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Enhancing Greek teachers' training in sex education: Could collaborative learning in online environments be the solution? Proceedings of the 6th Panhellenic Conference with International participation: Information and Communication Technologies in Education, Angeli, C. & Valanides, N. (Eds), Vol. I, pp. 365-368. University of Cyprus: Cyprus, 25-28/09/2008.

Marianna Vivitsou & Margarita Gerouki


Enhancing Greek teachers' training in sex education: Could collaborative learning in online environments be the solution? Marianna Vivitsou, Margarita Gerouki PhD students, Department of Applied Sciences of Education, University of Helsinki, Finland marianna.vivitsou@helsinki.fi, margarita.gerouki@helsinki.fi

Abstract This paper discusses the issue of teacher training on sex education in online environments with the use of Web2.0 tools and collaborative learning framework. Sex education has been introduced in Greece following an educational reform in 2001 as one of the thematic units for Health Education interdisciplinary activities' implementation. Research data show that most teachers subscribe in the importance of discussing sex education topics in school, however, as other data show they are reluctant to undertake sex education projects. One of the main reasons for that according to research findings is insufficient training on the subject. In this paper we propose a framework that meets teachers’ needs and argue on the effective use of online environments for such purposes. Also we discuss collaborative learning as an appropriate framework for teachers’ online training and outline the basic requirements for such project.

Key words: sex education, Greece, collaborative learning, online training, teachers Introduction This short paper aims to present and discuss the benefits of using online environments and a collaborative learning framework as an alternative solution for teacher training. We have selected the case of sex education as a case study because as we argue in the first part of this paper, this is an important area for educational interventions that does not meet adequate teachers' interest. Moreover, the need for training on the subject has been explicitly made by teachers as well as other educational administrators. In the second part of the paper we discuss why collaborative learning can be an answer and how online environments and Web 2.0 tools can enhance such endeavour.

Sex and Relationships education in the Greek school Sexuality and relationships education is a lifelong process of acquiring information and forming attitudes, beliefs, and values about identity, relationships and intimacy. It encompasses sexual development, reproductive health, interpersonal relationships, affection, intimacy, body image, and gender roles. It addresses the biological, sociocultural, psychological, and spiritual dimensions of sexuality from the cognitive domain; the affective domain; and the behavioral domain. (SIECUS). Sexuality and relationships education is usually approached as part of a broader set of health education interventions. The World Health Organization defines health education as a learning process through which an individual adopts a behavior that is beneficial to health. The aim of sexuality and relationships education is to promote sexual health. Sexuality and relationships education is a pedagogical intervention. It targets school-age population and aims in creating attitudes, beliefs, values and skills that will affect positively students‟ self-esteem, well-being and sexual health. In Greece, the official framework for sex and relationships education has been provided following the 2001 educational reform, when Health Education has been introduced as part of the "Interdisciplinary Unified Curriculum Framework". Greece up to that point was the only country within EU that did not offer sex education at school level (Kreatsas, 2003). However, such introduction was recommended by EU as well as other international institutions like the UN. Similarly interventions on the school level regarding sex education has been recommended from various Greek sources (see, Kreatsas, 2003; Tountas, et al., 2004, Ioannidi-Kapolou, 2004) mainly because of a number of health problems related to sexual behaviour and activity of the population (high range of abortions, also teenage abortions, raise in HIV infections and Sexually Transmitted Diseases, etc.). Therefore, one of the seven thematic units for teachers interested to implement the newly introduced Health Education projects has been Sex and Relationships education. Health Education has been introduced as a non-mandatory activity within the school curriculum. The primary school teachers interested in implementing a Health Education project can do this through the implementation of extra-curricula programs named "flexible zone" that allows 2 to 4 hours weekly for such interdisciplinary activities.


The decision to implement (or not) a Health Education project is up to the teacher. There is no other motivation to do so other than having a personal interest or sensitivity towards a particular health issue. Past studies have shown that the personal disposition of educators is among the most important factors that influence the successful implementation of the curricula they teach. Also, school programs that do not meet teachers‟ approval are more likely to fail, since teachers‟ attitudes and beliefs in implementing controversial and innovating curricula are significant factors in a program‟s success (Greenberg 1989; Milton 2001; Bowden et al. 2003). Research data from Greece (Kakavoulis, 1995; Gerouki, 2007) indicate that the majority of Greek teachers subscribe in the importance of teaching about sex and relationships issues at school. Similar opinions share, according to other research studies, the majority of parents (Kakavoulis, 1995; Kirana, 2007), as well as students (Kakavoulis and Forrest 1999). However, as research data point, eventually, very few teachers decide to undertake a Health Education project on sex education. According to a survey research on Health Education coordinators just 1, 6% of the implemented Health Education projects was on sex education (Gerouki, forthcoming). The most important reason for rejecting sex education according to a research on teachers has been the lack of proper training on the subject (Gerouki, 2007). Similarly, for Health Education coordinators, training could be the single most important factor for enhancing the implementation of more sex education programs (Gerouki, forthcoming). “The well-qualified teacher is the most important ingredient in effective school sex education”, also “the goals of sex education cannot be fully realized without the direction of adequately prepared and skilled teachers” (Yarber & McCabe 1981). Teachers in Greece believed that receiving continuous education in the form of seminars and workshops and having access to continuous information on the subject was the most significant aid for teaching about sexuality and relationships matters (Gerouki, 2007). Continuous opportunities for teachers‟ training related to sexuality education curricula, was found essential in international research studies as well (Tappe et al. 1997; Milton 2001). In the next part we discuss how Web 2.0 tools can be used effectively for online training situations. Additionally, we present some data from a previous experience on Greek teachers‟ learning in an online environment. Finally we suggest applying these tools for teachers' training in sex and relationships education.

