Barriers That Hold Some Back

"Know thy enemy."

I think that if we're really going to progress in transforming traditional institutions of public education into systems capable of enabling technology-facilitated student-centered learning, then we need to gain a better understanding of exactly what's been holding us back all along. I mean, it's not like we haven't been trying to push the pedagogical use of technology during the last 3 decades. In examining the obstacles that seem to be holding us back, nevertheless, it's become clear to me that the barriers that keep us from succeeding will require far more than persistant nudging on the part of even the most skillful of motivational speakers.

Nope. David Jakes simply can't solve this problem alone.

In this post, I hope to illustrate some of the barriers that likely most school communities will need to overcome before all teachers are able to actively use technology to improve student learning. To begin with, the list of things that must be in place for an existing school to make the transition to an environment "that provides a more relavant learning experience for kids in the context of the social online technologies that are disrupting the current model" is huge. And while ISTE's list of essential conditions is fairly extensive, the list that Will Richardson began on the topic is exhausting (but not exhaustive):
1. Technology
  1. Personal technology (computer, mobile phone, iPad, etc.) in the hand of every student, teacher, administrator, support staff
  2. Ubiquitous access to the Internet for every student at school and at home
  3. A robust network infrastructure at school that permits real-time access for all students simultaneously
  4. Excellent real-time support
  5. Responsible Use Policies that encourage technology use
2. Curriculum and Instruction
  1. A deep understanding on the part of every staff member of how to use technology, and specifically the Web, to learn
  2. Sustained, continuous professional development
  3. Performance-based assessments
  4. Teachers fluent in how to translate their personal understanding of technology into the classroom
  5. Personalized learning opportunities for students
  6. Student centered pedagogy
  7. Inquiry-based curriculum
  8. A balance between meeting the requirements of state testing and reshaping learning to teach students the skills they need
  9. Instruction for teachers and students about web-safety
3. Change Management
  1. A shared vision for modern learning in the school
  2. A shared vocabulary to facilitate conversations around change
  3. Support for trying (and failing) when implementing changes in the classroom
  4. Teachers working with each other across disciplines
  5. Common planning and discussion time for staff
  6. Community education around the new vision and how change will take place
  7. Measurement of progress and adjustment along the way
4. Leadership
  1. Making a strong case for change with every constituency including students, parents, teachers, staff, administration, board of education and community
  2. Leadership that encourages modern learning among teachers and students
  3. Teacher leaders that embrace and extend the vision
  4. A innovative budgetary approach

Reading this list alone, is it any wonder we've had such a struggle?!? Truthfully, isn't it actually more of a miracle that we've experienced the kind of success that we have?  Sometimes I think so.

To continue, nevertheless, other scholars have identified a wide array of specific obstacles to making appropriate technology integration* a far more widespread reality than current practice. In 2006, for example, Hew and Brush researched this topic heavily, identifying 123 different barriers in a review of past empirical studies. Their classification consisted of six main categories: resources, knowledge and skills, institution, attitudes and beliefs, assessment, and subject culture. Similarly, Ertmer (1999) presents these barriers in two distinct categories: external (first-order) and internal (second-order). I think that delineating the list of obstacles following Ertmer's approach should make pinpointing potential solutions a little easier.

External Obstacles to Technology Integration. First order (external) obstacles are generally described in terms of the types of resources (i.e., equipment, time, training, support) that are either missing or inadequately provided in teachers' implementation environments. Ofttimes, first order barriers are resolved by simply throwing more money into the equation. Nevertheless, when these barriers are present, it can be nearly impossible to even talk about technology integration. Interestingly, the absence of many of the items in Will's list - in traditional educational environments - constitute external (rather than internal) obstacles to technology integration for teachers in those environments.

