The Challenges of Changing Digital Culture

Culture as a concept is infamously hard to characterize but is one of the most important concepts in education. Kaplan and Owings (2013) suggest that school culture can be understood by established, yet unspoken assumptions, values, beliefs, practices and actions. Schein (2010) agrees, stating that an organisation’s culture is the intrinsic basic assumptions and beliefs held by its members.

Therefore, when Hodas (1993) suggests that, until recently, the last technologies to have a surviving impact on schools were the textbook and blackboard, it becomes immediately clear that for established norms and practices to change to incorporate digital technologies, a significant change in school-specific culture is required. There are of course immediate difficulties; computers and digital technology are not culturally neutral. By their very nature they change discourse and traditional means of communication as they influence classroom social interactions.

There lies the difficulty; a change to teaching style required by a shift in culture (due to the adoption of technology) involves movement of those teacher beliefs and assumptions which are often stable and resistant to change.  Without such a shift, combined with the cultural norms of contentment and comfort-zone mentality, purchased technology may never make it out of it’s box. In other words, higher levels of use are far more likely to occur when the perception of technological value is high and the physical resources low rather than the other way round.

Imperative in driving any such change in school culture is the role of leadership. Much of the responsibility to progress digital culture remains in the hands of school leaders as it is they who have the ability to determine the cultural norms and values and decide which technologies correlate with them. Indeed, Stoll (1998, p13) describes school leaders as “culture founders”, who are ultimately responsibility for changing culture by introducing new values and beliefs, whilst Schein (2010, p11) argues that perhaps the “only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture”.

Sharing a Vision

A good place to start for an effective school leader wishing to integrate technology within the culture of a school is to ensure they have a clear vision for the role of the educational technology in their context. Successful school leaders should facilitate the development and agreement of visions that encapsulate best practice with regard to teaching and learning. Indeed, McKinsey and Co (2010) investigated a number of educational systems worldwide to ascertain which factors consistently heralded improvement. They discovered that nearly every school leader they questioned confirmed that establishing both vision and direction were among the most significant attributes of their success. However, for the vision to be successfully realised, an effective school leader should ensure that it is established in conjunction with teachers, and even other members of the school community. Unless leaders share the formation of the school vision for how (and why) technology will enhance both teaching and learning, teachers may not be motivated to integrate it within their pedagogical approach.

Barriers to Culture Change

However, even after establishing a collaborative vision, changing culture, even in the most accommodating of settings, is difficult to achieve. Ertmer (2005) points out that the individual philosophical beliefs of teachers are not easily changed whilst Newhouse and Clarkson (2008) reported that a wide-variety of teachers were less than enthusiastic about the changes required to their pedagogical approach that were associated with the introduction of digital technologies into their everyday teaching.

Indeed, it is often the case that the more an approach is viewed as innovative, it becomes more likely that teachers will be skeptical and view it as a potential fad or threat. So how can school leaders combat these numerous challenges in their efforts to successfully embed a culture of using digital technology to enhance and improve learning? Ertmer (1999) has distinguished the various hurdles into two categories that highlight the importance of teachers internal charactieristics; ‘first-order barriers’ are external and unaccountable to teachers, whilst ‘second-order barriers’ are internal and reflect personal beliefs and attitudes.

First Order

  • Resources as a Key Variable

Typically, teachers cite a lack of resources as a major factor in their struggles to adopt digital technology into their curricula; including hardware, software, time and technical support. Any lack of access to relevant technological equipment is then (albeit understandably) used as reason for the underutilisation of classroom technology. After all, if there are no new computers or software installed and no technicians to install them, teachers would be less likely to break away from their everyday, pedagogical comfort zones.

In most schools, the overall school budget is managed by the senior leadership team. Gibson (2002) expresses his concern about the potential negative influence on technology adoption by those in charge of budgets who lack the required knowledge or understanding to buy the required resources to progress. Therefore, school leaders who wish to adopt and integrate technology will need to ensure that sensible and well planned finances are available.

However, literature indicates that even if plentiful resources are purchased, increased availability of digital hardware and software is not necessarily sufficient to encourage classroom integration (Gibson 2002, Ertmer 2005, Anderson and Dexter 2005). A comprehensive study by Cuban (2001) provided further evidence that increased access to computers, hardware and software does not always lead to widespread and beneficial classroom use. Possession of digital technology does not guarantee effective integration; of more importance is the teachers ability to know how to integrate it. School leaders who believe by simply purchasing technology their schools will suddenly witness mass integration will be sadly disappointed.

