Why Teachers Embrace -- or Reject -- Technology Tools
By Stephanie Hirsh
Every week, it seems, there are enticing new technology tools developed for educators, schools, and school systems. What is it that leads teachers to use such resources? Learning Forward recently concluded a study to understand the factors that drive teachers to embrace -- or reject -- the use of tools specifically created to help them improve their practice.
In Beyond Barriers: Encouraging Teacher Use of Feedback Resources, Learning Forward examines products designed to support improvements in teacher practice and, through three phases of research, outlines recommendations for increasing the use and impact of these resources. The study focuses on the use of resources already in place and available to educators, not in how resources are selected or purchased.
Through the course of the study, we talked to vendors and educators in focus groups, surveyed educators, and developed case studies to explore the use of particular resources in depth. Resources include products designed for recording and sharing video observations, peer feedback and collaboration, online professional learning, and learning management platforms.
We've looked closely at some of these resources before because of their value in improving practice. For example, we've written about districts that use Tripod to get student input on teacher practice. We've featured the Literacy Design Collaborative as a learning model. We've highlighted Teaching Channel and LearnZillion resources in our publications. What we wanted to learn from this study was how such resources move into widespread use in a system.
What our focus groups originally identified as barriers turned out not to be the case when tested in the broader survey. Vendors and educators agreed that it would make sense to survey teachers about their initial training, the technical support available to them, and their motivation to use new resources. We thought those issues would rise to the top as barriers to use, but they didn't. Most teachers reported they had some training, and, of those who did, most felt very or somewhat prepared to use the product. Very few educators reported needing technical support from a vendor. And respondents reported that the tools made their job easier.
So why aren't more of these tools used more widely? One big takeaway from the study is that change management principles are critical in achieving widespread implementation. This shouldn't be news to anyone. The Implementation standard of Learning Forward's Standards for Professional Learning spells it out: "Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students applies research on change and sustains support for implementation of professional learning for long-term change" (Learning Forward, 2011). Yet we know that careful intentionality around implementation is -- and likely always will be -- at the heart of achieving outcomes with any initiative in schools and school systems.
For the products and services examined in our study, attending to implementation means considering a careful rollout strategy -- who will be involved, how will a new product be introduced, what are steps for using and monitoring a new tool, and so on. We offer several insights in the findings, recommendations, and case studies in the report.
We invite you to dig into the report and consider how these findings might help you in your context. We'd also be curious to hear about your implementation strategies and successes. We look forward to exploring the recommendations in greater depth in upcoming publications and blogs.
Learning Forward. (2011). Standards for Professional Learning. Oxford, OH: Author.
This study was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.