Potential External Barriers From Will's List (Why Some Teacher's Can't/Won't Use Technology To Teach):
  • Not every student, teacher, administrator, support staff has personal technology.
  • There is not ubiquitous access to the Internet for every student at school and at home.
  • There is not a robust network infrastructure at school that permits simultaneous, real-time access for all students.
  • Excellent real-time support is nonexistent.
  • "Responsible Use Policies" are nonexistent, overly restrictive, or fail to encourage technology use.
  • The quantity of professional development is inadequate.
  • Instruction for teachers and students about web-safety is nonexistent or inadequate.
  • Support for trying (and failing) when implementing changes in the classroom is lacking.
  • Teachers do not work with each other across disciplines.
  • There is no common planning and discussion time for staff.
  • Community members are not educated around the new vision and how change will take place.
  • Progress is not measured or data about progress is not shared and does not influence direction.
  • A strong case for change is not made with every constituency (including students, parents, staff, administration, board of education and community).
  • Leadership doesn't encourage modern learning among teachers and students.
  • There is no innovate budgetary approach; therefore, funds remain tight.
Adding to Will's list of potential external reasons that teachers may not be able to use technology to teach:
  • Teachers lack effective technology-related professional development.
  • The design of PD programs doesn't identify teachers' beliefs about effective teaching and strategies for using technology within the context of those beliefs (Windschitl and Sahl, 2002).
  • The proper amount and right types of technology are not found in locations where teachers and students can use them (Fabry and Higgs, 1997).
  • Teachers lack technology-supported pedagogy knowledge and the related skills base (Hughes, 2005).
  • Teachers lack technology-related classroom management skills (Lim et al., 2003; Newhouse, 2001).
  • School policy does not promote technology as a viable tool for learning (Tondeur et al., 2008).
  • Teacher needs in anticipation of the instructional use of technology, aren't always met.
  • Formal training isn't provided at an early stage of new classroom experiences with technology (Levin and Wadmany, 2008).
  • Educational opportunities that facilitate collaboration with colleagues on authentic routine classroom issues are inadequate in subsequent stages of professional growth. Moreover, collaborative opportunities devoted to personally-directed inquiry aren't available (Levin and Wadmany, 2008).
  • Feedback on instructional technology use isn't customized for individual circumstances (Levin and Wadmany, 2008).
  • Mentorship isn't adequately or appropriately provided, particularly in later stages of professional growth (Sahin and Thompson, 2007; Di Benedetto, 2005; Sherry, Billig, Tavalin, and Gibson, 2000).
  • Teachers lack adequate time to acquire and transfer to practice the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively and completely infuse technology into their curricular areas (Brand, 1998).
  • Teachers lack time to prepare technology-facilitated resources for lessons, experiment with technology as a learning tool, and create technology-related assessments (Preston, Cox, and Cox, 2000; Butzin, 2001; Karagiorgi, 2005).
  • The focus of technology use in K-12 education has been on computer-based testing instead of teaching and learning (Bichelmeyer and Molenda, 2006; Education Week, 2003).
  • Feasible examples of effective technology integration aren't readily available to teachers (Bitner and Bitner, 2002).
Internal Obstacles to Technology Integration. Typically rooted in teachers' underlying beliefs about teaching and learning, second-order (internal) barriers can be far more difficult to overcome. Ertmer (1999) and others have illustrated that even when first-order (external) barriers are addressed, teachers do not automatically use technology to achieve advocated meaningful outcomes. Using Will Richardson's list again as a starting point, there is a wide range of internal barriers that keep teachers from integrating technology throughout their curriculum.

