Six Lingering Obstacles to Using Technology in Schools

| June 20, 2012 | 8 Comments
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Flickr:Marygrove College Library

Though educators are finding smart ways to integrate technology and learning, the road has been and continues to be challenging on multiple fronts. The NMC Horizon Report: 2012 K-12 Edition, a collaboration between the New Media Consortium, the Consortium for School Networking, and the International Society for Technology in Education, takes the birds-eye view and encapsulates some of the significant challenges that must still be addressed and offers the following assessment.

Behind the challenges listed here is also a pervasive sense that local and organizational constraints are likely the most important factors in any decision to adopt — or not to adopt — a given technology. Even K-12 institutions that are eager to adopt new technologies may be constrained by school policies, the lack of necessary human resources, and the financial wherewithal to realize their ideas. Still others are located within buildings that simply were not designed to provide the radio frequency transparency that wireless technologies require, and thus find themselves shut out of many potential technology options. While acknowledging that local barriers to technology adoptions are many and significant, the advisory board focused its discussions on challenges that are common to the K-12 community as a whole. The highest ranked challenges they identified are listed here, in the order in which the advisory board ranked them.

1. Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession, especially teaching. This challenge appears at the top of the list because despite the widespread agreement on the importance of digital media literacy, training in the supporting skills and techniques is still very rare in teacher education. As classroom professionals begin to realize that they are limiting their students by not helping them to develop and use digital media literacy skills across the curriculum, the lack of formal training is being offset through professional development or informal learning, but we are far from seeing digital media literacy as a norm. This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that digital literacy is less about tools and more about thinking, and thus skills and standards based on tools and platforms have proven to be somewhat ephemeral.

2. K-12 must address the increased blending of formal and informal learning. Traditional lectures and subsequent testing are still dominant learning vehicles in schools. In order for students to get a well- rounded education with real world experience, they must also engage in more informal in-class activities as well as learning to learn outside the classroom. Most schools are not encouraging students to do any of this, nor to experiment and take risks with their learning — but a new model, called the “flipped classroom,” is opening the door to new approaches. The flipped classroom uses the abundance of videos on the Internet to allow students to learn new concepts and material outside of school, thus preserving class time for discussions, collaborations with classmates, problem solving, and experimentation. The approach is not a panacea, and designing an effective blended learning model is key, but the growing success of the many non- traditional alternatives to schools that are using more informal approaches indicates that this trend is here to stay for some time.

3. The demand for personalized learning is not adequately supported by current technology or practices. The increasing demand for education that is customized to each student’s unique needs is driving the development of new technologies that provide more learner choice and control and allow for differentiated instruction, but there remains a gap between the vision and the tools needed to achieve it. It has become clear that one-size-fits-all teaching methods are neither effective nor acceptable for today’s diverse students. Technology can and should support individual choices about access to materials and expertise, amount and type of educational content, and methods of teaching.

4. Institutional barriers present formidable challenges to moving forward in a constructive way with emerging technologies. A key challenge is the fundamental structure of the K-12 education establishment — aka “the system.” As long as maintaining the basic elements of the existing system remains the focus of efforts to support education, there will be resistance to any profound change in practice. Learners have increasing opportunities to take their education into their own hands, and options like informal education, online education, and home-based learning are attracting students away from traditional educational settings. If the system is to remain relevant it must adapt, but major change comes hard in education. Too often it is education’s own processes and practices that limit broader uptake of new technologies.

5. Learning that incorporates real life experiences is not occurring enough and is undervalued when it does take place. This challenge is an important one in K-12 schools, because it can greatly impact the engagement of students who are seeking some connection between the world as they know it exists outside of school, and their experiences in school that are meant to prepare them for that world. Use of project-based learning practices that incorporate real- life experiences, technology and tools that are already familiar to students, and mentoring from community members are examples of practices that can bring the real world into the classroom. Practices like these may help retain students in school and prepare them for further education, careers, and citizenship in a way that traditional practices are failing to do.

6. Many activities related to learning and education take place outside the walls of the classroom and thus are not part of traditional learning metrics. Students can take advantage of learning material online, through games and programs they may have on systems at home, and through their extensive — and constantly available — social networks. The experiences that happen in and around these venues are difficult to tie back to the classroom, as they tend to happen serendipitously and in response to an immediate need for knowledge, rather than being related to topics currently being studied in school.These trends and challenges are a reflection of the impact of technology that is occurring in almost every aspect of our lives. They are indicative of the changing nature of the way we communicate, access information, connect with peers and colleagues, learn, and even socialize.

Taken together, they provided the advisory board a frame through which to consider the potential impacts of nearly 50 emerging technologies and related practices that were analyzed and discussed for possible inclusion in this edition of the NMC Horizon Report series. Six of those were chosen through successive rounds of ranking and have been identified as “Technologies to Watch.” They each have been placed on one of three possible adoption horizon that span the coming five years, and are detailed in the main body of the report, which follows.

