The number of available digital learning tools continues to grow exponentially, as does their adoption by stakeholders at all levels in the educational ecosystem (Davis, 2018). Therefore, it is imperative that developing preservice teachers’ expertise with technology evaluation and integration be a requirement of teacher education programs. According to Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2010), “professionals of the 21st century think and act differently than those of previous centuries, due at least in part to the radically different tools they use to perform their jobs” (p. 255). Furthermore, they suggest that “it is time to shift our mindsets away from the notion that technology provides a supplemental teaching tool and assume, as with other professions, that technology is essential to successful performance outcomes (i.e., student learning)” (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010, p. 256).
Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2010) note that “issues of teacher change are central to any discussion of technology integration” and that the following dimensions should be examined: “(a) beliefs, attitudes, or pedagogical ideologies; (b) content knowledge; (c) pedagogical knowledge of instructional practices, strategies, methods, or approaches; and (d) novel or altered instructional resources, technology, or materials” (p. 258). By examining each of these dimensions, teachers can identify areas of personal professional strength and areas where they will need to engage in professional learning in order to be successful. Any discussion of change should focus on the opportunity to gain and enhance professional strengths.
When attempting change, it is important to honor current knowledge and practice, and call attention to how innovation builds upon that knowledge and practice (Bolman & Deal, 2017). Teacher educators may be familiar with the work of Shulman (1986), who was responsible for the breakthrough combination of the study of content with the study of pedagogy in teacher education programs, and the resulting framework, comprising the domains of content knowledge (CK) and pedagogical knowledge (PK), combined as pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) (Shulman, 1986). Using Shulman’s work as a starting point, Mishra and Koehler (2006) incorporated a new domain, technological knowledge (TK), and thus created a new framework that became known as technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK). Rather than take the place of Shulman’s (1986) framework, Mishra & Koehler (2006) noted that TPACK was a response to the proliferation of digital technologies in the teaching profession that was simply not a consideration when Shulman’s (1986) framework was developed. Furthermore, there is a well-known refrain among digital education researchers: Learning first, technology second! This calls attention to the need to carefully consider whether and how a digital tool addresses a problem or need in learning, as well as enhances our ability to address that problem or meet that need. Our innovations need to be rooted in our known best-practices and represent growth within and beyond those practices.
In addition to pointing out what is familiar in what is new, it is also important “to make sure that those involved have the talent, confidence, and expertise to carry out their new responsibilities” (Bolman & Deal, 2017, p. 372). Regarding teachers and technology integration, Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2010) agree, noting that “although knowledge of technology is necessary, it is not enough if teachers do not also feel confident using that knowledge to facilitate student learning” (p. 261). Furthermore, they provide a number of strategies to accomplish this, supported by the literature, including focusing on immediate needs (putting learning first) and providing ample time and scaffolding (mentors, PLCs, etc.) for initial and ongoing professional learning (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010). Bolman and Deal (2017) support the use of “informal networks” to achieve sustainable change, noting that they “perform a number of functions that formal structure may do poorly or not at all—moving projects forward, imparting culture, mentoring, and creating ‘communities of practice’” (p. 210). We learn best in collaboration with our peers, as we solve the day-to-day problems we face in our work, through trial and error, celebrating success, and failing forward.
However, according to Dysart and Weckerle (2015), few universities offer the type of ongoing technological-pedagogical support that is considered best practice. They acknowledge that “maintaining ongoing formal support for all faculty beyond their first semester of teaching with technology is simply not sustainable for most institutions,” but suggest that communities of practice (CoPs) can be used to sustain professional learning beyond the initial formal support offered to instructors who are new to using technology (Dysart & Weckerle, 2015, p. 261). Other researchers have also explored the use of professional learning communities (PLCs) focused on technology integration as a way to create sustainable support networks within teacher education programs.
Brody and Hadar (2018) followed a professional learning community (PLC) comprised of teacher education program faculty over 7 years. They examined incidents of dissonance during experiences with technology integration, and how interactions with the PLC led to points of growth for the participants (Brody & Hadar, 2018). They noted that “teacher educators’ critical moments consistently related to their decision whether or not to implement innovative practice” and that “multiple feedback loops” from members of the community (colleagues and students) influenced their professional growth (Brody & Hadar, 2018).
