Why Can’t We Just Get on with It? Forces in P-16 Education that Complicate
the Integration of Technology into Teaching and Learning

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Why is it that so few teachers are using technology to support teaching and learning? This has been identified as a "national crisis" on the first page of a CEO Forum report (2000). Schools serving pre-school through 12th grade (P-12) students are making substantial expenditures for technology
infrastructure, many schools are connected to the Internet, and students generally like technology.
Because colleges of education prepare teachers for P-12 classrooms, some argue that it must be their fault if teachers are not using technology in the classroom. Perhaps universities are not placing enough emphasis on this important aspect of teacher preparation, or maybe faculty are doing a poor job of preparing teachers for the information age.

Critics forget that many members of the present aging teacher population graduated before
computer/Internet-based technology existed or before teacher preparation programs addressed the
meaningful integration of technology into instruction. When Secretary of Education Riley (1997) proposed the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology grant program, he noted that large percentages of teachers were eligible for retirement and that teacher education programs needed restructuring to meet the demands of preparing teachers to use existing and future technology. (For example, in a demographic study of our region, Dr. Frederick Ignotavich found that 45% of the existing teaching force is vulnerable for retirement.) Even teachers prepared recently, but before the advent of Internet-based technology, may not be well prepared to meet the teaching and learning demands of the new and emerging technologies. Early teacher preparation in technology, which focused on lower-level skill acquisition (Valdez et al, 1999) such as computer operations or software, did not help teachers and teacher educators understand the promise of technology to transform education. Imagine the disparity in technology understandings between new teachers graduating in 1990 and ten years later in 2000! Never before in our history has change been so rapid and the need for continuous development so critical.

However, this is only a partial explanation for the slow pace of K-16 technology integration. With a
combined total of nearly 60 years of experience in a wide variety of K-16 educational environments, we have both worked with pre-service teachers, in-service teachers, and teacher educators in the United States and abroad. Through reflection and discussion related to these experiences, we have identified several inter-related forces that continue to impede the integration of technology into teaching and learning. A recent publication commissioned by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (Kent & McNergney, 1999) reinforced many of our conclusions. Below is a brief discussion of each of the major forces we believe are presenting obstacles to the integration of technology in P-12 education, followed by a discussion of forces complicating the technology leadership role of colleges of education.

Forces Impeding the Integration of Technology into P-12 Teaching and Learning

First, many P-12 school districts spend technology dollars on the acquisition of technology
infrastructure and have no funds left for software or teacher training. In one district that had
bought computers but no software, teachers used illegal copies of friends’ and relatives’
software. The district subsequently issued a policy prohibiting software piracy and removed all
unlicensed software from the teachers’ computers, but no funds were provided to purchase legal
software. In a war of wills, the teachers have refused to use technology in the classroom.

Second, decisions about hardware and software purchases are sometimes made, without teacher input, by P-12 administrators, business officers, or vendors. One district purchased a computerized
"drill-and-practice" reading program for multiple grade levels and the hardware to support it. The teachers, excited about the whole language approach, resisted any use of the inflexible computer program because they thought it would destroy their students’ emerging love of reading.

Third, many P-12 school buildings have an Internet connection, but it is not where the teachers want
it or can use it. In some buildings teachers must take their students to a computer lab or to the school library/media center. The lab or library schedule thus limits the number of teachers who can use the Internet on a daily basis. In one school the teachers needed to request permission from the librarian to use the Internet. Sometimes the Internet connection is in the teachers’ lounge, so teachers can use the Internet only in preparing lessons and not during class periods. In a few schools, the only Internet connection is in the principal’s office, where the principal finds teaching materials and prints them off for the teachers’ use. The teachers lucky enough to have classroom Internet connections often find them unreliable.

