Research Report 2007

Harnessing the power

Portrait of Dr. Elizabeth Murphy

Dr. Elizabeth Murphy is examining French teachers who use online real-time communication technologies. Pictured with Dr. Elizabeth Murphy, right, are faculty of education students/ research assistants Justyna Ciszewska-Carr and Maria Rodriguez.

A Memorial University researcher is looking at how teachers can harness the power of information and communication technologies. Dr. Elizabeth Murphy, Faculty of Education, is undertaking a program of research on teacher practices in contexts of technology use.

Recently, Dr. Murphy received a grant for $50,000 from the Official Languages Research and Dissemination Program which is a Strategic Joint Initiative of the Social Sciences and Humanities Council (SSHRC) and the Department of Canadian Heritage. This one-year research project will focus on teacher practices in a context of teaching French using online real time communication technologies.

Dr. Murphy is also the recipient of two other SSHRC awards. She is the principal investigator on year two of a $97,000, three-year study of e-teacher practices in high school distance education. As well, she is a co-investigator in the Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) on e-learning led by Dr. Jean Brown in the Faculty of Education.

Dr. Murphy's program of research involves emerging technologies which she argues are unlike the technologies of the past. "Today's tools are extremely powerful," said Dr. Murphy. "They are cognitive tools. They can amplify our thinking skills. I'm interested in how teachers harness that power so that teaching and learning also become very powerful.

"With this latest project, I'm focusing specifically on using technology to help teachers teach French." To conduct her study, Dr. Murphy will be relying on a real-time or synchronous communication and collaboration environment called Elluminate Live.

"I choose E-Live because it's already being used in distance courses in high schools across the province as well as in some courses here at MUN.

"Although there's some evidence technology can play a role in language learning, there's not a lot of empirical evidence to show how it does this," Dr. Murphy explained. "We know that risk-taking and affective factors such as confidence and motivation play a facilitative role in language learning. At the same time, we have evidence that some individuals exhibit more risk-taking behaviours as well as higher confidence, motivation and engagement levels when communicating online. So my question is: How can we take advantage of online communication technologies to support language learning?"

Dr. Murphy's research is premised on the assumption that the answer to that questions lies in investigating teachers' practices. "I'm interested in identifying what types of teacher practices and behaviours maximize the capabilities of the technology to strengthen students speaking skills in French classes."

Dr. Murphy will conduct her research, including all observations, interviews and interactions with and between teachers, using online information and communication technologies. This approach will provide her with an opportunity to simultaneously explore how technology can help teachers advance their practice through online collaboration and sharing.

"My research is not techno-centric. My focus is on the teacher. We know from the 'no significant difference phenomenon' a meta-analysis of hundreds of studies of technology and media used in education contexts that it's not the technology but how it's used that makes a difference in learning," she said. "The technology is not the determinant. What's important is how the teacher integrates the technology into existing practices so that those practices are transformed and made more effective. The teacher plays a pivotal role in determining how and if we can harness the power of the technology to make teaching and learning equally powerful."

For more information, visit: http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~emurphy/