Research in Science & Technological Education

Vol. 26, No. 2, July 2008, 203–213
ISSN 0263-5143 print/ISSN 1470-1138 online
© 2008 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/02635140802037344
Pre-service science teachers and ICT: Communities of practice?
Anna Cleaves
* and Rob Toplis
Faculty of Education, Anglia Ruskin University, UK;
School of Sport and Education,
Brunel University, UK
Taylor and Francis Ltd CRST_A_303902.sgm 10.1080/02635140802037344 Research in Science & Technological Education 0263-5143 print/1470-1138 online Original Article 2008 Taylor & Francis 26 2000000July 2008 AnnaCleaves
The practices and justifications of 15 pre-service science teachers in using ICT were explored
by survey, observation and interview. Interactive whiteboards are frequently employed,
although predominantly as projection screens for presentations, whilst datalogging and
spreadsheets are used infrequently. Trainees incorporate ICT to enhance pupil motivation
and to save time, but demonstrate little use of ICT to enhance the teaching of conceptual
knowledge. ICT helps to increase the currency and broaden the scope of activities and
occasionally to promote pupil collaboration. The imaginative use of ICT, although limited, was
identified and respondents were able to rationalise its use. We recommend improved dialogue
between mentors and trainees with respect to the effective use of ICT in science teaching.
Keywords: IWB; datalogging; pedagogy; demonstration; motivation; collaboration
This paper examines pre-service teachers’ (trainees) use of ICT in secondary (ages 11 to 16/18)
science teaching during school experience placements and their justifications for using it. It is
informed by three theoretical strands: trainees situated learning within communities of practice,
socio-cultural theory and perspectives on initial teacher education, and by empirical research on
using ICT in classrooms.
Trainees in schools join a community of practice as peripheral participants where they
acquire the skills of teaching (Lave and Wenger, 1991). Although there is some debate about the
nature of communities of practice (Wubbels, 2007), it is generally accepted that they are social
organisations with varied forms of membership (Lave and Wenger, 1991). However, communi-
ties of practice do not exist in isolation; they are subject to the socio-cultural world that is tied
to specific historical, cultural and institutional settings (Wertsch, 1991). Changes in the curricu-
lum, teaching strategies, the school and science education curricula nationally may all impinge
on teachers’ practice. Furthermore, trainees themselves go through different stages of their own
development in schools (Furlong and Maynard, 1995) and, in addition, may come with prior
experience of ICT from university, business or industry and be able to bring their own ideas and
expertise into the science classroom as they develop teaching with ICT. The traditional master–
apprentice relationship within the community of practice of the school may be altered where
there are reciprocal interactions to learning with ICT (Glazer and Hannafin, 2006).
The benefits of using ICT in science education in the UK have been reported by the ImpaCT2
project (Harrison et al., 2003) and the British Educational Communications and Technology
Agency (Becta, 2003). However, these benefits may not always translate into curriculum prac-
tice: a US Congress report noted that:
*Corresponding author. Email:
204 A. Cleaves and R. Toplis
Despite technologies available in schools, a substantial number of teachers report little or no use of
computers for instruction. Their use of other technologies also varies considerably. (US Congress,
Office of Technology Assessment, 1995: 1)
Newton and Rogers comment that, despite increase in ICT resource provision, it is ‘probably
true that the widespread and routine use of new technology in science teaching remains a goal
still to be achieved’ (Newton and Rogers, 2001: 15). Economic and Social Research Council
(ESRC, 2005) research showed that few teachers make full use of computers in the classroom.
Scrimshaw urges the teacher to see the computer,
Not as an exotic extra, but as a responsive and integral element in a classroom curriculum that has
been rethought to include a view of what computers might do. (Scrimshaw, 1997: 100)
More recently, Wellington (2005: 34) observed that the ‘grammar of schooling’, the organisa-
tional patterns and forms into which schools straitjacket teaching and learning, has been ‘remark-
ably difficult to shift’ with teachers using ICT in a way that fits their familiar procedures and
routines to meet an overriding imperative of being in control.