The use of online collaborative environments for teacher training purposes The rising popularity of Web 2.0 tools, such as weblogs, is attributed to the qualities that this type of software offers: it is easy-to-operate and allows for content creation; it can be „meeting places‟ for socialisation, idea and opinion sharing as well as collaboration. It does not come as a surprise then that using Web 2.0 tools to facilitate the learning process is encouraged in the educational literature. Nowadays in-service teachers need to keep informed of developments in both the pedagogical and technological fields in order to be able to adapt their teaching to the expectations of the digital generation. Therefore, educational institutions need to incorporate into their curricula principles that promote the development of skills that are necessary for constant change management within a context that favours continuous, active learning. However, research findings (Guskey, 2002) clearly show the limitations of conventional training and reinforce the view that online education can offer an alternative path. The incorporation of Web 2.0 technologies into course design can serve this perspective, as they encourage critical and reflective learning, active participation, networking and collaboration. Koschmann (1996) defines collaborative learning (CL) as the practices of meaning making in the context of joint activity, and the ways in which these practices are mediated through designed artefacts. Roschelle & Teasley (1995) define collaboration as "... a coordinated, synchronous activity that is the result of a continued attempt to construct and maintain a shared conception of a problem" (p. 70). However, Dillenbourg (1999) challenges the notion of synchronicity and argues that the four criteria that characterise a collaborative setting are: situation, interactions, processes and effects. Moreover, Dillenbourg (ibid) relates CL to joint problem solving and views learning as the outcome of problem solving activities. Overall, online collaborative learning:    

encourages the development of cognitive and internet skills supports the development of learning communities triggers active participation in the learning process promotes autonomous, self-regulatory learning (through exploration and dialogic interaction, critical thinking)  enables e-learners to learn at own pace  encourages the establishment of participatory culture


Nevertheless, we need to use appropriately designed digital artefacts in order to ensure that learning can take place. In the following section we will present previous experience gained through an e-course that incorporated the use of Web 2.0 environments in the syllabus. To serve the purposes of this paper though, we will focus on the weblog course module and consider this as preliminary research as the intended sex-education e-course is based upon this experience and aims to further explore the use of weblogs in Greek teacher‟s online education.

Greek teachers collaborate and learn through asynchronous online environments E-course context, content and aims The online course („The Project Method and the collaborative web 2.0 tools‟) (PM2) was implemented on the Greek Schools Network (GSN) e-learning platform (http://e-learning.sch.gr) and lasted 4 consecutive weeks (from February to March 2007), each of which corresponded to a pre-determined thematic unit. For the achievement of the pedagogical goals, a virtual classroom on the GSN Moodle learning management system (LMS) was established, aiming to encourage knowledge building (Scardamalia and Bereiter, 1991) through input data retrieval and processing. The introduction of Web 2.0 tools into the course curriculum aimed to enable e-learners to form connections (Downes, 2007; Siemens, 2004) for the facilitation of the learning process and to encourage collaboration and networking. Yet, for the purposes of this paper, the discussion will focus on the weblog module and the interaction generated by course participants concerning the educational use of the tool. More particularly, the aims of the study were to explore the degree to which weblogs promoted collaborative online learning and whether these digital artefacts, the creation and development of which constituted a course requirement, played a role in the teachers‟ online community evolution. For the analysis of the study both quantitative and qualitative approaches were used. The data were retrieved from different sources: log-ins in the GSN environment; contributions to the virtual classroom during the weblog module; the social web artefacts created by course participants and the questionnaires administered to participants at the initial and post-course phases. Participants’ profile There were 128 participants (121 registered e-learners and 7 e-tutors) in PM2. Out of the total number of questionnaires administered during the initial and final stages of the course, 47 were returned via e-mail (36,7%). Of the total number of respondents (47), 35 were male (74%) and 12 female (26%). The majority of e-participants (78%) had no previous experience in using learning management systems and lacked training (70%) in LMSs. Nevertheless, 74% of the total number of respondents estimates that the integration of such environments into e-learning courses is of high priority. Generally, the Greek teachers valued positively the introduction of Information and Communication Technologies into traditional classroom practices, even though half of the respondents (50%) had no previous experience in e-learning and 43% of them had never worked in a similar collaborative mode before. Virtual classroom Resources As the module logs indicate, the content of resources (i.e. articles and hyperlinks) related to weblogs (14 in total) attracted the participants‟ interest (there were 134, 316 and 822 hits in the weblog resources during the course). The material was highly valued by the participants as far as coverage and usability is concerned (36 estimated that coverage was very high, 9 average and 2 low) (43 estimated that usability was very high, 2 average and 2 low). Asynchronous discussions: Weblog forum Two discussions were created and 64 topics were developed in this forum concerning the presentation of personal weblogs, difficulties encountered and suggested solutions. The „Weblogs in education‟ discussion had 61 topics with 173 replies (1-17 replies to each topic), while 47 of them were initiated by the e-learners (31 topics by unique participants). The technological issues discussion had 3 topics (1-2 replies to each), which were initiated by the etutors. The content of the interaction was mainly related to the integration of the tool into the teaching syllabus, overall pedagogical goals and specific teaching aims. Moreover, skepticism was expressed as to the effective exploitation of the tool and the blending of face-to-face and online learning, while there were suggestions for implementation (e.g. the use of weblogs as a tool promoting communication and collaboration among students from schools in different / distant geographical locations). Finally, questions were posed concerning the use of the software (e.g. text editing, hyperlink entries, file uploads etc.). The analysis of e-learner participation data indicates that Greek teachers chose to focus on general and issues that had a pedagogical value to them, in their effort to construct the new mental schema of building and using a weblog. Compared with previous level of participation in the GSN e-courses (Vivitsou et al., 2008), increased participation and interaction in the PM2 forums also shows that the collaborative culture in the community is reinforced.