Fourth, technology training for P-12 teachers is sometimes inappropriate. Training conducted by
non-educators too often focuses on hardware or software mastery, rather than the integration of
technology into teaching and learning. One district ran a special training session on "how to use a scanner", but did not discuss what might be scanned or how a scanned image could be used in the classroom. High-performance, Internet-based computer technology requires a paradigm shift. Because students can access more information faster and present information in new ways, teachers need to learn instructional strategies that actively engage their students, pose meaningful problems for students to solve, and guide their students to think critically. The teachers cannot employ such strategies if they have not practiced them through their training. Putnam and Borko (2000) write that teacher education should be situated in the teachers’ environments, include authentic problem-based activities, and involve social discourse. Specifically, they suggest that the most productive models are continuous on-site learning communities, where teachers collaboratively engage in investigations through which they find ways to integrate technology into their instruction to support learning outcomes, reflect on their teaching, and assess student learning. This is vastly different from isolated
teacher training on how to use a scanner.

Fifth, most P-12 districts do not provide adequate technology support. Unless the teachers are confident that someone will be available to help them if they experience technical difficulties during the preparation or delivery of a lesson, they are reluctant to become involved. Teachers often prepare lessons in the evening or on the weekend, and even those districts that do provide technical support for teachers seldom have anyone on call "after hours". Teachers must sometimes wait for months after a problem is reported to receive technical assistance, and by the time help comes they have moved on to a different unit.

Sixth, few P-12 districts have a plan for funding equipment maintenance, repair, and upgrades. If the
equipment breaks down or no longer supports the software teachers need, then the use of technology in teaching and learning is sharply curtailed. Teachers have historically augmented their meager instructional budgets with personal funds, and the poorest schools have expected the most financial augmentation. The high costs of technology equipment and service calls, however, make it nearly impossible for teachers to fund these items without a commitment from the district. Districts that purchase technology through bond issues must be careful to set aside funds for upgrades, or the taxpayers will be paying off outdated equipment for several years.

Seventh, P-12 teachers are typically comfortable with the lessons and units they have used successfully in the past, and they resist technology because they believe that it will alter the nature of those lessons or units. Resistance to the use of technology is often tied to a philosophy that a teacher’s role is to motivate and facilitate a commonality of interest and purpose among disparate learners, and that technology detracts from this process (Graves, 1999).

Eighth, incentives and rewards promote other district priorities, and teachers’ are directed to other
responsibilities. P-12 administrators sometimes direct teachers to focus exclusively on raising students’ test scores, and the use of technology is assigned a lower district priority.

Forces Complicating the Technology Leadership Role of Colleges of Education

Colleges of education are increasingly chastised for their unwillingness or inability to transform P-16
education, and particularly for their failure to transform it with technology. A report by the National
Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (1997) states "Bluntly, a majority of teacher preparation programs are falling far short of what needs to be done…The reasons for these deficiencies…are relatively easy to explain, if difficult to excuse" (pp. 6 – 7).

Inadequate Infrastructure Development. Although there are some shining examples of colleges of education with cutting-edge technology facilities, on many campuses the College of Education is a low priority for equipment investments. Many education faculty who would like to use technology in the classroom do not have easy access to a technology-mediated classroom or an Internet connection. They must either take their classes to another building that is better equipped or transport a portable multimedia cart. Much of the equipment available for faculty use has come from faculty grants, yet there is a general lack of appreciation for education faculty who bring technology to their departments through grants. Grant-funded equipment must be supported, repaired, and upgraded, and grants don’t typically include funds for that. One university is considering "taxing" faculty $200 for each grant-funded computer (for on-going maintenance and support) and, if it does so, will inadvertently establish a powerful disincentive for faculty to acquire additional hardware. Some administrators filter out technology requests from planning and budget cycles because they fear that new equipment will lead to ongoing costs for maintenance, repair, upgrades, software, faculty development, and technology support staff.

Technology Support Crisis. It is difficult for most campuses to find the funds to attract and retain technology support staff. On many campuses it can take months for a faculty member to get a new computer set up or a software program loaded onto a computer. Caught in a Catch-22 situation, many faculty are prohibited from installing software themselves, but the technology nsupport staff has placed a low priority on software installation and only has the staff to work on high-priority requests.

