On the Precipice of Change: 3 Obstacles to Technology Use in K-12
Copyright 2006 Miguel Guhlin

"Let's talk about 3 obstacles,” shared one executive director in a conversation that I had the opportunity to participate in, “that keep you from doing what you want to accomplish in Instructional Technology." What a great opener for a conversation about district-level initiatives! We are often stopped by obstacles that we perceive. Warren Greshes' shares that for most people, there are 3 obstacles that they just cannot get around (Source: Read More) .

Those obstacles include 1) Fear of failure; 2) Other People telling you that it can't be done; and 3) Old habits that keep us back. As I reflect on the question, and Warren Greshes' 3 obstacles, I had to ask myself, what are some perceptions that stop the bulk of Texas educators from integrating technology into their work? We all know that there are individual successes, but what about the rest?

Greshes shares that fear of failure is the “single biggest obstacle to our success.” In Instructional Technology, it may very well be defined as fear of trying to use new—or even old—technologies in the classroom. As I reflected on fear of failure, I was reminded of an audiocast that I heard in mid-November, 2006.

In a recent interview, Nancy Willard--published author and educator on the subject of CyberBullying--shared that there is a perception out there that K-12 education is on the precipice of change. What is causing the change? In her response, Willard cites the power of the Read/Write Web (a.k.a. Web 2.0), digital handheld devices, and a school district's growing inability to restrict technology students have access to. There are many things to fear in the application of these new technologies to K-16 education. Some might characterize these new technologies in this way:

The next crop of terrorists are still at school, preparing for their SAT tests. They are probably bright, politically disinterested and easily susceptible to the ideology of the Read/Write Web. They receive a daily diet of anti-school establishment propaganda through Web 2.0 and so-called social networking websites. Young children of immigrants still at school are among those linked to guerilla conspiracies.

The path from adolescent dreamer interested in moblogs to flash mob radicals ready to engage in peaceful school walkouts to immigration issues and posting embarrassing videos of irrelevant teachers on YouTube can be frighteningly short. Web 2.0 guerilla-teachers are looking to groom and brainwash our children as advocates for passionate action, conflict over harmony, transparency over invulnerability, and commitment to virtual friends, and real life strangers. The teenblogosphere is without restraint.

That false alarm aside, teachers, administrators, students, and some parents are continuing to advocate for the use of these new and emerging technologies in schools. Administrators and teachers confess that investing time in these technologies may detract from what they are required to do—test-preparation for TAKS—in school today. There is only so much time in the day to accomplish what has to be done.

Yet, perched on the precipice of change, administrators and teachers have a different perception of what is keeping them from integrating technology. What is that different perception? What are the obstacles that keep schools from integrating technology?

With this last question in mind, I asked a principal (retired earlier this year in June), what are 3 obstacles that keep you from accomplishing technology integration? His response touched on a few points, including the following:
  1. A Surface understanding of what constitutes tech integration among teachers and
  2. Failed to give up control of their power as teachers so as to create learner-centered environments.

"Teachers think Powerpoint,” the retired principal shared, “qualifies as technology integration. Teachers lack the courage to let students learn using technology. They are too focused on being the authority in the front of the room and they are handicapping children."
"Handicapping our children," he chuckles as he shares this with me, "THAT got me into trouble with the teachers. But, you know, it's true. Teachers are afraid to learn technology and they are handicapping their students."
Yet, this perspective is challenged by one teacher's blog entry. In that entry, the author writes an entry entitled Teachers as learners as teachers v. learners as teachers as learners: the ultimate mashup.

...I hope this message is clear–I could not have done any of this had I not invested in creating a technically competent self. I learned in order to teach in order to learn further. I feel empowered because I can do better and faster what I already want to do.
Let those who can hear, hear--teachers who are unwilling to learn and empower students are hamstringing students in schools. For teachers who are willing to learn, there is a challenge to moving ahead. For them, the challenge is less that of failing to learn, but of desiring to use technologies not yet present in their school system.

