There are many essential reasons motivating the integration of technology into K-12 curriculum, some of which have been explored in previous posts on this blog.  But along with all of the advantages to the use of educational technology, there are also obstacles and barriers.  At The Digital Librarian, author Laurie Conley cites research by Hew and Brush (2006) identifying six barriers to technology implementation in schools.  Following is a list of the barriers, in descending order of frequency:

  • Lack of resources
  • Inadequate knowledge and skills
  • Institutional barriers
  • Attitudes and beliefs
  • Assessment
  • Subject culture
The lack of resources is an obvious and significant barrier at any school.  Many schools do not have enough (or any) computers in the classroom, forcing teachers to use a shared computer lab, which comes with a host of logistical difficulties.  Desktop stations or laptop carts in the classroom are often beset by technical problems that reduce the number of working computers.  A secondary problem of resources is those available at home.  There are significant discrepancies in home computer access for students of different socio-economic status and even for different genders.  This leads to differing levels of computer literacy, which can impact the effectiveness of tech integration in school.  Time is also a resource – one which most teachers feel they do not have enough of.  Meaningful integration of technology often takes more time than a similar non-digital activity.  Though the payoff is usually great in the end, the up-front cost of preparing the students with new tech skills may be prohibitive.

A few strategies suggested by Conley to combat the lack of resources in a school include: creating hybrid, lower-priced computer setups (using netbooks or used hardware); rotating students in groups through the technology-use station(s); utilizing student helpers; and incorporating freeware and shareware.  Some schools have developed specific policies mandating minimum computer usage time for all students in an attempt to bridge the access gap (USDOE).

A second barrier stems from the fact that many teachers today have not grown up in the digital generation and are not perfectly comfortable using or even learning about new technology tools.  Teachers’ inadequate knowledge and skills fall into three main categories: Knowledge about the specific technologies; knowledge of technology-supported pedagogy (TPK in the TPACK model –  Mishra & Koehler, 2006); and knowledge about technology-related classroom management.  The problem of knowledge about specific technologies is that if teachers are unaware of or unsure how to use new technologies they will not incorporate them into curriculum.  Even if teachers are familiar with new technologies, they may not have received training on appropriate integration strategies.  Technology is a tool, not an end in itself, and must be used in the context of proper curricular design, keeping the appropriate objectives and standards in sight.  The third aspect of teacher knowledge is easily overlooked in the realm of educational technology – classroom management in the midst of technology integration.  Certain integration strategies, while appealing to the students, may pose a supervisory disaster; consider a classroom full of high school students with unfettered Internet access via netbooks or iPads. 

The most important strategy to fight this barrier of inadequate knowledge and skills is regular professional development focused on addressing the aforementioned weaknesses.  The uncertainty of using new technologies can be addressed with simple demonstrations or peer mentoring.  If the more technologically inclined teachers in a school have time set aside to train their colleagues, soon all staff members will reach a more equal ability level.  Similarly, TPK and digital-classroom management can be taught in dedicated professional development time.  The teaching may be done by master teachers who have excelled in these areas, by experts brought in for focused training, or teachers may do a book study on relevant literature. 

The third cited barrier to effective technology integration is institutional barriers.  At the classroom level, teachers may have very little control over these factors, and their hopes for technology integration may fall short due to school-wide challenges such as: leadership that prioritizes other strategies over technology, unfavorable time-tabling that leaves too little time in each class period for effective integration, or poorly-sighted school planning that provides no concrete plan about technology. 

Strategies to combat these institutional barriers must come at the institutional level.  It starts with administrators who have a vision for effective technology integration and create a mission, vision, and plan to achieve that in their school or district. 

The fourth and sixth barriers to technology integration go hand-in-hand, and I will discuss them together.  Individual teachers’ attitudes and beliefs can greatly impact they extent to which they pursue technology integration in the classroom.  Teachers who view technology merely as novelty or a way to keep students busy will not be motivated to learn and use meaningful integration strategies.  Conley cites a study in which students expressed concern that teachers did not appreciate the significance of technology in their lives outside of the classroom.  If teachers do not realize how important technology is to students, they may continue to think that education can be accomplished much in the same way it was when they themselves were students, though in reality technology is changing the way young people think, learn, play, interact, create, and share. 

