By Daniel Maxwell
Like all innovations in education, the ability of educational technologies to enhance learning is influenced by a diverse range of factors including goals, training, appropriateness, management, implementation and the quality of the innovation. But in the case of educational technologies, there is another, somewhat unique factor that has a significant impact on how successfully these technologies will enhance learning — and that is teachers’ attitudes towards technology.
As Larry Rosen articulated:
“We are literally in the midst of an educational technology revolution that is changing the definition and role of teacher. And many teachers are not happy about it.” (p.185, 2010).
Teachers’ attitudes towards educational technologies vary greatly, with both technophiles and technophobes found in most schools. Understanding and accounting for these varying attitudes towards technology is essential for any school hoping to benefit from the adoption of modern educational technologies because regardless of how sophisticated these technologies become, their success will continue to rely on educators having a positive attitude towards them (Huang & Liaw, 2005).
The reason that teachers play such a huge role in the success of educational technologies is that the attitudes of teachers influence their willingness to incorporate technology in the classroom (Teo, 2006). Teachers who have positive attitudes toward technology generally feel more comfortable using these digital resources, they tend to use them more regularly (Kersaint et al., 2003), and they are more inclined to adapt their teaching to better incorporate technology during their lessons (Cox et al., 1999).
In contrast, teachers who view technologies negatively or skeptically will often resist using educational technologies during their lessons (Askar & Umay, 2001), which creates a challenge for school leaders and modern learners as education becomes increasingly reliant on digital technologies.
Another serious concern is the argument that a teacher’s negative attitudes towards technology not only hinder the adoption of technology (Bullock, 2004), but that these negative attitudes can also have a significant impact on students’ attitudes toward computers and technology supported learning (Teo, 2006). Given that this negativity towards digital technologies could deter learners from realising the ever-increasing potential of technology to support independent study and lifelong learning, it is essential that schools are aware of these issues and address them accordingly.
Tackling teachers’ prejudices towards educational technologies requires a better understanding of the factors underlying teachers’ attitudes towards digital innovations.
According to a number of researchers, there are three common factors which contribute to teachers’ attitudes towards technology in the classroom: previous experiences using computers (Kumar & Kumar, 2003), a teacher’s technical ability and knowledge of computers (Mukti, 2000), and appropriate training and professional development (Tsitouridou & Vryzas, 2003).
As such, it is important for schools adopting new technologies to learning about the individual teachers’ opinions towards technology, their previous experiences with educational technologies, and any computer anxiety they may have experienced. This can be done by interviewing or surveying the teachers involved in any implementation and adoption of digital resources. Using this data, schools can develop strategies to support teachers who are uncomfortable using technology for educational purposes.
A number of reports have indicated that the most useful strategy to support teachers who lack confidence or who are skeptical about using educational technologies is continual support and professional development — factors essential for the successfully implementation of any innovation in education (Wayne et al).
As Fullan explains in his 2003 book, ‘The new meaning of educational change’, training and continuous professional development is essential for preparing and supporting teachers to deal with change. In the case of educational technologies these training workshops are required to support the teachers’ pedagogical and practical readiness with the new learning resource. Fullan himself champions the adoption of learning communities in which teachers can support each other and enable themselves to interpret, understand, judge, and modify innovations in a supportive environment.
Another factor that is believed to influencing attitudes towards technologies and innovation is generational characteristics. Stone-Johnson’s 2011 report ‘Talkin’ bout my generation: Boomers, Xers, and educational change’ concluded that resistance or enthusiasm towards change is strongly linked to a teacher’s generation, with younger generations less likely to resist change than teachers from older generations. Again there are indications that these generational challenges can be tackled through training and professional development, with workshops developed specifically for older generation educators proving to be particularly effective.
As the scope and quality of educational technology resources develops at breakneck speed, it is essential that classroom teachers are not left behind. Given the pivotal role these teachers play in the effective implementation and use of computers in educational environments, it is becoming increasingly necessary for schools to proactively address this challenge in a constructive and supportive manner which will not only ensure 21st Century learners can benefit from the rewards that educational technologies offer, but will also empower 21st Century teachers to deploy these digital resources effectively and confidently.