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My Weary Query, Part 2

Why dont teachers innovate when they are given computers?

Why dont teachers innovate when they are given computers? As a technology integration keener," I have asked myself that question often. It seems logical to me that if a bank of networked computers was in a classroom, a conscientious teacher would look for ways to connect them to teaching and learning. But contrary to that assumption, research reveals that proximity and availability arent enough -- in fact, theyre just the starting point as to whether a teacher takes on the challenge of using computers in meaningful ways in the classroom.

According to Zhao, Pugh, Sheldon and Byers (2002), successful implementation of technology is a complex and messy proposition, one that goes way beyond the mere presence of computers. In Conditions for Classroom Technology Innovations (2002), the researchers not only examined the conditions that support successful integration of technology, they also tried to identify the very things that facilitate or interfere with teachers' use of technology in their classrooms. The study identified three domains that significantly affect the degree of success of classroom technology integration. The first domain focused on the role of the teacher, or innovator.

Reading the findings of this study reminded me of the important role I play in how well technology is integrated into my classroom. I must confess, some of the study results seemed rather predictable for me, but along with the predictability came some unexpected insights that help explain why teachers dont innovate when they are given the computers.

My Weary Query Series

Be sure to read Part 1 of Brenda Dyck’s blog on how technology initiatives affect teachers, which asks the question "Why do technology initiatives invoke feelings of anxiety or apathy in so many teachers?"

Are technology initiatives and integration a source of weariness for you? Share your thoughts on the Education World message board.

The teacher is naturally the first person one can look to [when considering] factors that affect classroom technology uses" ~ Zhao, Pugh, Sheldon and Byers (2002)


Its no secret that skill level plays a significant role in whether a teacher makes use of the computers in his or her classroom. Teachers who understand how computers work are more apt to try emerging technologies in their classroom. Speaking from my own experience, my lack of technology skills didnt stop me from plowing ahead. Not knowing what I didnt know produced a wild abandon that prevented me from worrying about failure. Instead of focusing on my lack of skills, I learned from my students, my colleagues, and from trial and error. The results frequently surprise even me!

Not so Predictable:
According to Zhao et al, just as essential is the teachers ability to understand how and where and when technology innovations should be used. I have always considered that part of technology integration a bit of an art -- the ability to see the teaching/learning potential that exists within a seemingly unrelated emerging technology tool. Teachers with that ability look at emerging tools like Twitter, Nings, and Podcasts and see a host of learning possibilities that other educators often miss. They then go on to turn those possibilities into mindtools for learning.


As you would expect, teachers who believe that technology offers learning benefits will be more inclined to use that bank of computers at the back of the room. Less surprising was the discovery that successful implementation of technology was more likely to happen when a teacher viewed it as a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Not so Predictable:
Highly reflective teachers are more aware of their teaching beliefs and therefore tend to use technology that supports those pedagogical beliefs. Research shows that the fusion of belief and relevant technologies can pave the way for smoother implementation and for success. Teachers should be reminded that there needs to be an intimate connection between technology and curriculum. Anything less will result in technology being used as Mind Candy (Jamie McKenzie) or geek lust (David Warlick).


The researchers behind the Conditions for Classroom Technology Innovations study discovered that teachers who successfully implemented technology innovations had an ability to understand and negotiate the social aspects of school culture. That essentially means that socially savvy teachers knew the social dynamics of the school, were aware of what type of support to go for, and were attentive of their peers" (p.494). That revelation wont be new for anyone trying to get a new technology project off the ground at their school. Being able to negotiate and confer with technicians and administrators is part and parcel of moving forward with technology integration ideas. I always made it my business to try to get along with and cooperate with the IT department. I knew that in some ways, they were the grease that kept my classroom learning bus going!

Not so Predictable:
The more technology projects and activities extend beyond the classroom walls, the more prone teachers are to adverse reactions from parents and administrators. Telelcollaborative projects, use of social networking sites, and wikis and blogs all have the potential to raise red flags for those who are skittish about Internet safety issues. Circumnavigating ongoing concerns can take the wind out of a teachers integration sails, causing them to throw up their hands in defeat. Socially aware teachers anticipate security concerns, learn the art of negotiating compromises, and move at a pace that recognizes and honors parents and administrators concerns.


About the Author

Brenda Dyck is a sessional instructor at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada). In addition to teaching preservice teachers, Brenda is the moderator of MiddleTalk, a listserve sponsored by the National Middle School Association (NMSA). Her "HotLinks" column is a regular feature in NMSA's magazine, Middle Ground. Brenda also is a teacher-editor for MidLink magazine.

Author: Brenda Dyck
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