Five Obstacles to Technology Integration at a Small Liberal Arts University


By 2003 one would think that incorporating new technologies into undergraduate instruction and the regular use of computers in the classroom would be an accepted, widespread practice at a majority of U.S. higher education institutions. However, recent statistics show that this is not the case. "Out of every 10 teachers in this country, fewer than two seriously are users of computers and other information technologies in their classrooms (several times a week); three to four are occasional users (about once a month); and the rest - four to five teachers out of every 10 - never use the machines at all. ... Of those same 10 American teachers, about seven have computers at home and use them to prepare lessons, communicate with colleagues and friends, search the Internet and conduct personal business. In short, more teachers use computers at home more than at school" (Cuban 1999).

Linda Sax's faculty study (2000), collected from a national sample of 33,785 members at 378 colleges, universities and community colleges, mirrors Cuban's assessment. Her analysis indicates that a large percentage of faculty members are convinced by the benefits of computer use for students. The study also shows that faculty are using technology extensively for their own professional purposes, while a much smaller number develop computer-enhanced courses for undergraduates. "A full 87% of faculty agree that 'student use of computers enhances their learning.' ... 87% of all faculty communicate via e-mail at least twice a week, and 85% regularly use computers to write memos or letters. Faculty also use computers on a regular basis to work from home (55%), conduct scholarly writing (54%), create presentations (38%), conduct research using Internet resources (35%), and conduct data analysis (27%). In addition, 36% of faculty place or collect course assignments on the Internet and 22% use computers in undergraduate course instruction" (Sax 2000).

There is even evidence that students respond more positively to the use of technology in their classroom learning experience. "Segmented models show media-enhanced courses having higher success and lower withdrawal rates than traditional or fully online courses. When media-enhanced and fully online classes are matched with traditional sections, media-enhanced versions are superior in having greater numbers of students succeeding with an A, B or C grade, and fewer withdrawals." (Hartman, Dziuban and Moskal 2000).

Yet, despite this preference on the part of students, only a relatively small percentage of teachers actively use technology during the teaching of their courses. Convincing faculty to put technology to use in the classroom is not the only hurdle computer integration faces on the campuses of today's small liberal arts institutions of higher learning. Other influential factors also combine with and foster this reluctance on the part of the faculty; thus, effectively blocking progress in this area.

An Enabling Environment

An "enabling environment" is a precondition to institutional change. These environments include: universal student access, reliable networks, multiple opportunities for training and consulting, and "a faculty ethos which values experimentation and toleration of falters." Even when these conditions are in place, transformation is neither easy nor automatic (Brown and Floyd 1999).

In an effort to encourage more faculty members on our campus to undertake computer enhancements with their courses, I assumed the role of faculty pedagogical technology facilitator at Hollins University, a small liberal arts university for women. My job included making presentations to the faculty, illustrating how to integrate technology into their courses; working directly with individual faculty members to incorporate technology in their respective disciplines; holding workshops on applied technology for teachers; doing research into technology integration and distance learning; and advising the administration on technology issues from a faculty point of view.

After a year, I became acutely aware that only a small number of individual faculty members were embracing the use of technology in the classroom, while others were recommending Web sites to their students for review or keeping in touch with students via e-mail. But, the majority was only interested in using technology for their own professional purposes, such as word processing, Internet home pages, spreadsheet gradebooks and e-mail. I believe that this result was the product of five obstacles that discouraged and prevented widespread classroom technology integration on our campus.

Obstacle 1:

Lack of a Clear Vision

The above conclusion aptly applies to the situation at Hollins University. Although the school d'es meet the criteria of "equity, predictability, convenience and security" for an enabling environment, transformation has eluded us (Brown and Floyd 1999). I believe that, even with an enabling environment in place, the lack of a clear vision on the part of the institution itself provides the first obstacle to campuswide classroom technology integration. Several key decisions on significant technology issues affected the entire university community, including the adoption of Microsoft Office products as the institution standard, the choice of Blackboard as the campus course-management software and the implementation of Campus Pipeline as the university's Web portal. These decisions were made by the administration with the input of an ad hoc faculty/staff committee, but there is still no overall vision for classroom technology integration at Hollins. This phenomenon is not uncommon today at institutions of higher learning.

