Harris, J. (2005). Our agenda for technology integration: It's time to choose. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 5(2). Available: http://www.citejournal.org/vol5/iss2/editorial/article1.cfm
Our Agenda for Technology Integration: It’s Time to Choose
by Judi Harris
College of William & Mary
I sometimes ask graduate students—as an informal measure of their baseline
knowledge at the beginning of a semester—what “technology integration”
means to them. Here’s a sample response written by a teacher enrolled
in the first week of her first educational technology course:
A classroom that has successfully integrated technology into the curriculum
would be one where you would not really notice it because it would be so second
nature. The teacher would not have to think up ways to use whatever tools
were available, but would seamlessly use them to enhance the learning of whatever
content was being covered. Technology [would be] used to assist in acquiring
content knowledge, and the acquisition of technology skills [would be] secondary.
Contrast this depiction with what the International Society for Technology
in Education’s (ISTE) National Educational Technology Standards for Students
(NETS-S; ISTE, 2002) say about technology integration:
Curriculum integration with the use of technology involves the infusion of
technology as a tool to enhance the learning in a content area or multidisciplinary
setting….Effective integration of technology is achieved when students
are able to select technology tools to help them obtain information in a timely
manner, analyze and synthesize the information, and present it professionally.
The technology should become an integral part of how the classroom functions—as
accessible as all other classroom tools.
Though both explanations acknowledge a necessary link with curriculum, the
latter depiction emphasizes how students would use tools to obtain information,
while the former emphasizes how students’ content learning would be assisted
with tool use. The distinction is more than semantic, and its import may well
point to one of two primary reasons why many—if not most—large-scale
technology integration efforts are perceived to have failed: technocentrism
and pedagogical dogmatism. In this editorial, I offer thoughts about each of
these phenomena and invite you to respond.
Reason 1: Technocentrism
Nearly two decades ago, Seymour Papert (1987) would have described this excerpted
NETS definition as “technocentric,” which, he asserted, is “not
very different” from “an information-centered approach to education.”
Papert explained his term by saying,
I coined the word technocentrism from Piaget's use of the word egocentrism.
This does not imply that children are selfish, but simply means that when
a child thinks, all questions are referred to the self, to the ego. Technocentrism
is the fallacy of referring all questions to the technology.
Instead of seeking educational uses for particular technologies, Papert urged,
educators must focus upon how to best assist students’ learning. Though
he would repudiate a curriculum-centered, rather than a learner-centered approach,
his urging to shift the focus from the learning tools to what is being learned
and how that learning happens still needs to be heeded—almost 20 years
later. As Earle (2002) asserted,
Integrating technology is not about technology – it is primarily about
content and effective instructional practices. Technology involves the tools
with which we deliver content and implement practices in better ways. Its
focus must be on curriculum and learning. Integration is defined not by the
amount or type of technology used, but by how and why it is used. (p. 7)
Technocentric approaches to educational technology research and development
have produced a fragmented and largely unusable literature base, leading to
recent and empassioned calls for substantive changes to the educational technology
research agenda (e.g., Bull, Knezek, Roblyer, Schrum, & Thompson, 2005).
Zhao, Pugh, Sheldon, and Byers (2002) explained the disconnect by saying,
Traditionally, studies on educational technology have been largely interested
in finding out, in horserace fashion, the relative success of particular technological
innovations as it affects student learning….Because many of these technology-specific
studies did not explore more fundamental issues in technology and education…the
research community is having a difficult time offering desperately needed
suggestions to policy makers and practitioners. (p. 483)
Perhaps what needs to be further developed, examined, and shared are particular
curriculum standards-based instructional strategies that are appropriately matched
to students’ learning needs and preferences. In doing so, they would demonstrate
pedagogically appropriate uses of educational technologies.
Promising examples of research studies examining the effectiveness of particular
technology-enhanced instructional strategies do exist, though their numbers
are disappointingly small at present. (See, for example, the Center for Applied
Research in Educational Technology’s "student learning" summary
focusing upon student learning at http://caret.iste.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=evidence&answerID=1#references%22.)
Using this approach to educational technology inquiry, our focus can shift from
technologies’ supposed “effects” to understanding the processes
and interim results of how and why specific tools can and should be appropriated
in particular ways to help students with distinct needs and preferences to achieve
identified learning goals.
Still, as misguided as purely technocentric approaches to technology integration
are, they are not nearly as pervasive and distracting to educators, developers,
and researchers as a particular strain of pedagogical dogmatism long embraced
and largely unrecognized by many in the international educational technology
community. It’s time to reconsider this set of pedagogical assumptions,
then decide whether we move forward with or without them.
