Resistance is Futile


Even as technology use grows embedded in education, some teachers still prefer the old ways. Here's how to make them understand that...

Resistance is FutileHOW ODD IT SHOULD SEEM THAT EVEN TODAY, with interactive whiteboards, content management systems, wireless broadband, handhelds, and every sort of sophisticated computing device penetrating and improving the classroom experience for students, David Roh, general manager for Follett Digital Resources can still say, "There are hundreds of reasons why teachers don't want to use the technology. Those are some very hard people to move."

They better get to movin' because the train isn't waiting for them: According to Education Market Research, spending on technology products for education is expected to increase 8 percent, to an estimated $8.1 billion for the 2010-2011 school year, from an estimated $7.5 billion for the 2008-2009 school year.

Exact figures on how many teachers do not use technology can only be guessed at; however, anecdotal evidence from vendors and school districts alike indicates resistance to technology adoption is still a problem among a significant portion of the teacher population. How can school districts get universal teacher buy-in for new technologies?

The simple answer is, they can't. But before trying to win over as many technology converts as possible, a district must take the first step of understanding why resistance exists within its teacher population. The second step is to carry out the solutions to help crack it.

1) It's All in the Delivery

With many teachers, the way a technology is introduced into the academic environment can mean the difference between adoption and abandonment. If teachers believe they are being forced into using it, they will resist, especially if you don't show them what value it will bring to their classroom.

I think the teachers feel a little embarrassed; they're not experts in this field. And it may be the first time they've not been an expert at something."

"It all starts with how you communicate with teachers," says Barbara Dunn, vice president of the Remediation and Training Institute in Alexandria, VA. "You can position technology as, 'This is what it does,' etc., and that's fine, but when you say, 'You must use it,' that's where the resistance comes. And when you impose a deadline, it becomes another compliance thing rather than a way to enhance learning."

"Don't try to cram it down everybody's throat," Roh says. The trick is to position a technology tool not just as strictly voluntary, but also as something that actually will make their jobs more interesting. "These systems are often change agents, and I'm not sure teachers regard the change as being entirely positive." Roh believes the vendor's job is to offer them a product they will want to use, "to ensure that we don't set them back, that we add value by facilitating value."

One way not to scare teachers off is to allow them to learn a technology gradually. That approach worked well at Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School in Melrose, MA, which last year implemented the Follett Digital Classroom learning management system. Christina Fabiano, an eighthgrade English teacher at the school, says teacher adoption was high because the technology accommodated incremental learning: Teachers were able to start using the system immediately after learning the basics of it, and then could go back and receive training on the other components that were useful but not entirely necessary.

"We did have some who were fearful, but the nice thing about the Digital Classroom is you don't have to utilize everything at once, and that put a lot of teachers at ease," says Fabiano, who participated in piloting the LMS. "It was challenging, the depths to which you could use the system, but the fact that you didn't have to learn all of it at once made the difference. People didn't feel overwhelmed."

2) A Supporting Cast

Indeed, the feeling teachers can have of being overwhelmed by a new technology if they are not given enough time to learn it may be the biggest inhibitor to adoption, says Celine Azoulay-Lewin, the New York City Department of Education borough instructional technology director for Staten Island/South Brooklyn.

"It takes time to learn new tools and software, and with everything else teachers are asked to do, technology integration is often last on the list," she says. "Some teachers still feel teaching is a craft. The old method is the way they've done it for 20 years. Why change now?"

The lack of a firm grasp of the technology, and consequently the prospect of looking bad in front of the students, can put the brakes on adoption, Azoulay-Lewin adds. "Teachers' biggest fear is that students are ahead of them technologically. I think they feel a little embarrassed; they're not experts in this field. And it may be the first time they've not been an expert at something."

Roh agrees: "There is nothing worse than a teacher having to take a product and deploy it to a bunch of digital-native students and have them know more than the teachers. Teachers don't want students to have the upper hand."

Azoulay-Lewin refers to a new group of "digital settlers": teachers who have become versed in one learning tool like a handheld or a laptop but remain stuck there, having reached a level of comfort they're not ready to ascend.

The solution, all say, is comprehensive training by the vendor with follow-up professional development by the district. And although there is no standard on how much training should be given, most vendors agree that at least one day of on-site training followed by various "catch-up" sessions throughout the course of the school year is the minimum a district should provide when introducing a new technology.

"We have found that with any new educational program, schools need to focus on ensuring there is proper professional development," says Cheryl Vedoe, CEO of Apex Learning, a provider of online learning solutions. "When we work with schools on implementation, we start with one full day of on-site training, but we have found that the initial professional development when providing teachers with new and different tools is not sufficient. In an ideal situation, we have a number of follow-up days where our educational consultants go into the classroom and mentor and coach in the classroom."

