Being Mobile Blog

The 11 Barriers to Technology Adoption

We have said it before — and been beaten up for saying it, by the way — but we will say it again: to a first approximation, the impact of 50 years of computing technologies on K-12 education has been zero.  

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in…. In your class, technology has made a huge difference. Got it. But in your school? In your school district? In your state? In the U.S.? What we can say now is that technology has made it easier and more cost-effective to drill children. Yawn.

Why is this? There are lots of good technologies out there, and you are using them. So why hasn’t technology had a positive impact (beyond drilling) on teaching and learning?

Based on our more than 30 years in working with schools in the U.S. and more than seven recent years working in schools in Singapore, we have come up with a list of barriers that need to be addressed if technology is going to have an impact beyond the isolated classroom. (We're talking about personalized learning, and that’s not a cheap shot!)  

We write this list not to depress you, dear reader. While it might initially have that effect, the wonderful news is this: The barriers can be broken down! Technology can be made to scale beyond isolated classrooms! So first, let’s list the barriers, and then in a later popst we‘ll talk about how we’re addressing these barriers in schools in Singapore.

1) Lack of vision. There is no shortage of excuses for not taking the time to look into the future. The first barrier to technology adoption is not looking past one’s proboscis and seeing that “the future is here already; it is just not very evenly distributed” (William Gibson). 

2) Lack of leadership. In all organizations, leadership is critically important. A leader sets out the vision and a leader makes that vision feel possible to attain. From cajoling reluctant teachers to providing extra resources, from giving words of encouragement when things (invariably) go awry to providing extra resources, a real leader inspires confidence and comes through with those extra resources that are absolutely needed to make an innovation happen. And when complaints arise due to slow networks, buggy software or incomplete instructions, a real leader doesn’t make the technology optional; that’s the kiss of death for the innovation. Instead, a real leader says some version of this: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

3) “We don’t have the money.” In K-12 education, money is indeed in short supply. But isn’t it curious that money seems to be found for those things that the principal or the superintendent thinks are important? So when technology becomes important, money will be found.

4) and 5) Lack of curriculum and lack of curriculum. When “New Math” came into classrooms in the late 1970s, math teachers were provided with professionally generated curriculum materials. When graphing calculators came into classrooms in the 1990s, Texas Instruments was there with professionally generated curriculum materials.

There is a lesson here! As schools now move to 1-to-1 via BYOD, administrators can’t expect to be successful on the backs of teacher-generated curriculum materials. Teachers are not curriculum producers; teachers are, well, teachers!

It is incumbent upon technology providers to follow TI’s lead. Lack of curriculum to support classroom teachers in using technology is such an impediment that we have made it two barriers wide.

6) Teacher change. There is great debate in education today between moving to a project-based, inquiry-oriented pedagogy or sticking with direct-instruction pedagogy. With the latter, there is no need for teachers to change. But for the former, well, therein lies the rub. It’s hard to change one’s practices, especially when one feels one is successful. Hard is too weak a word: It is nigh unto impossible! One-day PD workshops are not the answer, that’s for sure. Even with curriculum, changing one’s instructional practices is a tough, tough assignment.

7) Student change. Here’s a very telling story: When an early adopting science teacher visited a third-grade classroom to demonstrate the inquiry-oriented pedagogical practice of “fostering conversation through question asking," one student piped up: “Why are you asking us questions? Your job is provide us with answers, not questions.” While the story is from Singapore, students the world over have expectations based on years of classroom experiences.  Students need to learn how to do really good research with technology, not just find one word answers for fill-in-the-blank questions.

8) Infrastructure. Just as America’s roads and bridges need refurbishing due to changes in what travels on those highways, K-12’s infrastructure needs refurbishing and, most importantly, a rethink. Providing robust WiFi to support 1-to-1 learning is a still a significant challenge for many schools. 

Perhaps the new ConnectED initiative recently announced by the Obama administration will help (finally) bring the Internet to America’s schools. But an in-school Internet connection isn’t enough! To support all-the-time, everywhere learning, students need 24/7 access to the Internet. We need imaginative organizations like Kajeet, with its cigarette-box-sized modem that turns cellular connectivity into WiFi at prices that even troubled districts like Detroit Public Schools, can afford.

Currently, it is rare for a school to have a university as a partner. But just as providing feedback to students on their performance is important, teachers, too, need feedback on their performance, and working with a university partner in a trusting relationship can be a win-win. Indeed, schooling needs an ecosystem composed of a broad range of partnerships, companies that provide students with jobs and counseling services that can address diverse students' needs.

9) Parent change. “I didn’t learn that way, so why does my child need to use technology?” We have heard that comment over and over and over again. Our response: "This isn’t about you, parents, it’s about your child." And for kids these days, technology is not just another tool; technology is an integral part of the way the youth of today live their lives.

10) Taking the time to change. Technological change can sometimes happen in a short amount of time (look how fast online music put the CD out of business). In education, though, where economics isn’t the driver of change, we need to be patient.  See barriers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 11. (That one is just really slow to change!) Schools have a history of implementing the “fix du jour,” where new innovations are rolled in…and rolled out! 

11) The 800-pound gorilla in the classroom: assessment. It would be unethical and unconscionable if a teacher did not prepare her or his students to do well on high-stakes tests. That said, to what degree do the tests drive the instruction?

  • An NEA survey found that: “Fifty-two percent of teachers surveyed said they spend too much time on testing and test prep.”
  • A recent poll of parents in New Jersey found that:  “81 percent of parents are concerned that 'teachers are forced to teach to the test.' ”  

Apparently, then, testing takes up a significant amount of class time. And what are the tests teaching?

As teacher Connie Fawcett put it, “I would much rather help students learn how to conduct research and how to discuss and how to explore controversies and how to complete multitask projects than teach them how to recall this or that fact for an exam."

If the tests are about “this or that fact,” then it is not surprising that personalized learning, with its focus on competency-based learning of “this or that fact,”  is seeing significant adoption in U.S. schools. Personalized learning does increase test scores!

Technology Adoption Is Possible!

Technology adoption is not a task for the faint of heart, but success is absolutely possible.

  • Step 1: Tell us your story of technology adoption. Please add your comments to this blog!
  • Step 2: In a subsequent post, we will discuss how each of the barriers above is being addressed in a school in Singapore. And while Singapore is not Peoria, if it can be done in Singapore, it can be done in Peoria.