Title

A sociocultural approach to the study of an ICT curriculum for at-risk students in Singapore

Date of Award

2010

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Education

Faculty

Faculty of Education and Arts

Abstract

This thesis describes the curriculum and classroom practices of a Computer Applications (CPA) classroom in Singapore. It attempts to answer the question: why and how the affordances of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have been or have not been perceived and taken up in the CPA course for academically at-risk Secondary One students in Singapore. Based on the case study of the CPA curriculum and practices in a Secondary One classroom at a neighbourhood school in Singapore, this thesis argues that ICT affords certain learning opportunities for at-risk students but these affordances may or may not be perceived and taken up due to the context in which ICT is situated.

Activity theory and the related sociocultural approach to understand human nature and cognition has been the conceptual framework for this study. It examines the classroom practices by locating it within a broader activity system that takes into account the factors surrounding the classroom, school and education system as a whole. A qualitative approach was used for the purpose of data collection and analysis. This study’s analytical approach involved two levels. A coding scheme was employed to categorize the CPA classroom practices into five distinct segments of work. These five segments are whole class lectures, whole class discussion, individual student seat work, small group work by students and other student activities. Classroom time spent on each of these five segments by the teacher was coded. The second level was to analyze the various constraints, tensions and contradictions existing in the different activity systems surrounding the CPA classroom.

The investigation into the CPA classroom practices has shown that the affordances of ICT are dependent on the object of the different activity systems, the constraints in the environment surrounding the classroom activity system and the critical role of the teacher. Relevance to real-life, meaningful learning and restricted learner autonomy were some of the instances in the CPA classroom where the affordances were taken up by the teacher. Barriers like time, classroom management issues, teacher beliefs of the Normal Technical (NT) students, nature of the CPA curriculum and its objectives, assessment and other sociocultural constraints limited the teacher from taking up the affordances of ICT. The study identified the critical role of the teacher who had to perceive the affordances of ICT and plan the classroom activities within the sociocultural constraints.

The study will inform teachers, curriculum developers, other educators and policy makers about the factors that inhibit the teachers’ use of ICT in the classroom. When these factors are reduced or eliminated, there are pedagogical possibilities that have the potential to change the CPA classroom practices for academically at-risk students. The intention is not to discount the current practices observed but bring to notice some of the options that ICT affords. These affordances or opportunities for actions are crucial for students to think, learn and act in ways that prepares them for the 21st century economy where students need to critically think, innovate, communicate, collaborate and be capable of problem solving to manage the complex life and work environments.

LCSH Subject Headings

Underachievers -- Education (Secondary) -- Singapore.

Information technology -- Singapore -- Study and teaching (Secondary).

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