Potential Internal Barriers From Will's List (Why Some Teacher's Can't/Won't Use Technology To Teach):
  • A deep understanding has not yet been acquired by every staff member regarding how to use technology, and specifically the Web, to learn.
  • Teachers are not fluent in how to translate their personal understanding of technology into the classroom.
  • A shared vision does not exist for modern learning in the school.
  • A shared vocabulary does not exist to facilitate conversations around change.
  • Teacher leaders do not embrace and extend the vision.
  • [Teacher beliefs regarding curriculum and instruction do not allow for technology integration.]
  • Teachers do not feel the need to create personalized learning opportunities for students.
  • Student centered pedagogy has yet to be adopted.
  • Inquiry-based curriculum is not the norm.
  • Assessments stress fact memorization, rather than performance.
  • There is no balance between meeting the requirements of state testing and reshaping learning to teach students other skills they might need.
Again, adding to Will's list of potential internal reasons that teachers might not be able to use technology to teach:
  • Teachers lack “an attitude that is fearless in the use of technology, encourages them to take risks, and inspires them to become lifelong learners” (Task Force on Technology and Teacher Education, 1997, p. 11).
  • Help for teachers is inadequate in overcoming feelings of anxiety on the part of teachers and a genuine fear of technology (Li, 2007).
  • Teachers lack confidence in the use of technology and in incorporating new innovation (Hardy, 1998; Dawson and Rakes, 2003).
  • There is no adequate mechanism for overcoming feelings of intimidation, in light of the possibility that students might know more than them (Fryer, 2003).
  • The pressures of high-stakes testing inhibits technology integration (CEO Forum on Education and Technology, 2001; Fox and Henri, 2005).
  • Some teachers have little ability in dealing with the changing nature of technology itself (Zhao and Frank, 2003).
  • Teachers are hesitant to adopt technologies that seem incompatible with the norms of a subject culture (Hennessy, Ruthven, and Brindley, 2005).
  • Teachers lack an adequate understanding of the advantages that technology integration can provide (Hermans et al., 2008; Scrimshaw, 2004).
  • Some teachers believe that technology integration will not lead to better understanding or faster learning (Newhouse, 2001; Karagiorgi, 2005).
  • Teachers lack a deep understanding of the purpose of technology before being required to make more substantial changes in their practices (Park and Ertmer, 2008).
Finally, I often think that teachers simply need a better reason to change:
Simply imposing reform-based ideas on schools and teachers will not result in substantial change in instruction. Educational reform may encourage teachers to integrate technology to engage students in activities of problem solving, critical thinking, and collaborative learning, but a culture emphasizing competition and a high-stakes assessment system can strongly discourage teachers from undertaking such innovative initiatives. (Chen, 2008, p. 73)
Upon obtaining an overall view of the obstacles we're dealing with, I'm hopeful that solutions will further present themselves (see, for example, the list compiled by Hew and Brush, 2006) as we continue to mull these things over. To that end:
  • What solutions can you recommend?
  • What obstacles are there that I may have missed?
  • Is all of this really worth the effort?
As I consider solutions to our problems here, I am cognizant of one fact: The David Jakes of the world are extremely important. It seems to me that they can play an integral role in helping us overcome those difficult second order barriers.

For what it's worth, I'd love your feedback on this.


* For the purpose of this post, I have defined technology integration as the process of "enabling the kinds of learning experiences that even Will Richardson would be proud of." No ponytails were injured in the creation of this post.

What do you think?

What do you think?

1. I think that great teaching can occur without the use of technology. I've written:

In light of the fact that I don't think language is a technology, I can confidently argue that teaching can effectively take place without technology. Furthermore, I don't believe the statement that "technology is what allows us to socialize learning," is entirely true. Technology *can* aid in socializing learning, but learning can be social without any technology at all (haven't you ever sat in a face-to-face idea exchange?).
I guess what I'm really learning through all of this discussion is that even though I love technology and firmly believe in its transformational power in educational practice, I'm also increasingly learning to love - and even to crave - those moments of brilliance when a teacher is able to motivate, captivate, and mold the minds of their students without the use of electricity. I know that some of the most powerful and memorable lessons I've ever experienced took place without any technology - and to ignore this fact (and the power of pure teaching) would be the real travesty.
2. I think we need to be careful.  With Jennifer Jones, I wonder about blogging, social media, and all that it entails for educators.
I question power and influence, as well as quality. I question if we’re developing systems that provide emotional rewards for blogging, and no rewards for people who do other important work, like making a difference locally. 
I also wonder if we're creating a new elite.

