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Review of the Professional Literature on the Integration of Technology into Educational Programs
Elizabeth Byrom, Ed.D., SERVE

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Since the beginning of 1997, SERVE has been studying promising practices for integrating technology into schools and classrooms across the Southeast. Part of the effort focuses on a synthesis of reports and journal articles on successful technology programs and initiatives. The following narrative provides the highlights of the review related to the state of technology availability in American schools, barriers to technology integration, characteristics of successful programs, and factors that affect teachers use of technology.

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Table of Contents

I.  Technology Availability in American Schools
II.  Barriers to Technology Integration
III.  Features of Successful Technology Programs
IV.  Factors that Affect Teachers Use of Technology
V.  Bibliography

I.  Technology Availability in American Schools

The state of technology use in American schools at any given time is very difficult to pinpoint because it changes constantly. According to the U.S. Senates Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), there were 5.8 million computers in classrooms in 1995, or about 1 for every 9 students, but most of the computers in use were between 4 and 6 years old. In the fall of 1996, the average ratio of multimedia capable computers to students was 1 to 16 (National Center for Education Statistics, 1997). Although these figures show marked improvement from a decade ago, when there was an average of 1 computer for every thirty students, schools are still short of the optimum ratio of 1 computer for every 5 students (Office of Educational Research and Improvement, 1996).

As of 1995, seventy-five percent of public schools had some kind of telecommunications capabilities, such as local and wide area networks, but only thirty-five percent had access to the Internet. Recent news stories on public television, however, put that figure closer to sixty-five percent. Note that the figure pertains to school access, which is not as technically difficult or costly as classroom access. In 1995, in fact, only 1 teacher in 8 had a telephone in the classroom (Office of Technology Assessment, 1995).

Access to technology is one thing: use is another. The CEO Forum on Education and Technology (1997) states that less than 3 percent of Americas schools are at the leading edge of effectively integrating technology into classroom practices. Twelve percent have and use technology but are not devoting adequate resources and time for integrating technology into the curriculum and for professional development. Another twenty-six percent have and use technology but still consider it an extra.

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II.  Barriers to Technology Integration

Why is it that a substantial number of teachers report they do not use computers and other technologies regularly for instruction despite improved access? Most education leaders believe the under-utilization is a result of at least four factors: inadequate teacher training; a lack of vision of technologys potential for improving teaching and learning; a lack of time to experiment; and inadequate technical support (OTA, 1995). Specifically, the OTA lists the following barriers to teachers use of technology:

Lack of teacher time:

  • Experiment with new technologies
  • Share experiences with other teachers
  • Plan lessons using technology
  • Attend technology courses or meetings


  • Hardware and software are limited
  • Upgrades, support, and training are continuing costs
  • Technologies may not be located in or near the classroom
  • Much of the hardware in schools is old and cannot handle newer applications
  • Telecommunications requires new or updated wiring or phone lines


  • Schools and districts need technology planning and leadership
  • Teachers need an understanding of curricular uses of technology
  • Teachers lack models of technology for their professional use
  • Messages on best uses change as technologies change

Training and support:

  • Districts spend far less on teacher training than on hardware and software
  • Training focuses on the mechanics, not on integrating technology into the curriculum
  • Few schools have a full-time school-level computer coordinator

Current assessment practices:

  • Standardized tests may not reflect what students learn with technology
  • Teachers are held immediately accountable for changes that take time to show results (p.3).

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III.  Features of Successful Technology Programs

Studies on technology integration conducted by Macro International suggest that one of the most important factors related to the successful integration of technology is effective leadership (c.f., Livesay & Murray, 1992). Often, the impetus for a technology initiative will be a visionary district superintendent or a school principal -- someone who will lead the development of a shared vision and philosophy for school improvement, form partnerships, solicit the support of the community and educators, leverage resources, and provide effective oversight. Sometimes, however, leadership comes from the state government. In North Carolina, for example, the state legislature and Department of Public Instruction have created a vision and have identified goals for technology integration across the state. A consistent theme across all states is that where there is no collaboration among leaders, there may be pockets of successful programs or initiatives, but these are usually dependent on individuals, and when the individuals leave, the programs disappear (Council of Chief State School Officers, 1990).

Although technology integration is a difficult, time-consuming, resource-intensive endeavor, it results in improved learning and teaching (OTA, 1995). Many teachers who initially believe that technology integration is more trouble than it is worth are willing to use it in their classes if they see a benefit in it for their students (Sheingold & Hadley, 1990). Perhaps the most effective way to help teachers see the potential benefits is for school leaders to engage them, as well as the community, in developing a shared vision for improved outcomes (OERI, 1996), as articulated in district and school technology plans - plans that specify reasonable expectations for success (Means & Olson, 1994).