Experienced teachers’ reasons for using technology in science teaching and learning were
grouped according to their pedagogic functions; expediting and enhancing work production;
increasing the currency and scope of reference and experience; supporting exploration and
experimentation; fostering self-regulation and collaborative learning; and, finally, improved
motivation and engagement (Osborne and Hennessy, 2003).
Two recent projects explored experienced teachers’ ICT use. The Bristol InterActive
project identified features of teachers integration of ICT in a range of subjects in secondary and
primary schools (John and Sutherland, 2005; Sutherland et al., 2004 a,b), where ICT tools were
used to transform the teachers’ individual knowledge of their curriculum areas; to expand,
develop and adjust their teaching repertoire; to scaffold work in the classroom; to capitalise on
the potential of ICT to give rapid feedback and to support pupils’ engagement for sustained
periods of time. Researchers at Cambridge with serving English, mathematics and science
teachers documented reasons for using ICT in the classroom (Hennessy, Ruthven, and Brind-
ley, 2005; Ruthven, Hennessy, and Brindley, 2004; Ruthven, Hennessy, and Deaney, 2004). In
the particular case of science, teachers considered that the technology had been particularly
powerful when exploiting interactivity and dynamic visualisation to clarify underlying scien-
tific concepts and processes (Ruthven, Hennessy, and Deaney, 2004). Multimedia simulation
was viewed as integrated and sequenced with complementary work (practical, exposition,
plenary discussion) for knowledge building, and datalogging allowed interpretation of dynamic
displays with ‘real data’ to avoid laborious data collection and graph drawing. Pupil manipula-
tion of data on the Interactive White Board (IWB) was considered to be beneficial in terms of
motivation and involvement in constructing graphical representation, with a related increase in
Bell and Biott (1997) have reported that trainees used ICT in ways that ranged across a
spectrum from ‘bolt-on’ or supplementary activities to making it an integral part of learning.
Barton and Haydn (2005) elicited trainees’ comments about their developing use of ICT as
part of their training. Despite negative comments, the vast majority of trainees in this study
considered a number of ICT applications to be potentially useful. When trainees are in
school, Mutton, Mills, and McNicholl (2006) formed the opinion that difficulties arise
frequently because mentors often had less skill in using ICT than their trainees. In our
study, we aimed to examine trainees’ use of ICT tools, not their perceptions, and to identify
innovative practice. In light of the research with experienced teachers, previously discussed,
Research in Science & Technological Education 205
this study was designed to question trainees’ justifications for observed uses in science
Research methods and analysis
Our three main research questions were: How are trainees observed to use ICT in schools? Why
do they use ICT in their teaching? Which tools do trainees use and how often? Although a ques-
tionnaire survey may have been appropriate to provide data for the last question, we adopted a
largely qualitative approach in order to provide in-depth data related to all these questions. We
observed trainees teaching in science classrooms, asked them about the types of ICT tools they
had used and their estimates of the frequency of use, and conducted semi-structured interviews
with each of the trainees in order to explore and probe their reasons for using ICT as observed.
The data were collected about halfway through a year-long course of which 120 days are school-
based in two different schools. We questioned trainees about the estimated number of lessons in
which they had used ICT tools by this stage of their training. These methods provided data from
15 trainees in schools, in and around London who had agreed to be involved with this research.
Permission for this research was gained from all participants, who were assured anonymity and
assigned pseudonyms.
Advantages of a collaborative cross-institution study are that different ranges of students can
be identified and different perspectives brought to bear on the data. We analysed our data using
categories developed from Osborne and Hennessy (2003) as a preliminary analysis revealed that
much of the data showed similarities to that from experienced teachers. When assigning data that
involved the visual advantages of using ICT, we looked at the purpose of the visual material in
order to assign the data to the appropriate category. In these situations reliability between differ-
ent researchers was enhanced by using one of the researchers to initially code data with regular
consultation between the researchers to overcome any shortcomings with interpretation. Some
of our data was unique to trainee teachers of science and we therefore created the additional cate-
gory of ‘trainee survival’.
Trainees estimated use of ICT tools
The numbers of lessons where trainees used different ICT technologies are presented in
Figure 1 below. The full results are shown in Appendix 1.
