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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Technology Integration Research Review: Avoiding Pitfalls

Some of the biggest challenges to successful technology integration come with implementation. We've compiled a list of strategies to help manage and resolve the most common issues educators face.
Vanessa Vega
Former Edutopia Senior Manager of Research

Perhaps the most common complaints about technology integration are that access to tools or spotty connectivity limits the learning. Hardware is purchased in bulk but then left to gather dust, or software is mandated but there is no tech support to make sure it runs smoothly. Despite the many different kinds of tools and the varying levels of commitment to implementation, a few common lessons can help make any kind of technology integration more likely to be successful. Read on for tips to avoid common mistakes.

Schools That Work:

High school students in this computer lab in rural Idaho are taking online courses in subjects they wouldn't otherwise be able to access (left), from the Idaho Digital Learning Academy (right). Learn more about this school.

Credit: Grace Rubenstein

Professional Learning Supports are Critical

Recent studies indicate that only 23 percent of teachers feel prepared to integrate technology into their instruction, and when they do integrate technology, they tend to use it to present information rather than to provide hands-on learning for students (Moeller and Reitzes, 2011). Teachers are more likely to use technology in ways that promote student engagement, inquiry, and self-directed learning after receiving in-depth and sustained professional development in technology integration (Law and Yuen, 2006; Innovative Teaching and Learning Research, 2011; Bebell and O'Dwyer, 2010; Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010). Professional development should be job-embedded, linking technology usage to specific content standards and learners in teachers' classrooms, and should also provide technical support. Several online professional learning networks can also help to support teachers with technology integration, including: International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), Classroom 2.0, and Edutopia's Tech Tools discussion group. When professional development is sustained beyond one year and supports active learning, technical and instructional difficulties tend to be overcome (Gerard, Varma, Corliss, and Linn, 2011). Successful schoolwide technology integration ultimately requires a schoolwide cultural shift in which good teaching means using technology effectively (Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010; Levin and Wadmany, 2008).

Test-Drive Your Equipment

Prior to any digital learning experience, test-drive the entire operation in advance to work out all the kinks so that valuable learning time is not wasted. Account for all possible ways that technology can go awry, and be prepared with an alternative way of pursuing the goal. Design, test, re-design, and re-test to ensure that technology integration is effective and that learning objectives are being achieved. Learning is a process, and flexibility and customization are often necessary.

Design for Universal Access

The principles of universal design ensure maximum accessibility to learning materials. From creating simplified presentations that reduce information overload to ensuring information can be accessed in multiple ways, universal design for learning benefits everyone. Moodle has been cited as offering features for reducing barriers to access information. The National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI) produces TechMatrix, an extensive library on research-based technology designed for students with special needs.

Avoid the Fallacy of the Digital Native

Do not assume kids know very much about using technology just because they have grown up with technology. Research indicates most kids cannot discriminate between high- and low-credibility sources and do not know how to critically evaluate information on the Internet (Livingstone, 2008). In addition, 43 percent of students report that they feel unprepared to use technology as they look ahead to higher education or their work life (Moeller and Reitzes, 2011). In explaining how people become digitally literate, breadth of use, experience, gender, and education are more important than generation (Helsper and Enyon, 2010). In addition, a higher parental education, being male, and being white or Asian American has been associated with higher levels of Web-use skill (Hargittati, 2010).

Increase Value at the Same Cost

When purchasing technology, focus on increasing value at the same cost. Do not settle for cost decreases with equivalent value; only accept more value for the same cost. Some technology systems do not inter-operate with other systems, and investing in such systems can interfere with students' and teachers' ability to collaborate with and learn from other communities. Designing projects and systems that require or allow for collaboration is a key challenge for teachers who wish to integrate technology effectively.

What challenges and successes have you experienced in K-12 tech integration? Share your thoughts by joining our Technology Tools discussion group or with a comment below.

Continue to the next section of the Tech Integration Research Review, Annotated Bibliography.

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