Navigating Teacher Beliefs, Connected Learning, and Practice-Based Inquiry for Equitable ICT Integration (Part 1)

In an editorial in Education Weekly, “The Technology Puzzle: Why Is Greater Access Not Translating Into Better Classroom Use?”, Larry Cuban lays out a number of reasons why, from his point of view, education has not adopted technology into their practices to the same extend the business world has.  He outlines the usual tropes that lay the issue solely at the feet of teachers, including pre-service education that does not emphasize technology, a dearth of specific training, not enough time to learn about and practice with technology, the number of “older teachers” in the profession, and technophobia.  Yet he doesn’t leave it there.  Refreshingly, he identifies five other obstacles, none of which blame teachers.  After going into detail about the impacts of contradictory advice from experts, intractable working conditions, demands from others, the unreliability of technology, and policymakers’ disrespect for teachers’ opinions, Cuban concludes,

“Why should very busy teachers who are genuinely committed to doing a good job with their students listen to experts’ changing advice on technologies when they have to face daily, unyielding working conditions, internal and external demands on their time and stamina; unreliable machines and software; and disrespect for their opinions?… What corporate cheerleaders, policymakers, and vendors who have far more access to the media ignore are teachers’ voices, the enduring workplace conditions within which teachers teach, inherent flaws in the technologies, and ever-changing advice of their own experts.  Such reasons are ignored because they go to the heart of what happens in schools, are very expensive to remedy, and reflect poorly on corporate know-how in producing machines….  For experts, the answer are straightforward and all point to teachers.  Bashing teachers for not doing more with technology misses the deeper, more consequential reasons for what teachers do every day.”

As contemporary as this sounds, Cuban was writing an editorial that appeared in 1999.

Cuban’s perspective is a refreshing break from the tendency to lay blame for all kinds of  societal ills at the feet of teachers.  Not only does this oversimplification of “laying blame” keep us from adequately identifying what makes for good teaching and learning, but it elides the highly complicated interplay between elements of the school ecosystem and teachers’ roles within it.  Indeed, the fact that a description of teaching conditions from nearly 20 years ago is nearly identical to those many teachers work in today would suggest that we are spinning our wheels.  Yet when it comes to the integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) into instruction, teachers are the ultimate facilitators or obstacles when it comes to whether and how students get to experience ICT in their learning.  As such, we need to explore and better understand how teachers’ attitudes and beliefs impact their use of ICT for teaching and learning.  In doing so, education teachers and professional learning providers will  be in better positions to support teachers in making the changes needed for ICT to be both process and product of teaching and learning across the curriculum.

The Literature

beliefs_characteristics-nestorLittle, if anything, happens in the classroom without the teacher setting the stage for action.  What teachers believe about their students abilities impacts what they teach and how they teach it.  Yet what teachers believe about their own abilities also influences what and how they teach.  Drawing on James Calderhead’s work into the role beliefs play in teacher practice and the differentiation between beliefs and knowledge, Ertmer explores the relationships between them.  Ertmer defines beliefs in this context as “educational beliefs about teaching and learning (referred to here as pedagogical beliefs) and the beliefs they have about how technology enables them to translate those beliefs into classroom practice” (2005)  In extending Calderhead’s work, Ertmer noted that even after one gains some knowledge, they still either accept it as true or false.  That is, they either believe the information or they do not (2005).

Park and Ertmer examined how problem-based learning impacts teachers’ beliefs about the use of technology for teaching and learning.  They identified the differences between so-called first order and second order barriers to change where first order barriers relates to externals — limited access to computers, software, planning time, or administrative support.  Second order barriers deal with the internals — teachers’ beliefs about instructional technology, preferred methods. and willingness to shift practices (2014).  They cite research by Zhihui Fang finding that many factors shape teachers’ beliefs, including discipline subculture, pre-service classroom experiences, and opportunities to reflect on their pre-service experiences.  In addition to these, Park and Ertmer find teachers’ beliefs about their pedagogy, their own self-efficacy, and the value of technology for education all influence their ICT use (2014).


