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Motivating teachers to use technologies

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Gráinne Conole
22 December 2009

Technologies seem to offer lots to improve the learner experience, but are still not being used extensively by teachers.

  • What are the reasons for this lack of uptake?
  • How can we motivate teachers to use technologies more?
  • How can we support them in their use of technologies?

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Cristina Costa
7:24am 22 December 2009

I think there are so many factors that contribute to the disengagement of teachers regarding the application of ICT in the classroom/ their teaching practice.
1) most often we teach the way we have been taught. There are 2 types of influence here, as far as I can tell: a) the teachers we had as part of our education (who might have triggered something in us - I had few of this type, but the goods ones I’ve never forgotten and often in times I make sure the remind myself why I loved their classes - they knew how to get our attention and participation... That was a technology o another kind! :-)  b) the initial teacher training we’ve got as part of our preparation to become a teacher. Now this takes me to another point...
2) Initial teacher training (most often) still does not contemplate the full integration (please note the word: integration, not simple use and learn 'how to') of ICT across their training. Often in times one of the subjects is ICT, but the rest of the training is done in a rather still traditional way. What does this tell me: "OK more subject to take as part of this course'... and not necessarily something that is ultra important as part of my practice and which will help me innovate the school I will go to.
Take a similar exampe: my undergrad course on foreign languages, culture and literatures. Only the language classes were taught in the foreign language.All the rest was taught in our native language. Well, the practice of the languages I was trying to get a qualification from was missing in 2/3 of my degree!!! I always wondered why?  How could I ever become fluent.... The same happens with ICT as part of one’s training. If ICT is to become core to one’s teaching training it has to be embedded across the training programme! Let’s do what we preach!  
3) LLL - some years ago, when I first started, the PT government offered teachers short online training sessions for free. The take up was usually good and people could get credits towards their annual LLL training. I am not saying this is the way, but it was really interesting as it was also a novelty.  Another thing to try to develop is practical conferences, learning events where teachers can meet each other.... I know there are some, maybe we need more and different formats!!! What I see in most conferences I go to is that more researchers than practitioners attend them. Ok, maybe I go to more research based conferences these days, but it would not be a bad idea to invite more practicers to join in.
4) Continuing to talk about conferences - we are still very traditional about it. We stand there for 20 minutes or so, and talk at people about what we have done... Some presentations become so dull that not for the life of me I want to revisit them.... OK I might have taken this to an extreme...but when presenting practice why not making it more practical?! Sounds reasonable! I think teachers would like that. They want to learn. Listening to is not sufficient and conferences and similar events we get teachers in might be a good opportunity to get them INvolved. If they have made it that far it is because they have some interest. Let's capitalize on that. Let's make conferences more practical...where people can really try things all the time (and not being able to attend a single overcrowded workshop and a kazillion of 15 min presentations)
5) In my dreams... and I still don't know how this could be done... Unis would create partnerships of bespoken training, organisation of local/national events and would 'adopt'  schools which they could work with. We also need to value action-research more....
I find that often in times peer-influence is the best way to get more people on board. However, it does not always work. When I worked as a teacher, I was only able to get one teacher on board first (she was the senior one in the school, but she was also the most keen and highly creative. We did lots of teaching activities together and networked our classrooms amongst themselves and beyond. It was great fun. New teachers were hired and 'joined the club'. Taking up the challenge of integrating ICT in one's practice works so much better when it is a volunteer act, but people must perceive the benefits before they decide to move in such direction. Having examples of how things are done can help.
But then, the school started to get more students and teachers had less time. That impacted on how people started looking at the extra 'work' ICT represented in their practice... I think it is also important to 'reward' teachers not only with training, but also with time and any other methods which will 'send' the message that their work is being valued and recognised ...

Just my two cents...I could go on, but it is already a long message. Please note that I have been typing fast and some ideas could have been better developed ... anyhow, I hope it will generate some discussion! :-)

Gráinne Conole
10:02am 22 December 2009

All excellent points Cristina - I don't think we shoudl underestimate how difficult this all is, but we have to find some way of addressing. The reality is teachers and learners are surrounded by technologes - we can't ignore them. If we choose to NOT sure them that is fine but that choice should be an informed one, not one based on ignorance or fear...

David Jones
10:27am 22 December 2009

These are complex questions. So the following won't cover all bases, but it summarises some of the larger aspects that I'm currently interested in. To explain my interests I use the metaphor of loosing weight.

In this metaphor,  most of the folk trying to encourage change in learning and teaching in universities - including the uptake of education - are a bit like nutritionists. In particular, folk who seek to encourage weight loss by specifying the nutritional principles of a good diet.

At this stage, you can probably see that the overweight people are the academics who need to improve their learning and teaching.

At best, the nutrtitionists believe that expounding the principles of good nutrition will be sufficient for those who are over weight to lose the weight.  And for a small number of people this works.  Just like many standard practices attempting to improve/change L&T succeed for a small number of people. But not for the majority.

