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New Insights on Technology Adoption in Schools

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We know that the Internet affects student learning, but the research about how teachers adopt technology and telecommunications and use it to enrich teaching and learning is still ongoing. We have found that Hall and Hord’s Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM) (1987) and Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations (1995) framework need extension in order to describe the systemic process in which technological, individual, organizational and pedagogical factors interact throughout the life span of an instructional technology program.

An Integrated Technology Adoption and Diffusion Model

Through our evaluations of several educational technology initiatives, especially the Boulder Valley Internet Project (Sherry, Lawyer-Brook and Black 1997; Sherry 1997), we found that teachers generally go through four distinct stages as they develop expertise with the Internet and the World Wide Web. Our Integrated Technology Adoption and Diffusion Model (Sherry 1998; Sherry 1999) describes a learning and adoption trajectory. In other words, a cyclic process in which teachers evolve from learners (teacher-trainees) to adopters of educational technology, to co-learners/co-explorers with their students in the classroom and, finally, to a reaffirmation/rejection decision.

It is at this final stage that teachers decide whether the use of telecommunications to enhance teaching and learning is working for them. Is the use of telecommunications contributing to their self-efficacy as teachers? Is it compatible with their personal vision of learning, and worth the time and effort that they have put into mastering a new set of skills?

Figure 1 depicts our "new model" of the learning/adoption trajectory. In this research-based model, the "reaffirmers" go on to build capacity within their school and among their fellow teachers. They assist their colleagues with troubleshooting equipment, give in-service sessions at their schools, serve on technology planning committees, and become the new round of peer trainers and change agents for their colleagues. If they move to another school, they continue operating at this level, thereby adding a portability dimension to their skills.

At each of these four stages, there are professional development strategies that work. For example, training may be more appropriate once an "advertising campaign" that informs teachers, parents and administrators about student successes and promising educational practices using technology in the classroom is in place. Learning communities can also be more easily formed at later stages.

Further Evolution of the Technology Adoption Model

Based on three years of evaluation of The WEB Project (http://www.webproject.org), a Technology Innovation Challenge Grant in Vermont, we found that the learning/adoption trajectory model was validated (Sherry, L., Billig, S. and Perry, S. 1999). Data for the 1998-99 academic year for The WEB Project were gathered from numerous sources. These include interviews, focus groups, classroom observation, surveys of students, teachers, and administrators, threaded discussions, student projects posted on The WEB Exchange Web site, and many more. A cross-case analysis was performed between participating sites to identify general trends, and data were analyzed to ascertain the project’s early impact on student performance.

The WEB Project stresses using online conversation to engage in dialogue about works of literature and current events, as well as for improving student products and performances in the arts and humanities. Along with the student/teacher forums, there are a number of forums that connect participating teachers, mentors, resident artists, musicians and other experts in a community of learners. Through these online conversations, teachers share ideas, common interests and concerns, and strategies for solving complex problems of practice. They also exchange messages of mutual support. As a result, The WEB Project community spans the classroom, the school, and the community-at-large, rather than being limited to a specific district or set of classrooms.

As instructional technology continues to evolve and to pervade educational institutions, our model, too, is evolving. When trends in the cross-case analysis of The WEB Project were compared with the original model of the Learning/Adoption Trajectory, it became clear that participants in The WEB Project had progressed beyond the teacher as co-learner and teacher as reaffirmer/rejecter stages. The traditional role of the teacher was being restructured. Professional networks of participating teachers were expanding, and teachers were sharing their ideas beyond the bounds of their schools and districts. They were creating and sharing standards and rubrics rather than simply following them. Expert teachers began to institute trainer-of-trainers programs at their schools or amongst their online learning networks, using students and peers as assistants and co-trainers.

Thus, in contrast with findings from earlier instructional technology projects, a fifth stage must be added to the model as it applies to The WEB Project: teacher as leader. In Table 1, effective strategies for the teacher as leader stage are added to the strategies for the other four stages.

In The WEB Project, the various strategies listed above served as facilitators for the teachers as they became more familiar and more comfortable with the use of technology for teaching and learning. The particular factors that facilitated adoption varied, depending upon the stage of implementation. For example, the types of professional development and support needed changed as teachers became more comfortable. On-site support became less important than online support. Similarly, curriculum integration was difficult at first as teachers struggled to learn technical skills, but then became more important in making long term decisions about adoption.