Faculty Technology Training Needed. Kent and McNergney (1999) believe that some faculty are "out of touch" with today’s P-12 schools: "They have little understanding of the vast changes that are occurring in P-12 classrooms as a result of the introduction of technology and how they must change their own instruction to stay abreast of changes in the schools" (p. 14).

These faculty members need to spend time observing in P-12 schools and receive training to develop the capacity to incorporate technology into their own teaching. Although there are some outstanding faculty development programs at a number of higher education institutions, the quality of technology training programs at other institutions is uneven. In some sessions, often conducted by staff without formal training in pedagogy, an emphasis on the technology itself rather than its integration into teaching and learning does not meet the needs of education faculty.

Insufficient Incentives and Rewards. There is little institutional encouragement for the use of technology in post-secondary teaching (Kent and McNergney, 1999, p. 16). Promotion and tenure guidelines typically divide faculty responsibilities into three categories—research, teaching, and service. However, at many institutions the only category that truly matters is "research". Until there are greater rewards for teaching, including teaching with technology, faculty will continue to focus on research rather than teaching. They will also become anxious as they see examples of powerful disincentives for the use of technology in teaching. Randy Bass, an early faculty pioneer in technology integration at Georgetown University, has made conference keynote presentations about his difficulties in having his work counted for purposes of promotion and tenure. His Web site includes a link to an article on the topic of evaluating and rewarding faculty work with technology, and he presents a list of issues for faculty development and for teaching and research.

Academic Freedom. When hiring new faculty members, many universities are beginning to include language in the letters of offer requiring new faculty to teach with technology. At other institutions, however, faculty union contracts explicitly state that faculty can not be required to use technology in their teaching. Most faculty members will remind administrators that they are treading on thin ice when attempting to dictate what and how faculty should teach, because that is a matter of academic freedom.


The analysis of forces impeding the integration of technology into K-12 teaching and pre-service teacher preparation programs reveals a remarkably similar set of issues. To support the use of technology in teaching and learning, it will be important for administrators to work collaboratively with teachers and higher education faculty. Together they must develop a comprehensive approach to the integration of technology into K-16 teaching that includes funding for hardware, software, upgrades, network and Internet access, technology training, equipment maintenance and repair, and technology support. It will be important to establish appropriate incentives and rewards, and to remove structural disincentives, for teachers and faculty who would transform our educational systems through the effective use of information technology in teaching and learning.

A recent report issued by the American Council on Education (1999) has placed responsibility for teacher preparation squarely on the shoulders of university presidents. The report urges presidents to make teacher preparation an institutional priority and a campus-wide responsibility. With increased attention to this issue may come institutional support to overcome the structural and economic obstacles that have until now impeded the use of technology in P-16 classrooms.


American Council on Education. (1999). To touch the future: Transforming the way teachers are taught. An action agenda for college and university presidents. Washington, D.C.: Author.

The CEO Forum on Education & Technology. (2000). Teacher preparation StaR chart: A self-assessment tool for colleges of education. Washington, D.C.: Author.

Graves, W. (1999). "Developing and using technology as a strategic asset." pp. 95 – 118. In Katz, R. and Associates Dancing with the devil: Information technology and the new competition in higher
education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Kent, T., & McNergney, R. (1999). Will technology really change education? From blackboard to web. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. (1997). Technology and the new professional teacher: Preparing for the 21st century classroom. Washington, DC: Author.

Putnam, R. T., & H. Borko (2000). What do new views of knowledge and thinking have to say about research on teaching and learning? Educational Researcher 29(1), 4-16.

Valdez, G., McNabb, M., Foertsch, M., Anderson, M., Hawkes, M., & Raack, L. (1999).
Computer-based technology and learning: Evolving uses and expectations. Oak Brook, IL: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.