Evidence of Technology Affecting Core Teaching

Evidence of Technology Affecting Core Teaching

Technology and Transformational Change

The Difficulties of Sustaining Change

In a recent blog posting Dr. Larry Cuban describes the impact of technology on instructional practices and student learning. Dr. Larry Cuban highlights a couple trends that he has observed throughout his years of research:

  1. TTWWADI (That’s The Way We Always Do It) and epistomological biases and belief systems (building design, student age, grades, and curriculum) still continue to shape our design of educational institutions. Regardless what the current action research is suggesting and how societial trends are changing, we continue to approach k-12 and post secondary education from a industry age mindset. How we expect to do the same thing and expect a different result?
  2.   Technology is not reliable and aligned to instructional practices and student learning. Teachers are spending too much time coping with IT-ET chaos. Books and paper are more reliable and sustainable. Education can’t keep up with the cost of maintaining technology.

Failure of Technology to Reform Our Practices

Computers have become one of the tools teachers use, and many teachers have in their repertoire instructional strategies that use technologies. But I think that these will still be peripheral—I don’t see the evidence that they’ll affect the core practices of teaching.Larry Cuban

Why not? First, I reject the argument that’s been made that teachers are resistant or incompetent or lack expertise or are technophobes. In the research we’ve done, we’ve found that teachers and students are using computers—both groups that we interviewed said that they use computers at home all the time. That made us refocus our attention on what goes on in school to try to explain the infrequent and limited use of computers for instruction even in those schools where there are abundant technological resources.What we see is that the structure of school—for example, in the high school, where you have grades organized by age and departmentsworks against a lot of the changes that have to be made for technology to be used in more imaginative and creative ways. So there are institutional kinds of concerns that have to be raised about the structures of elementary and secondary schools that I think come between teachers and their use of the technology.

Another reason we’ve found in our research that the technologies themselves have flaws. Time and time again, we found teachers scrambling to cope when the server was down, or the cascading effects of new software on two-year-old machines would cause the computers to metaphorically “blow up.” And schools can’t keep investing capital costs to purchase newer computers all the time. These are the realities facing teachers. You can’t expect a teacher to have a contingency lesson B when lesson A, which relies on using the computer, doesn’t work. That’s why teachers continue to use the textbook, the overhead projector, the chalk. They’re reliable. They’re flexible.

Source: Fads and Fireflies: The Difficulties of Sustaining Change | Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

Who or What is to Blame?

The secret to an educational leaders success is knowing who or what to blame when technology fails to transform practice and address complex educational and societal challenges. – unknown

I have a great deal respect for Dr. Larry Cuban’s experience and comments on educational reform, but I think there needs to be further clarification on the factors influencing the impact of technology on instructional practices and student learning. We are inundated by research papers, news articles, and blog postings that highlight how technology has failed to transform educational practices and address complex societal issues that impact the learning environment of our students.

We have ad hoc innovative teachers but not many innovative schools, and no innovative systems. – Micheal Fullan

Linda Harasim

Dr. Linda Harasim, the author of Learning Theory and Online Technologies, believes that this personal belief system influences an educator’s selection and application of technology, instruction, and assessment strategies. A teacher’s willingness to integrate technology, when combined with an individual’s technical skills and knowledge, will to a large degree determine the success or failure of the integration of technology into daily instructional practice. This epistemological belief system also has a significant influence on educational leaders when it comes to the vision and expectations for technology integration. As Michael Fullan points out, how can leaders have a vision and expectations for changes in practice that they can’t demonstrate themselves?

Far too often educational organizations who lack the necessary capacity and resources to develop a vision that assists teachers with the integration and alignment of technology into instructional practices are perpetuating a “hit and miss approach” to transforming educational practices. Organizations that continue to rely on classroom teacher epistemological biases and beliefs to guide the alignment and integration of technology are using “hope” as a tactic when it comes to transforming our educational practices.

