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.

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