Some, like Seattle Washington's 3rd grade teacher Mark Ahlness, advocate that these teachers should engage in guerilla warfare. He writes of his frustration with over-blocking of Web 2.0 sites for blogging and wikis:
We cannot not surround and change the educational technology establishment by external force. And we do not have the time or patience to quietly play by the rules of that establishment, hoping somebody will eventually notice....

We are working behind the scenes, using every tool, every lever and advantage...we have also infiltrated the ranks of the everyday teacher, the student body, the parent organizations, the school boards, the mainstream media. We will change minds, not twist arms. We will not go away nor shut up. We are guerillas in their midst.
Source: http://www.ahlness.com
It's so easy for other people, Greshen points out, to keep one down, to push you down a path that is more convenient for them. For those that find daily mind-changing exchanges too confrontational, heart-attack inducing, these 3 strategies might be more effective:
  1. Build successful instructional practices in your classroom, enabling your students to do that which will make them shine. Focus on enhancing the power of their voices, gathering work that proves they are ahead instructionally and reflects their technological expertise. Use whatever is necessary.
  2. Once you have a body of student work, ask if you can celebrate that work by sharing it in the hallway, online via a web page (blog or otherwise), and share it with parents via newsletters (also online and/or paper). The goal is to get their voices out there as loud as possible...once you have a "bully pulpit," then you can advocate for change.
  3. Fly below the radar on all projects until your students' success becomes apparent to all.

Will these approaches be more effective? In the short run, perhaps. For educators, it's really about juggling obstacles, doing whatever it takes to ensure success for one's students.

There's no shortage of obstacles for educators to juggle. Aside from their own, even researchers have some new ones to offer, holding up a mirror to years of educational technology efforts.
A new report, **Technology in Schools: What the Research Says**, highlights the following obstacles that prevent technology integration:
  1. Over-confidence on the part of educators that they could easily accomplish the depth of school change required to realize the potential technology holds for learning.
  2. Educators did not make as much effort as they could have in documenting technology's effect on student learning, the way teachers used the technology, or how efficient it was.
  3. Educators and school staff underestimated the amount of time it would take for technology access to be sufficient.
  4. Educators underestimated the rate of change in technology, and the impact of such a rapid, continuous change on staff time, budgeting, professional development, software upgrades, and curricular and lesson redesign.
    Source: http://www.cisco.com/web/strategy/docs/education/TechnologyinSchoolsReport.pdf

As I read these obstacles, I was struck by the accuracy of the research to my own experiences. These four points could easily translate into obstacles I could share.

They might be organized in this way:

Point #1 - Inability to accomplish change in the adoption of technology innovations that impact teaching and learning. I first became aware of this during my early research on how to accomplish change in regards to educational technology and K-12 education. There seemed to be so many factors in educational settings, factors I had little control over in my “non-positional” area of authority, that I felt unable to achieve systemic change. I was the Jurassic Park mosquito caught in the amber. Or, as a venerable elementary school principal once put it, “a skeeter in a nudist colony,” unsure of where to strike first.

Not surprisingly, accomplishing change in educational technology is of key interest to graduate educational leadership programs. This was revealed by this audiocast at the recently held UCEA, November, 2006 Conference in San Antonio, Tx (listen to the audiocast at http://www.mguhlin.net/archives/2006/11/entry_2269.htm
). At the graduate and post-graduate level, researchers and professors are struggling to realize the benefits of technology-enhanced teaching and learning in their own work. Encouraging changes in the attitudes of superintendents and other educational leaders is tough work.

How does one address the reluctance 1) on the part of district administrators to incorporate technology in meaningful ways to the scope and sequence, 2) of curriculum specialists to learn how to use technology to redesign their own teaching of adult learners, 3) of campus teachers and administrators failing to use online technology textbooks, 4) competing elements within the curriculum department that chase after technology solutions without putting a plan together to ensure successful implementation?

On reflection, it became clear that the best efforts on my part did not result in systemic change, and failed to consider the motivations of all stakeholders.

