Barriers to Integrating Technology

For many schools, the dream technology program is just that – a dream.  Teachers do not have the time or experience to properly integrate technology into the classroom.  Media specialists lack the resources to create the type of learning environment students need.  Administrators do not have the technical wherewithal to create a cohesive plan.  Additionally, many educators mistakenly believe that any technology is good technology.  This means that, at times, the introduction of technology may be a barrier in and of itself.  For example if a media specialist begins haphazardly introducing different software, hardware or other digital tools without concrete reasons for their use, he or she may believe that the media center is fully technologically integrated and may begin to avoid other tools that are more supportive of his or her goals.  In other words, gratuitous technology use can be a barrier in and of itself and can do a disservice to student achievement.

In a 2006 study, Hew and Brush found six general barriers typically faced by K-12 schools in the United States and other countries when integrating technology into the curriculum for instructional purposes.  These include lack of resources, inadequate knowledge and skills, institutional barriers, attitudes and beliefs, assessment and subject culture and the frequency of each one is demonstrated in the chart below. The subject headings in this section are from this study as they are particularly relevant to this discussion. 

Lack of Resources


Many educators bemoan the lack of resources in the classroom, whether it comes in the form of limited technology, limited access, insufficient time, or inadequate technical support.  For educators in lower socio-economic districts, this can be particularly difficult to overcome, as ever increasing budget cuts necessitate even fewer resources than before.  This lack of resources is evident in four areas.

  • Lack of technology:  Without adequate hardware, software, internet access, and the like, teachers and media specialists may find it difficult to truly integrate technology.  For schools and teachers with limited budgets, this may seem to be an insurmountable issue.
  • Insufficient access:  Educators can also find lack of access to technology a barrier.  When the school does not have appropriate amounts and suitable types of technology in locations where teachers and students can use them in appropriate ways, then the technology is meaningless.   For example, Zhao, Pugh, Sheldon, and Byers (2002) found that although schools often have computer labs, teachers might not have easy access to them if they needed to compete with other teachers for laboratory time.   Even in the library, which is the second most technologically dense area of the school after the computer lab, there is limited access (Harwood & Asal, 2007).  In the library, students can typically only visit during their scheduled class visit time.  When open access is permitted, it usually occurs before or after school.  This means that it is limited by bus schedules and after school commitments.  Even when computers are available, they are less meaningful if they do not have a variety of relevant and up-to-date software and a relatively fast internet connection (Harwood & Asal, 2007). 
  • Scarcity of time: Integrating technology into a curriculum can be truly time-consuming, especially when it must be aligned with curriculum, standards and other goals.  Educators must spend hours previewing websites, gaining familiarity with hardware and software, and acquainting themselves with various programs.  Teachers who are willing to work longer hours to do this often pay a personal price in ‘‘burn out’’ and an eventual exit from the school (Hew & Brush, 2006).
  • Inadequate technical support:  Teachers and media specialists rely on technicians to assist them in utilizing different technologies.  In most schools, researchers find that these technical support personnel are often overwhelmed by teacher requests and are therefore unable to respond appropriately (Cuban, Kirkpatrick & Peck, 2001).  Therefore, technology remains broken or functioning on a lower level while teachers wait for technical support.  The time it takes for the educator to research and repair the technology personally is also daunting and serves as a further barrier to implementation. 
A lack of resources can particularly inhibit integration in the media center.  Since students in the library typically deal with tangible items - books, encyclopedias, computers and the like- creating a technologically integrated curriculum may seem daunting when the things are not present.  Additionally, classes and individual students typically visit the media center for a short period of time, often on only a weekly basis, making a scarcity of time even more of a challenge to overcome.  For the average media specialist, a lack of technology, time, and access are the most difficult barriers to overcome when planning an effective integration of technology.

Inadequate Knowledge and Skills

Even when the proper resources are present, teachers often struggle with an inadequate knowledge of specific technology, technology-supported pedagogy, and technology-related-classroom management. For many educators, particularly those who did not grow up with computers or the internet, technology can be a frightening concept.  It may be easier to pass up the use of a tool rather than admit to inadequate knowledge.  Therefore, this can serve as a significant barrier and may be demonstrated in three different ways. 