Greek teachers blog in the social web: The first steps The weblogs (39) of the e-course were hosted on several free platforms (e.g. blogger.com, pblogs and wordpress.com) and their presentation involved different templates, layouts and formatting, depending on the owners‟ preferences. Image files were uploaded for aesthetic purposes and for the reinforcement of the owner‟s intended message. Links to suggested websites were added in the sidebar and e-learners were interconnected using the blogroll. During the course these 39 weblogs were visited by participants and received positive and encouraging comments. Learning about weblogs activated the interest of teachers specializing in different domains, which underpinned the multidisciplinary nature of the blogging task. Most digital artifacts were created by primary school teachers (9) and computer science teachers serving in secondary education (8). Moreover, an overview of posts reveals that teachers have a tendency to focus on a variety of thematic areas, such as topics of personal interest (22), school projects (6), pedagogy (15), theology (2), the environment (1) and geographical locations (3). The texts posted mainly had an informative character. Two of the blogs were used by the owners for blended learning purposes, involving actively their 1st Grade Junior High school students to support classroom teaching. Questionnaires The questionnaires were sent to e-course participants via e-mail at the initial and the post-course phase and included closed and open items. According to the analysis of closed items, teachers value positively the usability of the digital tool and the perspective of integrating its use in the teaching syllabus. Discussion and further research The analysis of e-course participation data reveal that the Moodle environment provided a „dialogic space‟ (Dillenbourg et al., 1996) allowing for constructive interaction to emerge (through e.g. question posing, argumentation, negotiation etc.). Also the analysis of questionnaires, the outcomes of active engagement in course activities that encouraged participants to create Web 2.0 spaces and observation of individual and collective contributions signify the potential for dynamic use of weblogs when incorporated into e-learning and hybrid teaching (i.e. ones that combine face-to-face and distance learning methods) curricula, as:     

Participation had a multi-disciplinary character The pedagogical use of the tools was highly valued Different thematic areas (teaching and learning issues, environmental, health education etc) were tackled Suggestions for future pedagogical exploitation were made by participants Interaction (mainly in the discussion forums) was triggered and networking at an initial stage (i.e. through interconnections in weblogs) was observed

Therefore, all in all it can be argued that the combined use of Web 2.0 tools with the LMS environment as a springboard facilitated the learning process and was an active experience that included the triggering of cognitive mechanisms (Andreatos & Avouris, 2007). However, as the above discussion reveals, despite the evident establishment and evolution of the online learning community of Greek teachers, more focused pedagogical scenarios need to be planned to further explore the educational use of weblogs as learning tools.

Teacher training on Sex Education Previous experience of teachers‟ learning in an interactive online environment encourage us to apply the principles of collaborative learning and the use of collaborative online learning tools for designing a training e-course aiming to facilitate teachers‟ collaboration in order to improve awareness on the subject. Sex education is a sensitive issue and teachers need learning and supporting conditions for undertaking such endeavour. We believe that these are more likely to happen in an online environment. Initial important decisions, however, should be made regarding the duration, the specific content, the number and type of participants as well as the financial costs of the whole project.

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