Most days it seems a teacher’s job is never done. In fact, on certain days the job seems next to impossible to carry out! In one day a teacher may be expected to: instruct, engage, enlighten, motivate, prepare, encourage, nurture, plan, accomplish, improve, assess, photocopy, and learn. Repeat.
It’s true, teachers wear many hats; some fit, some do not. Yet, we wear the hat anyway. Technology integration is a hat that can fit or not fit depending on the situation and the individual. Of course, opting in is more likely to occur if the inherent value of the task or goal is perceived and access is readily granted. That is how the impossible becomes possible.
What are the barriers to technology integration?
There are several barriers to technology integration, but the list can be narrowed down to three significant issues; these are: access to resources, time, and teacher attitude and beliefs.
Access to Resources
Many people think of access to resources as simply being a money issue. No money, therefore, little to no access to technology. Ironically many districts have invested in technology. So what barrier are we talking about here? According to Hew and Brush, “even in cases where technology is abundant, there is no guarantee that teachers have easy access to those resources”(2006). Access to technology is more than merely the availability of technology in a school; it involves providing the proper amount and right types of technology in locations where teachers and students can use them. Often the best resources are directed towards technology classes (e.g. computer studies). Teachers of non-technological subjects (e.g. art, humanities) are at a disadvantage because their content areas are not deemed important enough for lab time. (Hew and Brush, 2006) Competition for lab space is frustrating, and the end result is that some teachers do not integrate technology into their lessons because their students do not have access to computers.
Access also refers to relevant and up-to-date software and a relatively fast Internet connection. When the school does not have appropriate amounts of suitable types of technology in locations where teachers and students can use them in appropriate ways, then the technology is meaningless. (Conley, 2010)
What’s worse: no access to computer labs, or access to computer labs that have neither current software nor a fast connection?
Time Waits for No One
Another issue is time. Institutional barriers such as school time-tabling and school planning can hinder technology integration as well. (Hew & Brush, 2006) An inflexible timetable can also prevent student access. Becker (as cited by Hew & Brush, 2006) found that “most secondary students have a continuous block of less than one hour’s duration to do work in any one class. Such a time limit constrains the variety of learning modalities their teachers can design.” Therefore, fewer teachers plan computer based lessons on a regular basis. Time constraints like this do not allow teachers to experiment with different types of teaching tools, digital or otherwise, and therefore students have little opportunity to utilize the right tools elsewhere either. (Conley, 2010)
Moreover, integrating technology into a curriculum can be truly time-consuming, especially when it must be aligned with curriculum, standards and other goals. Educators must spend hours previewing websites, gaining familiarity with hardware and software, and acquainting themselves with various programs. Teachers who are willing to work longer hours to do this often burn out. (Hew & Brush, 2006) Morehead and LaBeau (2005) agree that time is an inhibiter to technology integration stating: it “takes many hours of use to learn the possibilities of a computer software application and have time to explore possibilities for integration.”
Teacher Attitude & Beliefs
Although several educators dedicate the time and energy it takes to develop integrated technology lessons others refuse to develop technology infused lessons. Doubts about whether technology would improve student performance and whether technology enhances or detracts from teaching and learning are also barriers to integration. (Redmann, Kotrlik, & Douglas, 2003) Teachers who do not see the value in technology integration are not going to implement it in their classrooms. All the professional development in the world will not resolve this kind of thinking.
Others, especially at the secondary level, may worry that students are more adept at technology than the teachers are and thus are reluctant to teach with it. “For educators who did not grow up with computers or the Internet, technology can be a frightening concept. It may simply be easier to pass up on the tool rather than admit inadequate knowledge.” (Conley, 2010)
Making the Impossible Possible
Bring back the hats … it’s time to wear our problem solving hat. Fortunately it fits!
How do we remove these three barriers? We cannot simply forget about the “walls” nor can we merely climb over them. Sometimes a wall has to come down.
Access to Resources
Many schools are finding a way around computer access. Some are actually bringing computers to the students. Laptops and netbooks need Wi-Fi access but they do not need a lab. This is an investment that opens doors to teachers and students who do not have access to a lab. “Laptops can either be provided to students on a permanent or temporary one-to-one basis. One possible way to achieve a temporary one-to-one student-to-laptop ratio is to use mobile laptop carts. (Hew & Brush, 2006) Becker found that secondary teachers who have five to eight computers in their classroom were twice as likely to give students frequent computer experience during class as their counterparts whose classes used computers in a shared location (as cited by Hew & Brush, 2006). Basically this means that by rotating students in groups the teachers were solving limited access on their own. They were employing a station approach to various learning activities ensuring that each student has an opportunity to use the computers.
Other schools are also incorporating shareware and freeware to ensure that technology is relevant and viable. Our district, for example, has set up Google email accounts for staff and students. This change allows students to access Google docs at school, at home and on the go! Now students can work collaboratively on a document no matter where they are.
Time Waits If You Make It
Believe it or not, effective school planning can resolve time constraint issues. By increasing class time to double period sessions, a school can make a world of difference. Becker found that secondary school teachers who work in schools with schedules involving longer blocks of time were more likely to report frequent use of technology during class compared to teachers who taught in traditional 50 minute periods (as cited by Hew & Brush, 2006).
Furthermore, school planning that reduces curriculum content, without compromising the basics, also improved technology access. By reducing teachers’ class loads, schools could give teachers time to “familiarize themselves with technology and develop appropriate technology integrated curricula activities.” (Hew & Brush, 2006)
Teacher Attitude & Beliefs
If teachers are to buy into technology integration they need to recognize technology as an instrument in their tool chest for teaching and learning. According to Rudnesky (as cited by Morehead & LaBeau, 2005) computers need to be part of a daily classroom activities to make technology transparent. Technology use also has to be connected to curriculum content. An understanding of what students must know, and best practice methodologies are all critical to teachers’ understanding of the technology fit and the capabilities of technology to enhance the learning process. (Morehead & LaBeau, 2005) Teachers need to see the value in technology integration to invest the time and energy it takes to develop appropriate computer activities. In other words, the vision for technology integration should be to enhance student learning of the curriculum.
Investment in effective professional development that is related to technology integration such as: a) emphasis on content (how technology can aid in its delivery and foster learning); b) opportunities for hands on collaborative work, and c) meeting teachers’ needs (based on teacher involvement in planning) is more likely to lead to appropriate, if not effective, computer learning activities. (Hew & Brush, 2006)
Conley, L. (2010) Barriers to integrating technology. The Digital Librarian. Retrieved from: https://sites.google.com/site/thedigitallibrarian/barriers-to-integrating-technology
Hew, K. F., & Brush, T. (2006, December) Integrating technology into K-12 teaching and learning: Current knowledge gaps and recommendations for future research. Retrieved from: http://courses.ischool.berkeley.edu/i290-pm4e/f10/files/Hew-Brush.pdf
Morehead, P., & LaBeau, B. (2005, April) The continuing challenges of technology integration or teachers. Retrieved from: http://www.usca.edu/essays/vol152005/moreheadrev.pdf
Redmann, D. H., Kotrlik, J. W., & Douglas, B. B. (2003) Factors related to technology integration in instruction by marketing education teachers. Journal of Career and Technical Education, 9 (2). Retrieved from: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/JCTE/v19n2/redmann.html