  • Time as a key variable

A valuable resource that does not break the bank is time; although it does represent another huge factor within this variable. During the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow project, researchers such as Sandholtz, Ringstaff, and Dwyer (1997, cited in Ertmer 2005) concluded that it takes five to six years to integrate technology to the extent advocated by constructivist (a view of learning in which people construct their own understanding and knowledge through experiencing things and then reflecting on those experiences) reform efforts. Therefore, school leaders who wish to adopt technology should not expect an overnight solution and should be willing to allow time for a successful adoption process to take place.

Second Order:

  • Modelling Behaviour as a Key Variable

Teachers who consider technology to be threatening would be more likely to adjust their normal practice to incorporate technology if a school leader can prove to them that it has advantages. For fundamental change to occur, leaders need to successfully model the new practices they expect to replace the old ones. Indeed, Stegall (1998) suggests that it is imperative school leaders consistently use digital technologies, read books about computers, take part in personal and professional  development opportunities, attend technology conferences, join technology organisations, find experts to help and give advice and take the opportunity to visit and critique schools that have successfully integrated technology into their curricula. These observations concur with the association between beliefs and personal experience as suggested by a theory proposed by Nespor (1987); if personal experience leads to the formation of beliefs then logic suggests changes to those beliefs could be effected through positive experiences. Therefore, if modelling good practice with technologies is itself to take place, school leaders need to create an environment of support and collaboration to maximise it’s success.

  • Teacher Knowledge as a Key Variable

Teacher knowledge has a huge impact on their classroom decisions, therefore it is imperative that school leaders help them to adequately develop and improve their knowledge systems if culture is to successfully develop. Interestingly, Shulman (1986) set out a framework that enabled the subsequent analysis of teacher knowledge by summarizing it into seven categories; pedagogical knowledge, content knowledge, knowledge of classroom management strategies, curricular knowledge, learner knowledge, context knowledge and knowledge about educational goals and beliefs. Three decades later it is evident that digital technology knowledge has emerged as a potential eighth category. However, it is not as simple as a teacher knowing how to switch on an interactive whiteboard or use an iPad.  For example, teachers who wish to efficiently adopt technology into their pedagogical approach need to be able to redesign curriculum, manage software and hardware and ascertain which technologies or applications allow successful integration and improved learning to take place. Therefore, school leaders must create a culture that ensures relevant teacher knowledge is given the chance to develop accordingly.

  • Teacher Beliefs as a Key Variable

Kagan (1992) suggests that often what teachers regard as their professional knowledge, could be considered more of a belief. Many of the tedious eduTwitter arguments between so-called progressive and traditional teachers corroborate this very point. Indeed, it is these attitudes that frequently carry more substance than knowledge when determining the behavior of teachers. Many other researchers concur that teachers’ beliefs concerning the value of technology and student learning were internal components that stopped teachers from utilising technology (Anderson and Dexter 2005, Zhou and Bryant 2006).  Teacher beliefs and, in some cases, innate resistance to change, is therefore another factor that could adversely affect a positive deviation in culture. Indeed, research by Honey and Moeller (1990) discovered that teachers with student-focused pedagogical beliefs were generally better at integrating technology whilst those with more traditional beliefs encountered much greater challenges to do so.  Furthermore, their observations saw that teachers with predominantly traditional beliefs generally implement less sophisticated technology use whilst those with constructivist beliefs implement a more student-centered pedagogical approach to technological integration. There are a number of potential factors involved with this but teachers with traditional beliefs may simply distrust the role of technology as they perceive it to detract from the relationship between teacher and student (Cuban 2001). Furthermore, many teachers  believe technology to simply be another weight added to their already overloaded list of responsibilities (Ertmer 2005).

However, Fang (1996) noted inconsistencies between teacher beliefs and what materializes in their classrooms. He goes on to suggest that actually contextual factors hindered teachers’ ability to routinely administer their beliefs in their classrooms. This means that there could be potential for school leaders to develop the foundations for change, when teachers have constructivist beliefs, via the establishment of a culture of innovation. However, school leaders must also be fully aware that teacher beliefs are seldom fully revised and “thus over time, become deeply personal, highly engrained, and extremely resistant to change” (Ertmer 2005, p13). Bingimlas (2009) probes a little deeper and concludes that resistance to change itself is not necessarily a barrier in it’s own right; perhaps, he suggests, it is a sign that something  is not right; why is their a resistance to change occuring?

Finally, Bandura (1997) argues that in some cases, even if a teacher does believe in the advantages of integrating digital technology within their pedagogy, the questions they have over their own ability – their self-efficacy to implement the change – will itself be a significant barrier.