Without a clear vision or strategy for implementing technology integration in classrooms across campus, faculty members are left to devise their own plans of action. This leads to a disparate assortment of technology applications with specific, individual needs that often put an enormous strain on the available technology support system. According to a survey from the American Association for History and Computing, "a majority - 65% - of the almost 500 professors who responded to the survey called their institutions' technology policies misguided or insufficient" (Trinkle 1999). However, in general, faculty are not willing to proceed without clarification nor eager to step forward in order to fill the void created when institutional vision is lacking.

Obstacle 2:

Lack of Leadership

The second obstacle, which blocks progress toward classroom technology integration, flows directly from the first. In the absence of a well-articulated vision, a lack of leadership is created. Proactive, visible leadership from senior administrators is essential to the technological transformation of a university campus. In our particular case, the president of the university often spoke about the need to integrate technology at Hollins, even making technology one of her annual campus priorities. Her support, however, remained general and unfocused, not producing specific programs or directives for the faculty.

The university's vice president for academic affairs worked diligently to provide opportunities for faculty development through our association with the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges. He agreed to release time for me to assume the duties of the faculty pedagogical technology facilitator. Yet, he never took on a visible technology leadership role himself; not even to the point of using a Blackboard site for an English course he taught.

And although Hollins had a dean of the library and information services, this position did not offer leadership to the faculty regarding pedagogical applications of technology. Instead, the position made decisions about infrastructure, administrative software, and which course management software and Web portal programs the university should adopt.

Our director of instructional technology and development interacted directly with the faculty regarding teaching with technology by offering workshops, administering grant funds and programs, and providing technical support for classes. However, as a member of the computer services personnel, she was not in a position to provide the leadership in a pedagogical integration of technology that would transform the campus.

In my role as technology facilitator, I e-mailed faculty monthly tech tips, as well as gave numerous workshops and presentations. Thus, I had a high-recognition profile among faculty as someone to turn to with technology questions; and faculty felt very comfortable coming to me for help. But, despite this opportunity for influence, my position remained predominantly one of support and not of leadership.

Obstacle 3:

Lack of Critical Mass

The lack of a vision and leadership translates to a lack of commitment of resources, which, at Hollins, produced a lack of critical mass of technology in classrooms across the campus. Although Hollins has three computer labs and four classrooms with permanent teacher workstations, projection units and Internet connections, this array of equipment d'es not provide the majority of faculty with access to the kind of machinery it needs in order to incorporate technology into teaching on a daily basis. Without permanently available, reliable machinery in a majority of classrooms, faculty do not feel drawn or compelled to incorporate technology into their lessons.

The preplanning effort - necessary to have a projection system, laptop and screen brought by computer services into a classroom that d'es not have a permanent setup - and the added concern of verifying that the Internet connection is activated in a specific classroom adds another layer of work on top of an educator's regular teaching duties. This is not conducive to encouraging technology integration in the classroom. And until faculty can easily count on having the equipment they need in the classroom, the majority will not readily put forth the extra effort it takes to incorporate education technology into their courses.

Obstacle 4:

Lack of Incentive

The lack of stable computer workstations, Internet connections and projection systems in a large percentage of classrooms at Hollins serves as a visible demonstration of a lack of incentive for faculty to integrate technology into their teaching. However, this lack of incentive for faculty to transform their teaching by using technology surfaces in other areas as well. For example, in the National Learning Infrastructure Initiative's "Best Practices in Faculty Engagement and Support" survey (2000), results clearly show that the minority of faculty who make an effort to bring technology into their classrooms usually are not financially or otherwise encouraged or compensated for their efforts. These educators must find their rewards in improved student performance and a personal sense of doing a better teaching job.

The overwhelming (70%) response was that there were no outside incentives provided to initiate these changes. The central reason given for undertaking these innovations was that it "was the right thing to do" or "the students deserved to have the quality of their education improved." In addition, several of those surveyed indicated there were actually disincentives that marked their work.

At Hollins University, monetary incentives for technology integration invariably took the form of small subsidies from grant monies received through our participation in the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges and from the vice president for academic affairs' discretionary funds. On rare occasions, release time was also given to pursue pedagogical integration of technology. Numerous workshops, supported by grant funds, were also provided for faculty to foster interest in computer integration.