Reason 2: Pedagogical Dogmatism
Look again, if you would, at the two depictions of “technology integration”
that introduced this editorial. Note that the first, written by a teacher, emphasizes
the teacher’s roles in technology integration. The second—an excerpt
of a product of much effort by the broader educational technology community—emphasizes
the student’s roles in technology integration. This is no coincidence,
and the two depictions are probably—and surprisingly—pedagogically
Since Papert’s publication of Mindstorms in 1980, leaders in
the educational technology community have advocated student-centered, authentic
(often problem-based) applications of educational technologies that emphasize
the development and application of higher order thinking skills and practices.
In these scenarios, both teachers’ and students’ roles change dramatically
from the status quo. Moreover, “successful” technology integration
is seen in this view to be only that which reflects this reformed vision of
Consider, for example, Moersch’s (1995) widely used LoTi (Levels of Technology
Implementation) tool. The six-level “framework for measuring classroom
technology use” is designed to assist school districts “in restructuring
their staff’s curricula to include concept/process-based instruction,
authentic uses of technology, and qualitative assessment.” LoTi clearly
reflects an evaluative preference for learner-centered, rather than teacher-centered,
instructional activities. As Moersch and colleagues explained,
As a teacher progresses from one level to the next, a series of changes to
the instructional curriculum is observed. The instructional focus shifts from
being teacher-centered to being learner-centered….Traditional verbal
activities are gradually replaced by authentic hands-on inquiry related to
a problem, issue, or theme.
The apex of the six identified levels—non-use, awareness, exploration,
infusion, mechanical integration, routine integration, expansion, and refinement—is
one in which “technology is perceived as a process, product…and
tool toward students solving authentic problems related to an identified ‘real-world’
problem or issue.” School districts using the LoTi framework would, arguably,
value the same types of technology integration and would seek to change teachers’
instructional practices to match those described at LoTi’s higher levels.
Consider, also, another widely used educational technology integration assessment
tool, the STaR Chart (School Technology and Readiness Chart), which is available
in both K-12 and teacher preparation versions. It is described by its developers
as “a self-assessment tool designed to provide schools with the information
they need to better integrate technology into their educational process”
(CEO Forum on Education and Technology, 2001) Six of the questions on the 20-item
K-12 StaR Chart address technology integration directly. These items favor—with
higher self-assessment item scores— “student-centered” over
“teacher-centered,” or even “teacher-directed” or “teacher-facilitated”
approaches, and technology as an agent of educational reform, as demonstrated
by the possible responses listed under Item 14 (“Students employ digital
content to enhance learning”):
- Reinforce basic academic skills
- Use for research, communications and presentations
- Use for research, to solve problems, to analyze data, to collaborate, to
correspond with experts and to become content producers
- Digital content changes the learning process, allowing for greater levels
of collaboration, inquiry, analysis, and creativity. (p. 7)
Scores for each predominant use of educational technology described in this
item increase as the list progresses. According to the national StaR Chart,
then, technology use in what is typically described as “constructivist”
learning is preferable to technology used to “reinforce basic academic
skills.” Spivey (1997, p. 3) stated that constructivism is both a metaphor
and a theory; both a theoretical metaphor and a “metatheory,” characterized
by the “generative, organizational, and selective nature of human perception”:
Constructivists view people as constructive agents and view the phenomenon
of interest (meaning or knowledge) as built instead of passively “received”
by people whose ways of knowing, seeing, understanding, and valuing influence
what is known, seen, understood, and valued.
Though many educational technology leaders may prefer to teach and learn in
constructivist ways, it is time to question whether professional, political,
or personal penchants should dictate large-scale educational policy –
especially in democratic societies that value ideological diversity.
As these two assessment tool examples demonstrate, current understanding of
the nature and accomplishment of curriculum-based integration of educational
technologies – defined in Education and Technology: An Encyclopedia
(Kovalchick & Dawson, 2004) as “the effective integration of technology
throughout the curriculum to help students meet the standards and outcomes of
each lesson, unit, or activity” (Gunter & Baumbach, 2004, p. 193)—
is also framed as educational reform. Even the Encyclopedia’s
definition of “curriculum integration” specifies that in order to
…the role of the teacher must change to become that of a facilitator.
