Findings: High School Teacher Tech Integration Study

During the 2009-2010 school year, I completed a year-long action research project titled, Experiences of High School Teachers in their use of Educational Technology. In it, I followed four high school teachers and 125 students as they integrated various technologies into their teaching and learning. I worked with the teachers to try new tools and develop lessons, and then carry out projects with their students throughout the year. The teachers used a variety of tools, including SMART Boards, PowerPoint, SMART Notebook, Desire2Learn, Audacity, Photo Story, Photoshop, Windows Movie Maker, iPod Touch, and a number of Web 2.0 tools in their classes. I interviewed each of the teachers for about two hours at the end of the year, and collected student surveys after each project.

I wanted share a number of findings regarding the teachers in my project. Some of the findings are predictable, and some are surprising. Perhaps you can add your ideas, thoughts, and comments to the discussion.

  • Traditional roles. The teachers agreed that high school teachers still teach in a traditional way, assuming that it is their responsibility to answer student questions and know more than the students 90% of the time.
  • Limited ways of learning in secondary classrooms. The teachers acknowledged that secondary education remains focused on reading and writing as the primary ways in which students learn and demonstrate their understanding.
  • Teacher motivation is key. The most imortant factor in successful technology implementation by teachers is personal motivation. The teachers in the study said that their willingness to use technology is fuelled by personal interest, an acknowledgement that students respond well to technology use, accountabilty through collaboration with other teachers and specialists, and the fundamental motivation to become a better teacher.
  • Technology is learned, not innate. The teachers said that they should not assume that students know how to use every aspect of technology, just because they have more experience with one or two areas. The teachers agreed also, that they should not be intimidated if they don’t have all of the answers. They pointed out that students often lack skill and understanding in ethical decision-making, problem-solving/troubleshooting, evaluating sources, and research, organization, and information synthesis.
  • Technology helps to differentiate learning. The teachers all believed that technology helps to differentiate and personalize learning for students. It sometimes gave students who were weak in reading and writing confidence and freedom to demonstrate understaning in different ways.
  • Know ‘why’. The teachers needed to understand the purpose of technology in the classroom before they could implement it successfully. They wanted to know: What are the learning outcomes? How can this help fulfill student needs? What is the best tool (or tools) to achieve these outcomes?
  • Time, relationships, and support. Predictably, all of the teachers said that they needed quality time, relationships, and support to develop comfort and understanding of technology applications in the classroom. They needed personalized, easily-accessible (just-in-time) professional development provided by people that they trust.
  • Career and transferrable skills. All of the teachers acknowledged that using technology helped students learn career and life skills that they will need in the future.
  • Independence vs. Reliance on support. The teachers said that as they become more confident using technology, they could be more independent, but that ‘just in time’ face-to-face support was vital to their learning. They offered no firm formula for building full teacher independence. Furthermore, there is a tough balance between complete independence and having the supports necessary to take bigger risks in using technology.
  • Teacher collaboration is difficult. All of the teachers had difficulty sharing and learning with other teachers, mostly because of barriers in the school culture. There were no mandated technology goals for the entire school or specific subject departments. A lack of time to collaborate was also a barrier. Furthermore, getting quick answers from a technology specialist saved teachers time and energy in their busy schedules so they preferred that type of support over trying to figure things out by themselves or with non-technology specialists.
  • Technology outcomes are separate. The teachers in the study considered technology learning outcomes to be separate from subject-specific curricular outcomes. They had yet to develop a direct, logical link between using technology tools and learning. I like to think of logical links as a natural extension of learning. Just as you would have gone straight to the library to find books for a research project in 1983, it should now be logical for people to use technology tools to learn every day. I hope that eventually, it will be natural to use technology in the classroom and that we no longer treat it as an ‘add-on’.

What do you think of the findings above? Can you add some notes, comments, or strategies to the mix?

(Image: Fuga dei cervelli, by Sinistra Ecologia Liberta. 2009. Available under a Creative Commons License.)