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.
Little, 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
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
This 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.