However, an amendment to the faculty handbook description regarding tenure and the use of technology in the classroom was never implemented. An addition to the annual faculty report on professional activities pertaining to incorporation of technology into classroom teaching was not approved, and an opportunity to encourage faculty participation through even this small incentive was lost. As Friedheim and Jaffe (1999) found: "Integrating new media into the classroom is hard work," and the likelihood that a majority of faculty will pursue significant technological changes in their classrooms is slim without the appropriate incentives.

Obstacle 5:

Lack of Faculty Participation

The first four obstacles combine to promote the most visible impediment to classroom technology integration: lack of direct faculty participation. Specifically, faculty reluctance to take on technology integration projects in the classroom and faculty apathy regarding pedagogical applications of technology in their disciplines. As the "Best Practices in Faculty Engagement and Support" report (Brown and Floyd 1999) illustrates, entrepreneurial faculty - those who pursue pedagogical technology integration because it's good teaching - will engage in technology integration no matter what.

Other considerations have little effect on their decisions of whether or not to incorporate pedagogical technology into their instructional practices. It is the second wave of faculty, a much larger percentage of the whole, who are more risk aversive and who hesitate to take on technology projects without clear signs in a number of areas that their work is a desired activity, that it will be well supported and that it will be adequately rewarded. For these faculty members, insurmountable obstacles provide them with compelling reasons not to engage in classroom technology integration.

David G. Brown, vice president, dean of the International Center for Computer Enhanced Learning, and professor of economics at Wake Forrest University, held a workshop for faculty at Hollins last year. When asked how many faculty members at his institution actually used computer technology in the classroom as a regular teaching tool, he estimated that of the more than 500 professors teaching at Wake Forrest, excluding the computer science faculty, only about 50 faculty members (10%) actually used computers in their classrooms to teach on a regular basis. At Hollins, out of nearly 80 faculty members, around 10 (12%), excluding the computer science faculty, are regular users of technology for instructional purposes.

These figures underscore the fact that only a small percentage of faculty at both of these private institutions have recognized and accepted the conclusions of the study conducted by the American Association for History and Computing. The study suggests "that the most effective use of instructional technology is being made in small-class settings, where technology is being adopted not just to promote efficiency and ameliorate crowded classrooms, but to be integrated into classes that also provide face-to-face interaction" (Trinkle 1999). These numbers also highlight the fact that this level of faculty participation is not out of the ordinary.


Facilitation of an integration of classroom technology across campus can be viewed as a pyramid consisting of vision, leadership, access to machinery, incentives and faculty participation (see Figure 1 below).

At any institution with an enabling environment - one that provides "universal student access, reliable networks, multiple opportunities for training and consulting and 'a faculty ethos which values experimentation and toleration of falters'" - if any of the first four essential elements in this classroom technology integration pyramid are missing, a high percentage of activity in faculty participation will be greatly inhibited (Hartman, Dziuban and Moskal 2000). Also, it's not unusual for blame to be placed on the faculty for a lack of participation in incorporating pedagogical technology.

But, this is a misleading perception. The very obstacles that serve to limit faculty participation come from the lack of one or more of the other fundamental factors that work together as a whole to achieve technology integration in classroom teaching practices. It is difficult to identify obstacles that we cannot see and are not visibly blocking our way, because they arise from a lack of a necessary element in the required scheme. However, it is essential for educators to recognize that there are five important areas of consequence, and each of these areas is indispensable to the success of the entire endeavor.


Brown, D., and E. Floyd. 1999. "Best Practices in Faculty Development." Multiversity Winter.

Cuban, L. 1999. "The Technology Puzzle." Education Week 4 August: 47, 68. Online:

Friedheim, W., and D. Jaffe. 1999. "From the Electronic Classroom." Academe September-October: 56-60.

Hartman, J., C. Dziuban and P. Moskal. 2000. "Faculty Satisfaction in ALNs: A Dependent or Independent Variable?" Proceedings of the 1999 Sloan Summer Workshop on Asynchro-nous Learning Networks. Ed. J. Bourne: 151-172. Nashville, Tenn.: Center for Asynchronous Learning Networks at Vanderbilt University.

National Learning Infrastructure Initiative. 2000. "Best Practices in Faculty Engagement and Support." Draft whitepaper for focus session. Seattle, WA. Online:

Sax, L. 2000. "An Overview of the 1998-99 Faculty Norms." Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA.

Trinkle, D. 1999. "Distance Education: A Means to an End, No More, No Less." Chronicle of Higher Education 6 Aug.: A60.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.