarding background in computer training) were also included in order to ensure maximum possible control of extraneous variables by building them into the design of the study (Gay & Airasian, 2000). More specifically, this study addresses the following questions:

  1. What is the level of computer use by secondary school principals?
  2. What are the principals’ attitudes toward computers?
  3. What are the principals’ perceptions of:
    • Computer attributes?
    • Their level of computer competence?
    • Cultural relevance of computers to Iranian society and schools?
    • Their level of access to computers?
  4. What is the leadership style (transformational and transactional leadership) of principals?
  5. What is the relationship between the level of computer use by secondary school principals and their perceptions of each of the above variables?
  6. What is the proportion of the variance in the level of computer use by secondary school principals that can be explained by the selected independent variables and the relative significance of each independent variable in explaining the dependent variable?

Methodology

This was a descriptive study of an exploratory nature. Creswell (2003) stated that exploratory studies are most advantageous when ”not much has been written about the topic or the population being studied” (p. 30).The target population in this study was Iranian secondary school principals in the province of Tehran during the 2007-2008 school years. The list of principals was based on the secondary principals’ Directory. The Directory is maintained and updated on a quarterly basis by Tehran Department of Education. The total number of secondary school principals was 1312 in the Directory of the Department of Education in Tehran.

Furthermore, a set of questionnaire was used to obtain the required data for this study. The questionnaire was divided into two parts. Part A measured the perceived level of computer use by principals. Factors that were related to it were measured in part B. Questionnaires were distributed to 320 sample principals selected randomly from the population. In this study, stratified sampling was used because Tehran is one of the biggest cities in Iran and consists of 19 educational areas. Also, the population to be sampled was not homogeneous but, in essence, consisted of several subpopulations (Wiersma, 1995). When sub-populations vary significantly, it is advantageous to sample each subpopulation (stratum) independently. Researcher used this stratified sampling method to have less variability in selection.

Two indispensable characteristics of measurement that must be considered in establishing the appropriateness and usefulness of measurement instrument are reliability and validity. Although theses instruments were valid, face and content validity of these instruments were established again by a panel of expert. To ensure that Iranian secondary school principals had a complete comprehension of the instrument used in the study, the survey was translated from English into Persian using the double back translation method to ensure the accuracy of the Persian version.

Furthermore, Cronbach’s alpha was used to measure internal consistency and calculated via the SPSS 15 statistical package. Cronbach alpha is the most common form of internal consistency reliability coefficient. The Cronbach’s alpha coefficients for these scales were: Computer Access Scale=0.867, Computer Attributes Scale =0.909, Attitude toward ICT Scale =0.92, Computer Competence Scale=0.97, Cultural Perceptions Scale=0.611, Transformational leadership style Scale=0.812, Transactional leadership style Scale=0.596 and Level of computer use Scale=0.917. To carry out this study, first, approval was obtained from the Ministry of Education and also contact was made with the research department of Tehran’s Ministry of Education A meeting was arranged to discuss the proposed study. Furthermore, a letter of introduction and a questionnaire packet were delivered to the superintendent in the research department for review. Finally, approval was received from the superintendent and permitted the researcher to attend the principals’ meeting in each educational area of the Ministry of Education.

A total of 350 pockets were distributed among all members of the sample in these sessions. In the packet, there were materials. These materials include a cover letter, the questionnaire, and a stamped, addressed return envelope was enclosed for some respondents’ convenience in returning the completed questionnaires. The completed questionnaires were collected at the end of these sessions. Principals who could not fill their questionnaires completely were given approximately three weeks from that date to return the questionnaires by mail. In all, 350 surveys were distributed, 320 were returned, resulting in a return rate of 91.4%. All of the returned surveys, a total of 320, were used in the analysis. In this study descriptive statistics were used to describe and summarize the properties of the mass of data collected from the respondents (Gay & Airasian, 2000). Correlation analysis was used to determine the relationship between each of the independent variables and the level of computer use by secondary school principals in Tehran. Furthermore, multiple regression was used to measure the degree to which the independent variables would explain the proportion of variance in the dependent variables and to identify the relative significance of each independent variable in explaining the dependent variable. By convention, an a level of 0.05 was established a priori for determining statistical significance.

Findings and Discussion

The findings indicated that about 51.6% of the respondents were males and more than half of the respondents (50.3%) were within the 45-54 age range. About 44.7% of the respondents had 21 or more years of experience. More than half of the respondents (53.1%) worked in private schools, and approximately 60.3% of the respondents held bachelor’s degrees. Moreover, the majority of the participants (95.5%) reported that they had computer training, and 83.8% of them had more than 60 hours training. In terms of the type of training, more than half of the principals participating in the study (52.8%) reported that they received their training through in-service training.