  • Lack of knowledge of specific technology: When a teacher finds a specific technology to be overwhelming or frightening, he or she is unlikely to incorporate it into the curriculum.  For example, teachers may not attempt to utilize any technology-related activities with their students if they have not first learned basic skills such as saving to a home drive.  Particularly in a secondary school environment, teachers may worry that students are more adept at technology than they are and will thus be reluctant to teach with it.  When teachers have not had training in specific technologies, or do not have the time to discover the features themselves, it can prevent technology integration into the curriculum.
  • Inadequate knowledge of technology-supported pedagogy: While some teachers may understand how to use digital tools, they may struggle with how to use them to improve instruction.  Since most professional development involves technical instruction in the mechanics of a technology, teachers may not learn how to use it to support the curriculum.  In other words, teachers are taught the mechanical basics of a digital tool, but not the ways in which to effectively integrate it in a classroom.  As described in The Ideal Tech World, the ultimate goal of technology integration is technology as a transformation.  When teachers do not understand the different ways in which technology can function within pedagogy, they are more likely to simply adopt technology without properly integrating it into the curriculum.  While the technology may still be present, a lack of knowledge of technology-supported pedagogy serves as a barrier to meaningful integration. 
  • Insufficient knowledge of technology-related-classroom management:  Classroom management has been identified as the most important factor influencing student learning (Wang, Haertel, & Walberg, 1993).  Although the rules and procedures established in a traditional classroom can apply in a technology-integrated one, there are additional policies that must be included and adapted once classrooms incorporate technological tools (Lim, Teo, Wong, Khine, Chai, & Divaharan, 2003).  For example, a media specialist might have to introduce rules such as how many pages one can print, how to properly use MP3 players or limits on how long each student can use a computer.  If educators find it too cumbersome to manage a class that is utilizing technology, they will simply avoid its use. 
In the library media center, with its greater number of resources, inadequate knowledge and skills can serve as an even more intimidating barrier.  The typical library may have books, computers, printers, scanners, listening or recording devices, televisions, DVD players and more.  Learning both how to use these specific technologies and how to incorporate them into the curriculum can be a daunting task.  In many cases, it may be easier for the librarian to simply not use innovative tools because of a lack of training or insufficient knowledge.  Since the library media center typically functions as the place where teachers can access and check out different technology tools, a librarian that is not purchasing or integrating these tools will serve as a barrier to the technology integration of the entire school. 

Institutional Barriers

Factors outside of the classroom, including leadership, school time-tabling structure, and school planning can all prevent effective integration of technology.  These can be especially difficult to overcome, as they are all outside of the individual media specialist's control.  Additionally, they may not become immediately apparent, but rather only after initial efforts have been made.  The institutional barriers that can prevent technology integration include: 

  • Leadership: When principals are unsupportive or uninformed about technology usage in the classroom, students are less likely to utilize any type of digital tools. This is often because principals hold the purse strings and, as such, have the power to finance different technology efforts.  More commonly, however, leaders that are uninterested in technology will simply place focus elsewhere.  If a principal places a strong emphasis on, for example, writing skills, technology integration can and does go by the wayside. 
  • School time-tabling structure: Because of inflexible scheduling, most students only have a continuous block of less than an hour to do work in any one subject (Becker, 2000).  This rigid time constraint does not allow teachers to experiment with different types of teaching tools, digital or otherwise. When students cannot utilize digital tools in the classrooms, they are less prepared to work with them in the library media center.
  • School planning: When schools do not take time to create comprehensive technology plans, teachers, students and other school members are confused about how and when to appropriately use technology.  Having no concrete plan in place serves as a barrier to educator and student usage of the internet and other forms of technology.
For the media specialist, institutional barriers can be especially frustrating.  For example, the school scheduling structure can be rigid and inflexible, particularly when it comes to "specials" such as visiting the library.  Activities such as assemblies, fire drills, and standardized tests often happen at the expense of library time.  In elementary schools, teachers must schedule their days very particularly, incorporating time for reading instruction, math instruction, foreign languages, and other content areas.  Visits to the library media center must be worked in within these activities, leaving little time for technology.  In most secondary schools, students do not visit the media center on a regular basis, severely limiting the ability of the media specialist to offer direct technology instruction.  Institutional barriers can be very difficult to change and, as such, can inhibit many librarians from creating a fully integrated technological program. 

