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Microcomputer implementation in the primary school: The effect on teachers attitudes and perceptions

Lorraine Kershaw and Judith Cousins
Western Australian College of Advanced Education

Microcomputers have only been available for use in Western Australian school since the mid-seventies. Following the introduction of this technological innovation educational policies recommending practices on the use of computers in classrooms slowly developed (Education Department, WA 1980/81). In a relatively short time, therefore, as far as educational change is concerned, teachers were being expected to incorporate computers into the curriculum. (Anderson, 1984; Baume 1986).

In Western Australia, funds were made available by the government to supply all its primary schools with one microcomputer for every 50 to 60 students. Few resources were allocated to support schools in the implementation process which, according to Dynan in Cox et al (1988) is one stage of the effective Innovation model - Inception (Government initiative), Resources (technology in classrooms), Adoption (school participation), Implementation and Outcomes (effects on learning). The Implementation Stage warrants closer examination to ascertain those factors which could influence classroom practice, the decision making and the management processes within the school environment.

Factors affecting implementation

A diversity of opinions and results is apparent when attempting to determine the nature of effective implementation (Meister, 1984). Teacher education and commitment, teacher attitudes, access issues, policy implications and curriculum integration are some of the acknowledged major contributors to successful implementation (Burdett, 1987; Hill et al 1988; Meister, 1984; Woodhouse and Jones, 1988).

Other factors which seem to affect implementation are teacher's attitudes towards the innovation and a wide range of behaviours. Particularly well known is their resistance to change, often attributable to difficulties in changing habits, fear and a sense of futility in attempting to adopt yet another new idea (Waldrop and Adams, 1988; Henson, 1987; Scanland and Slattery, 1983; Lidke, 1981). In addition, time for teachers to become familiar with the resources and to develop proficiency in their use, influence the effectiveness of the implementation process (Chandra et al, 1988; Cox et al, 1988; Strudler and Gall, 1988; Woodhouse and Jones, 1988).

Knowledge, attitudes and perceptions

A number of recent studies highlight a variety of teacher characteristics which could influence the implementation and use of microcomputers. These include gender differences, teaching experience, age, computer anxiety, inservice computer training, general attitudes towards computers and perceptions about computers (Bracey, 1988; Cicchelli and Baecher, 1985; Fitzgerald et al, 1986; Meister, 1988; Shavelson et al, 1985).

As might be expected, computer anxiety decreased with classroom use/computer instruction (Ernest, 1986, Gressard and Loly, 1985). Some gender differences in teachers' perceptions of children's use of the computer were found by Fitzgerald et al (1986) in their study of Australian primary and secondary schools. The researchers reported that teachers considered the most desirable advantage of computers in the learning program to be the development of language skills and the least desirable to be the development of social skills. Insufficient computers caused the biggest problems, closely followed by lack of funds and specialist teachers.

Although various teacher characteristics have been examined by a number of researchers, few, if any, have focused on the primary classroom teacher. This study was designed to examine the characteristics of some primary teachers and so begin to provide an insight into this aspect of the implementation process.

The aims of the project are to:

  1. describe and monitor teachers' classroom and computing experiences;

  2. describe and monitor teachers' general attitudes and perceptions of computers;

  3. describe and monitor teachers' perceptions of computers in education.


A small local primary school which had no microcomputers prior to the government initiative, participated in this study as it had received its first two microcomputers in March, 1988. A longitudinal case study of different aspects of microcomputer implementation in this school was undertaken by a team of five researchers from the Western Australian College of Advanced Education. This paper relates to one section of this study, namely teacher characteristics.

Data collection was carried out through the use of a comprehensive questionnaire, two interviews with the principal of the school and a series of observations of the principal's computer use in the classroom. The questionnaire from the Fitzgerald Australian study (1986) was adopted and modified slightly to accommodate the primary classroom context. A five point Likert scale was used where the rating of 1 referred to strong disagreement of undesirability, while 5 rated as strong agreement or desirability. The final version of the questionnaire contained three major areas - background, general attitudes and perceptions and perception of computers in classrooms.

