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What Factors Influence the Acceptance of the Internet as a Teaching Tool?
Claudia Beatriz Monte Jorge Martins

Introduction

The objective of this work is to present the results of research conducted at language schools in Curitiba in October and November 2001. The purpose of the research was to determine what factors influenced pedagogical managers to adopt the Internet as a teaching tool. The study used Rogers’ (1995) Theory of Perceived Attributes as the theoretical framework. In Rogers’ theory, five attributes of an innovation affect potential adopters’ choice to use an innovation or not to use an innovation. These five attributes include relative advantage, observability, trialability, complexity, and compatibility. Other variables were also considered as potential factors affecting adoption.

This article will be divided into three parts:

The theory of perceived attributes (Rogers, 1995);
How research was conducted and the methodology used;
The results of the statistical analysis and the findings.

The theory of perceived attributes

It is often very difficult to get a new idea adopted, even when it has obvious advantages. In many cases a long period of time – sometimes years – is necessary for an innovation to be widely adopted. Therefore, a common problem for many individuals and organizations is how to speed up the rate of diffusion of an innovation (Rogers, 1995). And what is diffusion? According to Rogers (1995) it is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system.
Diffusion research, in its simplest form, studies how an innovation, a communication channel, time, a social system and a multitude of other factors, interact to facilitate or impede the adoption of a product or practice among members of a particular adopter group (Surry, 1997).
Professionals from different areas have used the theory of innovation diffusion to increase the adoption of innovative products and practices.
According to several authors, the researcher who has done the most to synthesize all of the most significant findings and compelling theories related to diffusion is Everett M. Rogers.

One of the four theories discussed by Rogers, which are among the most widely used theories of diffusion, is the perceived attributes theory. It states that potential adopters judge an innovation based on their perception in regard to five attributes of the innovation (Surry, 1997).

These attributes are:
Trialability – the degree to which an innovation can be experimented with on a limited basis.
Observability – the degree to which the results of an innovation are visible to others.
Relative advantage – the degree to which an innovation is perceived as better than the idea it supercedes.
Complexity – the degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to use and/or understand.
Compatibility – the degree to which an innovation is consistent with already existing values, past experiences and needs of potential adopters.

The theory of perceived attributes has been used as the theoretical basis for several studies relevant to the field of instructional technology (Surry, 1997).

According to Rogers (1995), from 49 to 87 percent of the variance of the rate of adoption is explained by these five attributes. He also adds that past research indicates that these five qualities are the most important characteristics of innovation in explaining the rate of adoption.

Literature in the area shows that the use of the Internet as a teaching tool in English language teaching has a series of advantages (Holcombe, 2000; Grauss, 1999; Carrier, 1997; Warschauer & Whittaker, 1997). Yet, innovations, even when grounded in sound theory, rarely take hold simply on account of their inherent value. An ELT innovation can be enthusiastically approved and implemented in some settings with little or no resistance, and harshly criticized and then strongly rejected in others. Such a phenomenon obliges one to consider what determines whether innovations will be accepted or rejected by ELT administrators, teachers, pedagogical managers, and/or students (Stoller, 1994). There is a growing realization that many innovative products and practices, which appear to provide numerous advantages, still suffer from a lack of utilization (Surry, 1997). Why do people reject an innovation which is educationally sound and improves the teaching/learning experience? Diffusion theory seems to provide an answer to these questions.

The primary focus of this study was to identify the factors that contributed to the Internet being accepted or rejected as an educational innovation. Previous research had identified factors that contributed to an innovation’s acceptance or rejection, but have not focused on a tool such as the Internet and the five attributes have not been used extensively to examine an innovation such as the Internet (Holcombe, 2000). By investigating variables defined by Diffusion theory, and applying them to an informational tool such as the Internet, further insight was gained in the factors affecting the acceptance of such an innovation. Other variables were also considered as potential factors affecting adoption.

How research was conducted and the methodology used

The purpose of this study was to identify factors that supported or impeded the acceptance of the Internet as a teaching tool, at language schools in Curitiba, from the point of view of pedagogical managers.

In examining these topics, the following research questions were addressed:

Who is responsible for pedagogical decisions at language schools in Curitiba?
What factors contributed to pedagogical managers accepting or rejecting the Internet as a teaching tool?
Did they observe any kind of teacher and/or student pressure for the Internet to be adopted?
Did the size and the time of operation of language schools influence the rate of adoption of the Internet?

Method

A survey research was conducted to identify the factors that support or impede the acceptance of the Internet as a teaching tool at language schools in Curitiba, from the point of view of their pedagogical managers. It employed a mailed questionnaire.

Participants

The universe of this study was the pedagogical managers from language schools from Curitiba. All language schools open and working at the moment of the research were included: not only the big ones with a large number of students and branches but also the ones with few students, franchise institutes or not. Language schools are defined here as educationally independent institutes and franchise institutes from the private sector that provide foreign language teaching. To obtain the names and addresses of these schools several public and private agencies were contacted, but only SINEPE/PR – Ctba. had the required information.

After the analysis of the lists received the need to use other lists to obtain the final accessible population was taken into account. With this purpose, all telephone directories of the city of Curitiba were checked as well as the web sites of the telephone companies that operate in the city.

The research universe comprised 189 addresses of language schools formally established in Curitiba. The next step was to obtain the names of the pedagogical managers. All the schools listed were contacted by telephone. The content of the research was explained, the importance of their participation mentioned and then the name of the pedagogical manager was required. In this first contact there was no refusal to participation. The result was a list of 171 pedagogical managers. The difference in number was due to the fact that sometimes one person was responsible for more than one school, mainly in the case of branches and franchise institutes, and, in other cases, there was more than one pedagogical manager in a school, especially in the schools that teach more than one foreign language. The sample population for the present study was obtained from this accessible population. Considering the size of the population of this study (171 people) a sample of 50% would grant the required accuracy (Yamane, apud Rea and Parker, 2000, p.129), that is 85,5 people. The figure was then rounded to 86. In mail surveys there is no control over the number of respondents who will answer the questionnaires. It is necessary, for this reason, to adopt special sampling procedures. The response rate of mailed questionnaires is of 50%, according to Rea & Parker (2000). So the questionnaires were sent to all the 171 pedagogical managers. It was not necessary to select one type of sample procedure.

Instrumentation

The variables assessed were based on the self-reported responses by pedagogical managers. The complete questionnaire used in the present work was translated and adapted from Moore & Benbasat (1991). Moore & Benbasat developed a generic framework for diffusion questionnaires. The instrument developed by Moore & Benbasat is supported by Rogers (1995), who states “Moore & Benbasat (1991) developed a set of general scale items to measure each of the five main attributes of innovations that can be applied to any particular innovation. This is a valuable methodological contribution to future research” (Rogers, 1995, p.209).

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