In a two-year study that examined K-12 teachers’ perceptions of the benefits of ICT for teaching and learning, Badia et al.  They found that while the school structure and the technological profile of the school positively correlated to perceived benefits of ICT use,  teacher’s beliefs were the most important factor.  “The strongest correlations are found in variables related to the technological profile of the teacher, such as the level of computer literacy…, training received and assessment of its usefulness…, frequency of access to the Internet [sic] at school…and frequency of access to the Internet [sic] outside school”  (2015).  Other factors that had a significant positive relationship were gender, subject area, and educational technology policy of the school (2015).

Song, Kalet, and Plass conducted a study examining the effects of prior knowledge, self-regulation and motivation on learning performance in complex, multimedia environments among medical students in rotation.  They found that students’ prior knowledge in a specific domain “directly influenced their knowledge recall, comprehension and clinical reasoning after learning from a multimedia module”  (2015).  In addition, prior knowledge is also associated with self-regulation, motivation, self-efficacy, and goal orientation (2015).

Examining teachers’ agency, Biesta et al. consider how teachers actively shape the work they do and the conditions in which they do it.  The authors note specifically how this is in marked contrast to “several decades of policies that worked to de-professionalise teachers by taking agency away from them and replacing it with prescriptive curricula and oppressive regimes of testing and inspection”  (2015).  They position teacher agency within the broader space of agency theory where “rather than seeing agency residing in individuals, agency is understood as an emergent phenomenon of actor-situation transaction”  (2015).  Recognizing such positioning will have implications for the role beliefs play in teacher agency and the extent to which elements of practice do and do not manifest in the classroom.

Mumtaz explored influences on teachers’ ICT use — both the elements that facilitated its effective use and inhibited it.  She identified three behaviors that inform teachers instruction according to their beliefs about technology use: avoidance, integration, and technical specialization.  Mumtaz also describes the impacts of these belief-behavior types on the pupils of said teachers (2006).

Multiple Heavy Lifts

The complexities of the interactions between teachers’ pedagogical belief systems and knowledge systems makes TPACK even more relevant.  Image:

While it provides fascinating insights and very useful information, in many ways the research lays out an extremely daunting path for teacher educators and professional learning providers.  For the most part, first order obstacles to change are far less an issue today.  Even though the “access gap” is all but closed, with near total high speed connectivity of the schools and the ubiquity of mobile devices, we still have not seen commensurate levels of ICT integration.  This would suggest that second order obstacles are the actual roadblocks that need to be addressed consistently and often.  Part of this challenge is that teachers view first-order obstacles as surmountable because changes they require are seen as incremental, doable without needing to change any existing structures or long-held beliefs.  Teachers also perceive them as reversible.  Second-order obstacles, however, requires teachers to challenge their deep-seated beliefs.  They require teachers to see and do things differently.  Significantly, second-order change is seen as being impossible to reverse once they have begun (Ertmer, 2005).  As such, we can expect these changes to be hard won and long in the offing since belief change is some of the slowest change of all.  Yet it is the most necessary in order to truly integrate ICT into teaching and learning practices for the digital age.

A common belief among educators and professional learning providers is that to attain the necessary ICT integration to thoroughly prepare students for the 21st century world of work, high quality and sustained professional is essential.  This is indeed true.  However, the idea also runs the risk of being yet another silver bullet since the kind of professional learning we must consider cannot be just about giving them knowledge about technology and how to use it.  It must include learning that addresses and changes teachers’ belief systems about the pedagogical value of technology and why it is necessary.

Because the interplay between teachers’ belief systems and knowledge systems is highly complex and complicated, professional learning must address both systems.   On one hand, beliefs and knowledge are in opposition with one another as can be seen when it comes to teachers’ pedagogical beliefs and the relative value of ICT for education. The strong emotional and evaluative charges beliefs carry make them “more influential than knowledge in determining how individuals organize and define tasks and problems” and thus makes them more powerful determiners of behavior (Ertmer, 2005).  On the other hand there is significant overlap between beliefs and knowledge where prior knowledge impacts teachers’ self-efficacy which in turn impacts implementation of ICT instruction. What teachers believe they can or cannot do with ICT instruction is not necessarily aligned with what they know about what to do with ICT instruction.  Teachers’ self-regulation, or “self-generated thoughts, feelings, and actions for attaining academic goals…help a learner acquire knowledge by goal setting, self-monitoring and self-reflection….  [W]hen learners are confident about a learning task, they tend to use more self-regulated learning strategies in the task…[and] when learners perform better using self-regulated learning strategies, their self-efficacy on the task tends to be increased”  (Song et al., 2015).  In addition, self-efficacy beliefs are a strong predictor for whether or not teachers use technology for teaching and learning.  Teachers’ beliefs about the value of using technology in the classroom “greatly enhanced” teachers’ perceptions of computers’ effectiveness as tools for teaching and learning  (Park & Ertmer, 2015).  Thus, not only do teachers need to have knowledge about ICT and methods for its instructional use, but they also need to believe both that they can use that knowledge effectively and that its use would be productive.