3. Still, and probably more importantly, I think that great teachers share. Dean Shareski, for example, is spot on here. If you haven't taken 20 minutes to watch this, you should. Seriously.

To be clear, I think that the majority of educators reading this post (and those with whom we locally work) have a moral obligation to lift those unable to lift themselves. With David Wiley, I assert that:
we [educators], who live rather privileged lives relative to the vast majority of the planet’s population, have a moral obligation to make our teaching efforts as broadly impactful as possible, reaching out to bless the lives of as many people as we can[.] Especially when participatory technologies make it so inexpensive (almost free) for us to do so[!]
Therefore, although our motives might differ, I'd like to reaffirm my agreement with Scott McLeod when he stated:
Sure, lots of good teaching and learning occurring without technology. That doesn't mean the technology isn't still extremely important. Just because good stuff can and does happen without tech doesn't remove our responsibility to also do tech in large quantities (and at high quality).
4. In fact, I think that if we don't continue to fervently push forward in advocating a technology-rich curriculum, our beloved public school system will likely suffer the same fate as... Blockbuster Video. Take a minute to read this recent Time magazine article. Replace "Blockbuster" with "The Public School System" and see if you get the same chills that were sent down my spine.
"It didn't have to be this way," [David Cook, Blockbuster founder] says. "They let technology eat them up..."

There are few aneurysms in American business. Few companies drop dead. Instead, most endure a long slide into the grave. Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, who has studied technological change and its effect on large companies, says many of the decisions that led Blockbuster to bankruptcy might have appeared rational at the time. "But when faced with a threat by disruptive competitors like Netflix, the circumstances were different," says Christensen. "Decisions that in other circumstances would have made sense, instead drove the company into the ground." Into the ground Blockbuster went. In 2002 it had 8,000 stores and a market value of $3 billion. Today, movie-by-mail Netflix is worth nearly three times that much. And Blockbuster is broke.
5. Does this mean we need need "a complete redesign of the system, from the ground up, using new technologies and new ideas"? I don't think so, although I do think open education philosophies - like those described by Stephen Downes - have a lot to offer and should must be more widely embraced by inhabitants of all education systems, if those systems are to survive.

What do you think? I mean really?

Is public education in the same Blockbuster boat?  Are there better options out there for education's customers? If ignored in traditional education environments, will technology provide students and their paying parents with a better way to obtain the kinds of learning opportunities they crave? Are the bureaucratic wheels that turn current systems of public education flexible yet sturdy enough to enable change? Might that change come quickly enough? Or more importantly, do public schools today provide sufficient educational benefit that can't be obtained through ethernet? Do they succeed at grooming a citizenry, preparing children for college and careers, and building social capital?

What do you think?

ISTE 2011 - Here We Come

I've officially thrown my hat back into the presentation ring by submitting several proposals to present at ISTE 2011:

  • An Educator's Guide to the Creative Commons. I'll explore reasons why every educator should be using the Creative Commons and how, exactly, to get that done.
  • Best Practices in Globally Attended Professional Development. With Robin Ellis and Sue Waters, we'll describe the strategies and procedures that have been working well for us over the last several years.
  • EduBlogger Etiquette - How and Why Educators Set the Example. I'll review the blogging conventions we once discussed and help new bloggers understand a few of the unspoken rules of the game.
  • The Reality of Enabling School Change: Risk, Hurdles, and Hope. With Dave Doty and Scot McCombs, we'll analyze the creation of the Canyons School District; what it took, the problems and rewards encountered, along with the trials that still lie ahead.
In building a new school district, I haven't had much time in the last year and a half to devote to giving presentations to external organizations, but I'm excited to fire up the motors once again!

Hope to see you in Philly!

Effective Technology-Related Professional Development

A number of different thoughts have come clashing together recently, leaving me with questions about professional development and how to really make it happen.