Far too often educational leaders use a “spray and pray” approach to aligning and integrating technology within the classroom. – Alan November

Teacher, Technology, or Leadership Failure

Most of us, unfortunately, have developed our conscious or unconscious epistemological belief system from a k-12 and postsecondary educational experience where the use of technology is aligned (didactic or teacher-centric) to enhancing content delivery or increasing the efficiency of teacher/student assignment workflows. Very few teachers and educational leaders for that matter have had the chance to experience or observe firsthand the integration of technology in a manner that transforms teaching, learning, and assessment practices.

Teachers and the perceived failure of technology to transform our educational practices cannot continue to bear the sole responsibility for declining achievement results, decreasing completion rates and disengaged students. It’s imperative that leaders collaboratively develop an instructional design framework to guide the vision for technology integration within the organization.

I am not saying that leaders need to dictate or limit the creative expertise of the individual teacher when to comes to integrating and aligning technology within the classroom. There is a fine line between compliance, risk-taking, and innovation, but leaders who continue to rely on the individual teacher belief systems and technical skills are only perpetuating the hit and miss approach to leveraging the power of technology to enhance, assist, or transform our teaching, learning, and assessment practices.

Developing best practice alignment, integration, and assessment frameworks are no different than educational leaders guiding literacy, numeracy, and evaluation practices based on current action research. In my experience, it’s not an issue of teachers losing their sense of autonomy or professional discretion when it comes to technology alignment and integration practices. It’s more about:

  1. The time and scheduling of professional development. Teachers are very busy professionals, and it ‘s hard to design a professional development framework that addresses the various time constraints (before, after, or during instructional hours) of an educational environment.
  2. The time, energy, expertise, and resources required to review and participate in action research projects actively.
  3. The collaborative strategic planning process to develop and align organizational goals to support the integration and application of technology.
  4. Finding the balance between IT (Infrastructure Technology) and ET (Educational Technology) practices.
  5. How Education leaders are fostering a collaborative culture of risk-taking and innovation that focuses on continuous improvement.
  6. Providing timely IT-ET support within the classroom. At the elbow relevant professional development support.

Utility Mindset

As for Larry Cuban’s comment on the reliability and flexibility of technology infrastructure,

Time and time again, we found teachers scrambling to cope when the server was down, or the cascading effects of new software on two-year-old machines would cause the computers to metaphorically “blow up.”

This observation highlights a new reality in that how education has become dependent on the access and application of technology to perform daily instructional and administrative tasks. Good, bad or ugly, technology is here to stay. Technology is no longer considered an option or just a perk, the access and use of technology have taken on a “utility mindset.” Educators have developed an expectation of technology access and usage that is similar to the expectations for electrical and water utilities. Can you imagine if teachers had to work in schools where the electricity and water services only worked 50% or 80% of the time?

So the challenge for IT-ET leaders is taking this new “utility mindset” into account when aligning, integrating, and supporting technology in a modern learning environment. IT (Infrastructure Technology) and ET (Educational Technology) services and support need to be accessible and functional 99.9999% of the time.

Like it or not, if teachers are continually scrambling to change their instructional and assessment practices due to technology failure, then technology is getting in the way of teaching and learning. It can take years to develop a high level of trust and confidence in teachers and students when it comes to depending on the access and use of technology in modern learning environments. With that being said, the time that it takes to develop a high level of trust and confidence in teachers and students can vanish in seconds when technology access and usage continually fails within the classroom.

Dr. Stephen R. Covey developed the concept of the “Emotional Bank Account.” The key to developing a high level of trust and confidence in IT-ET services and support is ensuring there are fewer withdrawals than deposits. Dr. Covey highlights six ways of increasing trust and improving the “Emotional Bank Account.”