The work of changing minds is difficult enough when the facts are at hand.  But as Calderhead distinguished there are differences between knowledge and beliefs in that  knowledge is based on factual propositions and understanding whereas beliefs grow out of suppositions, ideologies and commitments (Ertmer, 2005).

Distinguishing between Technophobia and Cynicism

Pew Research Center data shows that as of February 2018, 95% of American adults own a cellphone and 77% own smartphones.  Among adults who graduated college, 91% own smartphones.  Looking at other devices, Pew finds that 77% of American adults own a laptop or desktop and 53% own a tablet.  Teachers clearly fall within these demographics.  Yet some teachers self-identify or are identified as “Luddites”, “technophobes”, “digitally reluctant” or any other term we have come up with to describe (and excuse?) teachers who do not incorporate ICT-based methods in their classrooms, or do so only in the most rudimentary, low-skilled ways.  Yet given the data like that from Pew, these teachers cannot be true technophobes.  Many, if not most, have some kind of digital identity that does not include their teacherly self.  They have mobile devices through which they acquire, create, and share information via text messages and social media.  They find their way in the world with GPS-supported navigation.  They video chat.  On their laptops they shop online, do their banking, correspond via email, and schedule their lives with calendar apps.  Everyone “googles”.   Indeed, there are “no technophobes here”  (Cuban, 1999).


So why are these teachers not bringing a similar digital savvy to their instruction through the plethora of edtech options available to them?  For “decades, experts hired by corporate vendors and entrepreneurial academics have exhorted teachers, particularly those in high schools, to use new technologies for classrooms”  (Cuban, 1999). In the 1980’s teachers were told students needed to be fluent in the BASIC programming language. In the 1990’s knowledge of BASIC was replaced by needing to know HTML so students could build web sites.  They also needed to be fluent in specific types of applications so they could conduct research online, communicate with email, write in word processors and compile data and crunch numbers in spreadsheets  (Cuban, 1999).  The messages today are yet another set of expectations that are quite different from teachers heard at the turn of the century, even if they are more generalized around constructs such as the 4 C’s that don’t strap teachers and students to highly specific contexts or tools.  But this is an issue that k-12 educators in particular struggle with as a profession: The never ending revolving door of initiatives and priorities, where said initiatives and priorities only tend to be a focus for a year or two before being replaced by another set of initiatives and priorities.  The constant churn only serves to generate initiative fatigue and cynicism when teachers recognize the pattern and stubbornly refuse to change out of sheer exhaustion.   

Whether it is initiative fatigue-induced cynicism, technophobia, or something more complex at play, the result is what I am calling an “application gap”, which is the difference between how teachers apply ICT use to their personal lives than in their professional lives.  And it represents another fascinating area of study and more research to better understand the teachers who do not implement ICT instruction in their classes and to provide a path for them to do so.

What’s Next and Why It Matters

IISC_EqualityEquityThis is the first post in what is projected to be a three part series.  Future posts in the series will further explore the role of connected learning as an ethos for more fully integrating ICT in teaching and learning across the curricula.  They will also relate some of my experiences as a team chair for Practice-Based Inquiry (PBI) school visits and what I have seen during the past 6 years I have been doing these visits in regard to ICT implementation and how such visits might serve as a means of providing feedback for schools around ICT implementation.  In as much as fully integrating ICT into teaching and learning in our digital, networked age is an essential element of schooling, it means that we then must pay particular attention to the communities in which securing educational resources has historically been a challenge.  That is to say those where our most vulnerable and chronically underserved students live — the cities and neighborhoods that are home to poor children of color.  Thus, the overarching goal of this series is to position teachers’ beliefs about ICT integration, connected learning, and PBI methodology as matters of equity for all learning communities to consider, particularly those that serve those most in need.