The teacher’s role changes from being the “sage on the stage”
to being the “guide on the side.” As teachers plan authentic learning
experiences that incorporate a variety of tools and technologies, they need
to be prepared to guide students through the learning experience. This requires
a good foundation in computer literacy, information literacy, and integration
literacy. Initially, teachers may be uncomfortable with the role of facilitator;
however, as students adjust and learn to be more responsible for their learning,
they will be more motivated and become better problem-solvers. (Gunter &
Baumbach, 2004, p. 194)
As discerning educators and researchers, we should question why teachers’
roles “must” change to integrate technology effectively into K-12
curricula. Surely the technologies themselves do not require this shift, as
current teacher-centered classroom uses demonstrate.
The educational technology rhetoric of the past two decades demonstrates a
basic confusion between technology integration – the pervasive and productive
use of educational technologies for purposes of learning and teaching—and
technology as a vehicle of educational reform (e.g., Means, 1994). In operational
terms, one notion does not necessarily imply or require the other, and it is
time for us to choose which of these two emphases will be our primary agenda.
Choosing an Agenda
Unfortunately, despite more than two decades of effort, technology as “Trojan
horse” for educational reform has succeeded in only a minority of K-12
contexts. In a 20-year retrospective on U.S. educational technology policy,
Culp, Honey, and Mandinach (2003) expressed the mismatch between educational
technology leaders’ visions and how most practitioners use digital tools
in the following way:
Technological innovations favored by the research community,
intended to support inquiry, collaboration, or re-configured relationships
among students and teachers continue to be used by only a tiny percentage
of America’s teachers….Instead, teachers are turning to tools
like presentation software, resources like student-friendly information sources
on the Internet, and management tools like school-wide data systems to support
and improve upon their existing practices… (p. 22).
McCormick and Scrimshaw (2001) characterized such uses for
information and communication technologies as “efficiency aids”
and “extension devices,” clearly differentiating them from “transformative
devices” (p. 31), which “transform the nature of a subject at the
most fundamental level” (p. 47). Interestingly, these authors suggested
that such curricular transformation happens only in those few content areas
(e.g., music, literacy, and art) that are “largely defined by the media
they use” (p. 47).
The U.S. National Educational Technology Plan (U.S. Department of Education,
2005) described the mismatch between educational technology leaders’ visions
and educators’ practices in simpler and more evaluative terms: "Yet,
we have not realized the promise of technology in education….Computers,
instead of transforming education, were often shunted to a ‘computer room,’
where they were little used and poorly maintained."
Does the “promise” of technology integration necessarily require
bottom-line educational transformation? Dexter, Anderson, and Becker (1999)
said that there is “a strong need to revise the image of computer as catalyst
of instructional change” (p. 237). Though teachers in the nationally representative
sample they studied acknowledged that computers helped them to change instructional
practice over time, they cited experience, organized professional learning,
and school culture as the primary factors provoking instructional changes. Educational
technology use, it turns out, is no Trojan horse, despite the wishes and hopes
of many of its advocates.
In addition, and perhaps more importantly, there are ethical difficulties with
assuming that educational technology use “should” favor student-centered,
constructivist modes of learning and teaching. In districts in which teachers’
academic freedom is preserved—at least in part—aren’t the
pedagogical approaches to be used the result of decisions that each teacher
makes, preferably rooted in a well-informed knowledge base of both students’
learning needs and preferences and corresponding methodological alternatives?
Can it really be assumed that a particular approach “works best”
in all teaching, learning, school, district, and community contexts?
If the goals of technology integration are separated from the goals of educational
reform, teacher educators are faced with an important choice. Should we, as
educational technology leaders, concentrate our efforts upon developing, testing,
and disseminating a wide range of educational technology uses that support a
broad spectrum of pedagogical approaches? Or should we recommit—and state
publicly—our intention to help schools change the nature of teaching and
learning through particular applications of digital technologies?
Considering that the latter choice has been the largely unstated (and, arguably,
unsuccessful) agenda for the past 20 years of educational technology work, perhaps
a new approach is warranted at this point in time—one that genuinely respects
pedagogical plurality and honors teachers’ academic freedom. In choosing
differently, we would also commit our efforts in a different direction: to broaden
our research and development work to encompass many different digitally supported
instructional strategies while trusting our colleagues to consider and choose
appropriately among all of them.
The choice suggested here is not an easy one to make, since many educational
technology leaders—this author included—may have entered the field
with not-so-hidden educational reform agendas of our own. Still, I urge us to
consider seriously whether it is more appropriate to try to change the nature
of teaching and learning through the integration of educational technologies—or
to help teachers and learners use appropriate curriculum-based technological
applications more pervasively in all of their varied forms.
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College of William and Mary