At worst, the principles of good nutrition become compulsory. People are forced to follow these principles. Of course, most people when forced to do something that they don't understand or doesn't fit their standard lifestyle will engage in compliance and corruption (sneaking chocolate etc.).  I'm increasingly seeing this type of approach embodied in corporate/top-down approaches to improving L&T and believe that the same compliance/corruption will happen.

The more successful approaches to weight loss involve changes in the environment that encourage/assist people to move more and eat less. These approaches have to be contextual, what works for one person in one context, won't work for another.

For long-term weight loss the changes have to become "standard practice" - their way of life - for the person. If they don't become their way of life, the change won't last. They will revert.  If the environment doesn't help, encourage and support people to maintain this way of life, the change won't last.

The environment within higher education is not conducive to help achieve and maintain long-term weight loss.

A longer term version of this argument is available here

One example of this is the observation about "surrounded by technologies". Most long-term university academics have not been surrounded by technologies. The environment they operated in didn't require it.  That's changed.

The gradual increasing adoption of technology within the environment may become the strongest influence on increasing technology uptake.

Sharon Flynn
10:49am 22 December 2009

I think we need to keep in mind that academics are incredibly busy people, and learning a new technology is not something they want to invest in, unless they can be sure of the benefits. We run a Learning Technologies module as part of a graduate diploma in Academic Practice. We encourage staff to consider the use of various technologies in their own teaching context. The majority of participants all try something new, within an environment where they get a lot of support. They all invest a lot of time, because they are completing an academic module. The main feedback is that their teaching is enhanced, but the time investment is significant.

One of our current "students", a lecturer in History and a champion user of technologies, has started writing a blog on her "experiments with techniques and technologies" to improve students learning. Her most recent post details how colleagues have had set-backs with technologies, either because of unfortunate technology failures, or because of poor planning. In such cases, teaching staff will often revert back to their non-technology practices. This is the situation we desperately want to avoid.

See for the blog post.

11:07am 22 December 2009

Part of it is also about having space and time for having fun!  encouraging a sense of experimentation, risk-taking and rediscovering both the joy and the value of play.

It's not just about formal training, but about supportive encouragement and trying things out for their own sake as well as being robust enough not to expect to get things right the first time!

In the past I worked with training programmes for schools and one of the prevailing aspects of the culture was that people didnt want to try anything unless they had completed a formal training programme and even then of course complained that 'it's all very well in theory but I don't have time for this in class' perhaps in those cases you can't win - unless you can affect a change in mindset. The technology can't be yet another add-on, an additional task and set of responsibilities. In the checklist, national curriculum era, experimentation and the right to fail are squeezed out. Let's celebrate fun, play, experimentation, discovery and failure!  

On that last point we need to get away from the feeling that every initiative has to be recorded as a success in each case study otherwise no more funds or support will be forthcoming...funders need to expect most projects to fail and be pleased with those that work!

Julie Carle
1:40pm 22 December 2009

I agree with David's comments - to be surrounded in technology will eventually permeate one's practices. If academics were enticed to engage is a fully online course for CPD they would experience the technology first hand, as a student and appreciate its usefulness in their teaching. Hopefully they would be a better teacher for it, as they would be experiencing new pedagogies. In the past many secondary/tertiary institutions have not recognized technical ICT skills as essential toolkits for all teachers. As students become increasingly surrounded by new technologies and continually engage in them there will be a greater societal pressure for teachers to join the band wagon.

Sharon, although we want to avoid failures, often these can provide tremendous learning opportunities. Learning from our mistakes shouldn't prevent us from trying and experimenting.

Sharon Flynn
2:07pm 22 December 2009

Hi Julie. Thanks for the comment. I suppose what I was trying to say is that my group (in a Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching) spend a lot of time encouraging academic staff to consider how to use technologies to enhave their teaching. We encourage and support trying and experimenting, but we have to be realistic about the time and effort teaching staff are willing to invest, especially if they don't see immediate benefits.

In this case, two reluctant academics were persuaded to use electronic submission (not an advanced technology) with a group of 400+ students, to ease a burden. Unfortunately, there was a problem with the authentication server, the technology let them down and 400+ students were inconvenienced. These two academics have decided to revert to their previous practice, which is hugely disappointing for us. I think that such unfortunate experiences, though few, can be a strong contributing factor to the original question "What are the reasons for this lack of uptake?" There is a perception (fear?) that initiatives will fail.

By the way, we do use a range of technologies to support the teaching of our graduate programmes in Academic Practice, and not just the learning technologies module. Requiring academic staff to experience these tools as students has been a very satisfactory way of "spreading the word". I think a key issue is the integration of technology with teaching & learning issues.