  1. Understand the individual. It is critical that the IT-ET department understands the educational environment from a technical and pedagogical perspective. Teaching is like child birth until you have gone through it, you will only have a limited idea of what’s involved in teaching based on your own epistemological beliefs and biases.
  2. Attend to little things. It is critical for IT-ET departments to collaboratively align and integrate technology classroom practices taking into account teacher and student feedback. IT-ET leaders need to be emotionally attached when technology fails within the classroom. Developing a sense of empathy when IT-ET services and support fail to meet teacher and student expectations is very important.
  3. Keep commitments. “Say what you mean and mean what you say or don’t say anything at all.” Another critical aspect of providing that 99.99999% access and support for IT-ET services involves collaboratively developing Service Level Agreements (SLA’s). Everyone needs to know what the expectations are for quality of services and support.
  4. Clarify expectations. “You get what you expect.” So what do you expect for the access and support for IT-ET support and services? It is critical for IT-ET leaders to collaboratively develop and communicate the ITETSM (IT-Infrastructure ET-Educational Technology Service Management)  Framework. Everyone within the organization needs to be on the same page in regards to realistic service and support expectations.


    ITIL Framework – http://www.bmc.com/

  5. Show personal integrity. The integrity of the IT-ET department is based on the quality of service and the timeliness of support. The more reliable and transparent that IT-ET services become, the greater the deposits are in the “Emotional Bank Account.”
  6. Apologize sincerely when you make a “withdrawal”. The opposite applies when IT-ET services continue to fail or are becoming increasingly unreliable. A decrease in the quality of IT-ET service and support results in increasing withdrawals from the “Emotional Bank Account” and decreasing trust in the IT-ET department. It can take years for an IT-ET department to develop a high level of trust with teachers and students in regards to technology access and use in the classroom. I am not sure that any IT-ET department can live up to the expectation of 99.9999% uptime, but when access, services, and IT-ET support do not meet SLA expectations, IT-ET leaders need to be emotionally attached to how the failure of technology is impacting teaching and learning within the classroom. People don’t care so much about how much you know until they know how much you care.



Total Cost of Ownership

Can imagine what kind of modern learning environments we could have if the expectations for leadership, instruction, and assessment practices were similar to  IT-ET services (99.9999%). All kidding aside, leaders who are passionate about implementing and supporting a modern learning environment need to complete the following steps:

  1. Collaboratively develop an instructional design framework that guides the use of technology in teaching, learning, and assessment practices.
  2. Collaboratively develop a continuous improvement plan designed around short and long term goals that can measure the impact of technology on teaching, learning, and assessment practices.
  3. Collaboratively develop an ITETSM Framework that aligns and supports the continuous improvement short and long term goals.
  4. Collaboratively develop realistic SLA’s expectations for IT-ET support services.
  5. Continuously communicate the expectations of the ITETSM Framework and SLA expectations to all stakeholders.
  6. Continuously collect relevant ITETSM Framework metrics that align to supporting modern learning environments. Avoid collecting data that has little to no affect on improving IT-ET practices that support modern learning environments.
  7. Continuously review and adjust the ITETSM Framework expectations based on relevant data metrics.
  8. Collaboratively develop a Total Cost of Ownership Model (TCO) that supports a reliable and sustainable IT (Infrastructure Technology) and ET (Educational Technology) foundation. Technology needs to be aligned, reliable, and transparent to the end user


Covey, S. (2016). 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. [Coral Gables, FL]: Mango Media.

Chapter 1: Introduction to Learning Theory and Technology. (2011). Linda Harasim. Retrieved 21 August 2017, from https://lindaharasim.com/knowledge-community-2/online-theory-technology/learning-theory-technology/

(2017). Integratedleader.com. Retrieved 22 August 2017, from http://integratedleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Your_Emotnal_Bank_Acct.pdf

ITIL processes – BMC Service Level Management 9.1. (2017). Docs.bmc.com. Retrieved 22 August 2017, from https://docs.bmc.com/docs/slm91/itil-processes-609066138.html

(2017). Portal.niagaracatholic.ca. Retrieved 21 August 2017, from http://portal.niagaracatholic.ca/technology/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/FULLAN-TECHNOLOGY.pdf

September 2017