Rather than focusing on improved scores on standardized tests, which may not occur for several years, some astute districts start with areas where research has shown that extensive and appropriate use of technology makes a difference. For example, students who are low achievers, such as students with learning disabilities or those at risk of academic failure, are especially likely to show improvement in academic achievement (OTA, 1988; Software Publishers Association [SPA], 1993; Weiss, 1994). Moreover, educators and policy makers can expect significant improvement in student behavior and absenteeism (Dwyer, 1994), dropout rates (Braun, 1993), employability (Means et al., 1993), classroom interaction, independent learning, collaboration, and the quality of students products (SPA, 1993).

One of the most revealing studies of technology integration is a ten year study of Apple Computers Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT). These are elementary, middle, and high school classes in average or low income districts that have been infused with technology; each student and teacher has a computer in school and another at home. Teachers receive intensive support and training. Over the course of the project, researchers have been looking at the changes in teachers beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors and have identified stages of development that teachers go through on their way to fully integrating technology into their instructional programs. These stages and concomitant characteristics are summarized in the chart on the next page as adapted from Dwyer et al., 1991.

Stage Characteristics
  • As the classrooms begin to change, teachers have doubts about technology integration.
  • Teachers use technology to support traditional text-based drill and practice.
  • Student achievement showed no significant decline or improvement.
  • Self-esteem and motivation were strong.
  • Student attendance was up and discipline problems were few.
  • Teachers thoroughly integrate technology into traditional classroom practice.
  • Student productivity is increased; students produce more, faster.
  • Students are more actively engaged in learning
  • Teachers and students personally appropriate technology. Teachers gain a perspective on how profoundly they can alter the learning experience.
  • Students have highly evolved technology skills and can learn on their own.
  • Student work patterns and communication become collaborative rather than competitive.
  • Teachers are prepared to develop entirely new learning environments that utilize technology as a flexible tool.
  • Teachers view learning as an active, creative, and socially interactive process.
  • Knowledge is something students construct rather than something that can be transferred.

Over time, technology use changes the way teachers teach. As they grow in their use of technology, they become more willing to experiment, their teaching becomes more student-focused, and they tend to establish collaborative working relationships with other teachers (Dwyer et al., 1991). After four or so years of participating in the ACOT studies, classrooms had become an interesting mix of traditional and nontraditional teaching and learning. Teachers were experimenting with new kinds of tasks for students, and they encouraged far more collaboration among students (Dwyer 1994). These changes occur only when teachers and administrators have flexibility in changing the classroom environment and rearranging schedules to accommodate different patterns of teaching and learning.

In addition to the ACOT studies of technology-rich classes, we can draw upon the lessons learned by researchers at SRI International and the Education Development Corporation (EDC) who studied schools where technology is used extensively and identified seven important factors that contribute to their success:

  1. Technology initiatives should start with instructional goals.

    Piele (1989) suggests that district and school technology plans should start with instructional goals. Or, as SRIs report for OERI points out, "unless the school staff start out with an instructional goal, technology is most likely to be used to reinforce the status quo. . . This requires a schools teachers to come together and to work with administrators to develop a unifying set of goals. Although principles may be embodied somewhat differently in different classrooms, adherence to a consistent set of principles can unify the school" (Means et al., 1993, p.86). If, for example, a district had a goal that focused on using technology to individualize learning opportunities, the actual strategies might differ from school to school. One might start by developing a database of instructional objectives that can be tailored to individual students learning needs. Another might start by using multimedia to develop portfolios of each students work.

  2. Technology must be linked to curricular goals and frameworks.

    Perhaps the most difficult aspect of technology integration is helping teachers cross the bridge between technologys capabilities and curriculum requirements (SERVE, 1996). Successful technology programs provide opportunities for teachers to align technology with the curriculum, such as planning or training sessions where they develop lesson plans that use technology to achieve learning objectives specified by the curriculum.

  3. Technology and the assessment system must be compatible.

    Recognizing that traditional assessment instruments usually do not measure the positive learner outcomes associated with effective technology use, such as creative problem-solving strategies or heightened abilities to collaborate in performing tasks (Dwyer, 1994), educators in successful districts consider assessment from the outset and incorporate it into the technology plan. Designating appropriate assessment strategies helps teachers look for evidence of deeper understanding, statements of relationships, synthesis, and generalization of ideas to new domains (Dwyer, 1994); such strategies often include writing samples, student products, and portfolios.

  4. Teachers and technology need to work together.

    Technology by itself is not likely to make much, if any, impact on student learning. It is the decisions and actions of well trained teachers that determine technologys ultimate instructional effectiveness (SPA, 1993). Teachers who are most successful at technology integration are those who are so comfortable with technology that they seamlessly know when to use it for student-focused learning and when to use direct instruction (Dwyer, 1994). They are constantly monitoring student progress and making instructional and management decisions.