Albuquerque Public Schools (NM), which uses the Everyday Mathematics curriculum program and its online component from McGraw-Hill Education, has a curriculum support specialist onsite to supplement the training and professional development it provides its teachers. "One of the biggest reasons we face resistance is because so many times we give instruments to the teacher with no follow-up or no training," says Tom Nolan, the district's curriculum support specialist. He says a lack of support can result in an initial negative experience with technology, which permanently turns teachers off. "I don't think fear is the right word. Some teachers have been burned by technology in the past. They used it and found it was either not great or incomplete, or whatever, and so they're not interested in trying again."

Nolan's role is to make sure the experience is a good one. "What has made our program so successful is the fact that there is a 'me,'" he says. "I can do what the teachers need-- one-on-one training, group PD [professional development], grade-level PD-- with the whole curriculum."

Nolan, however, is a rarity. You won't find a curriculum support specialist or an equivalent position at most school districts. The next best thing may be a kind of peer-to-peer mentoring program, wherein one teacher becomes expert at a particular type of technology, and then is on hand to assist other teachers as needed.

When Follett introduced Melrose Middle School teachers to the Digital Classroom LMS, Roh says it was unable to provide a full day's training because the school year had already begun. Instead, the vendor had to do two half days. To the company's surprise, the condensed schedule worked just fine. "It was enough but not too much, so teachers could do some of the essential things and not get overwhelmed," Roh says.

Much of that success is owed to using the expertise of the five teachers who had piloted the LMS for a year prior to help the new users become proficient with the system. Roh says the experience led Follett to consider implementing a mentoring program with each school that adopts its technology. "We are keenly aware that teachers teaching teachers is the best way to go."

3) The Pot Sweetens

When all else fails, districts can offer their teachers incentives for learning and adopting the technology. That's the tack that Lake Washington School District, based in Redmond, WA, took when it realized its classroom technology wasn't being used to its fullest extent. Rather than let it collect dust, the district decided to incentivize teachers into learning and using it.

Lake Washington now offers a stipend to teachers who take classes on using Promethean's interactive whiteboard, the Activboard, a tool they've had in their classrooms for two years but weren't using beyond its simple projection capabilities. "The whiteboards are everywhere, even here in the library," says Richard Snyder, librarian at the district's Inglewood Junior High. "When they were installed, the school provided 12 hours of training, but people used them only if they had the time and the capability to learn more on their own. There were some who would say they could do what they have to do faster in Power- Point than trying to figure out how to do it with the software that's included with the interactive whiteboard."

That didn't sit well with the district. But rather than punish teachers for not using the technology, the district decided to reward those who do use it. "We were in contract negotiations, and the district saw a technology it had spent a lot of money on that wasn't getting used," Snyder says. "They wanted a way to get staff to use it, so they came up with the stipend idea."

The amount of the stipend, which is paid in one lump sum at the end of the school year, is dependent on how much training a teacher receives. There are three components for which teachers can receive a stipend: becoming proficient at using the Activboard; building a lesson around it that integrates multimedia; and devising a lesson that enlists the use of the Activote personal response system, handheld clickers that students use to provide feedback to teachers during in-class lessons.

The district offers ample opportunity for after-school training. Classes run four weeks, and there are eight or nine different sessions happening across the district at any one time, Snyder says. And because the classes are held after school, the teachers are paid a curriculum rate to attend on top of the stipend. Plus, there is a two-hour class during which teachers can swap tips, tricks, and lesson-plan ideas incorporating the technology, which also pays curriculum rate.

"It's enough for me that it makes me want to go and learn," Snyder says. "In conversations I'm having, it seems like more people are using the whiteboards. I'd say the program is working."

As with anything else that is new, there will always be early and eager adopters of technology and those who wade in one toe at a time. The key, New York City's Azoulay-Lewin advises, is to let the excitement of the small cohort of early adopters spread. "Their motivation builds a viral effect in a school community so teachers begin to explore the possibilities of new ways of learning." she says.

Sometimes, she adds, all it takes to convince a teacher to take the leap is seeing how using technology impacts the students. "Students should be the driving force of instruction. They keep teachers motivated to incorporate new strategies because they are learning 100 times more than they would be if they were just sitting in a row listening to a lecture."

If you would like more information on technology adoption, visit our website at In the Browse by Topic menu, click on professional development.

Charlene O'Hanlon is a freelance writer based in New York City.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2009 issue of THE Journal.