Gathering data from research, as well as the expertise of an advisory board, the report also includes noted trends in emerging technologies and challenges and examines each criteria in detail.

The report can be read in full by registering here, and can be accessed on mobile devices here.

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  • Anonymous

    I say, thank god there are some obstacles. Let’s just hope they can’t be overcome.

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  • Ward

    There are just two big obstacles:
    1. There is not enough money for infrastructure, hardware and software.
    2. Once studnets do use computers and the Internet, the huge amount of off-task, surfing, texting, gameplaying and other off task behavior negates any learning.

  • http://k12educationaltechnology.wikispaces.com/ Scott L Coletti

    Does this report matter?  My son has access, tools, and parents who understand. He speaks to the computer and it types for him, his writing is prolific and deep, thus 5th grade composition standards are a joke. He uses gestural navigation with zero training, points the iPad skyward and contextually learns astronomy almost instantly. He snaps pictures of new rocks found for his collection while simultaneously finding information about that specific rock. He watches video on demand, and at practice views a swimmers turn as he learns the skill at the edge of the pool; he did the same thing learning proper bowling approach. He finds weather stations using GPS and compares the current ground truth against forecast and broadcast. He follows his mother’s jet as she flies to and from grandma’s house (video telephone with grandma is a reality). His life is enriched by commonplace timeshifting woven into real events; time lapse, slo-mo and high-speed photography yield understanding. He knows much more than the visual spectrum from the EMS as it serves him, understanding invisible things are real and useful to us in different ways. To move from guitar to cello he was able to compare classic instruments with electronic online. Hearing someone (an adult) say that there is only one English translation of our Bible he is simultaneously shown 5 good ones worthy of his attention. In an ongoing fashion he is made aware of climate change, and through that, saw graphic evidence of the plight of the great polar bear. Such indignation and childlike exuberance birthed needing to do something now and a letter to the president fit. 
    I could go on talking about simulations and how much he has learned by flying X-Plane,  racing vehicles on hundreds of tracks, and worked out in the living room in the middle of winter using Wii, but if da Vinci is right, “There are three classes of people: those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see.” 
    Addendum: If Maria Montessori were alive she would be knee-deep in the thick of it figuring out the practical utility of these amazing tools.
    What will their lives look like in the year 2025? Does this report matter? Yes and no.
    Scott L Coletti

  • dixf49

    A digital immigrant here–I love to use technology for both learning and teaching but we have a long way to go to make effective use of it.  While most 3rd graders have adapted to a universal code of conduct in terms of behavior, few high school students have any grasp of what is or is not acceptable or effective use of technology.  Digital immigrants–teachers–are still in the classroom dealing with endless distractions on the one hand and overbearing tech administrators on the other.   It may take a generation before the situation improves to where digital natives are teaching students without ‘big brother’ screening every usage.    Until then most students are surface surfing on the sly with little depth of study of any value or importance.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IYCAR6JO64D5C3BJK6NA6OBJHU SuzanneN

    While  I agree that the article’s blocks in pedagogical thinking are very real, I think there are also some roadblocks that keep teachers from using technology more often or more deeply.
    1) Time — finding ways to meaningfully integrate new technologies take time, a often teachers don’t have it.
    2) Constant changes in technology — Too often teachers find that they can sink hours and hours into developing a technology-centered unit, lessons, etc., only to find that the district no longer supports their program, software, hardware, etc. after just a year or two.  Teachers need to be assured that the time they invest will buy them something that they can use for at least a few years.
    3) Reliability — When classroom teachers use technology, it needs to work reliably, it needs to work NOW, and it needs to work and be usable for each student in the class.  They don’t have 20 minutes to call IT or to troubleshoot.  So if it’s not reliable, they will decide it isn’t a productive use of class time and they won’t use it.
    3a) This means the district or school needs to not just invest in technology, but invest in keeping it reliable.  I’ve seen many times when a district invests in a fancy new computer lab, but doesn’t invest in a a person to help maintain it.  A lab of 25 computers, but where only 13 are usable, isn’t useful to a teacher who has a class of 30 students.
    4) Meaningful uses — technology needs to help teachers do something new, not just provide a fancier way to do the same stuff.  This is where professional training can be helpful.

    Until schools address all these issues, teachers won’t use technology consistently, and it’s not fair to blame them when the underlying issues aren’t their fault.  If schools want teachers to use technology, they need to train teachers to use it, give them time to adapt it, make sure it works, and support it over the long term.

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  • http://www.bastiansolutions.com/ Jeff Sawaya

    Well, it all starts at the top. School districts need to have a couple employees set aside to research more and more about technology, Those employees need to figure out what will best increase the education of the students, then put it into action!