Computer Use by Principals

The dependent variable, level of computer use, was quantified by the score of 39 items using a five-point Likert scale. Each item was rated by respondents from 1 (“Never use”) to 5 (“use daily”). This scale was developed by Felton (2006). According to this questionnaire, four domains of computer use such as Internet use, hardware and software use, instructional use, and administrative use were measured.

Table 1

Distribution of Mean Scores on the Computer Use Scale

According to Table 1, the principals’ perceptions of the level of computer use were moderate; with an overall mean score of 3.32 (SD= 0.76). Also, findings indicated that principals spent a few times a week working on their computers. It would seem that Iranian principals need effective and extensive trainings to raise their proficiency in computer use and integrate technology into their schools.

Moreover, analysis of collected data on the computer use scale showed that among the subscales of the level of computer use, Internet use had the highest mean (M = 3.49). Also, findings showed that nearly all the respondents used the Internet at home and at school , and the most frequent use of Internet was for sending and receiving e-mail (46.9% “2 or 3 times a week”). It would seem that e-mail was the most accepted application among principals who were surveyed. In fact, there may be several reasons for this—e-mail is efficient, widely available, and effective. Thus, it is not surprising that email was accepted and used far more by the sample population of this study.

Principals can increase their professional knowledge in the form of knowing current research, new technologies, and best teaching practices through the use of the Internet. Findings of this study showed that most of the respondents used a web browser a few times a week to explore professional and educational resources. Three reasons may underline the obtained results. The first possible reason is that low telecommunication density and very low bandwidth during peak hours sometimes makes it impossible to download files or software. Furthermore, most of the principals have little Internet experience; it was not comfortable for them to spend time on uses other than e-mail or some sort of urgent browsing. Lastly lack of knowledge and skill for searching and downloading the valuable professional and educational resources also limit the use of the Interne. In fact, the Internet can be an avenue for researching information and data. It helps principals to find information regarding their profession and educational subjects in order to develop processes for effective decision-making and problem solving which result in better accountability (Felton, 2006). Therefore, trainings should be provided for principals to learn all possible Internet resources with underlying techniques of strategic browsing to enhance their Internet literacy (Atkinson & Kydd, 1997).

As for the hardware and software use subscale, the main use for computers was in word processing, whereas construction of spreadsheets, databases and presentations (such as Powerpoint) was used “never” or “a few times a month”. Only 2.5 percent of principals stated that they read spreadsheets “daily” at work with 20.0 percent indicating use 2 or 3 times a week, while 56.9 percent indicated that they had read “never” or “a few times a month” a spreadsheet. These results are consistent with Schiller’s (2003) study. He found that the word processing was the most frequently utilized software among the principals and they used it to create documents and slides.

Regarding the instructional use domain, the majority of participants indicated that they two or three times a week used computers for recording observation; monitoring student achievement for specific objectives and grades; creating master schedules; recording discipline referrals; writing up classroom observations; monitoring achievement test data; locating curriculum resources; developing or write curriculum; and creating graphs and charts. Plomp and Pelgrum (1992) stated that one way in which computers might work their way into the school is through administrative use and that this might lead to the use of computers in instruction. An examination of data showed that mean score of the administrative use subscale was lower than another subscales, and computer use for instructional purposes was generally ahead of administrative uses. Moreover, findings indicated that within the area of administrative uses, communicating with staff, and members of the wider school, initiating and sustaining collaborative activities with colleagues within and outside their school were the areas of greatest use, while financial matters, maintaining of administrative records about students, using a programme to analyze information for solving problems, using technology to support levels of professional collaboration, and using technology to participate new kinds of professional development were the areas of least use. Therefore, the early assumption that the introduction of computers into schools for administrative purposes would spread to their use for instructional purposes was not supported by the data.

Principals’ Attitudes toward ICT in Education

Attitude scale contained 23 items that asked respondents to describe their attitudes towards ICT. This scale was developed by Albirini in 2006a and comprised of three subscales: affective domain; cognitive domain, and behavioral domain. Respondents’ attitudes were measured on a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Higher scores indicated positive attitudes towards ICT while lower scores indicated less positive attitudes.

Table 2

Distribution of Mean Scores on the Attitude toward ICT Scale

As Table 2 illustrates, principals’ attitudes towards ICT were positive, with an overall mean of 4.05 and a standard deviation of 0.44. Principals’ positive attitudes towards ICT exhibit their initiation into the innovation-decision process (Rogers, 2003). It seems that Iranian principals have already gone through the Knowledge and Persuasion stages (Rogers, 2003) and are probably proceeding to the Decision phase. As many theorists have indicated, attitudes can often foretell future behaviours (Ajzen & Fishbein, 2005). Thus, it can be concluded that principals who have positive attitudes towards ICT in education, use computer in their administrative and instructional tasks once computers become more available to them. At this stage, principals’ exp


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