  • Self Efficacy as a Key Variable

Without self efficacy both knowledge and belief in technology are insufficient to facilitate student learning (Ertmer and Ottenbreit 2010). Bandura (1997) describes self-efficacy as the belief in one‘s ability to organise and accomplish the required course of action to produce results. The significance of this, with regard to technological integration, was noted by Wozney, Venkatesh and Abrami (2006) who surveyed 764 teachers to discover one of the two highest predictors of technology use was their confidence of meeting their goals using the technology at their disposal. A survey by The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA 2004) concurred; the area that encouraged most responses about using technology in the classroom was “lack of confidence”. The same study concluded “many teachers who do not consider themselves to be well skilled in using ICT feel anxious about using it in front of a class of children who perhaps know more than they do”.

Leaders therefore should devote time and effort to raise teacher confidence to utilise technology, beyond simply administrative tasks, to accomplish and meet student learning objectives. One of the best options available to school leaders is the facilitation of positive experiences for teachers, with digital technology, within the context of their classroom. Successful personal experiences in which the potential of classroom technology is clearly articulated are most likely to build teacher confidence. In other words, the variable of modelling good practice with technology can improve self-efficacy.

In conclusion, awareness of first-order barriers will help school leaders address lack of technological self-efficacy. For example, giving sufficient time for teachers to get to know the technology and start to enjoy successful experiences with it are strategies school leaders could engage with. Furthermore, working alongside knowledgeable colleagues or encouraging staff to join professional learning communities could also help leaders to improve the self-efficacy of their colleagues.  Moreover, school leaders need to develop a culture of learning, where teachers know that opportunities for professional development will help improve their practice, skills and knowledge. Teachers need to be able to tailor their professional development for direct impact on their own practice and be afforded the opportunity to take responsibility for pedagogical improvement. When adopting new technologies or strategies successfully, they must become an everyday part of teachers’ repertoire with tangible results and positive impact in their classrooms. Indeed, if a school leader is able to increase confidence, offer positive experiences for teachers to improve their skills, knowledge and understanding, they are more likely establish self-efficacious behaviour. However, like teacher knowledge and beliefs, self-efficacy by itself is not enough to ensure technology is adopted in schools appropriately. Nevertheless, school leaders should take heed when considering that it is those individuals with a positive sense of efficacy that help to shape a culture that could ultimately overcome the significant challenges that occur in the adoption of technology.

References:

Anderson, R.E. & Dexter, S. (2005) School Technology Leadership: An Empirical Investigation of Prevalence and Effect. Educational Adminsitration Quarterly, 41: pp.49-82

Bandura, A. (1997) Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.

Bingimlas, K. (2009) Barriers to the Successful Integration of ICT in Teaching and Learning Environments: A Review of the Literature,Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science & Technology Education, pp.235-245.

BECTA (2004) A review of the research literature on barriers to the uptake of ICT by teacher.

Cuban, L. (2001) Oversold and underused: computers in the classroom. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ertmer, P (2005) Teacher Pedagogical Beliefs: The Final Frontier in Our Quest for Technology Integration? Educational Technology Research and Development, December 2005, 53(4): pp.25-39

Ertmer, P & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A (2010) Teacher Technology Change, Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 42(3): pp.255-284.

Fang, Z. (1996). A review of research on teacher beliefs and practices. Educational Research, 38(1): pp.47–65.

Gibson, Ian  (2002). Leadership, technology, and education: achieving a balance in new school leader thinking and behavior in preparation for twenty-first century global learning environments, Journal of Information Technology for Teacher Education, 11(3): pp.315-334

Hodas, S. (1993). Technology refusal and the organizational culture of schools. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 1(10).

Honey, M., & Moeller, B. (1990). Teachers’ beliefs and technology integration: Different values, different understandings. (Technical Report 6): Center For Technology in Education.

Kaplan, L. S. & Owings, W. A. (2013). School culture and change as learning. In Culture re-boot: Reinvigorating school culture to improve student outcomes (pp. 1-36). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press

McKinsey & Co. (2010) ‘How does a school system improve?’ [Online]. Available from: http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/social_sector/how_does_a_school_system_improve

Nespor, J. (1987). The role of beliefs in the practice of teaching. National Institute of Education, Washington DC.

Schein, E.H. (2010). Organizational culture and leadership. 4thed San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. p.6.

Shulman, L. S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2): pp.4-14.

Stegall, P (1998) The Principal – Key to Technology Implementation, Presentation at the National Catholic Education Association Convention April 15 1998. Available at: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED424614.pdf

Wozney L, Venkatesh V & Abrami P (2006), Implementing Computer Technologies: Teachers’ Perceptions and Practices, Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance Concordia University.

Zhao, Y., & Bryant, F. L. (2006) Can teacher technology integration training alone lead to high levels of technology integration? A qualitative look at teachers’ technology integration after state mandated technology training. Electronic Journal for the Integration of Technology in Education, 5: pp.53–62.

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