The questionnaires were administered in April, and again in December, 1988. The principal undertook to distribute them to the teachers and they were collected within two weeks upon completion.


Background on teaching and computer use

All teachers were experienced and had been teaching from eleven to twenty eight years. Two of the six teaching staff were males and held key positions in the school. These were the Principal and the Year 6/7 class teacher who was also considered to be the teacher with the most expertise in computing as he was currently studying for a Graduate Diploma in Computer Studies. None of the teachers had received any preservice education in the use of computers.

During the period of the year long study a few hours of in service training was undertaken by all teachers. Except for the Year 1 teacher, all teachers reported that they had used the computer in the classroom at least once a week or more.

General attitudes and perceptions

A summary table of results of this section of the questionnaire shows the means calculated for each teacher on the five subsets of items. (See Table 1.)

The responses to the subset on gender differences were the only group of items to show a polarisation of attitudes by all teachers over time. This may be due to the ease with which teachers could personally relate to their immediate experiences with the computer during the year. It is of some concern that the perceptions of all the female teachers and the male teachers were quite different in relation to computers being more interesting to male teachers. The female teachers had changed their responses to one of disagreement while the male teachers maintained their opinion of agreement with the statement.

All teachers, except one, remained almost unchanged in their strong desire "to learn a lot more about computers". The degree of anxiety about working with computers ranged from no concern to considerable concern and these feelings persisted even after a year of the school implementation program. A similar range of perceptions was maintained about computers costing "too much money for most people".

Table 1: Summary of results for five subsets of items

use and effects in
everyday life
for a job
in classrooms


Year 3/
Year 4/
Year 6/
Total means2.82.83.803.502.001.403.803.702.82.3

Perceptions of computers in the classroom

The following tables summarise the means calculated from the item responses by each teacher, where statements were rated from "strongly undesirable" to "strongly desirable". Results were collated to produce rankings.

Like the results found in the Australian study of Fitzgerald et al (1986), teachers felt that computers were most advantageously used as an information source, for word processing and administrative tasks. Following the implementation period, however, teachers ranked higher some functions of the computer which could have the potential for reducing the time spent on tedious and repetitive tasks, namely, for administrative purposes, drill and practice activities and marking and analysing tests.

The most marked difference between the results for this section of the study and those obtained by Fitzgerald et al (1986), related to this use of the computer in special education. Teachers in this study actually lowered their ranking to one of undesirability of this use following the introduction of computers, while in the Australian study, teachers considered it to be a desirable use. It is possible that the teachers' perceptions in this case study were influenced by the very limited number and variety of software packages available to them. That is, the teachers' beliefs were not confirmed by the knowledge gained through their uses of the computer in the classroom.

Using computers "to develop social skills" drew the widest individual differences in responses in both questionnaires, although the means for this item from the pre and post introductory data were constant at 3.0.

Difficulties encountered by the teachers were evidenced by their strong agreement with the statements relating to insufficient funds for purchase of computers and not enough computers in classrooms. These appear to be among the long standing concern of teachers (Fitzgerald et al, 1986), although in the Australian study teachers ranked "insufficient funds" fifth in the list of major problems.

Following the implementation of computers in the school, the teachers expressed even greater concern about insufficient teachers with specialised training. As most were inexperienced in the use of computers, this finding suggests they considered the skills of a key resource person essential in this specific learning environment.

At first teachers did not feel there was a lack of high quality software, but following the introduction of computers into the school they felt this was a difficulty.

Uses of computers in classrooms

This last section of the questionnaire contained nine identical statements about seven different uses of the computer in the classroom. A brief example of each use was given to explain word processing, drill and practice, problem solving, managed instruction, games and simulation, tutorial and data bases. Teachers were not given any software to assist in their identification of the seven categories of uses.

Comments have been made about individual responses of teachers in relation to some statements across the seven categories of uses. In addition, means have been calculated for responses to Item 6 - "be a good use of computers in the classroom" - for each category (see Table 3).

