Research: The State of Technology Integration for K-12 Schools

While teachers currently have access to technology and some level of training, there is a gap in the meaningful application within the K-12 classroom. This suggests that the training lacked relevance or support as they implemented technology into their instruction. Studies suggest that an integration model that includes a Personal Learning Community (PLC) and Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSS) would lead to more effective results in technology integration for teachers. Since instructional time is so precious, these two features, working in tandem, would foster an atmosphere of learning how to meaningfully integrate technology while actually instructionally planning. Not only would time be saved, but it would be time well-invested.

Among the many tasks that teachers must be ready to implement in the 21st century classroom is meaningful integration of technology. In the 1980s and 90s, technology was largely a tool for drilling and practice. Today the advanced nature of devices provide enough speed and memory for rich media and website capabilities (Reiser, 2012). The classroom of today challenges educators to use technology for more than just drill, practice, and content dumping with lectures (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2009). Furthermore, teachers will need to continue to learn how the ever-evolving tools of technology can enhance instructional practice. (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2009). Thus, the purpose of this paper is to determine the extent in which teachers are adequately trained to implement technology inside their classes and to describe what a model of professional development might include for technology integration for the K-12 classroom teacher.

Literature Review
More and more teachers are using technology as an instructional tool inside their classes. According to a Walden University survey in 2010, 60% of K-12 teachers surveyed reported using technology sporadically or infrequently in class (Walden University, 2010). Secondary teachers were slightly more likely to be heavier users of technology (Walden University, 2010). It comes as little surprise that many of the schools where these teachers work, administration has used professional development as a means of increasing the use of technology. Of the teachers surveyed, 67% said their school trained a few teachers to train the rest of the staff in their building (Walden University, 2010). Only 26% of the teachers reported that their school created support teams and even fewer, 12%, said their administration registered teachers in an online course for technology integration (Walden University, 2010).

The Walden University results correspond to a Department of Education (DOE) report in 2010 (with 2009 results) regarding technology in the K-12 classroom. In the DOE study, 61% of teachers surveyed said they had received at least some professional development on technology integration (Gray, Thomas, & Lewis, 2010). On closer examination, results reveals that the classroom was behind on the tools that the everyday students use outside of class. Reportedly, 31% of teachers in the DOE survey said they often had students correspond with others (using technology), 25% had students create art, movies, or websites, and only 9% had students contributing to wikis and blogs (Gray, Thomas, & Lewis, 2010). Further, of the 61% who reported some level of professional development, 53% said they received between 1-8 hours of professional development (Gray, Thomas, & Lewis, 2010).

Administrators play a critical role in the implementation of technology in a K-12 setting (Mouza, 2003). Walden’s research showed that while 92% of administrators view their own efforts at supporting teachers with technology is helpful, 66% of teachers did; a near 30% gap (Walden University, 2010). Teachers who have follow up training and/or mentoring with support from administration are more likely to be successful (May, 2000). If a third of teachers feel like their administration is not supportive in their technology integration, how successful can implementation be? Further, consider the reported implementation with students versus the amount of professional development time from the DOE. If teachers are getting professional development, but the implementation within the classroom is not involving the students in meaningful ways, what does that say about the model delivery for professional development and implementation?

Based on this research, teachers have technology available, many are using it, and have at least some professional development support (Walden University, 2010). Teachers may have training on the latest technology, however, their usage of technology within the classroom is still largely a managerial tool and not an instructional tool. (Gray, Thomas, & Lewis, 2010). The type of professional development opportunities districts use varies; with the majority using the “train the trainer” model where a few teachers get in-depth training and then come back to the school as “experts” to support their peers (Gray, Thomas, & Lewis, 2010). Whatever the permutation of professional development for technology integration, it plays a critical role in the ultimate success for the teacher (US Department of Education, 2005).

Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are designed to create an environment where teachers gather and seek out support for growth around their practice (Stoll, Bolam, McMahon, Wallace, & Thomas, 2006). PLCs could support teacher growth of technology integration since teachers need to collaborate as they learn new practices and ideas (Franke, Carpenter, Levi & Fennema, 2001). Many teachers informally gather together in a PLC while getting ready for implementation of new ideas. For example, Julio teaches research writing to high school students. He would like to integrate technology into his instructional methodology. Julio decides to use Google Documents as a tool for students to write research papers searches education communities on Google+ for ideas and tips. He consults with the district IT staff to make sure deployment can be done; complete with a white-listing of possible research sites students will visit as part of their research. Such activities would be considered informal learning, where a learner (in this case Julio), seeks knowledge through a non-linear format that is self-motivated and self-directed (Rossett & Hoffman, 2012).

A more powerful PLC is intentional with focused goals (Stoll et al., 2006). As teachers prepare for instructional preparation, teachers should assemble a team of support experts who can help guide and mentor technology integration. Twenty-first century technology provides the ability to collaborate within a PLC both in-person and electronic via social media (Delello, McWhorter, and Camp, 2015). Therefore, a suggested goal of a PLC would be to improve technology integration while instructionally planning. The intentional focus on technology is an example of a Problem-Based Learning exercise (PBL), which Jonassen would argue, “should be the central focus for all education” (Jonassen, 2012, p.64). PBLs are mostly based in networks (Savin-Baden, 2011, p.133). It reasons that technology-enhanced PLCs are ideal for technology integration since teachers could pull from online communities (networks) that many experts participate in. A teacher could use such networks for guidance, support, and feedback.