Antonella Esposito
2:25pm 22 December 2009

The topic of this cloud makes me look backwards to the last decade I devoted to motivate teachers in using technologies in a large Italian university (2.600 faculty, 65.000 sudents), as the manager of the local e-learning unit. In a very lack of e-learning policy and strategy, our unit organized international seminars, planned technical workshops, supported the individual departments in their specific needs, evaluated the main actions undertaken. It is worth noting that in my university there is no research unit focusing on e-learning issues.
Our numbers? We were less than 20 staff units; from 2001 to 2007 10% of faculty started to use (and to date are keeping on) a technology-supported envronment in the in-house VLE, to support their f-2-f classes. Small numbers, in every sense. After different attempts to increase number and engagement of teachers towards an informed use of tech and in order to raise attention from the University Board, we decided to carry out a survey to better know reasons which prevent teachers from more widely adopting technology in teaching.
The online questionnaire was filled in by the 30% (828 teachers) of the total Faculty. We detected that ony 14% had already experienced online learning, while the 8% had had an experience as an online teacher. Above all, we asked them for the main obstacles that block the development of e-learning (intended as web-enhanced teaching): the most voted option (356 responses) was the “Lack of human resources supporting the online teacher”.
Moreover, 325 pointed the “Lack of formal acnowledgement of the teaching workload in the online environment”: this issue was considered more important than the “Lack of economic incentives” (243 votes).
Asking the same question, but referring to e-learning as fully virtual teaching, a large group (464) pointed the “Cultural reluctancy of Faculty to accept this form of teaching”. Furthemore, the “Lack of pedagogical competencies among Faculty” (344) was declared as another key issue.
Moreover, focus groups revealed the need for:

- definition of specific objectives, models and tools tailored for each department or disciplinary area;
- set up of a system to share practices and lessons learnt in technology-enhanced teaching;
- design and implementation of a system of quality check for pilots of uses of technology.

On the base of these findings I can confirm, as others in this space have already done with authoritativeness, that some motives for faculty to adopt technology can stem from:

- formal (and economic) rewarding of teaching workload;
- provision of technical and methodological training to use technologies in teaching;
- provision of a timely technical support;
- definition of a university policy for elearning;
- planning of training interventions which combine e-learning research and pedagogical design;
- fostering the set up of communities of practice to share and improve learning experiences.

However, beyond what teachers stated in that internal survey, I think that:

a) as a recent survey has stated for (digital) learners, also for teachers it is worth considering ‘clusters of minorities’ in using technologies: a difficulty relies in accurately surveying needs, competencies and expectations and as a consequence in designing specific interventions for specific target groups;

b) many faculty are afraid that a focus on teaching methods and practices could undermine one of the key features of higher education: teaching as a research-based activity. So, I believe that only the progressive spread of practices of digital and open scholarship can help to create an osmotic process between research and teaching, through and thanks to technology. If we train an open scholar, she/he will be more likely to be a digital/open teacher.

bruce nightingale
3:10pm 23 January 2010 (Edited 3:13pm 23 January 2010)

A few thoughts. The Teacher Development Agency (TDA) is very supportive of initial teacher educators (ITE) exploring the use of different technologies within teacher training. I can assure you that good practice is being developed with trainees'  working alongside tutors to co develop understanding of the potential of new technologies. The transfer of this understanding is not easy. Far to many schools are reluctant to explore tools other than the LA provided VLE - esafety is often quoted as the reason behind this 'technological lockdown'. BECTA could do more to help schools realise that esafety is preparing the pupils to be safe outside of school as well as inside. (The so called 'walled garden' argument)

If you look across the pond to the US there are some good links on this topic:- 2.0/Leadership for Web 2 in Schools Final(slides).pdf

The Horizon report

At my institute, we use a variety of contemporary technology and it's the non ICT teacher trainees who are amongst the most prolific and innovative users of technology. See the BBC News School report  and Don Passey's independent research extolling the educational virtues of the project.

The 'Harnessing Technology' strategy should not be limited to IWBs and a LA funded VLE.

Is the question about motivating teachers or motivating headteachers, SMT, LA to allow teachers to utilise and develop the skills that many new entrants to the profession posses. 

Gráinne Conole
11:27am 24 January 2010

Thanks for sharing these insights Bruce - I totally agree with you we need to move beyond the VLE! Also sharing insights in terms of what other teachers are doing has got to be a key element in terms of helping to getting broader adoption and use of technologies. As teachers I think we 'trust' ideas and experience we hear from fellow teachers much more than 'dry' research reports or hyped policy documents. This of course is a key driver behind this cloudworks site! We wanted to harness web 2.0 practice to enable teachers to share and discuss their teaching practice.

bruce nightingale
3:02pm 24 January 2010 (Edited 3:02pm 24 January 2010)

I have chosen to use ning with my PGCE students and integrate it's use throughout the course for a variety of reasons. Developing a sustainable CoP is a key idea potentially inspiring the trainee teacher to particpate in mature online CoP's such as 'Ning in Education and to implement projects such as the Flatclassroom.  

How are trying to drive teacher / trainee teacher traffic to cloudworks? Do you get a 'reasonable' percentage returning and participating in discussions?

I like the LTScotland site for using the very technologies that we would like to see being used in schools.


7:53pm 24 January 2010

I'd like to add this blog post. I'm a tech integrator and run into this all the time. There are some strategies that help win your "naysayers" over. It's in a "Top Ten" format.

Gráinne Conole
4:19pm 3 February 2010

Hi Lydia

nice set of tips - good summary of some of the useful ways to get by, particularly when starting out!

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