Organizational factors also played key roles. Administrative support and availability of time to experiment and develop lessons or units, as well as rubrics for assessment, influenced adoption and integration, as did the sheer accessibility of equipment. Technology plans and support within the school and the larger community also served as significant facilitators.

It appears that the sheer number of strategies being used influences student impact and project sustainability as well. In general, technology planning tends to emphasize the strategies that are appropriate for the first two stages. However, as teachers mature into co-learners and reaffirmers, and as their students begin to develop technological expertise, new strategies must be added to the traditional type of professional development afforded by schools and districts.

The WEB Project illustrates how those new strategies can be both consistent with recent research on professional development practices (Loucks-Horsley, Hewson, Love and Stiles 1998) and at the same time unique to technology infused projects. For example, immersion into the world of technology as a tool of expression, as well as into the real world of professionals who use technology, can be established by in-person experiences, and then sustained by online learning communities.

As in the WEB Project, a key new technology strategy is to keep a central focus on online professional and learner-centered exchanges that examine student work and products. The give and take among students, teachers and professionals helps all participants understand their own thinking strategies and the contexts of others. As the extension of our model indicates, the use of technology can evolve to expand the professional networks of educators. This includes involving them in collaborative professional development planning with technology professionals, as well as building the skills, knowledge and in-depth understanding of the content and pedagogy required for effective teaching and learning.

Site-based teams and virtual teams that comprise online learning networks must have a coherent, consistent vision that forges a strong connection between technology training, curriculum integration, and student performance assessment. Additionally, there must be a visible and valued incentive system in place. Although it is not necessary within a school for the principal to be a technology leader, it is essential that organizational support be visible. It is also important that this support represent a mandate for professional development in instructional technology, and that it be backed up with resources, structures, and strategies to provide sufficient time for training, practice, and authentic assessment of student products and performances.

 


Lorraine Sherry, Ph.D. has established a national reputation as an expert in technology in schools. Her work centers on the development of tools to help school and district personnel to increase the effectiveness of technology-enhanced instruction. She is the primary author of the Teachers’ Internet Use Guide, a Web-based tool that helps teachers align technology-based lessons to state standards. She has taught courses in information and learning technologies at the graduate and undergraduate levels.

Shelley H. Billig, Ph.D. has directed evaluation and research projects at the national, state and local levels, both in technology and other fields of study within education. She is currently heading a national project to establish a Service-Learning Research Network, and is co-director of several evaluation studies. She is the director of The Vermont WEB Project Technology Innovation Grant evaluation and has taught research methodology and statistics at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Fern Tavalin, Ph.D. currently co-directs The WEB Project. In this capacity, she has developed innovative uses of online communication for artistic expression, literature discussions and historical inquiry. Tavalin created the first Web-based classes to be offered in education at the University of Vermont in 1996, and specializes in the use of multimedia production for in-depth learning.

David Gibson, Ed.D. is Senior Associate for the National Institute for Community Innovations along with his role in the WEB Project. He is also the Professional Development Specialist for the Vermont Institute for Science, Mathematics and Technology, where he works on statewide systemic reform issues. He has taught a variety of courses in his visiting professor role at the University of Vermont.


References

Hall, G.E. and Hord, S.M. 1987. Change in Schools: Facilitating the Process. Albany, NY: State University of New York.

Loucks-Horsley, S., Hewson, P., Love, N. and Stiles, K. 1998. Designing Professional Development for Teachers of Science and Mathematics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, a Sage Publications Company.

Sherry, L., Billig, S. and Perry, S. 1999. The WEB Project: Evaluation. Available: RMC Research Corporation, 1512 Larimer Street, Suite 540, Denver, CO 80202.

Rogers, E.M. 1995. Diffusion of Innovations (4th Edition). NY: The Free Press.

Sherry, L. 1997, September. "The Boulder Valley Internet Project: Lessons learned." T.H.E. Journal, 68-72 (September).

Sherry, L. 1998. "An Integrated Technology Adoption and Diffusion Model." International Journal of Educational Telecommunications, 4 (2/3), 113-145.

Sherry, L. 1999. "Using the Internet to Enhance Standards-Based Instruction." Texas Study of Secondary Education, VIII (2), 19-22.

Sherry, L., Lawyer-Brook, D., and Black, L. 1997. "Evaluation of the Boulder Valley Internet Project: A Theory-Based Approach." Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 8 (2), 199-234.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.

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