Conditions for Classroom Technology Innovations1



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Conditions for Classroom Technology Innovations1

Yong Zhao


Kevin Pugh

Steven Sheldon

Joe L. Byers

Michigan State University


Contact Information

Yong Zhao

115D Erickson

College of Education

Michigan State University

East Lansing, MI 48824

Email: zhaoyo@msu.edu

Phone: 517-353-4325

Fax: 517-353-6393

To appear in Teachers College Record

Bios


Yong Zhao is Associate Professor of Technology in Education and Educational Psychology at the College of Education, Michigan State Univeristy. His research interests include technology infusion in educational settings and the social political implications of the Internet.
Dr. Pugh is an assistant professor at the University of Toledo. In addition to technology, his research interests include motivation, science education, and Dewey's philosophy of education (particularly his aesthetics). Recent publications include the following:

Wong, E. D., Pugh, K. J., & the Deweyan Ideas Group at Michigan State University. (2001). Learning science: A Deweyan perspective. The Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38, 317-336.


Dr. Sheldon is currently working as a research scientist at The Center for

School, Family, and Community Partnerships, located at Johns Hopkins

University. His research interests include understanding why parents choose to become involved in their children's education, particularly how parents' social networks function as a resource related to their involvement. In addition, he is studying the development of school programs for school, family, community partnerships and their impact on student outcomes.
Joe Byers is Professor Emeritus at Michigan State University.  His research interest includes the quantitative analysis of data relating the impact of technology on students, teachers, the curriculum, and schools.Conditions for Classroom Technology Innovations

Executive Summary

This article reports a study on the complex and messy process of classroom technology integration. The main purpose of the study was to empirically address the large question of "why don’t teachers innovate when they are given computers?" or “why teachers do not integrate computers in their teaching in more meaningful ways?” rather than whether computers can improve student learning. Specifically, we were interested in understanding the conditions under which technology innovation can take place in classrooms. For a year, we followed a group of K-12 teachers who attempted to carry out technology-rich projects in their classrooms.


Findings

The study found eleven salient factors that significantly impact the degree of success of classroom technology innovations. Each factor can be placed in one of three interactive domains, the innovator or teacher, the project or the innovation, and the context.



The Innovator/The Teacher. One of the most important ingredients to the successful integration of innovative uses of technology in schools is the teacher. Three factors associated with the teacher have been found to contribute significantly to the success of classroom technology innovations: a) technology proficiency, b) pedagogical compatibility, and c) social awareness. Technology proficiency does not only mean knowledge of or the ability to use a specific piece of hardware or software, but also means the understanding of other technologies and conditions that enable the use of the hardware and software. Pedagogical compatibility refers to the degree of consistency between a teacher’s pedagogical practices and the technology to be implemented by the teacher. Technology is not a neutral tool but has content and pedagogical biases. Certain technologies are better suited for supporting certain types of pedagogical styles. Thus when the technology under consideration fits the content to be taught and teaching styles of the teacher the odds are better for a technology-based project to be successfully implemented. Social awareness is a teacher’s understanding of and ability to negotiate the social aspects of the school culture. Our analyses suggest that socially savvy teachers were more likely to implement their projects successfully.

The Innovation/The Project. A prime determinant of whether a project succeeded or not was the nature of the innovation itself. We found that innovations varied along two dimensions, distance and dependence, and that success was related to these two dimensions. Distance refers to how much the innovation deviated from the status quo. We found distance to be important in three areas: distance from the existing school culture, distance from existing practice, and distance from available technological resources. Dependence refers to the degree that an innovation relies on other people or resources – particularly people and resources beyond the innovator’s immediate control. For example, we rated innovations that only involved a teacher’s own students and technology (i.e., technologies that the teacher controlled in his or her own classroom) as less dependent than innovations which required the involvement of other teachers, administrators, or outside technologies (such as a computer lab or district server). We found a close relationship between where the innovations fell along these dimensions and the degree of success of those innovations.
The Context/The School. The third domain that we found to have a strong mediating effect on the success of technological innovations is the context in which the innovations take place. We identified three aspects of the school context that were of central importance to the success or failure of an innovation: a) the human infrastructure—, b) the technological infrastructure, and c) social support. We use the term "human infrastructure" here to mean the organizational arrangement to support technology integration in the classroom. A healthy human infrastructure would include a flexible and responsive technical staff, a knowledgeable and communicative group of "translators", or people who can who can help the teacher understand and use technologies for his or her own classroom needs and a supportive and informed administrative staff. A healthy human infrastructure would also include institutionalized policies and procedures related to technology issues, such as hardware and software purchases, professional development, and student access to computers and the Internet. Technological infrastructure refers to the technological resources, such as hardware, software, and connectivity of a school, while social support means the degree to which peers supported or discouraged the innovator(s).

