The unprecedented growth of technology has been a significant characteristic of the last fifty years. Technological development has impacted on the fabric of human interaction and existence and it has been developing according to its specified use from military to broader civilian applications. The use of the personal computer has grown dramatically from its genesis as an unsophisticated data reader. Computer use today is viewed as an essential ingredient to remaining competitive and resulting in increased productivity and efficiency (ILO, 2000). Countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States recorded, in 2005, that approximately 75% of their populations use computers at home, school or work (Pew Global, 2006). Education is one of the many strata of a nation's development where the permeation of computer technologies has impacted. The adoption of a technology footing within the education sector by government is part of the overall national development strategy to be competitive and invest in a knowledge future. The implementation of computer technology in education and the potential for its growth has only been limited by the capacity of individuals, organisations and countries to acquire and deploy the necessary technology skills, resources and strategies.
Since the early eighties, developed nations and organisations such as the European Union and the United Nations have recognized the importance of Information Communications Technology (ICT). These organisations and their member countries mobilised human and financial resources to plan, strategise and develop the growth potential of countries using ICT (Rodriguez, 2004). Legislation, such as the 'High Performance Computing Act, 1991 by the United States (Chapman & Rotenberg, 1995), was enacted by these countries to channel bureaucracy and business into the use of ICT. Government leaders accredit the modern information society 'as the driving force behind the development of modern nations' (IDEA, 2001). The ability of ICT to permeate every sphere of a nation's infrastructure is acknowledged by a report entitled ' Harnessing techniology' (2005).
This report, commissioned by the UK Government, stated that the rapid development and diffusion of communication and information technologies have the potential to affect all economic sectors, organisational and work structures, public services and cultural activities. At the core of such national infrastructures for knowledge-based economies is an authentic education sector comprising 'all three elements of the knowledge triangle (education, research and innovation)' (G8Russia, 2006).
The education sector, as an integral part of national development, recognised the importance of technology and its potential impact on learning. Seymour Papert (1980), amongst others, said that the computer was a vehicle to assist the learner in acquiring a new image of themselves. Yet the assimilation of technology into educational practice has been varied in nature. Whilst there has been substantive growth in the acquisition of hardware by schools in developed countries, the infusion of technology in the learning process could be described as haphazard.
Education instrumentalities have invested in a plethora of different strategies to implement and sustain effective practice of ICT in education (Pearson, 2006). Yet the implementation strategies seem to fail in their purpose to enhance the quality of learning by the adoption of ICT. The approach to technology implementation has been fragmented, (Hanson & Holmberg, 2003), and has not adequately addressed processes to enhance the learning outcomes by the use of ICT. Planning meetings by regulatory authorities are seemingly circuitous as they keep referring back to the central question of how to engage ICT effectively.
The scope for technology to enhance current education practice is limited only by the vision of education policy makers and the systems construed to deliver the vision at the school level. Computer technology has become a standard in literacy (Horton, 2008), as a premise to knowledge and economic wealth. Computer technology with its associated online environment presents new opportunities for education systems as it did with global businesses and governments. By harnessing computer technologies, school systems are able to expand the curriculum and redefine school operating systems. There are instances in distance education and schools, such as Hellerup in Denmark (Carney, 2006), where online use is one of the mainstays of the learning paradigm and re-configured traditional schooling. For the students there are benefits when schools engage with the new technology developments. Whether it is through devices such as mobile phones or ipods or using social online networking, school students are very familiar with these modes of technology and communication. They find the associated interactivity and connectedness stimulating and fulfilling (Prensky, 2001). More importantly learning gain trends have been have been identified when computer technologies and the Internet have been utilised in a strategic manner in schools (Ramboll Management, 2006). The impact of computer technologies and the Internet on the school sector is gauged by that sector's ability to infuse the education practice with technology. As school systems struggle with the rudiments of computer technologies they are unlikely to fully reap the benefits of functionality, dynamism and flexibility that the e learning has to offer.
Secondary school teachers' use of the e learning, in a specific UK context, forms the research basis for the study reported here. There has been a significant shift in the nature of computer use in education and the Internet from its original premise of instructing students in programming skills (Livingstone & Bovill, 2001). Internet development has grown apace and its use has expanded considerably in recent years compelling a re-evaluation of its applicability by various education groups. Education planners shifted to recognising the e-learning as a tool with potential to enhance teaching (Gibson & Oberg, 2004), to the realisation that it is a complex environment with various levels of interaction. Engaging with such an environment forms part of the challenge facing school educators in the design and execution of Internet strategies for schools and their populations.
Corroboration for this line of inquiry can be found in literature pertaining to the contribution and impact of computers to learning. , 'Harnessing Technology' recognised that for young people there are current and expanding opportunities for learning in a complex society. The environment for learning should be associated with the prevailing information medium (Spender & Stewart, 2002), which dovetails with the significance of keeping pace with the rapidly developing global information economy (Way, 2002). Yet for a variety of reasons computer technology is used primarily as either an information gathering tool (OECD, 2004), or as a word processor (Taylor, 2004) in schools.