Biesta, G., Priestley, M., & Robinson, S. (2015). The role of beliefs in teacher agency.        Teachers and Teaching, 21(6), 624–640.
Cuban, L. (1999). The Technology Puzzle. Education Week, 18(43), 68.
Ertmer, P. A. (2005). Teacher pedagogical beliefs: The final frontier in our quest for     technology integration? Educational Technology Research and Development, 53(4), 25-       39.
Mumtaz, S. (2000). Factors affecting teachers’ use of information and communications   technology: a review of the literature. Journal of Information Technology for Teacher   Education, 9(3), 319–342.
Park, S. H., & Ertmer, P. A. (2007). Impact of Problem-Based Learning (PBL) on Teachers’     Beliefs Regarding Technology Use. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 40(2),   247–267.
Peggy Ertmer. (2005). Teacher pedagogical beliefs: The final frontier in our quest for   technology integration? Educational Technology Research and Development, 53(4), 25–39.
Pew Research Center Mobile Fact Sheet. (March 19, 2018).
Song, H. S., Kalet, A. L., & Plass, J. L. (2016). Interplay of prior knowledge, self-regulation   and motivation in complex multimedia learning environments: Knowledge, self-   regulation, & motivation. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 32(1), 31–50.

Week 5- Cunningham v. Waks

This week’s readings got a change-up.  In addition to our assigned chapters from Education 2.0, we also had to read Dr. Cunningham’s critique of the text in Educational Theory, Dr. Waks’s response to Cunningham, and Cunningham’s follow-up to Waks.

The Issue in Question

One point that has been knocking around in my head from Dr. Cunningham’s critique has to do with Waks’s assertion that Education 2.0 should be guided primarily by student interest.  In this regard, Cunningham is suspicious of what he reads as Waks’s relying on the “invisible hand” and the potential deepening of inequity in our already greatly inequitable society.

“Waks’s conception of teaching with new technologies is radical, but substantially incomplete. What’s more, he advocates embracing student choice about what to learn in a way that would likely exacerbate social inequalities…. While it is true that some extraordinary young people are able — without the guidance of a set curriculum and without explicit teaching — to organize their activities in ways that extend their interests and lead to growth (and marketable skills), many are drawn, instead, to dissipative distractions and mindless entertainment….  It seems that the ‘natural learning’ he adores may really only apply  to the upper classes.  If we allow student choice to determine what students learn in school, aren’t we inevitably resigning ourselves to reproducing the huge and growing social inequalities our society faces today?”  (Cunningham, Educational Theory 2014)


Two Caveats

First, I should note that my reading of Education 2.0 to date is up through chapter 11.  So if Waks addresses particular items between chapters 12 and 15 that are raised here, what I have written here should be taken accordingly.  Second, I have made some assumptions about Dr. Cunningham’s critique.  One assumption is about what he means by “natural learning” only applying to the upper classes.  If by “only applying” he means “having easy and regular access to technology” that the economically disadvantaged do not always have, then his point about reproducing inequality has merit.  Certainly, there are brilliant young people who are also socioeconomically disadvantaged who could educate themselves and build marketable skills based on their own choices if they have the same technological affordances and educational supports as the wealthy.  Yet there are related social obstacles poor students of color face, in particular, which I will briefly explore below.  The other assumption is that he did not mean upper class children are more capable of working in progressive, self-directed learning environments whereas lower class children require “structure”, “discipline”, and “limited choices” in order to learn.

