You are here

How Can We Eliminate Roadblocks to the Information Highway?

What are the roadblocks to technology integration? How can we get beyond them? Members of Education World's Tech Team believe passionately in the promise of technology, and they have thought long and hard about how to help you realize that promise.

Editor's note: Education World's Tech Team includes 35 dedicated and knowledgeable educational-technology professionals who have volunteered to contribute to occasional articles that draw on their varied expertise and experience. Stay tuned in the months ahead as members of Education World's Tech Team share their thoughts on a wide variety of topics.

Technology In Classroom According to Technology Counts '99, a Special Report from Education Week on the Web, more than half of U.S. classrooms are now connected to the Web. Many teachers, however, report that their students don't use computers at all during a typical school day.

We wondered why the use of classroom technology isn't growing as fast as its availability. So we asked Education World's Tech Team to tell us what they saw as the greatest impediment to technology integration -- and what they thought educators could do to overcome it.

TIME FLIES!

For many of our team members, the greatest impediment to technology integration is lack of time -- time for training, time for learning, time for planning and developing lessons.

"I think the biggest problem with integrating technology into the classroom is setting up staff training time," said Fred Holmes, Webmaster at Osceola (Nebraska) High School.

"Administrators often like the idea of having as many computers in the classroom as possible; then they balk at setting aside time for staff training," Holmes added. "Teachers are expected to learn the programs on their own time, without help or training. If there is staff training, there is frequently no follow-up or reinforcement.

"Until teachers are comfortable teaching with computers -- and that means until they are well-trained -- I think we will hit a wall with technology integration," said Holmes.

"The single greatest factor impacting the successful integration of technology into the curriculum is the lack of time for educators to expand their understanding of technological tools and resources," said Jan Wee, a technology learning specialist based at Wisconsin's Holmen High School.

"Our district offers an after-school technology program that rewards staff for demonstrating their ability to utilize technology effectively," Wee added. "Many educators sign up for the program in the fall, but by December a good number have dropped out due to the overwhelming demands on their time. Each year, schools require more and more of a teacher's time and talents.

"The K-12 community needs to adopt a more reasonable schedule that provides teachers with opportunities to learn how to use technology resources and gives them time to practice and enhance their skills," Wee said.

"Those of us who are responsible for technology integration and support know that acquiring the skills to integrate technology effectively requires time, dedication, practice, and support. Unless the issue of time is addressed, only minimal forward progress will be made," Wee warned.

TIME-LY SOLUTIONS

"Our teachers have all been trained in the 'how' of technology -- including the use of word processors, databases, spreadsheets, slideshows, desktop organizers, e-mail, and file servers," Julia Timmons told Education World. "With the many other demands on teachers, however, the time to plan an integrated lesson is hard to come by.

"I see two possible solutions to the lack of time," Timmons, an instructional technology specialist at Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School in Lynchburg, Virginia, added. "First, it's important for us to find an organized way to store resources so we're not all reinventing the wheel as we integrate. Second, the ability of technology trainers and facilitators to gather information and plan from the technology end while teachers provide expertise in the curriculum areas could greatly reduce the amount of time necessary to develop technology-based lessons and activities.

"The second problem with achieving technology integration," noted Timmons, "is getting teachers to buy into the idea that technology is a tool within the curriculum rather than a stand-alone subject. Teachers need to recognize that, rather than taking valuable class time away from instruction, technology can facilitate learning.

"For the reluctant -- or hostile -- teacher," Timmons said, "overcoming the mindset is a huge challenge. It takes perseverance as well as tremendous administrative support."

TIME AND MONEY

"Time! Time! Time! Money! Money! Money! Those are the problems I see as universal ones," said Beth Gregor, elementary technology coordinator at Pleasantdale Elementary School in La Grange, Illinois. "Our district has worked on solving those problems by making a huge commitment of both time and money," Gregor added. "Each of our schools has two technology labs and each classroom has at least four computers.

"We've also made a concentrated effort to promote technology integration. Teachers are encouraged to use computers as part of learning-center activities. Many teachers use their classroom computers to reinforce what's taught in the computer lab. Teachers can sign out a computer lab any time they're not being used," Gregor noted.

Gregor pointed out that having a technology coordinator or an experienced mentor in the classroom during initial technology-based activities can also make a difference. "Many teachers just need someone to show them that it can be done. Or they need an extra pair of hands and eyes to be sure all students are learning effectively," she said.

"In our district, the expectation is that all teachers will integrate technology because we have spent a huge amount of money providing that technology," said Gregor. "Each quarter, each teacher has to identify ways in which he or she can integrate technology into the curriculum. The ideas are entered in a computer file and in a notebook. Throughout the year, teachers can refer to the list and share ideas. The list is also a great resource for new teachers."