At the foundation of this research into Teachers' use of the E learning are the students' and teachers' perceptions of computer use and the associated skill levels. The student uses of e-learning applications are compared to teachers' perceived skill and utilisation of computer applications for learning at school as well as teacher perceptions about the effectiveness of using computer applications for student learning. Elements of student and teacher perceptions and reported computer technology usage will be examined to determine the nature of the constructs used to form the research design of this study.
E-learning is a type of technology that has the potential to revolutionise the way we teach and how we learn (DfES, 2003). There are many definitions of e-Learning available such as 'learning facilitated and supported through the use of information and communications technology' (JISC, 2007). For the purposes of this research E-Learning is defined as students developing knowledge, skills and understanding, through the use of computer-based technologies.
Moreover, the recent developments in technology are changing the role of the teacher and the learning experiences of school children, engendering an exciting future where students study increasingly from places other than school. A new milestone in the development of e-learning in schools has been the use Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), enabling new opportunities to personalise learning (Barajas and Owen, 2000), although this can lead to inequity through the digital divide (BECTa, 2001). There is a need for greater research to take place to discover the best practices when e-learning is the primary medium for delivering content, particularly at compulsory education level (11-16 year olds).
E-learning can provide better support for the less able, engage students who do not respond well to 'traditional' classroom learning, provide opportunity for accelerated learning for gifted and talented students, and develop independent learning skills through a personalised learning experience. Increased development with e-learning in schools will enable a more flexible use of the school building and the school day, as well as vertical grouping and movement of students. Increased connectivity of schools to the Internet via broadband in the United Kingdom (UK) has provided greater opportunity for school managers to introduce and make use of e-learning materials across the school curriculum (Hesketh and Selwyn, 1999). The establishment of 10 regional Broadband Consortia to support the development of e-learning within schools, and the continued support of the Government for schools to purchase e-learning materials1, is resulting in an increased use of e-learning in secondary education. This will continue to develop with pressure from the Government, and the introduction of new teaching standards in 2007 to include the use of e-learning by trainee teachers, thereby raising the level of skills and the development of a pedagogical framework for e-learning.
The use of e-learning within the school curriculum has developed from industry where it has been used, both successfully and unsuccessfully, for training staff; the first recorded use being in 1984. For example Karon (2000) comments on improved accessibility of courses that can be self-paced and available via the Internet at a time to suit the learner, as compared with more conventional distance learning delivery agents. While Urdan and Weggen (2000), suggest that e-learning can result in a higher retention rate due to materials being personalised and reflecting different learning styles. The protagonists of more traditional learning and teaching methods have tended to dismiss e-learning, viewing it as a training tool, rather than reflecting the learning environment of a traditional classroom that encourages debate, discussion and interactive learning. However, developments of e-learning tools are now enabling opportunity for these elements to be present and e-learning is evolving into a virtual classroom.
Much research has been carried out with Higher Education (HE) and training establishments, identifying a range of issues such as student satisfaction being a significant factor in drop-out rates (Levy, 2007, Sachs and Hale, 2003, Chyung et al 1998, Yang and Liu, 2007); the need for a personalised learning pathway and curriculum sequencing linked to learners' ability (Chen et al, 2006); the need for the opportunity to collaborate, a variety of learning stimuli, and effective interactive tools linked to contextual learning and feedback (Yang and Liu, 2007).
E-learning is seen by many as a growth area for schools although there is little research into its use in schools. The Department for Education and Skills (2005) sets out the UK Government's strategy for harnessing the use of technology in schools, including the development of e-learning. This document has tough challenges for schools. Joo (1999) recognises some of the challenges ahead, including the need for motivated teachers and learners who have 'appropriate training, easy access to high quality materials, and systematic academic, administrative, and technical support within and outside of schools'.
In the documents its strategy for technology in education, 'Harnessing Technology'. This document expresses an aim for:
"â€¦online personalised support for learners, parents, and practitioners, giving secure access to personal records, online resources, tracking and assessment that works across all sectors, communities, and relevant public and private organisations."
'Harnessing Technology' includes a commitment for this aim to be delivered by December 2008. In turn, Becta's plan for the delivery of the government's e-strategy includes a commitment
to deliver the following outcomes:
"learners can support their learning through a personalised online learning space"
â€¢ "[to] use technology in assessment to enable learning and improve learning outcomes and progression"
â€¢ "learners have access to their own e-portfolio to support their personalised learning and enable seamless transition between institutions and learning providers and throughout life."
Research carried out with science teachers shows that learners become motivated and improves their attitude towards science and their interest in learning when ICT and e-learning are integrated in the curriculum delivery. Further, Denby and Campbell (2005) also noted that both teachers and learners were motivated when the technology was used in the science classroom, and the process of teaching and learning was enhanced.