Attitudes and Beliefs

The decision of whether and how to use technology in the curriculum ultimately depends on individual teachers themselves and the beliefs they hold about technology (Ertmer, 2005).  In one study, students expressed concern that it often appeared that their teachers did not understand that technology plays a significant role in students’ lives outside of school.  These students believed that if teachers had a better understanding of this, they would bring more technology into the classrooms (Spires, 2008).  In other words, teachers' attitudes about student use of technology can serve as a significant barrier to its integration. 

Beyond their feelings regarding the technology tools themselves, the integration of digital tools into the curriculum is also shaped by the teachers’ beliefs.  Researchers have found that technology implementation is directly determined by the educational philosophies and pedagogy of the classroom teacher (Grant, Ross, Wang, Poner, & Wilson, 2004.)  Furthermore, teachers who view technology as ‘‘a way to keep kids busy’’ and who do not see the relevance of technology to the designated curriculum are unlikely to incorporate it (Ertmer, Addison, Lane, Ross, & Woods, 1999). Teachers who held these beliefs commonly granted computer time only after regular classroom work was done as a reward for the completion of assigned tasks.  They did this because they believed that other skills and content knowledge were more important.  In other words, the specific feelings and preconceptions educators have about digital tools and their instructional purposes can serve as a significant barrier (or, conversely, an advantage) to their integration into the curriculum. 

In the media center, as in the classroom, the attitudes of the staff affect the effectiveness of technology integration.  In a library in which the librarian is more comfortable with books and papers, print encyclopedias, almanacs and the like will be the main source of research.  Even when the librarian is invested in utilizing technology, attitudes of the library staff or other school staff can affect its use.  As with institutional barriers, the attitudes of the school leaders and administration can also be a barrier to technology integration. 

Assessment

Currently, assessment in schools typically takes the form of school and national high-stakes testing, meaning that assessment has serious consequences such as promotion or graduation for students (CEO Forum on Education and Technology, 2001).  In the United States, the ‘‘No Child Left Behind’’ act has placed great emphasis on testing and has put significant pressures on students, teachers and schools to succeed.  This type of assessment can serve as a barrier to technology integration in several ways. 

  • Leaves little time:  In many schools, the pressures related to high-stakes testing may leave teachers little time to experiment with new instructional methods involving technology.  As discussed in the “lack of resources” section above, technology integration can be a time-consuming endeavor.  When teachers must devote time to teaching skills that will aid in assessment instead, it can cut away from the precious few opportunities to utilize technology.  In addition to the time spent teaching material that will be tested, the sheer amount of time that must be dedicated to the testing process itself can serve as a barrier.  Standardized testing is typically done several times per year, taking several days at a time, thereby eliminating even more opportunities to incorporate technology. 
  • Facilitating assessment rather than learning:  In many schools, technology is implemented in order to assist the assessment process, rather than the instructional process.  As a result, the focus of technology use in much of K-12 education has not been on the use of computers for teaching and learning, but rather on the financial benefits of computer-based testing and the warehousing of assessment results (Bichelmeyer & Molenda, 2006).  This emphasis undercuts the potential promise of technology as a teaching and learning tool and reduces funds that could be used for instructional software and tools.
  • Results in fewer resources for technology: No Child Left Behind focuses on excellence as it penalizes schools for not making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) by limiting their full funding. This creates tension between making AYP and delivering a well-rounded curriculum (Cowan, 2008) and reduces available funds for implementing technology.  Without the financial support needed to succeed, many schools become solely focused on accountability.   The teacher’s role and the scope and nature of the curriculum is thereby reduced, leading to a curriculum composed only of what the students will be tested on (Cowan, 2008) and what will provide more funding for future years.
  • Learning test-skills instead of 21st century skills: Students increasingly experience pressure to meet higher standards and score well on standardized tests, along with the need to cover vast scope of material within a limited amount of time.  As a result, many teachers feel they can cover more material when they are in front of the class lecturing to every student, rather than using technology (Butzin, 2004).  Because testing does not measure 21st century skills, educators feel that teaching technology, problem-solving, and critical thinking is a luxury, rather than a necessity.  These types of skills have a long history of being ignored in schools because they are not measurable or are difficult to measure and are then marginalized or discarded from the curriculum (Eisner, 1994).  Since 21st century skills can appear to be difficult to measure and may not be included on standardized tests, they are not emphasized in schools.  This creates a conflict for students’ futures, especially in regards to their capacity as workers in a rapidly changing economy (Cowan, 2008).