In my survey of teachers, they shared this perspective: Lack of administrative support for innovative use of technology. Administrators seldom seem to understand that technology-rich lifestyle IS indeed a lifestyle that students have embraced, and that to engage them, teachers need to be able to know what is going on.

Point #2 - Inability to mandate/require professional development for teachers, and provide incentives for achievement of professional development objectives, that directly impact teaching.
With the inability to mandate professional development, and lacking the funding to provide incentives, professional development in the area of technology suffers. While education technologists look with great hope to the change of the word “Beginning” to “All” teachers in the title, “SBEC Technology Competencies for All Teachers,” that is a change that has yet to be felt by fourth grade teachers laboring at reading, writing and math TAKS test-preparation. While performance pay may find a niche in our schools, as divisive as a lichen to a rock, of more need is incentive pay for teachers to learn how to use technology. In fact, some might identify at least following needs for Texas schools, and probably much more beyond the scope of this article:

  1. Need for state-wide technology competency professional development and tracking. The tools already exist. If Temple ISD can use free, open source tool such as Moodle and build SCORM compliant modules with Adobe Captivate to assess Technology Applications for students, then why can't the Texas Education Agency leverage similar tools for all of the State of Texas? Combine SCORM compliant modules with a Learning Management System (e.g. Avatar Technologies' Course InSite or one of the many others) and teachers could be learning online and held accountable in no time...especially if you invite the teacher Technology Competency Certification Portfolio Index (http://texasttcc.net/) to the party. This type of innovation is around the corner.
# Need for a state-wide one to one computer initiative Texas schools. Indiana's Affordable Classroom Computers for Every Secondary Student (ACCESS) has been sustainable and attracted attention due to its claims of being affordable, sustainable, and replicable. Other key successes include its scalability to 300,000+ simultaneous student and teacher users, use of low cost hardware, openness due to free open source software use, and compatibility. Find out more online at
  • As the need increases for delivery of TAKS assessments online, it is clear that a statewide, low-cost, solution will be necessary. Would Indiana's ACCESS initiative offer a viable option for providing sufficient, ubiquitous access to online professional development and assessment? And, couldn't the need that drives student assessments also drive increased access for teachers and students?

Point #3 - Lack of budget sufficient to establish ubiquitous access to hardware and software teachers need to redesign their teaching environments. School districts continue to use proprietary software tools to accomplish their instructional objectives, even though free open source software (FOSS) offers a powerful alternative. One teacher characterized the lack in this way: “There are tons of open-source offerings, but having the staff on hand and available to get it installed and running is a struggle when the district budget does not show any importance in that area.”

Teachers list as one of their obstacles a lack of access to software tools such as Acrobat, Flash, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, etc. Another teacher put it this way:

Money, Money, Money. The kids wish to do video editing, podcasting, music creations, and more. Yet, 1/2 of the computers in the lab are 400mhz.

Student time with the technology. Even if I continue to do this with my students, I am the only place they get it. They do not have enough time in one class along with ELA content to learn all there is out there. They need extended seat time.

Indiana's ACCESS Initiative relies on low-cost hardware and open-source software to achieve its viability. Perhaps it's time that Texas educators considered alternatives to doing things the way they have been done in the past. Funding cuts at the federal level, reorganizing at the state level require districts to be more flexible and nimble than they have been in the past.

We are left with many obstacles to consider. The goal of this article was not to offer final solutions, but to engage you in problem-solving, to find a way to negotiate a treacherous path at the edge of a chasm.
Indeed, we are on the precipice of change. How we navigate the change will be a testament to our ability to overcome our fear of failure, as well as let nay-sayers know that while they may not be able to get the job done, they don't know Texans! It's a long, tough journey, but onward, if not forward, is the only way possible. Perhaps, we need to consider what Diane Quirk writes in her blog, Technology to Empower Student Learning:

Are the ways we use technology designed to keep students occupied (obstacles) or are they designed to help students experience growth in their learning (conduit)?...The challenge for us as educators is to examine our practices in terms of being either obstacles or conduits to the learning of our students.