Table 2: Main advantages of computers in classrooms



An information source (eg library support, data bases)14.844.3
Language and writing skills through word processing24.734.5
Administrative tasks (eg timetabling, records)34.514.8
Developing learning and skills - simulation and educational games34.534.5
Drill and practice44.324.7
Diagnostic testing44.344.3
Use in special education54.273.5
Mark and analyse tests64.034.5
Helping students with problems73.563.8
Teaching programming73.583.3
Helping students gain understanding83.354.0
Reward for students93.063.8
Develop social skills93.093.0

Table 3: Difficulties with using computers in the classroom



Not enough computers available in classrooms14.524.8
Insufficient funds available for purchase of equipment24.315.0
Little known about how children learn when using computers34.234.3
Teachers will have to give up important preparation time to become familiar with computers34.244.2
Not enough teachers with both teacher and specialised training - key resource people43.824.8
Lack of suitable in-service courses for teachers43.863.5

"be more useful for boys than girls"

pre mean = 1.3; post mean = 1.3

All teachers strongly disagreed with this statement for almost every use except the Year 2 female teacher, who was either undecided or expressed disagreement. The two male teachers and the Year 4/5 female teacher changed their views on one type of activity each, while every other response from the remaining teachers did not change.

From showing no bias at first the principal agreed word processing would be more useful for boys. Perhaps he felt this skill would be necessary in the work environment of the near future, particularly for males who were not expected traditionally to use typing as part of their job.

The Year 6/7 teacher had been unsure about games and simulations being more useful for boys than girls but finally strongly disagreed with the statement. He could have found in practice that girls were equally enthused by this type of computer use.

The Year 4/5 female teacher selected the midpoint as her final response about drill and practice being more useful for boys than girls. This rating choice was made in response to the majority of items on use of computers in classrooms. Her once a week use of the computer may have been insufficient experience upon which to base a more definitive decision about the degree of computer usefulness for these types of activities.

"scare and worry students"

pre mean = 1.8; post mean = 1.4

Two of the female teachers (Year 2 and Year 3/4) were either undecided or disagreed with this statement for each given example. This was in contrast with the other teachers who were mostly consistent in their strong disagreement that "the computer would scare and worry students". These same two female teachers also indicated the most anxiety/alienation towards the computer in their post introduction responses about general attitudes and perceptions (see Table 1). It appeared their views about student anxiety were a reflection of their own feelings towards the computer. In general, however, teachers' perceptions of student anxiety decreased correspondingly to their diminution of alienation/anxiety feelings.

"be a good use of computers in a classroom"

pre mean = 3.9; post mean = 4.1

All seven categories, as explained in the examples, were viewed favourably by the teachers (see Table 4), with drill and practice uses (mean = 3.7) at the lower end of this favourable scale and problem solving (mean = 4.5) seen as the best use of computers in a classroom.

In comparing these results with those of similar items in the section on "Main Advantages of Computers in Classrooms" (see Table 2), collated rankings corresponded quite closely. The one exception was on drill and practice where the example (ranking = 2, mean = 4.7) and the item (ranking = 5, mean = 3.7) differed considerably.

Perhaps this relates to the position from which the teacher views the use. The example could have been quite clearly associated with beliefs about good teaching practice, as the statement about "good use" was preceded by an example outlining a teaching/learning situation which may no longer be widely advocated. On the other hand, the item on drill and practice, which was placed in the general section on "advantages" of computers, may have been primarily considered as an aid for the teacher because of the context in which it was read.

It could be argued that all examples and items may be perceived in this way. But drill and practice is the only application of the seven given, which would appear to possess questionable educational value. That is, when teachers considered mainly the quality of a suitable learning environment, they did not rate drill practice as good a use as other applications.