The number of lessons where the IWB was used as a projection screen (870) is nearly five
times its interactive use in lessons (185). From Becta’s assertion that ‘Interactive whiteboards
are now prevalent in schools and colleges’ (Becta, 2006: 3), we assume that these IWBs were
available but not used interactively. Becta (2006: 43) reports that between 2002–2005, 42% of
secondary teachers used the IWB in half or more lessons. The number of lessons that incorpo-
rated datalogging was relatively few (45), despite this technology being almost exclusive to
science. Few lessons involved using spreadsheets, in spite of their well established use from the
early days of computers in science (Rogers, 2004). Word processing was used with 255 lessons
but it was unclear whether this was by trainees or pupils.
Lesson observations and interviews
In the observed lessons visual presentations were used to display the lesson objectives, to revise
prior knowledge, to sequence explanations and questions and to provide varying degrees of
visual stimuli and pupil involvement. The trainees’ reasons for using these ICT approaches were
grouped and discussed below, using the categories from Osborne and Hennessy (2003) (see
above) but, with an additional category of ‘trainee survival’.
206 A. Cleaves and R. Toplis
Expediting and enhancing work production
In all lessons observed trainees used PowerPoint presentations with a digital projector to provide
guided notes and diagrams with varying degrees of interactivity. A number of trainees
commented on the time saving advantages of using ICT in their teaching, comments referred
most frequently to PowerPoint, but also to three other technologies: spreadsheets, datalogging
and interactive software. Christine, for example,
You can get through more. Asking pupils to draw and put on labels for example. There is often soft-
ware that uses drag and drop.
Bernadette considered that the use of visual material during a presentation ‘helps to reduce the
amount of time spent on explaining’, whereas Georgina used the slides to allow time for discussion:
If I want them to have notes for revision purposes in their books and I don’t want to waste time
during lesson, I prepare them on a slide before, put them up and either let them write it down before
I talk about them and then let them write it down after.
Georgina extended her notion of saving time to the use of spreadsheets as a way of drawing
graphs instead of drawing them by hand because it would have been, ‘a lot of time because the
kids would be twiddling their thumbs’. Kulwinder considered datalogging as ‘a way to get the
experiment done in a shorter period of time’.
Increasing the currency and scope of reference and experience
Trainees used some of the ICT tools to increase currency by providing pupils with a sense of
ownership. In Jeremy’s case this was achieved by using pupils’ own results:
Figure 1. Trainees’ use of ICT. 1: datalogging; 2: use of IWB as screen; 3: use of IWB interactively; 4:
multimedia; 5: spreadsheets; 6: Internet; 7: word processing.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
ICT type


Trainees' Use of ICT
Research in Science & Technological Education 207
I put up pupils own results from a Year 8 experiment. They hadn’t done that sort of thing before.
They graphed the results and then I had a work sheet for them to do about the graphs and what they
Richard broadened pupils’ scope of reference by comparing the light energy and heat energy
given off by an energy saving and a standard light bulb. In Kulwinder’s case dataloggers were
used, not only to save time but, to obtain graphs that were more like the expected theoretical
graphs. Similarly, Morag used dataloggers with topics looking at temperature and pH because:
they give more accurate results which better represent those seen in the pupils’ books and tests.
Trainees found that using ICT increased currency by generating and analysing data gathered in
class and providing increased pupil involvement.
Supporting exploration and experimentation
In addition to saving time, Kulwinder saw datalogging as a way to give ‘more time to discuss
the results that the students achieved’. She gave an advantage of dataloggers as:
It’s specially effective because the students understand neutralisation better with the dataloggers
than the manual plotting.
However, not all trainees were uncritical of datalogging. Jeremy found the technology ‘cumber-
some’ and offered the opinion that:
Datalogging teaches children how to use computers not to estimate, plot graphs or assess experimen-
tal data. There are some things that it is essential to use data-logging equipment with, but not that
many in a KS3–KS4 environment.
Fatima argued that using ICT technologies means that pupils can engage with visual models:
Use of simulation and interactive CD to explain the concept of current flow and energy transfer in
electric circuits provided a much better way of explaining the concept rather than just reading and
talking about the theory – being able to visually see it working and interact.