While some researchers have portrayed ICT as a tool which is positively impacting on teaching and learning, others have argued that the domestication process of the technology in schools is problematic. Jung (2005) argued that ICT has provided new ways to teaching and learning processes, but it has simultaneously "placed more demands on teachers to learn how to use these new technologies in their teaching". Waller (2007) concurs and argues that while there has been an increase in "provision of educational ICT over the last ten years, at the same time there has been a pressure on educators to make corporate business needs the primary goals of the school system". Educators are expected to promote 'e-learning', develop 'e-confidence' and organise 'Managed Learning Environments' (Waller, 2007 citing Becta 2004). The integration of ICTs and in curriculum delivery is not a straight forward issue for many educators. This is because many serving teachers did not experience ICT immersed curriculum in their professional preparations (Jegede, 2009).
1.1.2 Factors impacting on Research Direction
Some of the reasons restricting the use of technology in schools (Blumenfield et al. 2003; OECD, 2004) are teacher capability, school culture, technology infrastructure and organisational constraints. In effect many causes operate together and a better way to infuse technology into the learning process may be found in understanding the multi dimensional possibilities of the technologies and utilising a range of technologies through a learner centred environment (Trinidad, 2003). For this strategy to be successful, school leaderships need to be proactive to implement technology effectively through a learning environment. School leaders should have a clear understanding of integrating technology through learning and proactivel intervene to ensure a successful and sustainable implementation (Schiller, 2002). Rios & Neergaard (1995) state the need for coupling the introduction of new technology to organisational development and corporate strategy. An integral approach is required considering all contributing factors.
At the core of a school's operation is the learning environment provided for its students with their different abilities and learning styles. Catering for and to the many dimensions of learning involves multiple conceptual, procedural, societal an technical variables (Jones, 1997). Yet there has been a trend to comprehend technology in the singular and for education systems and schools to provide one technology solution for learning. As Ehrmann (2000) intimates, schools have been promised a new and improved vision only to experience the next version in disappointment. The practice of teachers and school executives to focus on technology as a single entity has affected school technology planning and influenced teacher understanding about the use of technology for the learning curriculum. It is the intent of this study to supplement existing evidence about teacher skill, application and perception levels of computing technology as well as providing some insight to the decisions of school leaderships affecting schools strategic technology direction. Teachers' computer technology perception and practice are compared with students' perception and practice and analysed to determine differences between the practices. This study is founded on the premise that technology is more than a singular concept. The word technology is in itself amorphous describing a large collection of hardware and software. Using the term 'hardware' one could be alluding to a DVD drive, LCD screens or the storage space in a hard drive. Equally with 'software', it could range from word processing to multi media applications. More important is the selection of the appropriate technology for the learning situation rather than labeling technology as computers and simply allowing students to work in a computer laboratory. Malouf (2000) emphasizes the necessity of selecting the correct tool because of the potential benefits in productivity and creativity. In order to affect and effect learning, Lamb (2002) suggests that the multimedia learning environment should be founded on selection, utilisation, management and evaluation. The implementation of such an environment was illustrated in a case study at Bendigo Senior Secondary College (Toomey, Elkin-Smyth & Nicolson, 2000).
The study, part of an OECD/CERI ICT program conducting a review into ICT and the quality of learning, examined management change process and implementation of Information Communications Technology at the college for the period 1994 - 1999. The study found that ICT had been the stimulus and recurrent catalyst for change at the college. The school technology strategy, modified through a committee process including the leadership, changed their curriculum delivery to that of project-based learning. The strategy also encouraged the use of a broad range of ICT applications including multimedia. There was recognition about the potency of technology to affect learning and allow the learner to explore a learning environment. The adoption of a broader range of ICT strategies and applications into the curriculum has the potential to utilise students' capability in and access to technology to enable a wider combination of education solutions. The concept of student proficiency in a broad range of computer applications is wider than the skills competencies set by some education authorities such as the NSW Board of Studies (2001). These competencies are based on word processing, spreadsheet, database and presentation software. The Board of Studies has mapped the competencies to the most appropriate Key Learning Area, to assist teachers, and matched that mapping with a particular syllabus reference. These competencies set as benchmarks by this authority and others do not include the multimedia applications or some of the online applications argued by Lamb (2002) as engaging students in the learning process. The primary outcome for students should be proficiency in using ICT tools so they can create, develop and communicate information (DfES, 2004). It was noted by the English authority that using ICT created the opportunity of meeting student learning needs, characteristics and learning styles. Finally to effect change in schools' technology practice, there is a need to acknowledge widely that the physical boundaries of learning have changed. Distance education has provided signposts to the virtual learning environment (Wilson, 2001). The virtual environment can facilitate learning at any place and any time. It changes the culture of the classroom learning environment (Meredyth, Russell, Blackwood, Thomas & Wise, 1999) and challenges the notion of traditional school times. The online environment has the potential to promote a more flexible school structure to incorporate the individual needs of students and utilise teacher expertise to greater advantage.