Agreement with Cunningham

I agree with Cunningham, that it is far more likely that a learning model based on student-determined education with the learningweb as a central mechanism for that education would reinforce societal inequalities.  Technological and educational affordances would be likely to follow the lines of social capital into which students are born.  Let’s even assume for the moment the oft-touted hierarchy-flattening, democratic tendencies of the internet to be real for all who access it — a very large assumption.  There’s still no guarantee that poor students of color will have the same self-guided learning experiences in light of the social obstacles many face even beyond those of technological accessibility and personal “grit” to learn.  For instance, many students work during traditional after-school hours to help provide for their families.  If they are not in a traditional school setting, might their families consider their online learning time negotiable and thus available as time for producing income?  Also, poor students of color often face negative peer pressure when they are seen to actively or enthusiastically pursue learning.  They are derided as an “Oreo” or a “sellout” or trying to “be white” — a kind of peer pressure wealthy students do not encounter to the same degree or with the same resonance.  To what extent would such race-shaming from friends and family members dissuade black and brown students from putting their hearts and souls into learning compared to their racial and socioeconomic counterparts?  Additionally, many poor African-American and Hispanic families represent generations of limited formal education.  Not only that, but the limited school experiences of family elders were often in hostile learning environments and negatively frame their adult perceptions of their children’s school experiences.  Many parents and grandparents in said families do understand that education is crucial.  Yet they lack the time, mindsets, and skills to adequately support the cognitive and academic behaviors their students need to develop in order to be successful.  In most cases, these parents and guardians depend quite heavily on teachers, formal school structures, and their children’s own (developing, inconsistent, and often unregulated) self-discipline in order to inculcate those skills in their children.  Given such complicated dynamics, what might the self-guided learning experience be for a young person in West Garfield Park who comes from just such a family, compared to a student from Lake Forest, both of whose parents have master’s degrees?

Lacking the social supports described above combined with inconsistent access to state of the art technology that money affords, I have every confidence that the hypothetical student from West Garfield Park will be sucked into far more “dissipative distractions” — whether those distractions are caused by online content, undeveloped academic skills, or technology and accessibility obstacles.  Sadly, when faced with such struggles — struggles that the hypothetical Lake Forest counterpart mostly will not face in either quantity or degree —  they will be far less likely to experience “the joy of self-directed learning that accompanies an uncharted excursion on the learning web”  (Cunningham, Educational Theory 2014) consistently enough to actually attain a useful education.  Furthermore, how will they connect with others outside their social milieu and strengthen their connections and accrue their own social capital — social capital and connections their wealthy counterpart is born into?

Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

Absolutely, Waks should not have avoided addressing issues of inequality that are likely to result from Education 2.0.  In fact, I’d consider not explicitly addressing it a major weakness of his project in its current articulation, particularly in this age marked by the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter.  As is evident in Education 2.0, Cunningham’s critique, and Waks’s rebuttal, Waks does believe there are still important roles for teachers and schools to play.  As such, he could have avoided this very legitimate critique had he included more details, more specifics of how the roles he reserves for the schools (mentoring, learning guidance and support, facilitating community connections, open-networked learning centers, etc.)  would dovetail with students’ self-selected, online learning (Cunningham, Educational Theory 2014).  For instance, in what proportions do students learn on their own versus in the learning centers?  How much time is devoted to the various activities reserved for the learning centers?  How is it apportioned?  Who makes those decisions?  And vitally, how will the school side of the equation both guard against and disrupt the entrenched inequities of our highly inequitable society?  Answers to such questions might have spared him this particular focus of Cunningham’s critique.  

credit: Wikimedia

By not answering such questions, Waks also left himself open to Cunningham’s insertion of the invisible hand as part of the mechanism for Education 2.0.  And with it the associated inferences that said hand is invisible because there is no such thing and that free markets by themselves do not always act in the interest of the greater good.  While there are some very exciting elements  in Education 2.0 — likely even predictive — there is also a utopic air to the project which unfortunately allows room for the more pragmatic educator take it less seriously.  Besides, utopias have a way of turning dystopic when all the actors in the complex system begin to act in unforeseen ways.  Clearly, the inclusion of an entire chapter about complexity theory was not enough to shield Waks from the criticism that he’s leaving far too much open to chance and the likelihood that inequities will persist.


By directly addressing equity as a part of the project, Waks could have presented a stronger argument for the positive disruptive effect Education 2.0 could have both in evolving education and improving our society.  Instead, the project is vulnerable to accusations of relying on too many complex systems that will only reinforce inequities and not overturn them.  Worse yet, these complex systems are types of free markets:  Those of education, of the wilds of the internet, of student interests, and of the caprices of young people in the process of growing their pre-frontal cortices.

Cunningham, C. (2014). Book Reviews. Educational Theory, 64(4), 409.

Waks, L. J. (2016). Education 2.0: The learningweb revolution and the transformation of the school. New York, NY: Routledge.

For further viewing: