This is an extract of a literature review I undertook for my Master’s dissertation. I was interested in some of the barriers that were stopping some schools using educational technology effectively, whilst others seemed to integrate it really well. This had implications for school managers as well as providers of teacher CPD. You can spend a lot of money on kit, but it’s useless if school culture and ethos don’t change too.

Studies of the use of technology amongst teachers have found that while technology is being used, this use is quite conservative and often for personal use or administration purposes. When audited, the most frequent uses of ICT were found to be word processing, Internet research, email, and PowerPoint (Dawson, 2008; Koc & Bakir, 2010; Yeung et al., 2012; Young, 2009). Teachers do not naturally make much use of many of the most discussed new technologies such as blogging, wikis, electronic books and 3D Virtual Worlds (Dawson, 2008; Jones & Shao, 2011; Yeung et al. 2012).

While a growing number of UK schools now have a Learning Platform or Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), the levels of use are quite low with only 13% of primary school teachers using their school’s platform a few times a month or more (Rudd et al., 2009). However, research has also shown that teachers, like the rest of the general population, are embracing some of the newest waves of technology for their own personal use. Prominent amongst these are social networking sites (e.g. Facebook/ Twitter), online chatting, uploading and manipulation of multimedia (e.g. Instagram/ Flickr/ YouTube) and the use of handheld devices such as smartphones to access the mobile Internet (Jones & Shao, 2011; Yeung et al. 2012).

So while their personal use of ICT is increasing, there must be additional factors which are preventing teachers from using ICT within their teaching. A literature review by Hew & Brush (2007) identified a total of 123 different barriers faced by teachers when integrating technology into the curriculum. These factors could be grouped into 3 categories (Chen, 2008; Sime & Priestley, 2005), namely;

(a) Physical factors, those that refer to the provision of ICT resources in schools;

(b) Human factors, those that refer to teachers’ perceived attitudes towards ICT use, their ICT competence and training; and

(c) Cultural factors, those that refer to the more general attitude promoted towards the use of ICT at school level and at the community level.

a) Physical Factors

Physical factors refer to the provision of ICT resources in schools (Sime & Priestley, 2005). Teachers’ ICT integration was greatly influenced by many factors, including accessibility of ICT equipment and technical support. A major factor inhibiting the use of ICT is the physical access to computers, computer equipment and the internet (Dawson, 2008). Without adequate hardware and software, there is little opportunity for teachers to integrate technology into the curriculum (Galanouli & McNair, 2001; Granger et al., 2002; Hew & Brush, 2007; Jones, 2004; Kaur, 2011 and Lin et al., 2012). Studies of how interactive whiteboards were being used in the classroom found that teachers who reported not using IWBs generally did not have one in their own classroom and so did not have easy access (Jang & Tsai, 2012; Slay et al., 2008; Syh-Johg & Meng-Fang, 2012). The same is true for computers in the classroom, the time involved in taking pupils down to an ICT suite dissuaded teachers from doing so (Sutherland et al. 2004). The speed of the school network and internet download speeds is also an issue (Dawson, 2008). In addition, draconian or illogical internet filtering can also frustrate teachers, with useful websites being blocked for trivial reasons (Pachler et al., 2010) impacting on lessons with planned resources unable to be accessed.

Difficulty with the technology can also affect a teacher’s desire to use such technology in their teaching (Sutherland et al., 2004). Time lost in lessons to technical difficulties can impact upon the quality of work produced by pupils. Poorly equipped classrooms without blinds or curtains also affected the use of IWB’s as the boards were often hard to see on bright days (Syh-Johg & Meng-Fang, 2012). Technical difficulties can undermine a teacher’s confidence and disrupt the lesson, and so they will become more reluctant to use the technology (Levy, 2002). Coupled to this, a lack of in-school technical support is another factor that has a detrimental effect on the way a teacher uses ICT in the classroom.Teachers need adequate technical support to assist them in using different technologies (Hew & Brush, 2007) and dealing with problems when they do not work as expected. Many primary schools share a single ICT technician with several other schools resulting in on-site support for as little as half a day a week. Often any technical support staff are overwhelmed by teacher requests, and cannot respond swiftly or adequately enough (Cuban et al., 2001). Without technical support the technical issues mentioned above can persist and continue to prevent teachers from using ICT in their lessons for long periods of time.

b) Human Factors

Human factors refer to teachers’ perceived attitudes towards ICT use, their ICT competence and quality of training (Sime & Priestley, 2005). Baskin & Williams (2006) posit that the human factors are the most critical in nurturing the ICT culture within schools. They are important in developing the critical mass of teachers able to sustain the use of ICTs effectively in their teaching. Teacher “buy-in” is important and this is determined by the perceived usefulness of the technology and any benefit or advantage created by using it along with its ease of use. These factors, along with the teacher’s ability and confidence to use the technology are all critical elements in determining whether teachers use the technology (Gill & Dalgarno, 2008; Lin et al., 2012; Sime & Priestly, 2005). Teachers who were keen users of ICT outside the classroom were more likely to use it within their teaching (Wozney et al., 2006) with increased familiarity leading to greater skills and confidence. Perceived usefulness and ease of use are important variables in the Technology Acceptance Model (Davis et al. 1989).

A teacher’s skills, values, knowledge and beliefs are some of the personal factors that may encourage or hinder their use of ICT in the classroom. A lack of ICT skills may generate ICT-phobia and lead to negative ideas about the relevance of ICT as a tool for learning (Hew & Brush, 2007; Sime & Priestley 2005). Technology training can directly affect student teachers’ self-efficacy and value beliefs, which in turn influence their use of technology with their students (Chen, 2010). Some reasons cited by teachers for deliberately not using their interactive whiteboards included inadequate training for developing the skills in using the technology effectively as well as a lack of knowledge in how to solve technical issues (Jang & Tsai, 2012). This echoes both Smith et al. (2005) and Levy (2002) in that the use of interactive whiteboard technology (and by implication, other technology in schools) is limited by a lack of adequate CPD training for teachers, beyond the initial training provided by the ICT suppliers. Personal experience of this author as an interactive whiteboard trainer has found that many schools will spend thousands of pounds on equipment, but will not invest a fraction of that on an external trainer to give staff a basic level of competence. Teachers’ inexperience in setting up equipment and in manipulating features on the board, leading to lesson disruption, was a concern for both teachers and pupils (Levy 2002). Confidence in ICT use is important, but that it is to some extent underpinned by competence (Sime & Priestly, 2005; Zhao and Cziko, 2001). In some situations, teachers were even found to have a fear of becoming too dependent on the IWB (Syh-Johg & Meng-Fang, 2012) and so consciously restricted their use of it to prevent this happening.

Teachers’ own attitudes play a crucial role in their technology integration and even when placed in a technology-rich classroom, teachers with traditional pedagogical beliefs may continue to use technology to support didactic instruction and use it purely for presentation (Dexter et al., 1999; Galanouli & McNair, 2001). Indeed several other studies have found that a teacher’s personal beliefs are significant determinants in explaining why primary teachers adopt computers in the classroom (Ertmer, 2005; Hermans et al., 2008). These studies show a positive effect of constructivist beliefs on the classroom use of computers by the pupils with more traditional beliefs having a negative impact. Often, teachers who do use technology, used it not because it helps them achieve a new goal, but because it allows them to achieve their current goals more effectively than their traditional methods (Zhao & Cziko, 2001). Many teachers are still using ICT to support traditional teaching methods or are generally doubtful about the effectiveness of ICT to mediate teaching and learning practices (Chai & Lim, 2011), hence an overreliance on presentation technology (Dawson, 2008; Passey, 2006). Qualitative research methods found inconsistencies in the relationship between the teachers’ pedagogical beliefs and technology integration (Chen, 2008). Suggested reasons included the influence of external factors, teachers’ limited understanding of constructivist instruction, and teachers’ other beliefs conflicting with their expressed pedagogical beliefs.

As mentioned earlier, positive attitudes to the role of ICT in teaching are crucial in influencing a teacher’s decisions to use technologies in their teaching (Gill & Dalgarno, 2008; Lin et al., 2012; Sime & Priestly, 2005). Student teachers with a positive attitude towards technology were more likely to use it in the classroom although some worry about classroom management and see ICT as a distraction (Cullen & Greene, 2011). Additional barriers, specifically related to teachers’ pedagogical beliefs, may also be at work (Dexter et al., 1999). When using the IWBs teachers adopted pedagogical approaches consistent with those usually employed in their “regular” teaching (Bennett & Lockyer, 2008). Student teachers who hold constructivist beliefs, have a strong computer efficacy, and show positive attitudes toward computers in education are generally more interested in using computers in future teaching practices (Hyo-Jeong et al., 2012). The more experience individuals have with computers the more likely it is that their attitudes towards computers will be favourable (Pope et al., 2005; Van Braak et al., 2004) and teachers who have a positive sense of competence in using technology are more likely to use it (Yeung et al., 2012). There is some concern though that attitude alone may not be enough and that student teachers who may well be able to explain about the benefits of using technology may not yet feel ready to put those ideas into practice (Swain, 2006) due to the influence of other factors already discussed.