The staff at Pleasantdale Elementary also fills out self-assessment rubrics. One rubric assesses their personal skills. The other details the integration of technology into the curriculum. The rubrics are kept and returned to teachers each semester so they can see their own progress. "The advances that are made in a three-year time frame are amazing!" Gregor noted.

Gregor also use the rubrics to plan staff development. "The technology continuum is an important part of our staff development, and we develop it right along with other important goals," she said. "We have technology in-service days in which teachers take mini classes, view existing software, and share ideas. We hold tech-awareness days in which subs take over the classrooms so teachers can get together by grade level to preview software and take mini lessons. We offer in-district credit classes on a variety of technology topics after school and during the summer.

"I believe that one reason we have done so well is that our faculty, parent community, and administration have all made technology an important commitment," Gregor pointed out. "Without that support and funding, I'm afraid all the technology would just sit there.

"Teachers are willing to use what we have because we give them time and opportunity to learn and to pass on that knowledge to others. It's hard to fit new things into a short day, so I encourage teachers to use technology the same way they use a pencil -- as another tool," Gregor said. "How can we live without either tool?"

TIME AND MANAGEMENT

"Time to plan for the integration of technology and the management of technology in the classroom seems to be the biggest drawback for our teachers," said Libby Adams, a computer resource teacher at Troost Academy in Kansas City, Missouri.

"Our staff has had the technology training. Eighty to eighty five percent of [teachers] use technology to plan lessons, design tests, and communicate with parents. They use technology to create bulletin board signs and newsletters -- but they don't let their students use computers as much as they could," Adams added.

"The mindset of many teachers is stuck in a text-based curriculum, and they don't see the value of technology for real-time learning," according to Adams. "They feel that they must have every student's attention for what they're teaching, and they're reluctant to let students use computers to learn independently. Even teachers who say they love the software and the online lessons are afraid to give up control over students' learning."

"I would like to see," said Adams, " model classrooms within the school in which technology is seamlessly integrated into the curriculum. Management issues and planning would be addressed and teachers would be given support to make the model classroom work. When teachers see success, they will follow."

TRAINING! TRAINING! TRAINING!

Many of our tech team members agree that staff development is the key to technology integration. For some, the problem is a lack of technical training, a failure to teach teachers how to use the hardware. Others believe that teachers must be better trained in how to use the technology for instructional purposes.

"This is one that I would call a 'no brainer,'" said Dianne Prager, library media specialist at Pleasant Grove Elementary School in Stockbridge, Georgia. "By far the most significant impediment to integration of technology into the curriculum is staff development."

"In our system," Prager added, "we've talked about a variety of methods for staff development. We've implemented some, including the 'train the trainer' method, but none have been very successful so far."

"I don't know what the answer is, but it definitely lies in training," Prager stressed.

"A lack of teacher training is the greatest impediment to technology integration," agreed Patrick J. Greene, assistant professor of educational technology at Florida Gulf Coast University.

"Programs such as Generation www.Y, a U.S. Department of Education Technology Innovation Challenge Grant, which focuses on the role of youth in bringing technology to the classroom, can help," Greene added. "The bottom line, however, is that administrators are going to have to demand the integration of technology and provide teachers with sufficient resources to realize that demand."

"A second problem," said Greene, "is a lack of dependable multimedia computers and a plan. The solutions depend on community activism -- to find ways to provide the machines and software outside the regular district budget."

"As an educator, I've come face to face with this problem many times as we continue to upgrade and develop our current computer situation," said John Simeone, Webmaster and instrumental music teacher at Beach Street Middle School in West Islip, New York. "The main problem is reluctance from staff members who are not interested in learning the technology.

"Many feel that, as veteran teachers with successful teaching backgrounds, they do not need to incorporate something they know nothing about into their routine," Simeone added.

"Much of the reluctance is based on intimidation due to fear," according to Simeone, "and I think the solution is staff development. If you give teachers education and help, they will be more apt to use technology in their classrooms. Teachers need to see how technology will enhance what they are doing right now before they will consider using it."

"The greatest impediment to integrating technology into the curriculum is the failure to create a staff dedicated to making it happen," according to Russ Stamp, Webmaster at Manitou Springs (Colorado) School District 14.

"Technology integration must be the vision of all involved -- school board, administration, teachers, parents, and support staff," said Stamp. "And staff development must be seen as absolutely necessary to realizing that vision.

"Teachers are continually asked to do more and more, without removing anything from what they already do," Stamp noted. "With support and training, teachers will see the benefits of technology integration instead of seeing it as something more they have to do."

ASSESSMENT LEADS INSTRUCTION

"As a staff development mentor, the greatest impediment I see is a lack of desire, vision, or perceived need to change how instruction is delivered," said Sue Myers, integration specialist for New York's Lockport City School District.

"Not all teachers or administrators see the need for change," Myers added. "Or they see the need, but they aren't ready to accept the challenge."