Along with teachers’ attitudes and beliefs about the role of technology is their own view of technology in relation to their content area.  Hew and Brush refer to this as “subject culture” – according to Goodson and Mangan, subject culture refers to the “general set of institutionalized practices and expectations which have grown up around a particular school subject, and shapes the definition of that subject as a distinct area of study,” (1995, p. 614 as cited by Conley).  In other words, teachers tend to believe that certain technologies are best fit and others are unfit for their own content area.  Math teachers, of course, use spreadsheets, and English teachers use Blogs, but could they ever possibly cross over?  The propagation of compartmentalizing educational technology according to preconceptions about subject culture runs the risk of missing excellent integration opportunities. 

In order to fight stagnant teacher attitudes, schools must work towards a shared vision of technology integration.  Much effort needs to be made that all teachers get on board with the reasons for and the means of successful integration.  Demonstrations of meaningful integration strategies and students’ response to them may show teachers the value of technology in the classroom.  An emphasis needs to be placed on using 21st century skills in the classroom – this toolset, including skills such as collaboration, creativity and creation, and project-based learning, applies across all subjects.

The final barrier to successful technology integration is assessment – what should be an essential part of the educational process has turned into a high-stakes game of teaching to the test.  So much pressure lies on getting students to perform well on standardized tests that often teachers opt for more direct instruction methods and do not take the time to explore educational technology.  Many of the 21st century skills that go along with technology use are difficult to assess and are overlooked in favor of teaching content that will be on the external tests. 

To fight the tendency of teaching to the test at the expense of effective technology integration, schools need to develop a culture in which technology is viewed as an integral part of a well-rounded education, not merely as a novelty or assessment tool.  Administrators need to make technology integration a priority and foster an environment in which teachers do the same.

Though there are many barriers to the meaningful integration of technology into the classroom, administrators and teachers can overcome them by the suggested listed above.  If all educators and schools prioritize finding successful ways to use educational technology in the curriculum, all students will benefit and will show growth not only in their content knowledge but also in the 21st century skills that will be so important after graduation.

References:

Conley, Laurie. Overcoming barriers to integrate technology into the school library media center.  The Digital Librarian.  Retrieved from http://sites.google.com/site/thedigitallibrarian/barriers-to-integrating-technology

Goodson, I. F., & Mangan, J. M. (1995). Subject cultures and the introduction of classroom computers. British Educational Research Journal, 21(5), 613–629.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A new framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record. 108(6), 1017-1054.

U.S. Department of Education. Challenges and Strategies in Using Technology to Promote Education Reform.  Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/pubs/EdReformStudies/EdTech/approaches.htm

 


Comments

Sarah
05/04/2011 12:56pm

Hi Brian

Technology is great when it is working properly but when its not, you know how it goes. I agree with the list of barriers you have. I think the biggest is the lack of knowledge that some teachers have about technology. It is very important for us to stay as informed as possible so that we can provide the best education possible for our students. Nice job with your post. You made many valid arguments.

Sarah

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Travis
05/04/2011 12:57pm

Brian,

I think you bring up some very good points in your posting. Most school districts are struggling financially. Our governor (Ohio) just recently slashed funding for education by around 2 billion dollars. Districts are forced to make tough decisions. In a lot of cases technology is put on the back burner in favor of saving jobs. We have started to look for funding from outside organizations. We have found a pretty good amount of grant money set aside for technology in the classroom.

Another point of interest in your post deals with teacher education. It is not enough to just purchase the technology and expect results. Teachers have to be edcuated on its use and in many circumstances shown ways to integrate it effectively. Some teachers don't see the benefits and don't realize that technology can make their jobs much easier. I enjoyed reading your posting.

Travis

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