Interactions among the Domains


While we identified three domains that contribute significantly to the success of classroom technology integration, the contribution of each domain was not equal. Factors associated with the innovator, the teacher in our study, appeared to play a more significant role than the other domains. That is, when the teacher was strong, the projects seemed to have a better chance to succeed, even with innovations that exhibited a high degree of distance and dependence and less-than-supportive contexts, although the latter two apparently limited the degree of success in some cases.

However we should not underestimate the effect of the factors associated with innovations. We found that the qualities of projects significantly influence the possibilities of success. Even a very competent innovator may struggle if the project is quite distant from and dependent on the existing school culture, practice, and technological resources.

While the context may not solely determine the degree of success of classroom innovations, it can definitely impact how far teachers can push the innovation. In an environment where there is good technical and human support, projects that are more innovative and distant from the school culture and resources can still be successful. A strong context can also compensate, to some extent, for teacher weaknesses: with good support and easy access, even teachers who are not pedagogically, technically, or socially strong can carry out classroom technology innovations.

Additionally, factors within each domain can interact with each other as well. For example, a large distance from existing technology resources can be compensated by a small degree of dependence on technology resources.



Implications

Teachers and Technology: Issues of Professional Development

To integrate technology in teaching, teachers need to know the affordances and constraints of various technologies and how specific technologies might support their own teaching practices and curricular goals. They also need to know how to utilize the technologies. Moreover, teachers need to be aware of the enabling conditions of the technology they plan to use—what contextual factors make it work. Furthermore, teachers need to realize that technology integration requires support from others, even people with whom they have not interacted traditionally (e.g., technicians or technology coordinators).

The findings from this study point out serious problems with the current efforts to prepare teachers to use technology. Most of the current efforts take a very narrow view of what teachers need to use technology—some technical skills and a good attitude. Many in-service workshops often take the format of motivational speeches by a forward-looking visionary plus sessions on how to use a piece of software. Few pay much attention to the pedagogical or curricular connection. Even fewer attempt to help teachers develop their knowledge of the social and organizational aspects of the school. Teachers need to look carefully, not only within themselves, but also at their technological and social environments before they begin to implement innovative uses of technology in their own classrooms and teaching.

In light of the findings from this study, we suggest technology standards be expanded to include the social and pedagogical contexts and implications of technology. We also encourage teacher education institutions and other teacher professional development programs to broaden their views of the kind of preparation and support pre-service and in-service teachers need to thoughtfully and effectively integrate technology in their teaching. Teacher education programs that direct individuals to reflect on their own beliefs about teaching and technology as well as to consider the real-world limits that exist in today’s classrooms, may be working in this direction.


Revolution or Evolution: Issues of Classroom Technology Innovations

It is popular to talk about the "technology revolution." It might be attractive to think that teachers should engage in innovations that make dramatic changes in existing practices and school culture. Additionally, one might assume that the innovations that include a wide range of people and resources within the school would be the most likely to have the greatest impact on other teachers and the school culture. However, this research found these ideas to be unreliable. Innovations that were the most distant from the teacher's existing practices and school culture were less likely to succeed, as were those innovations that were more dependent on other people and resources. Given these findings, we argue that teachers should take an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary approach to change. It is likely that teachers will experience more success and less frustration if they take small, but progressive steps toward change. Moreover, they are likely to benefit from carefully balancing distance and dependence so that the two dimensions might compensate for each other.


Access or Easy Access: Issues of Support and Technology

The study found that a supportive school environment is important for successful technology integration. Teachers need access to a healthy human infrastructure and a functional and convenient technical infrastructure. Although in recent years there is great progress in bringing computers and network to schools, we found that in many schools teachers did not have easy access to either of the two infrastructures. There are major differences between access and easy access. For example, in a school where computers are housed in labs, teachers can be said to have access to computers, but they may not have easy access to them—if they have to schedule lab time far in advance, compete with other teachers, or spend a lot of time trouble shooting. Similarly, a teacher can be said to have access to the Internet . But that access is by no means easy if the teacher has only one computer connected to the Internet and the district technology person controls what content and functions the teacher can access.Conditions for Classroom Technology Innovations

Abstract

This article reports a study on the complex and messy process of classroom technology integration. The main purpose of the study was to empirically address the large question of "why don’t teachers innovate when they are given computers?" rather than whether computers can improve student learning. Specifically, we were interested in understanding the conditions under which technology innovation can take place in classrooms. For a year, we followed a group of K-12 teachers who attempted to carry out technology-rich projects in their classrooms. These teachers were selected from over 100 recipients of a technology grant program for teachers.

The study found eleven salient factors that significantly impact the degree of success of classroom technology innovations. Some of these factors have been commonly mentioned in the literature, but our study found new dimensions to them. Others have not been identified in the literature. Each factor can be placed in one of three interactive domains, the teacher, the innovation, and the context. The article discusses the 11 factors in detail and proposes a model of the relationship among the different factors and their domains.




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