Engin and Atkinson (2015) examined the use of an interdisciplinary faculty learning community (FLC) to provide continuing support for faculty after an initial 6-month training on technology integration. The faculty participants reported a “crisis of confidence” when they began using new technologies in their teaching and that they “worried about looking unprofessional in front of their students” (Engin & Atkinson, 2015). Regarding the FLC, the faculty participants reported “collegiality as a significant feature of the community,” as opposed to the “top-down training” delivered by the administration (Engin & Atkinson, 2015). The authors further noted that the “focus on a shared goal,” learning “contextualized in the real practices of the participants,” and community collaboration to solve problems led to positive outcomes for the FLC, and therefore positive outcomes for the university’s technology initiative (Engin & Atkinson, 2015).
Along with feeling confident and prepared, teachers need to believe that the new technology is useful in meeting the needs of their students (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010). In any organization, change needs to be perceived as an improvement from “business as usual” by those who are being asked to enact it (Bolman & Deal, 2017). The stakes are high in any organization considering a change in practice; for teachers, the stakes are the academic outcomes for their students. The degree to which a new technology solves an educational problem and therefore leads to better performance outcomes for students will greatly affect the enthusiasm with which teachers will adopt it.
Finally, although there will always be outliers, the vast majority of teachers conform to the culture of the school in which they work (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010). There is a reason that the word “disruption” is often paired with technological innovation. The constantly changing nature of technology can be seen as exciting or relentless, and whether or not a school has a culture of innovation can make the difference in how teachers respond to new technologies. Davis (2018) introduced the idea of viewing educational environments as “ecosystems” with multiple stakeholders, but also “keystones” or individuals who are the central driving forces within an ecosystem. As we move through educational ecosystems—from individual classroom to school, district, state government, federal government, worldwide—the who of the “keystone” role changes, but their influence on the culture of the ecosystem reverberates down (Davis, 2018). Leadership matters.
Our teacher education programs need to prepare preservice teachers for the technology-infused classroom environments they will encounter or be asked to help build. Preservice teachers benefit from modeling by teacher education program faculty, as well as from observing mentor teachers in the field (Estes & Dailey-Herbert, 2018). According to Farina and Coleman (2018), “If we want to see sustainable change in the way teaching takes place in universities, if we want NxGL [next generation learning] approaches to take hold and have a transformative impact on the futures of diverse students, then the use of new learning techniques must become systemic” (p. 321). To that end, universities need to further explore supporting their existing communities of practice (e.g. faculty in a teacher education program) in collaborating (e.g. through PLCs) to make technology integration a part of their everyday practice.
Brody, D. L., & Hadar, L. L. (2018). Critical moments in the process of educational change: Understanding the dynamics of change among teacher educators. European Journal of Teacher Education, 41(1), 50-65. doi:10.1080/02619768.2017.1372741
Davis, N. (2018). Digital technologies and change in education: The arena framework. Routledge.
Dysart, S. A., & Weckerle, C. (2015). Professional development in higher education: A model for meaningful technology integration. Journal of Information Technology Education: Innovations in Practice. https://www.openaire.eu/search/publication?articleId=doajarticles::c0e26a4779994ba0e8259f60bb281478
Engin, M., & Atkinson, F. (2015). Faculty learning communities: A model for supporting curriculum changes in higher education. International Society for Exploring Teaching and Learning. https://www.openaire.eu/search/publication?articleId=od_______305::daea80269c67fe2273524eb76ad40feb
Ertmer, P. A., & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. T. (2010). Teacher technology change: How knowledge, confidence, beliefs, and culture intersect. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 42(3), 255–284. https://eric.ed.gov/contentdelivery/servlet/ERICServlet?accno=EJ882506
Estes, J. S., & Dailey-Herbert, A. (2018). Modeling technology integration in teacher preparation programs. In J. Keengwe (ed.), Handbook of research on pedagogical models for next-generation teaching and learning (Advances in educational technologies and instructional design) (pp. 82-97). Information Science Reference.
Farina, D. M., & Coleman, N. (2018). College student reception of next-generation learning and effective approaches for instructors. In J. Keengwe (ed.), Handbook of research on pedagogical models for next-generation teaching and learning (Advances in educational technologies and instructional design) (pp. 306-324). Information Science Reference.
Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017–1054.
Shulman, L. S. (1986). Those who understand: A conception of teacher knowledge. American Educator, 10(1), 9–15.