Focusing on overarching issues and accentuating important features
A few of the trainees gave reasons for using ICT as a way of focussing attention on important
features, the key ideas in science. While Brian referred to the timesaving advantages in gaining
an overview to ‘recap a topic’s main points in three minutes’.
Ros used dataloggers to demonstrate the simultaneous temperature drop with insulated and
uninsulated beakers of hot water that represented energy and non-energy saving houses. She
could only do the experiments on a particular day when the company that sold the dataloggers
could come in and set them up in advance. She looked forward to the time when, ‘all you have
to do is plug them in and press go’.
Georgina used projected slides as a focus for class discussion. Both Christine and Richard
focused on the main points of a lesson, using the digital projector screen. John used PowerPoint
slides during a Year 11 revision lesson; when asked why he had chosen this approach, he
You can just crystallise an easy plan of key information because you are not looking to go through
information. Just looking to summarise so it’s very easy for that.
208 A. Cleaves and R. Toplis
Our data, showed how trainees used ICT to gain an overview and to focus on the main points of
the lesson by freeing themselves from more subsidiary tasks or ‘subordinate working processes’
(Ruthven, Hennessy, and Brindley, 2004: 270), such as note taking.
Fostering self-regulated and collaborative learning
There were examples of independent learning. When teaching a topic on the solar system, Ros
let Year 8 pupils do the spreadsheets and data interpretation through Excel themselves, in pairs.
Morag gave one reason for using ICT technologies as an opportunity to learn independently
without the pressure of the rest of the class. Fatima used an interactive revision and test
A number of trainees used the Internet to allow pupils to research topics for particular
projects. Georgina described a project carried out by pupils using networked computers:
They did a project on microscope. So we let them have time on the internet to find a picture of a
microscope and they found out what each part of the microscope was. They had to annotate what
each part was so we didn’t just let them look; they made an annotation of how it worked.
Lubna used pupil presentations on circulatory disease as an active approach to learning:
Instead of sifting through leaflets students had to make a presentation about a specific area around
the diseases e.g. lifestyle, diet, arteriosclerosis etc. and they then presented their PowerPoints to their
peers the following lesson.
Some trainees attempted to use ICT for peer support, although this did not appear strongly in our
data. Fatima provided a positive view:
In fact pupils enjoy being able to come up to the board to answer questions or reveal equations,
pictures etc; usually turns into a whole class activity with class commenting if a pupil answered
correctly or not.
Christine commented that using the IWB, particularly getting pupils to move things around a
screen and match up words and definitions, allowed peer evaluation in a non-threatening envi-
Improving motivation and engagement
ICT was used in a variety of ways to appeal to, and engage, pupils. In Richard’s lesson on energy
conservation a large labelled diagram of heat losses from a house was used to help recall prior
knowledge. There were also two datalogging practical demonstrations, one showing the temper-
ature drop with insulated and uninsulated beakers of hot water and the other with temperature
and light probe results from average and energy saving light bulbs. Pete spoke enthusiastically
about the visual effectiveness of images:
The ability to display full colour images and video is fantastic and the kids love it.
Morag commented that the technology engages pupils by the very fact that it is different to their
usual experiences. Christine was more specific:
I like to use the ‘Braniac’ clips. The pupils are usually interested in those. I recently used the Group
1 Periodic Table one where they blow up a bath of water with Caesium.
Research in Science & Technological Education 209
Trainees also found that the motivational effects of ICT helped with class concentration:
Brain-pop cartoons settle, silence and calm a class. (Brian)
There was a heart pumping when they walked in the room and that worked very well with them; it
got their attention. It got them to settle. (Ros)
The visual nature of a number of ICT technologies carries with it an apparent ability to motivate
pupils and gain their attention, an important advantage that was not lost on the trainees in this
Trainee survival
Trainees gave reasons for using ICT in their teaching which were unique to this group of respon-
dents and which we designate ‘survival’. One student (Pete) was openly pragmatic about using
ICT to help him qualify as a teacher, ‘I used the data-logging equipment mainly to cross off one
of my standard tracker marks’. In Christine’s case, the digital camera was used because she did
not have access to a computer. A novel activity was created where pupils made stills and
sequenced them for an animated presentation of subduction.
