Effective strategies for overcoming the barriers to the authentic integration of digital technologies in schools.

Sean McHugh is a Digital Literacy Coach at a large international school in Singapore.  The school has recently implemented a technology enhanced learning (TEL) initiative which involved developing a  programme of increased access to computers and other information communiction technology (ICT) across the school.  His enquiry considered barriers to ICT integration, and possible solutions.  Developing ICT expertise for teachers has tended to be done through ‘training courses’. However, for the duration of this enquiry this approach was suspended, in order to explore more learner-centred and collaborative approaches for managing teacher development, giving opportunities for teachers to learn through interactions with their colleagues and with their own students.


Pupils, Singapore

This practitioner research study explored barriers to the integration of ICT, the factors that inhibit their use of ICTs for teaching and learning, and the constraints on that use. The data indicated a strong sense that the barrier of time was the most significant, with the barriers of training and tech support as contributory factors. The case study centred on the role of a Digital Literacy Coach (DLC) in the design and exploration of interventions focused on these areas, with three non-technologically proficient, but experienced teachers.

The enabling strategies explored were not focused on a barrier-by-barrier basis, but to overcome a number of barriers simultaneously. Interventions that focused on using time in class with students, and ‘non contact’ time during the school day, were found to be particularly effective. Teachers became more confident about drawing on the strengths of their students as a support strategy. A concern that emerged in relation to ICT integration was that the teaching of ICT skills were becoming neglected. Practices to mitigate this were found to be effective but required careful monitoring to ensure that they are pedagogically driven, not skill driven. The data indicated a significant positive change in teacher response to these barriers, indicating that the interventions  explored were effective in mitigating these barriers, interventions that could be applied in other teaching contexts. It was generally felt that any attempts to make time after school for any form of CPD would be ineffective. ‘Training’ and ‘Courses’ do not really take account of the actual needs of teachers, “there can be no one size fits all training (Hu and McGrath, 2011, p 50)”. When teachers can see the explicit relevance of the technology to enhancing their practice, their motivation increases, along with willingness to make the effort and to find the time to change (Daly et al, 2009).  For some teachers a certain amount of ‘unlearning’ is need, especially in terms of assumptions about what constitutes ‘training’ and when and where this is most effective—where the ‘CPD’ is more about certification than transformation.

The major barrier could be summed up in one word. Time.  Or more specifically the lack of it—the lack of time to fully prepare and research ICT materials for lessons, and to become better acquainted with hardware and software (Fabry and Higgs, 1997; Manternach-Wigans et al, 1999).

So the emphasis undertaken in this study was all about being smarter about time, with what could be described as ‘less is more’. Less efficient, but more effective—specifically, often teaching identical, or very similar, skills to several small groups of teachers, at times and places more efficacious to them, rather than once, to all of them, at a time more convenient to the school.


Essential to the success of this change was the reframing of the dominant school paradigm of ‘training’, from a didactic, ‘instructor as expert’ approach, to that of working with a mentor/mediator.  This is about positioning learning around a ‘gradual release of responsibility’ (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983), where all ‘instruction’ is scaffolded for learners, learners who become capable of handling tasks with which they have not yet developed expertise: in effect, learning becomes ‘learning by being’ (Brown & Adler, 2008)—a form of apprenticeship. With this in in mind, traditional ‘en masse’ teacher training was suspended in favour of a core set of ‘little and often’ strategies that were developed with the case study teachers and piloted with their classes; these 4 strategies (3Ts & a J) are described in more detail in the dissertation, and are summarised below.

‘Team Time’
Teachers were asked to use a ‘timetable audit’ to reflect carefully upon a typical week at their grade level (year group). What emerged was that at least twice a week, during the school day in each grade, all the teachers were ‘free’ at the same time. This was dubbed, ‘Team Time’, a time when the DLC (Digital Literacy Coach) would be available specifically to that team to facilitate collaborative and individualised (Hixon & Buckenmeyer, 2009) teacher-generated opportunities to learn from and with each other (Pickering, 2007).

Junior Technology (3 of 8)‘Trickle Down Training’
Teachers benefit far more from informal, home based activities (Hustler et al, 2003), so when they (somewhat guiltily) request assistance with personal uses of ICT, they are often pleasantly surprised to learn that it is precisely this ‘self-centred’ use of ICT that can provide a synergistic, symbiotic ‘cascade effect’ on the development their own ICT skills.

Many students are quick to learn many of the skills and potentialities of digital tools, what Mishra & Koehler (2006) call technological knowledge (TK), yet are not necessarily skilled at, for example, sharing them. The involvement of students through skilled facilitation (Ruddock, 2004) creates a collaborative ethos that harnesses the time spent in the classroom as time for ‘training’ by taking advantage of the students’ natural facility with digital technologies, while also harnessing the pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) of their teachers—their unique perspectives based on many years of experience. This is a repurposing of Mishra & Koehler’s TPACK model (2006) I describe as TK + PCK = TPCK.

Junior Technology (6 of 8)JITT
JITT or ‘just in time teaching/training’, is an organic, serendipitous or spontaneous intervention that occurs on a ‘need to know’ basis, when needed or “just in time”. These are, “spontaneous and short tutorial sessions—both student to student and instructor to student—driven by immediate requirements (Mishra & Koehler, 2006, p 1036).” Teachers acquire ‘problem-solving’ technical skills to overcome first order barriers (Ertmer, 1999) as ‘short, sharp, specific’ interventions at the point of need, within instructional practices that incorporate meaningful uses of technology (ibid). In this way collaborative learning can be achieved which is “shorter, smaller and more frequent”, the kind of ‘needs-based training’ advised by Karagiorgi & Charalambous (2006, p 406), tailored to each teacher’s needs.


Seán’s full dissertation can be read here: MTeach_PBE_S_McHugh_2013-A

He blogs here.



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