  5. Teachers require ongoing pedagogical and technological support.

    Because it takes an average of four or five years for teachers to reach a point where they can seamlessly mix technology-based instructional strategies with traditional instruction (Sheingold & Hadley, 1990) they require extensive professional development and technical support. Not surprisingly, schools that are successfully integrating technology into their instructional programs have made a strong commitment to professional development for their teachers; these programs have several characteristics in common:

    • The district has committed a substantial portion of the technology budget for teacher training. Indeed, 30 percent of the budget is optimum (RAND, 1995a).
    • Technology training is continual. Staff development specialists recognize that teachers require on-going training and support. The most effective staff development programs provide training that is tailored to teachers needs and provides a learning environment where teachers are motivated to increase their technology skills and knowledge (CCSSO, 1990; SERVE, 1996).
    • Staff development is on-site. Successful school districts provide a training and technical support specialist at each school to help teachers with technical problems and to offer suggestions for integrating technology into the curriculum and instructional activities (SERVE, 1996).
    • Training is just in time (OTA, 1995). Summer institutes and weekend workshops seldom have the desired effect if teachers do not have an immediate opportunity to apply their new knowledge and skills.A better strategy is to provide training just before teachers need it. Another is to provide each teacher with a computer and software to take home, so they have time to experiment and develop lesson plans that incorporate technology.

  6. Community and parent involvement enhances the likelihood of success.

    Consistent with other studies of successful efforts at school reform, the literature on technology integration shows that "the chances for success are increased when parents and the community buy into the instructional goals of the reform and understand the implications in terms of costs, other forgone activities, and likely effects on tests scores" (Means et al., p.90).

  7. Business plays an important role in technology and school reform.

    Another key to successful technology integration is the ability and willingness of school administrators and teachers to use additional resources provided from outside the school to initiate and support fundamental changes (CCSSO, 1990). Often collaborative efforts come in the form of partnerships with businesses who recognize that technology is now ubiquitous in America life and work, and students need to be exposed to it (RAND, 1995b). After more than a dozen years of providing equipment grants to schools, corporations are now sharing the view that technology per se does not make school reform happen. Therefore, they tend to be involved in longer-term partnerships which focus on particular aspects of reform, such as technology workforce preparedness or dropout prevention.

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IV.  Factors that Affect Teachers Use of Technology

In addition to the studies of technology-rich environments, researchers at Macro International examined the use of technology and media in more typical classrooms, i.e., those where there might be only one computer and teachers have to share televisions and VCRs, and identified several key factors that affect teacher behavior. The first has to do with individual and collective philosophies of teaching and learning. Teachers tend to adopt innovations that are in line with their beliefs about how children learn and which teaching methods work best; therefore, teachers who believe technology and media can improve learning are most likely to use in on a daily basis.

A second important factor is the individual teachers flexibility or adaptability to change in general, and a proclivity to adopt or avoid technology in particular. Many teachers, especially those who have had success teaching academic subjects using traditional teaching methods, see no reason to change; others thrive on change and innovation. Another influencing factor has to do with individual needs for control and order. Some teachers are reluctant to relinquish the control and order they have worked hard to establish and maintain in their classrooms, while others relish the organized chaos associated with students working together on group projects, such as searching the Internet for research projects or developing multimedia presentations (Craver, McKown, & Koeppl, 1995). The question arises as to what kind of catalyst motivates hesitant teachers to adopt technology.

Everett Rogers, in his seminal work on the Diffusion of Innovations (1983) describes a process of adoption and decision making that seems to apply to schools and educators adoption of technology. The process has five steps: the individual or decision-making group moves from first knowledge of an innovation to forming and attitude toward the innovation to a decision to adopt or reject, to implementation of the new idea, and finally, to confirmation of the decision. Along the way, individuals seek information to decrease uncertainty about the innovation. At the knowledge stage, there is great interest in innovation-evaluation information, with the most valued source being individuals who have actual experience with the innovation. In the case of schools, this model suggests that teachers who use technology are the best source of information for teachers who have yet to adopt it.

Rogers explains that there are many factors that influence the rate at which innovations are adopted: these include their relative advantage, compatibility with current practice, complexity, "trialability," and observability of results. However, there is typically a pattern of diffusion across innovations. Rogers names these groups innovators (2.5%), early adopters (13.5%), early majority (34%), late majority (34%), and laggards (16%). If we extrapolate from Rogers work, we can anticipate technology adoption will "take off" when 10 to 25 percent of given group of educators are using technology in their ongoing instructional programs; that is the point at which interpersonal networks become activated. Or, as staff development specialists say, teachers need time and opportunities to work together and share ideas.

When all is said and done, we realize that the adoption of technology is similar to the adoption of other educational innovations; it is just more time consuming, labor intensive, and expensive. Is it worth it? Probably. Do we have a choice? Not really. The risks of not using technology are too great, when we consider the rapid pace at which knowledge is expanding and the need to communicate and compete in a global community. As the CEO Forum declares, "To thrive in todays world and tomorrows work place, Americas students must learn how to learn, learn how to think and have a solid understanding of how technology works and what it can do. American schools must, therefore, provide students with the opportunity to combine the best of traditional learning with the unprecedented opportunities technology offers (1997, p.3).

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