Identifying Current Barriers
As evidenced by the literature, there is a large divide between recommended technology integration, and what actually takes place in classrooms. Some believe that the dramatic reconstruction of society due to technological advances has not extended to school settings due to administrative or financial constraints (Mao, 2014 cited in Dolan, 2016). These are mainly external barriers, also identified as first-order barriers by Ertmer (1999), that can be easily resolved with redistributed finances. I believe the cause of this static teaching situation is far more complex.
In order to reconcile the technological disconnect present in schools, it is important to address the many intricate reasons that contribute to this divide. While researchers have identified a laundry list of obstacles, I have chosen to identify the most prominent barriers, the ones that are deep-rooted into the psyche of educators, and have the greatest impact on the current situation. Together, traditional teaching beliefs, lack of guidance and constantly evolving technologies create a trifecta of barriers that prevent any progressive transformation from happening.
Teacher beliefs, and their impact on teachers’ practices, have been widely researched. Described as “the individual conceptions about desirable ways of teaching and conceptions about how students come to learn” (Beijaard, 1998, as cited in Hermans, Tondeur, van Braak, & Valcke, 2008, p. 1500), teacher beliefs have a great impact on what goes on in the classroom. Hew and Brush (2007) go on to explain that a teacher’s beliefs will determine their attitude, and that in turn, this impacts the daily goings-on of teaching.
Teachers beliefs are formed by past experiences and help maintain and form future experiences, as they are a lens through which all future experiences are seen (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010). New information, about best practices when integrating educational technology, for example, are filtered through a teacher’s belief system (Ertmer, 2005). They are deeply ingrained- so much so, that it is unlikely that a teacher could simply be persuaded to change their beliefs (Ertmer, 2005). This means that teachers will use teaching methods with which they are familiar, and that have had success in the past.
Teacher beliefs directly impact whether or not teachers will integrate technology into one’s practice. Vannatta and Nancy (2004) ascertain that teachers’ beliefs and disposition towards technology act as predictors of successful technology implementation. More precisely, traditional beliefs are shown to have a negative impact on classroom use of technology (Hermans et al., 2008), and teachers who believe using technology in the classroom is a valuable endeavour are more likely to use it in their teaching (Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010).
Hermans et al. (2008) stated that teacher beliefs are a determining factor of why teachers use technology in the classroom. Experienced teachers’ beliefs hold an even more significant value; should they not see the value of integrating ICT into their practices, not only will they not use it, but less experienced teachers will be deterred from initiating, or even continuing, their classroom uses of ICT (Brinkerhoff, 2006).
This may be too big a jump for many teachers who have a traditional teaching style: the pressure of changing their pedagogical beliefs and integrating technology makes them resentful, and more likely to resist change altogether (Zhao & Cziko, 2010). Yet presented in the right way, Matzen and Edmunds (2007) suggest that integrating technology into one’s teaching practice may be the right opportunity for teachers to try out a new teaching style (in this case, a constructivist one).
No Clear Objectives
As technology rapidly evolved, and was naturally woven into the fabric of our daily lives, it became clear technology would have an important role to play in education. Yet no one told teachers what they should do with it, or what successful technology integration would look like (Means, 2010). Literature on effective technology implementation has been limited (Means, 2010). As a matter of fact, there is no adopted standard definition of technology integration (Bebell, Russell & O’Dwyer, 2004). Without guidance, standards, or a model to work towards, is it no wonder that this objective has not been achieved? Working in such ambiguity would be a challenge for anyone.
Even the vernacular used in this field is unclear. The development of educational technology is accompanied by a large amount of buzzwords, that often, are empty of meaning or significance. Chief among them, the catch-all phrase of ‘21st century learning’. Many have attempted to define this term, yet a single definition remains elusive. In various research papers, 21st century learning skills can be defined as including: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, higher order thinking, information literacy, cultural competency and awareness, lifelong learning, digital citizenship, empathy, creativity, innovation, and many more (ISTE, 2007). This list of desired outcomes seems all-encompassing, and not solely reserved for the 21st century.
Technology is developing and evolving so quickly, it is impossible to keep up. Every minute, 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube (2016). This is one small example to illustrate the accelerated growth of the industry. As there is constant change and evolution in the field of technology, there are continually new ICTs being developed, new advances and discoveries being made and increased creation of programs and Apps. This means teachers have access to a growing, unlimited bank of resources at their fingertips. Should someone be able to identify a gap in educational technology, it is only a short matter of time before someone answers that need.
The ever-changing nature of technology has been frequently identified as a barrier by teachers (Ditzler et al., 2016; Dolan, 2016), but I believe it has been mislabelled. The quickly developing realm of ICT is clearly a benefit and should be embraced. While it may be threatening or intimidating to teachers that the field of technology is constantly changing and evolving, it’s dynamic nature should inspire teachers, not scare them.
The real issue is placed at the core of the current predicament of education- technology poses a threat towards conventional teaching methods. Traditionally, teachers have acted as sage on the stage; all-knowing transmitters of information instructing passive students (King, 1993). The sheer amount of material being thought of, created, and shared through technology greatly threatens the transmittal model- no teacher could ever know all the programs or Apps. Even so, most teachers have clung to this model, rejecting the transformational potential of technology, by using ICT for low level operations (Ertmer, 2005). Claiming that the great deal of ever-changing information is a barrier is really only a façade for the fear and anxiety teachers feel about change.
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