The world we live in is changing so fast it is easy to get disoriented. Teachers are expected to deal with these changes, and implement reforms on an almost constant basis. Some changes are minor – a change to the syllabus, or assessments required in student portfolios. Others are major – a new curriculum or the imperative of integrating ICTs in your lessons.
Change is often seen in terms of individuals adopting and diffusing innovative ideas or practices. A common model is Everett Rogers’ (1962) Diffusion of Innovation model, which, very crudely, sees change in terms of the rate at which adoption occurs.
In this model, within any school you will get teachers who adopt ICTs in their classrooms, and slowly, over time, more will join in until it reaches a critical mass and becomes part of the way things are done in the school, often mandated by administration. If it never reaches critical mass, the innovation fails.
One problem with this model is that it sees a school as a collection of individuals and ignores the social dimension. If ICT integration really worked this way we should have 100% adoption by now, and we don’t! Under Rogers’ model, ICT integration in education has not reached critical mass, and has failed. And yet, clearly, with so many devices in place in classrooms, we have crossed a Rubicon – there is no going back.
We really need to understand, first of all, what we mean by ICT integration. Many classrooms now have computers, even interactive smart boards in them. Many schools have computer labs which can be booked if not WiFi connections that allow students, and teachers to use their personal devices at any time. Most teachers are comfortable using a computer or cell phone in their personal lives, and are using computers to some degree to achieve administrative tasks in the classrooms. There is a great deal of technical support and training available, and professional development, online, has become easily accessible.
What is missing from this picture, which often leads people to assume that widespread adoption of ICTs has taken place, is integration of ICTs into pedagogical practice. In many cases ICTs have simply been grafted onto old ways of doing things, and teaching practice has not been transformed in any meaningful way. Interactive whiteboards are simply used as whiteboards were, or lectures are replaced by lecture-style PowerPoints!
Integration of ICTs in the classroom is all about how technology can be used to teach particular content better. For example, can the very brevity of twitter we used to teach summarising skills? Can Skype be used to bring real world experts into the classroom as mentors? Can cell phones be used as data collection tools in Science? When technology is integrated into classroom practice it becomes seamless and almost invisible as technology and pedagogy merge into … teachnology … how to teach with technology.
Now, how is this a social thing? Is it not a matter of individual teachers adopting technology and then championing its use, till eventually all teachers are doing it?
Much is made of the difference between old-style teacher-centered modes of teaching, and the new-fangled student-centered style, often equated with Constructivism. There is nothing in technology that automatically supports one learning theory or pedagogy rather than another. A PowerPoint can be used in Behavioural ways or Social-Constructivist, even Connectivist ways, but much of the rhetoric has devolved into an ICT integrated Constructivist good vs a teacher-centered lecture style Behaviourist bad polemic. This is extremely unhelpful and clouds the real issue, which is all about how teachers learn how to use technology to teach.
A Change model that seems to me to offer more chance of helping us do this is Michael Fullan’s Change Theory (1993). For Fullan, change is a complex system which involves the entire culture of schooling rather than just individuals. Teachers need to have their professional capital advanced, and must be convinced that the changes they are meant to be implementing are real and important. Change is then a whole-school/school district process which involves all agents as change agents. Even the resisters are positive forces for change.
What is required is a common vision for change rather than a diffusion of ideas or practices. Teachers need the space, and time to share ideas, share best practices and evolve a common understanding of what teachnology entails.
All learning is social, and this means that I can never simply acquire an understanding that you have of the world. What you do, and what you show me can help me to create my own understanding, but it always needs to be my understanding. Early adopters are important because they can be mediators of new knowledge, but change will only ever happen if all teachers are seen as change agents, and we shift to understanding that if we want change, we need to make the space available for teachers to grapple with those changes in social, collegiate ways.
Rogers, E. M. (1962). Diffusion of innovations. Free Press of Glencoe.
Fullan, M. (1993). The Change Process. The challenge of school change.
Fullan, M. (2006). Change theory: A force for school improvement.