Using presentations in lesson planning featured with a number of students. Richard, a
dyslexic trainee, used the technology to overcome problems with his handwriting and as a way
of referring to lesson objectives:
As a trainee with dyslexia I frequently use writing in PowerPoint to waylay writing inaccurately. It
saves worry and I can concentrate on the activities. I like it a lot for putting up learning objectives.
You have to remember to refer back to them.
John noted the efficiency of prepared PowerPoint slides:
And I think it saves time writing on the board. It’s easier just to click through the slides than write
on board. And also partly it’s for a record of what I’m doing; it helps me form in my mind.
Trainees mentioned ICT as an aid to class management. Ros, commenting on her use of a
projected animation of a beating heart, reported here, noted:
That was a management as well as a teaching tool and it worked very well.
Georgina combined class management with the idea of pace that ICT presentations provided:
If you take your eyes off them and have your back to them while you draw on the board, they will
fiddle and become distracted, they will get bored very easily.
Trainee teachers have pragmatic reasons for using ICT to ‘survive’ their training year: to meet
the training standards; for collecting resources; for effective planning; and for classroom
Many of the features of trainees’ work using ICT are similar to those of the experienced teachers
in the Cambridge and Bristol research. The trainees in this study frequently used ICT to expedite
210 A. Cleaves and R. Toplis
and enhance work production (Osborne and Hennessey, 2003) spreadsheets, datalogging and
PowerPoint to increasing efficiency, save time and improve pace. Most widespread was the use
of PowerPoint to provide projected information on to an IWB, more often without pupil’ inter-
action, and to accentuate the important points of a topic, a use that helps to provide lesson starters
and plenaries. Trainees also used ICT, again often PowerPoint, as survival tools for the organi-
sation and management of lessons.
Among experienced teachers, Ruthven, Hennessy, and Brindley (2004) found little
evidence that teachers promoted independence or collaboration. We identified examples among
trainees albeit rare, but notable, where trainees facilitated active collaboration with ICT tools
such as pupils’ animations using a digital camera and comparison of energy from light bulbs.
Over a decade ago, Rogers and Wild (1996) found that pupils quickly became adept with the
technology. Ruthven, Hennessy, and Brindley (2004) report considerable pupil confidence and
expertise with using ICT, a situation paralleled in our data where trainees reported pupils’ abil-
ity to independently use spreadsheets, digital cameras and presentation software and their skills
may be significant in meeting the aims of the new UK science specifications at Key Stage 4
(14–16 year olds), particularly with respect to enquiry and data-handling skills. It seems
surprising that few trainees mentioned the world of instant communication and data capture in
which our pupils, and most of the trainee teachers themselves, now live when explaining why
they used ICT tools in their science teaching. Clearly, out-of-school use of ICT by pupils has an
effect on pupils’ expertise within school where they are able to draw on both sets of experi-
ences (Sutherland et al., 2004).
Datalogging equipment was seen as useful for supporting exploration and experimentation
because it could by-pass the need for pupils to collect, record and process data, in the same way
that using multimedia simulations of investigations always produces perfect or ‘sanitised’ data
(Baggott la Velle, McFarlane, and Brawn, 2003: 196). Trainee teachers seldom used data
collection hardware but, nevertheless, seemed to be familiar with the argument that pupils avoid
the drudgery of data collection and processing to enable progression to higher-order skills
(Wellington, 2005). The rapid feedback afforded by ICT may support the construction of
knowledge (Sutherland et al., 2004), although Jeremy’s critical comment about reducing pupils’
skills of estimating, graph plotting and assessing experimental data touches on a problematic
dimension with the use of ICT in science: that of removing some of the ‘authentic labour’ from
a learning activity (Wellington, 2005: 31).