First, Lawless and Pellegrino (2007, emphasis mine):

The existing body of literature on professional development draws an important connection between student achievement and effective professional development (Darling-Hammond, 1999; National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, 1996; National Education Goals Panel, 2000; Wenglinski, 2000). A number of organizations and researchers have conducted elaborate reviews of the literature and evaluations in this area (e.g., Corcoran, Shields, & Zucker, 1998; Loucks- Horsley, Stiles, & Hewson, 1996; National Foundation for the Improvement of Education [NFIE], 1996; National Staff Development Council, 2001; Porter, Garet, Desimone, Yoon, & Birman, 2000). This knowledge base has consistently indicated that high-quality professional development activities are longer in duration (contact hours plus follow-up), provide access to new technologies for teaching and learning, actively engage teachers in meaningful and relevant activities for their individual contexts, promote peer collaboration and community building, and have a clearly articulated and a common vision for student achievement (Adelman et al., 2002; NFIE, 1996; Porter et al., 2000; Sparks, 2002).
Next, I think Kopcha's (2010, emphasis mine) systems-based approach to technology integration using mentoring and communities of practice has tremendous potential. Kopcha also describes the very premise upon which the model we've implemented in the Canyons District was built:
The model moves teachers through four specific stages of technology adoption toward using technology to support learning in more student-centered ways. The model describes how a mentor can negotiate the interplay of multiple barriers (time, beliefs, access, professional development, culture) on teachers who are learning to integrate technology and suggests a number of strategies for integrating technology, such as establishing a culture of technology integration, modeling technology use, and creating teacher leaders. Unlike previous mentoring approaches to integrating technology into the classroom, this model culminates with the establishment of a teacher-led community of practice that uses the resources currently available at a school to support and sustain the implementation of the system.
Finally, Larry Cuban states earlier this week:
What’s the point of citing these examples of seat-of-the-pants professional development and spontaneously generated PLCs, past and present when, clearly, the evidence is weak that these are replicable and can “go to scale?”

I have two reasons. First, they show the critical importance of prior “strong ties” among teachers that propelled their activism. Not “weak ties” that characterize many PLCs organized by non-teachers. (See Jones-Chris-2006)

Second, amid current unrestrained teacher-bashing, anti-teacher union rhetoric, and policy elites’ romance with pay-for-performance schemes these instances of collective teacher action begin to counter the dominant social belief that individual teacher heroes can save schools. We live in a culture where societal rewards (and media attention) go to individuals, a society that worships heroes and yawns at group solidarity. These instances, then, demonstrate the power of teacher-led groups with “strong ties” to design their own professional development, create their own PLCs, and succeed in helping themselves and their students.
Now we're talking. It feels to me like a combination of all three of these descriptions might just take us far.

Effective technology-related professional development:
  • Is generally longer in duration (contact hours plus follow-up, not just drive-by)
  • Provides access to new technologies for teaching and learning
  • Actively engages teachers in meaningful and relevant activities for their individual contexts
  • Promotes peer collaboration and community building
  • Has a clearly articulated and a common vision for student achievement
  • Helps in establishing a culture of technology integration
  • Provides for the modeling of technology use
  • Creates teacher leaders
  • Culminates with the establishment of a teacher-led community of practice
  • Is initiated by teacher-led groups with “strong ties” to design their own professional development and create their own PLCs
With this in mind, there remain a number of essential questions:
  1. What happens (with teacher-led groups designing their own PD) when teachers aren't motivated to learn? In every school, will there always emerge teacher-leaders willing to guide communities of practice?
  2. How do schools continually provide access to new technologies for teaching and learning - and how new is new?
  3. What is the definition of a "clearly articulated and common vision for student achievement"? Does it include quantitative measures?
  4. What role do administrators play in establishing a culture of technology integration - and how might we succeed when building administrators aren't really on board?
  5. Is it possible for District-level Specialists to build "strong ties" with those involved in teacher-led PLCs? What mechanisms might be put in place in order to facilitate ties that extend beyond an individual school?
I can't tell you how much I'd appreciate your take on the answers to my questions.

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