Table 4: Different uses of the computer in the classroom

"good use of computers"



Word processing24.734.2
Drill and practice53.853.7
Problem solving34.314.5
Managed instruction44.024.3
Games and simulation14.424.3
Data bases24.144.0


There is no doubt that the introduction of computers into primary schools can present problems when teachers are faced with the implementation of many policy and syllabus recommendations about computer use (Commonwealth Schools Commission, 1986; Ministry of Education 1989). From the teacher's viewpoint these recommendations appear to imply that the curriculum will be enhanced by using computers in the educational program. Consequently there is pressure to adopt such recommendations as classroom practice. This cannot be achieved without change. Change may have many faces and be influenced by many factors, some of which have been described in this paper.

Among the group of teachers in this study, relatively few or major changes were found in their perceptions of computers and their use in the classroom. Although these findings cannot be transported to other primary environments, some interesting questions emerge about aspects of change in the context of computers in education and curriculum expectations.

Floden and Huberman (1988) suggest that educational improvement, which assumes change of some form, relies on teachers, who must maintain their commitment to their chosen program over a long period of time. According to Guskey in Floden and Huberman (1988), it is only when teachers have clear evidence of the effects and results of the changes on children, that they will continue to pursue such a course. This has implications for technological implementation, if factors influencing success are teacher perseverance over prolonged periods of time and the perceived effects of the changes on children.

Although age appeared not to affect computer use (McCoy and Haggard, 1989), it could perhaps be related to rate of change. Huberman (1988) found in his research on teachers' professional life cycles that teachers with about ten to twenty years teaching experience (the same range as most teachers in this study) were at a stage in their career when many were reluctant to try new ideas. Could this not have an impact on their willingness to accommodate such a major change in their environment as the introduction of computers? In view of the fact that fewer younger teachers are being trained and employed, this innovation could continue to pose significant problems with the majority of teachers currently having more than ten years of experience. Investigations in this area are warranted.

Further considerations in overcoming the changes which are needed in classrooms to facilitate confident and expert computer use by teachers are sound planning, a relevant policy and a set of goals for a specific school population. A collaborative approach is essential and this requires the use of effective communication skills and strategies by all school staff (Snyder, 1988).

Perhaps some of the problems of lack of knowledge about the use of computers by school colleagues and inadequate consultancy could be overcome by the mutual sharing of information and techniques. It would be interesting to explore, for example, a team teaching approach, where a reluctant teacher and an experienced teacher combined classes to trial, practice and observe a range of strategies.

Gender differences were still apparent at the conclusion of this study and the findings support many of the aspects described by Fitzgerald et al (1986). The maintenance of the two male teachers' opinions that computers were more interesting to male teachers is of particular interest. Fitzgerald et al (1986) found in their Australian study that there were more male coordinators than female coordinators. While having a computing coordinator may not necessarily be the best approach to adopt in a primary school, the ways in which females are involved in the school computing environment could be vital in any attempts to dispel apparent gender differences.

Specific strategies may need to be undertaken by principals to ensure female teachers are involved in making decisions about policy development, computer access and curriculum integration. Differences in perceptions of gender differences may be overcome by encouraging female and male teachers to become resource persons rather than coordinators. An adoption and analysis of this model could provide further data on this issue.

Based on sound educational theory and practice, successful integration of computer use into the curriculum may be influenced by the learning and instructional styles of the teachers. It would seem feasible to suggest that a range of effective educational strategies already exists in the teacher's instructional style. How this repertoire of skills could be incorporated into successful computer use without greatly changing the teacher's chosen style is the question.

This study has provided a valuable insight into some teachers' perceptions of computers in education. It has spawned a number of useful ideas for further research into computer use in primary schools. We need to know a great deal more about the characteristics of change in relation to age, the role of female teachers in the adoption of new educational practices and teachers' learning and instructional styles.


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Authors: Lorraine Kershaw and Judith Cousins, Mathematics Science and Technology Education Centre, Western Australian College of Advanced Education

Please cite as: Kershaw. L. and Cousins, J. (1990). Microcomputer implementation in the primary school: The effect on teachers attitudes and perceptions. In J. G. Hedberg, J. Steele and M. Mooney (Eds), Converging Technologies: Selected papers from EdTech'90, 125-134 .Canberra: AJET Publications.

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