Experienced teachers frequently commented upon the ‘novelty effect’ of using ICT as differ-
ent from traditional approaches to provide pupil motivation (Ruthven, Hennessy, and Brindley,
2004), although only one trainee made any comment relating to ‘novelty’. However, the visual
nature of animations as a method of communicating the excitement of the subject (and helping
with concentration, motivation and enthusiasm) has been reported here and similarly from
survey data by Rocha Mello (2006). Whilst we must exercise caution that visual ICT displays
alone may not lead to learning but as a tool to aid the readiness to learn, they may be an important
factor in teachers’ emerging pedagogy (Rogers and Finlayson, 2004). The visual advantages of
ICT were only used by a small number of trainees to develop conceptual learning or pupils’
research and presentation. When trainees in our study were observed using or reported ICT use
for promoting conceptual understanding, the ICT tools were used for explanation rather than by
the pupils for modelling or trying to answer ‘what if?’ questions (Osborne and Hennessy, 2003:
25). Although there is a danger that unguided use of interactive simulations by pupils may lead
to the acquisition or reinforcement of misconceptions, we suspect that the main reasons for little
uptake of ICT for conceptual understanding is due to access, availability – or awareness of the
availability – of appropriate ICT resources, or the confidence to incorporate these into their
Research in Science & Technological Education 211
The data from our trainees use of ICT show some pedagogic practice in which the currency
and authenticity of schoolwork can be enhanced beyond those resources already available
(Osborne and Hennessy, 2003). Although we found some examples of innovative practice, the
main justifications for using ICT were related to presentation of material and showed a promi-
nent reliance on trainees’ control of ICT tools in the classroom.
The biographies of a number of the trainees in this study show they came into teaching with prior
experience in the use of ICT. Our analyses point to a limited use of this experience as trainees
rapidly immerse themselves into the established classroom culture of school science and adopt
existing pedagogies. In particular, ideas about time saving advantages of ICT may have been
transferred, consciously or subconsciously, to trainees because of teachers’ perceptions of an
overloaded curriculum (Ruthven, Hennessy, and Brindley, 2004).
There may be three socio-cultural influences that can explain constraints on trainees’ use of
ICT. Firstly, there are the ‘top-down’ influences (Sutherland, Armstrong, Barnes et al., 2004:
415) of the school, subject, the National Curriculum and the National Strategy (DfES, 2003)
which guide, for example, their use of ICT tools to achieve pace, whole-class teaching, class-
room organisation or starters and plenary sessions; indeed, an emphasis on whole-class teaching
mitigates to some extent against teaching styles that promote pupil independence and collabora-
tion. Secondly, there are the ‘bottom-up’ influences of trainees’ experiences, their personal histo-
ries or their own views about styles of teaching (Sutherland et al., 2004). A third influence may
be trainees’ stages of learning to teach: operating at the survival level or acting like their image
of a teacher in order to focus on performance and classroom organisation (Furlong and Maynard,
1995). These influences may promote trainees to use the technology to cover curriculum material
quickly, a ‘safer’ option than allowing pupil collaboration or independence, and to adopt a
teacher-centred approach involving demonstration and instruction.
Trainees’ prior experiences with using ICT in higher education (HE), or the workplace, are
a valuable and creative resource that is being overlooked during teacher education. An improved
dialogue between trainee and mentor would assist the trainee to make contributions to ICT appli-
cations in science teaching, and maybe the wider school, as a community of practice. Further
research may be needed to investigate the role of the school-based mentor, further research and
development work on more interactive and collaborative uses of the IWB and how training
providers, as well as schools, can encourage specific ICT pedagogies. Trainees have a good deal
to contribute to developing technology-based pedagogies within communities of practice,
whether these are school-based or with each other during attendance at, or in contact with, HE
institutions. It is this contribution to learning communities that may develop both new
approaches to ICT use in science and to trainees own professional lives.
We would like to thank Charles Golabek (UEL) for his contribution to data collection for this research.
The authors are grateful to the Higher Education Academy who funded this work through an ESCalate
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Appendix 1.
Trainee science teachers’ use of ICT tools.
ICT tool IWB screen IWB interactive Multimedia Data logging Excel Internet Word
Number of lessons 870 185 191 45 27 136 255
% of total 50.9 10.8 11.1 2.6 1.6 7.9 14.9