"In addition," according to Myers, "many teachers don't see integration as a way to implement educational standards."

"Persuading teachers and administrators to change isn't easy in any circumstances," added Meyers. "In middle and high schools in New York State, the Regents' Exams make it nearly impossible. True to the old -- or not so old -- adage, assessment leads instruction. When teachers are mandated to give multiple choice, standardized exams, instruction follows the exam."

OLD HABITS DIE HARD!

"Tradition! Tradition, as Tevye so aptly demonstrated in Fiddler on the Roof, is tough to change. So we find ourselves in the year 2000 with tradition acting as an anchor around our necks, slowing the changes that technology offers," said Dave Figi, computer teacher at Janesville, Wisconsin's Parker High School.

"Technology allows teachers to present topics, and students to study, in ways different than in the past," Figi added. "However, present testing practices at the state and national level put up roadblocks to the effective use of technology. Standardized tests used to gauge a school's progress are a product of pre-computer days. Schools, districts, and states have become tied to a system that destroys creativity in students. Consequently, there is not enough time to investigate and explore ideas that give a student the background to be creative.

"Our students live in an age dominated by media images. They can create multi-media presentations that include sound, video, special effects, graphics, links to related topics, and text that demonstrates extensive research. However, tradition dictates that we evaluate students using old-style measuring devices," Figi pointed out.

"Politicians, educational leaders, and business leaders must take the lead in changing the tradition that uses out-of-date methods of evaluation. They must demand that schools use technology to increase learning. Then they must get out of the way and let teachers use the technology to bring back a spirit of creativity," Figi concluded.

"For the most part, teachers are comfortable with their curriculum," said Lori Sanborn, technology specialist at Rancho Las Positas School in Livermore, California. "Many have been teaching the same basic subjects -- reading, writing and 'rithmetic -- for years. Teaching methods, styles, and techniques have changed and teachers have made use of them, but what they are teaching has changed very little.

"Technology, on the other hand, is changing constantly -- and now it's changing faster than ever. Adjusting to the changes and becoming comfortable with a new way of teaching takes a love of technology and a lot of time," Sanborn pointed out.

"What is taught hasn't changed much, but how it is taught is changing tremendously," Sanborn added. "Teachers must get past the fear of new and emerging technologies to change teaching and learning in their classrooms into the great adventure technology can provide."

SUMMING IT UP

"Technology integration requires a change in the teacher's role," said Kathy Campbell, teacher facilitator of technology for St. Charles Parish Public Schools in Luling, Louisiana. "For many years, the teacher has been the primary source of information, and many are reluctant to give up that control to a 'machine.' These teachers often say 'Unless students hear me say it, they'll never know it for the test.'

"There needs to be a change from the teacher as 'the source of all knowledge' to 'the facilitator of knowledge,'" Campbell added. "Once that metamorphosis occurs, a teacher can tackle the other barriers -- time, training, and support."

Campbell summed up the feelings of our tech team members with the following list of "needs" for effective technology integration:

"Educators need time

  • to reformat existing lessons to include technology.
  • to preview software and new programs.
  • to search the Internet to find supplementary activities.
  • to design worksheets, handouts, and instructions to accompany those activities.
  • to share these exciting lessons with colleagues.

"Educators need training

  • in the use of hardware.
  • in the use of software.
  • in the process of weaving technology into the curriculum.
  • in the process of using technology for classroom management.

"Educators need mentors

  • to give confidence to the technophobe.
  • to motivate and brainstorm ideas with those who are reluctant to implement technology.
  • to answer technical questions for the 'newbie.'
  • to complement and encourage the innovative pioneers.
  • to praise the dedication of educators who constantly revise their information and skill database to further the education of their students."

"What can we do?" Campbell asked. Then she answered her own question. "We can allow that metamorphic change to occur and provide the time, training, and support that will help the entire educational community jump the hurdles that currently hinder instructional technology integration."

MOTIVATION

Whatever their individual conclusions, one thread ran through almost all of our tech team responses. Art Lader, Webmaster at South Carolina's Aiken High School, gave voice to that common thread: "The single most significant obstacle to integrating technology into the classroom is the lack of a well-articulated, compelling reason to do so.

"When a teacher asks why he or she should invest precious time and energy in technology, the answer must be immediate and persuasive," said Lader. "There must be a significant and demonstrable benefit to teachers and to their students.

"Here's the bottom line: 'Without the appropriate technology, my students simply cannot _____.' If teachers cannot fill in this blank with something truly important to their students and themselves, they will not make the use of technology in the classroom a priority," Lader added. "If teachers can fill in this blank with something truly important to their students and themselves, they will find ways to get training, to obtain software and hardware, to mobilize colleagues, to motivate students. And technology will be integrated into instruction in their classrooms."

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World

Related Articles from Education World

Please check out our other articles this week:

02/21/2000

Comments