Resistance to Technology: Conscious or Unconscious?

lynnz80By Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education
10 November 2008

In July 2008 James Morrison initiated a discussion on Innovate-Ideagora which he called  “Addressing the problem of faculty resistance to using IT tools in active learning instructional strategies.” This lively discussion has touched on any number of issues related to education, teaching, and learning. The contradictions inherent in education always fascinate me, and this topic has brought up many of them, from assessment issues to institutional climate.

In his introduction to the discussion Jim wrote that “we should be using technology enhanced active learning strategies to improve student learning” and effect changes in the organizational culture “so that most professors [and teachers] will be receptive to adopting active learning methods and using IT tools to enhance the effectiveness of these methods in their classes.” I assert this “resistance” is also embedded in how teachers view education.

Although most of the discussion centered on higher education, as a teacher educator, I am always focused on what is happening in the K-12 classroom and what my students may confront as they go into their classrooms. The issue of teacher resistance to technology has immediacy for teachers in zimm02K-12. As I was thinking about these issues, I remembered something I had read when I was teaching an Introduction to Teaching course: many teachers consider that they have a fairly liberal teaching philosophy. However, in practice, their teaching styles tend to be more conservative than their philosophical stance. (If you would like to make this comparison yourself, you can look at your teaching style at Grasha-Reichmann Teaching Style Inventory.) Therefore, it is possible that not only are teachers actively resisting learning about technology and technological advances, but some are perhaps unconsciously resisting it. In trying to determine where the disconnect is, researchers may need to look more closely at what teachers are really doing as opposed to what they think they are doing in the classroom/educational space.

My undergraduate students recently observed teachers and classes in a new elementary school which has up-to-date technology. One student was dismayed to see that the teacher was using the Smart Board to produce worksheets! I know that teachers at this school had received in-service training for using the technology in their classrooms and I assume the training was focused on the effective use of these technologies. As the student described the teacher’s style, it appeared that she used an authoritarian model of teaching, which seems to be reflected in her view of how to use technology. Was she consciously resisting using the technology to its fullest or was she just unaware that she had not made a shift in her thinking about using technology?

6 Responses

  1. As someone who spent a number of years as a K-12 staff developer, I assure you that teacher resistance is to anything that is different from what they have done before, not merely to technology. I was also a teacher in a school whose principal had bought in completely to the now highly discredited theory that the principal should withdraw from the stage and allow teacher leaders to lead the change. Later research confirmed what those of us who formed that “lucky ” group of teacher leaders experienced first hand: when you do that, no change ultimately occurs, and the resisters leave the teacher leaders so badly bloodied that they will either retreat to a hermit-like resistance, transfer to a different school, or quit teaching altogether.

    All the research I have seen indicates that if a change is to be fully implemented, it will be because a school leader used highly effective leadership skills to make it happen. It takes much more than an initial training period to undo a lifetime of habit and transform educational practice.

  2. John, my apologies for the delay in posting your comment. I was debating whether to ask you to develop the idea into an article or to simply post it as you intended, as a comment. I decided to start a new feature around your post — “Your Call!” (See the top of the right sidebar.) The idea is to put out a call for articles around an idea, such as the one you’ve introduced here about the change process. Please consider submitting an article on your thought: “All the research I have seen indicates that if a change is to be fully implemented, it will be because a school leader used highly effective leadership skills to make it happen. It takes much more than an initial training period to undo a lifetime of habit and transform educational practice.” Thanks! -Jim

  3. I would like to second John Adsit’s comment from a different viewpoint. I tend to be wary of educational research because studies can prove a wide range of hypotheses depending on exactly how they’re executed. I’ve been working for change in education for just ten years now, and I can say from working directly with lots of teachers that some accept new ideas and some stubbornly refuse no matter what the gain may be for them.

    Some teachers are attracted to new toys and impose them on students just for their own pleasure. Not every new technology is valuable in a given classroom setting.

    Leaders who can distinguish between new fads and really valuable change and who bring good change to classrooms are uncommon in my experience. Even if they truly know that the change will improve the classroom atmosphere, ease the teaching burden, save money, and improve learning, they’re rarely able to transform their own enthusiasm into classroom change.

    Yes, it does take “a school leader [using] highly effective leadership skills to make it happen.”

    Now, where do we find those people?

  4. I was recently talking to an elementary school teacher who said that she had never used technology until two years ago. Curious about what exactly she meant, I asked her exactly she meant by “technology” and why she had not used it prior to two years ago. She said that for the past 23 years she has taught in a low-income school district and that there was never much up-to-date technology available to her or her students. She had only learned the basics of word processing. Finally, two years ago a new school facility was built with the most up-to-date technology available. The teachers were trained in how to use the technology they received and teachers have worked together to help and teach each other. The principal of this school does periodic “technology checks” to see that technology is being used and used effectively. To me “effectively” is the key word here.

    I think there are two reasons why using technology effectively has been successful at this school. One is the leadership which seems to understand how to support the teachers in their use of technology. However, I think the more important reason may be that the teachers are working together and supporting one another. I think that the faculty has succeeded in developing a teamwork approach that motivates them and has helped reduce much of the anxiety that the more seasoned teachers, especially, have felt about tackling new technology late in their careers.

  5. In the 21st Century, literacy requires more than the ability to read, write, and do math and science. Though learning still requires the skill of print literacy, much of the information encountered by individuals takes other forms, such as graph materials or moving images, or appears in databases or on websites. Literacy in this new century encompasses a broad spectrum of technological tools, critical thinking skills, and willingness to view the process of learning in new and different ways. The person, who is information literate accesses it efficiently and effectively, evaluates information critically and competently, and uses information accurately and creatively. Teachers must be prepared to learn how to integrate technology into daily learning.
    The goal of integrating information technology into curricula is to help students develop the abilities to use, manage, and understand information technology. It is important that students develop these abilities throughout the learning process in all curriculum areas. Information technology-literate students are able to develop knowledge, ability, and responsibility in the use of information technology acquire, organize, analyze, evaluate, and present information using appropriate information technology use information technology to expand their range and effectiveness of communication solve problems, accomplish tasks, and express creativity, both individually and collaboratively, using information technology understand the role and impact of information technology and apply ethical, responsible, and legal standards in its use The knowledge and skills of the information technology-literate student, builds upon the definition of technology as a foundation skill area and includes the other mutually supportive foundation skill areas of literacy and communication, problem solving, and human relations. It is critical that the use of information technology support development of these skills.

  6. In addition to the aforemented points for views from the previous postings, here are some familiar info regarding the resistence.
    Pajo and Wallace (2001) categoried barriers as personal barrier, attitudinal barriers, and organizational barrier. Berge Muilenberg, and van Hangegh (2001) also indentify 64 barriers to the adoption of technology. According to Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation, the various adopter categories form the shape a of bell curve. Innovators who readily adopt, are making up 2.5 %; early adopters, about 13%; early majority, 34%; later majority, 34%; and laggards 16%. He identified attributes to the resistance as: the relative advantage to adopters, compatibility to the adopters’ values, offering better ways to do things, the degree of complexity of the technology, triability before adoption; and the observable benefits.
    If Roger’s theory is not too far away from reality, then we look at current 3.2 million educational employees scattering in the differently edu-systems: 2.5 % of innovators who are ready to adopt are about 80,000 individuals spreading over numerous PK to 16+ educational institutions, and the later adopters as well as laggards will be 1.6 million. Not too surprise??

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