Stephen ARNOLD
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Introduction and Overview

Stephen Mark ARNOLD

BSc, DipEd, MA Sydney, MEd Wollongong, PhD UNSW


It has been almost thirty years since I began teaching mathematics (and an array of other subjects, from science and computing to music and German!) in New South Wales high schools, including over ten years as Head of Department in three different schools and twelve months as Deputy Principal of a large regional high school on the beautiful South Coast of New South Wales, where I live with my wife and four children. I have taught teachers at several Australian universities, served as Information Systems Manager for a large Independent Catholic girls' school, managed the Australian Professional Development programme for schools and teachers for Texas Instruments, and served as Head of the School of Education at the Australian Catholic University, Signadou Campus, Canberra. I am now working as an educational consultant, supporting schools and teachers in their uptake and effective use of new technologies for teaching and learning.

Professionally, I have been fascinated by the possibilities for the use of technology in teaching and learning for many years now. Over the past fifteen years, in particular, I have spent much of my time learning about, writing about and teaching teachers about these possibilities. My particular interests concern the use of computer algebra, dynamic geometry and graphic calculators as tools for mathematics learning from K-12 and beyond. More recently, this interest has expanded to include the amazing potential of the Internet as both an ideal learning environment and an uniquely powerful tool, both for the learning of mathematics and for the professional development of teachers. My current research focus concerns the ways and extent to which technological tools extend the cognitive reach of users. Building upon original theoretical foundations laid by Vygotsky, learning is seen to occur within a socio-constructivist framework, offering a most suitable means by which teaching and learning within current technological environments may be analysed.

My year as a Deputy Principal provided many valuable insights into the processes and realities of schooling. It also left me with a head of gray hair and the conviction that I loved teaching far more than I loved school administration. With a Master's degree in Pure Mathematics, and another in Curriculum Evaluation, the chance to move into the tertiary sector was an exciting one for me. I had been actively involved in school-based research for some years, particularly exploring action research and the classroom use of new graphic calculators with symbolic algebra capabilities (the HP-28 series). I was anxious to engage in educational research on a broader scale, as well as teaching the next generation of mathematics teachers.

After twelve months at James Cook University of North Queensland, the opportunity arose for me to undertake full-time doctoral study under an Australian Post-Graduate Research Award through the University of New South Wales. The resulting thesis provides a detailed analysis of the ways in which individuals (students and teachers) use and learn with mathematical software tools. The thesis received an award for Excellence in Educational Research from the New South Wales Institute for Educational Research. As technology becomes increasingly accessible and appropriate for mathematics teaching and learning, the demand escalates for teachers to learn to use these new tools effectively. This research offers powerful insights into this process.

In addition to my research and teaching duties, I have been most active over the past decade in writing for State and National journals, and for professional development work centred on the effective use of technology. This last has included numerous workshops and conference presentations around Australia and overseas, and in 1997 included two keynote presentations: one at the Annual Conference of the Mathematical Association of Tasmania, and, later in the year, presenting the prestigious Anniversary Guest Lecture at the Mathematical Association of Victoria's Annual Conference, the largest in this country.

Significant other publications have included co-authoring the chapter on Distance Education in the International Handbook of Mathematics Education, writing a national statement on the use of technology for mathematics teachers, curriculum support documents for two States, and co-authoring an extensive and authoritative review of research on graphic calculators published in the Mathematics Education Research Journal.

At the University of Newcastle during 1996-1997, in association with Professor Ken Clements, I was responsible for setting up and running the first online Master's degree programme in Mathematics Education in this country. Course materials were delivered both online and in CD-ROM format, and subjects were largely studied using electronic means. Students came from all over Australia and overseas. Subjects such as EDME562, Mathematics Software Development and Evaluation, were conducted entirely online using electronic mail, web-based materials and even chat software for interactive tutorials. This format remains potentially powerful as a delivery method for tertiary studies.

After leaving the University of Newcastle, my role in the first six months of 1997 was as Project Officer for the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers EdNA DAME Project, exploring Delivery Alternatives for Mathematics Education and seeking to increase access and availability of Internet-based resources for Australian mathematics teachers. Outcomes for teachers have included substantial professional development resources, new means of communication and community-building for mathematics teachers around the country, and new models for professional development delivery and support using web-based technologies.

Personal outcomes have included new skills in instructional design and delivery utilising HTML, Java and JavaScript, and new insights into teacher support in the use of technology. The possibilities offered by the interactive materials for mathematics teaching and learning which I largely developed, called live mathematics on the web, are truly exciting and significant at all levels. The free, multimedia and cross-platform capabilities of recent web browsers coupled with the versatility and flexibility available through Java-based programming options make these tools the ideal complement for the hand-held technologies which are currently revolutionising classroom teaching of mathematics. When viewed in the context of real-world data-collection capabilities now available using hand-held technology, I believe that we stand at the cutting edge of changes to the teaching and learning of mathematics and science which will be significant and long-lasting in their effects.

The second half of 1997 was spent as Education Market Consultant for Texas Instruments Australia, a fascinating and very worthwhile experience, before returning to the classroom at St Mary Star of the Sea College, Wollongong.

My role as Information Systems Manager at this large independent Catholic High School provided me with new experiences and challenges which I have relished. Over the past five years, in addition to setting up the school intranet and extending computing facilities for students and staff, I chaired the College TimeTable Committee (undertaking a full evaluation and revision of the College timetable) and set up computerised assessment and reporting facilities for Years 7-12. My position has allowed me the opportunity to explore the practical issues associated with effective use of classroom technology, both imperatives and impediments. My role has also involved setting up the infrastructure by which teachers may make fuller and more effective use of new technologies for teaching and learning. Schools are increasingly networked places, and our instruction must grow to reflect and accommodate this change. My vision is one of more open classrooms as schools become true learning communities, while personal technology increasingly empowers individuals within them, both students and teachers.

Returning to a new role with Texas Instruments, I worked with educators at all levels to improve knowledge, access and skills in the effective use of the powerful handheld technologies which are now available. These tools have the potential to dramatically transform classrooms and the learning experiences available, not only in mathematics and science, but across the curriculum. The challenge ahead lies in raising awareness among educators of the possibilities that await them. The experience I gained over the past two years at ACU preparing preservice teachers for work in Primary schools has been a significant learning experience for me. It has contributed to building a K-12 perspective which suggests further implications for developing good teaching practice, and the potential role for new technologies in this process.

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