In addition to neglecting higher-level critical thinking or 21st century skills, the typical high stakes standardized test does not measure much of what is included in school standards.  The Wisconsin Center for Education Research found that less than a dozen states could accurately claim that high stakes tests are aligned with standards (National Education Association, 2001).  This means that even when technology is aligned with standards in the curriculum, neither of these things are being measured on standardized testing.  Educators have very little incentive to incorporate technology when it will not help them meet the critical Adequate Yearly Progress measurement. 

In the current economic climate, layers of management are dwindling and the average worker entering the workforce must therefore have skills in areas such as critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, teamwork, self-direction, global, civic, financial, economic, and entrepreneurial literacy, and innovative and creative thinking (Carrier, 2008). All of these skills can be acquired through innovative teaching and integrated technology. However, few of these skills are primary targets of current federal education reform assessment measures (Cowan, 2008) and are therefore left out of many K-12 curriculum.  Some states are making efforts to include standards that reflect 21st century skills, including the Illinois Common Core State Standards, which focus on results rather than means (Illinois Core Common State Standards, 2010).  Despite this, however, many teachers still use traditional models of lecturing and textbook centered instruction. 

Formal assessment does not play as large of a role in the media center as it does in the classroom.  Most media specialists do not assign grades, nor are they held personally accountable for students' standardized tests scores.  However, with No Child Left Behind and other high-stakes testing programs, the assessment of the students in the school affects the entire school community.  Additionally, a focus on test-skills rather than 21st century skills can affect what librarians teach and what the leadership encourages.  While this may seem a barrier that is not, at first glance, relevant to the library media center, in reality, it is very closely related.  Issues with assessment can serve as barriers to technology integration in every program within a school. 

Subject Culture

Subject culture refers to the ‘‘general set of institutionalized practices and expectations which have grown up around a particular school subject, and shapes the definition of that subject as a distinct area of study’’ (Goodson & Mangan, 1995, p. 614).  Because of this set of institutionalized norms, teachers may believe that certain types of technology may naturally fit in with some course subjects or topics more easily than others. They are therefore unlikely to adopt types of technology that they do not believe fit in with “their” subject.  For example, Selwyn (1999) describes an art teacher who explained her avoidance of using computers by saying that painting is more natural when done physically with one’s own hand, whereas using a mouse makes one’s mind and hand disjointed. In other words, educators' beliefs that certain technologies are not relevant to their subject can serve as a strong barrier. 

For a librarian, these beliefs might be made in the form of computers or electronic books.  Perhaps a media specialist prefers the feel of a physical printed book and is therefore unwilling to incorporate an e-reader into the media center.  Or he or she is unfamiliar with online databases and prefers to utilize traditional printed encyclopedias.  When people think of librarians, the medium of choice is books.  However, with time, this is changing and librarians are embracing all forms of digital tools.  When subject culture serves as a deterrent to integrating different forms of technology, students, teachers and the school on the whole is done a disservice. 

Lack of resources, inadequate knowledge and skills, institutional barriers, assessment and subject culture can all serve as significant barriers to implementing a well-integrated technology program, both in the classroom and in the library media center.  These types of hurdles are what typically prevent K-12 schools from realizing the technology plan described in The Ideal Tech World.  While many of these may seem insurmountable for the typical media specialist, in reality, there are numerous practical ways in which to overcome or circumvent these obstacles.  These methods are described in Overcoming Obstacles


 
This website was created by Laurie Conley, the media specialist at Whittier Elementary School in Oak Park, Illinois. The website is intended to fulfill the requirements for the Certificate of Advanced Study from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois and was created in 2010. Please feel free to email me at LaurieConley21@yahoo.com with comments or questions.