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:
- 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?
- 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.
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 departments—works 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.
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
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
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:
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.”
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:
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