Stoll et al. (2006) would argue for a PLC that contains experts on technology tools, peer mentors, administration, and students since they all have a shared vision and are collectively responsible for quality education. Experts could help coach the teacher on the purpose and how to use different variants of technology. Peer mentors can help the teacher brainstorm possible technology tools that will help the teacher meet instructional goals. Mentors might also model and provide observational feedback to the teacher. Stearns remarked, “without some form of classroom observation, teachers’ assimilation of PD ideas cannot be assessed and student learning may be compromised” (Stearns et al, 2012, p.9). As such, administration should be a part of the observations and provide feedback and redirection, if needed. Students should also have input to a teacher’s PLC as part of the democratic classroom (Amiel & Reeves, 2008; Marshall & Rossett, 2011).

A strong PLC would provide the safety net that teachers need as they implement. Very much like the guide-on-the-side approach, the teacher would be implementing within a PBL framework. The teacher would use the collected group wisdom of the PLC to learn new competencies. These competencies would include the skills, knowledge, and experience needed to improve technology integration within their classroom.

Electronic Performance Support Systems
Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSS) were first developed in the early 1990s to support workers with a system that would provide individualized controls allowing the worker to learn while completing tasks (Gery, 1991). Modern Electronic Performance Support Systems include three main components: a work interface where the worker completes most tasks, a performance support broker which would be web-based search engines, FAQs, and links, and an internal database where content related information is stored as a knowledge base (Nguyen, 2012).

Learners who implement new ideas will be more successful if they are able to practice implementation while performing a real task on the job. (Nguyen, 2012). This would support the notion that teachers who implement technology in class will be more successful if they have the opportunity to practice technology integration on the job while getting support at the same time. While this support would definitely be there with a PLC, an EPSS would help to facilitate the process and give access between learner and their PLC. Gery (1991) and Nguyen (2012) would argue that these tools should be on-demand.

Getting knowledge and practicing the skills in a real-world setting is more successful than traditional memorization, recitation. (Barrows & Tablyn, 1980). In Barrows and Tablyn’s research (1980) medical students who were steeped in the knowledge based on lectures and assessments struggled to adequately treat when presented with a live patient. (Barrows & Tablyn, 1980). As a result, the training process was changed so that medical students would have an opportunity to learn tasks and skills while actually treating real patients; with guidance and support from practitioner experts. Likewise, teachers need the opportunity to learn technology integration while doing so in their classes. Stearns et al. (2012) argue that wresting with real-world problems increases the amount of knowledge and skill-development. This problems-based learning approach should be linked to on-demand support from their PLC as the teacher creates instructional spaces for technology integration within their curriculum. Research supports that individuals who have performance support tools are more likely to have a positive effect (Nguyen, 2012).

Gery (1991) argued that an electronic performance support system would provide interventional support for learners. For a teacher these tools should include an online work interface that teachers can use to create their technology-enhanced lessons. For example, a social studies teacher wanting to integrate technology into their geography class might choose to use an online curriculum subscription that includes a lesson plan builder with such features as video tutorials on how to use a tool and links to web 2.0 tools with ideas for curricular connections. These on-demand tools will allow for teachers to get the support they need in a “timely, relevant, and current content” (Nyugen, 2012, p.153).

Many Learning Management Systems (LMS) provide elements of Nyugen’s (2012) description of modern EPSSs. A LMS includes a work interface, performance support broker, and internal database. A teacher might join an online community where teachers post problems, propose solutions, and links to additional resources related to instructional practices. The LMS also provides a search feature that allows teachers to find just the information or expertise they are looking for. In this way, the teacher uses the LMS features similar to a performance support broker to access their PLC. LMS platforms also provide storage for documents, videos, and links that the teacher can use in their own learning as well as publish to their own students. Hernandez and Perez (2014) found that a growing number of students prefer to access their school’s LMS using their smartphone. Many LMS platforms are mobile-friendly, and favor the always-there aspect which Gery (1991) and Nugyen (2012) would argue is needed for the teacher integrating technology.

Students are using technology and have access to more media-centric technology than any previous generation. (Katz, Felix, & Gubernick, 2013). Teachers need to keep up with the latest technology and integrate it in today’s classroom. (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2009). Teachers are currently falling short of meaningful implementation (Gray, Thomas, & Lewis, 2010). However, research offers two ideas that could support ongoing technology integration: personal learning communities (Stoll et al, 2006 ) and electronic performance support systems (Nguyen, 2012). A teacher would intentionally use a PLC to add experts on emerging technology tools/uses. Fellow teachers (some could be from online communities) participate on the PLC and provide idea generations, mentoring, and feedback. Administration helps to create learning spaces for the teacher and provides observational feedback to the teacher upon implementation of any new technology. The teacher would also use a EPSS as they grow to use technology in their class. The teacher would use the work interface to complete the tasks of lesson generation and classroom management. The EPSS would provide on-demand search support with links (possibly to their PLC or content provided by the PLC). A rich internal database would provide the teacher with content options as they implement new technology in their classroom. (The chart below, Figure 1, developed by the author, provides an illustrative example how the PLC and EPSS work in concert together.)

Figure 1

How Electronic Performance Support Systems and Personal Learning Communities work in tandem.

How Electronic Performance Support Systems and Personal Learning Communities work in tandem.

Further research should examine LMS platforms that are specifically used in K12 schools to see whether they fully support work context integration and delivery integration (Nyugen, 2012) by easily allowing teachers to access their PLC. Teachers need to commit to utilizing a PLC model that will fully take advantage of an EPSS to meaningfully integrate technology.

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