c) Cultural Factors

Cultural factors relate to the general attitude towards the use of ICT at school level and at the community level (Sime & Priestley, 2005). The wider school culture plays a major role in ICT uptake and integration in a school. Institutional barriers may include factors such as the attitude of the school leadership teams and management routines and the nature of the school climate and culture. In addition the school time-tabling policy, general school curriculum and staff teaching load can also have an effect (Franklin, 2007; Hew and Brush, 2007; Lin et al. 2012).

The pressure to prepare pupils for national entrance exams and the associated mindset of teaching for tests has been identified as a widespread phenomenon that hinders computer integration (Franklin, 2007; Lim & Chai, 2008; Lin et al. 2012). Too much curriculum to cover and a need to complete the syllabi according to stipulated schedules so as to get the students ready for examination were major barriers that prevented teachers from engaging in more creative teaching with ICT (Franklin 2007; Hew & Brush, 2007; Lim & Chai, 2008). This was especially important to beginning teachers who were still finding their way in linking appropriate pedagogical approaches with their subject knowledge and were very focussed on adequate curriculum coverage (Bate, 2010). Such pressures, along with the threat of league tables, can force schools to develop a “risk averse” culture where innovations in ICT are hard to introduce (Pearson & Naylor, 2006). In addition, teachers who are isolated ICT users in a community of non-users can experience pressure to conform and return to more traditional, non-technical based methods of teaching (Sime & Priestley, 2005). A supportive environment is also an important factor in fostering constructivist practices amongst teachers (Chai & Lim, 2011) and student teachers often observed negative reactions from placement teachers towards ICT in the classroom – many of whom saw its use as an additional chore (Sime & Priestly, 2005). Indeed, workload issues are also a factor with teachers reporting that they did not have sufficient time to design classroom lessons and materials to help them successfully use technology in their teaching (Jang & Tsai 2012; Levy 2002; Miller & Glover 2007; Syh-Johg & Meng-Fang, 2012). In addition, teachers can need considerably more time to prepare for a lesson that used technology such as an interactive whiteboard than a lesson that did not (Miller & Glover, 2007).

In summary, the successful integration of technology is thought to be directly influenced by barriers such as teachers’ attitudes and beliefs, the teacher’s knowledge and skills, institutional factors and resource availability. Barriers which indirectly influence the integration of technology include the culture within the school and the school assessment policy (Hew & Brush, 2007). All of the factors mentioned previously do not exist in isolation. They form a set of interlinked issues, becoming part of a whole-school framework which affects the use of ICT in teaching and learning (Tearle, 2003), as can be seen here

Model of a whole school framework (From Tearle, 2003)

Model of a whole school framework (From Tearle, 2003)

Implications for Teacher CPD

Many of the factors described above raise specific training and technical issues and these are important for schools and providers of CPD. Technology has little impact if teachers are not trained properly in its use (Sandholtz, 2001), but the diversity of ICT hardware and software resources available can pose a major challenge for teachers, since selecting the right tools to meet pupil needs demands an understanding of the impacts of each tool (Passey, 2006). Expecting teachers to know each and every piece of new technology is a difficult goal to achieve with far too many technologies making this view impractical. Indeed teaching ICT skills alone is not sufficient, because there is a tendency for teachers to learn how to operate ICT-related tools without being able to integrate the technologies effectively in the classroom to promote students’ learning (Graham et al., 2009; Mishra et al., 2009). Teacher training courses may not adequately prepare teachers in the ways of creating pedagogical connections between the benefits of technology and the teaching of a particular subject area (Angeli & Valanides, 2009; Brush & Saye, 2009; Mishra & Koehler, 2006).

So to be competent and effective users of classroom technology teachers need to have a basic level of technical skills and be confident in the operation of the technology as well as an understanding of how to pedagogically apply these technologies to enhance student learning (Campbell & Kent, 2010; Graham et al., 2009; Mishra & Koehler, 2006; Mishra et al., 2009).

With this in mind the key challenge for teacher educators is how to accommodate the need for the development of technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK) and foster a deeper commitment towards constructivist-oriented teaching practices (Chai & Lim, 2011).

How do we avoid these issues? That’s a discussion for another blog post!

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