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Technology in Education: Barriers to Success



Back in 1986, Ohio educator and school administrator Howard Merriman bemoaned “the challenges brought by the incursion of technology into the schools.” He was talking about electric typewriters and programmable televisions, but 40 years later, the problem for schools remains the same, even if today’s technology is vastly different. As current educators try to adopt new technology, they should find Merriman’s impulse familiar as they ask themselves how schools can ensure holistic integration across all grades, subjects and teachers.

What Is Technology Integration?

It’s more than teachers and students using computers or simply putting course materials online. However, it doesn’t mean having students on computers all the time, either.

ISTE Standards call for preparing students to “thrive in a constantly evolving technology landscape,” so we can look to two helpful definitions of technology integration.

The first comes from researchers in Educational Technology Research and Development (2007): “the use of computing devices, such as desktop computers, laptops, handheld computers, software or internet in K-12 schools for instructional purposes.”

The second definition, from education researcher Nicola Yelland (2006), digs deeper into pedagogy: Technology integration means “creating contexts for authentic learning that use new technologies in integrated and meaningful ways to enhance the production of knowledge and the communication and dissemination of ideas.”

It’s clear technology shouldn’t just get put in the classroom. Schools must use careful planning so that technology enhances traditional learning and gives students vital skills needed to be critical thinkers in our digital age. As the next section shows, it’s not always easy, but the barriers can and must be overcome. The latest EdTech research is showing us how technology is teaching students to research, innovate, think globally, and teach each other.

Common Barriers to Technology in Schools

One simple barrier to technology integration has nothing to do with technology itself but with schools’ long histories of launching new reforms and initiatives, then failing to follow through or adequately equip teachers. Matt Collette documented several reforms at Queens’ Intermediate School 61, and cited “reform fatigue” as a major reason new initiatives fail. Schools in Wisconsin cite the same dynamic, calling it “initiative overload.”

One major study by Khe Foon Hew and Thomas Brush, published in Educational Technology Research and Development, identifies six main categories of barriers to technology integration:

  • Lack of resources, including time, access to equipment and technical support.
  • Lack of technology skills and knowledge, specifically in pedagogy and classroom management.
  • Institutional barriers, including leadership, class scheduling and school planning.
  • Teachers’ attitudes and beliefs about technology’s benefits and relevance.
  • Assessment pressures, including high-stakes testing.
  • Subject culture, including how technology fits with general attitudes and institutionalized practices of an area of study.

Similarly, David Nagel identifies six barriers in The Journal:

  • Lack of adequate, ongoing professional development.
  • Resistance to change.
  • Competition from new models for schooling.
  • Few opportunities for informal learning.
  • Failures in personalized learning.
  • Assessment gaps in implementing new practices.

Clearly, barriers exist in multiple forms and at multiple levels of the school structure. The next section will give examples of what can go wrong when schools fail to remove barriers before attempting to integrate technology in a school or district.

Lessons From Attempted Technology Integrations

Sometimes it’s unclear why technology integration fails and what exactly failure means. Examining past failures can help schools see what new best practices in technology integration will likely save time, money, and resources.

A 2011 New York Times profile of the Kyrene school district in Chandler, AZ, explores how a district that invested over $33 million in technology over six years still sees stagnant test scores across its schools. Ultimately, dynamic and appealing technology in every classroom did not lead to measurable results the state expected, and it remains unclear whether the Kyrene district followed a formal implementation plan.

Another report on the 2015 conference for the Consortium for School Networking, gave examples of school districts that struggled with technology integration. One unforeseen inconsistency popped up in the District of Columbia Public Schools, which began using Globaloria to allow “students to build their own computer games.” What the DC schools didn’t predict was that “students with high test scores in core academic subjects did not always create the best games… The scores don’t measure creativity or persistence.” There was no other plan in place to evaluate the benefits or student gains from the technology adoption. Another problem of inequality in Baltimore County Public Schools meant that some schools “with active PTAs, for instance, often had so much technology that they couldn’t use it all, while schools from poorer areas didn’t have the basics.” There could be no coherent technology integration plan while these inequalities remained unaddressed.

Our next blog in this series will focus on overcoming these barriers and success stories of implementing technology in education.