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How We Adopt New Technologies

posted: 2.15.13 by archived

Every time I get together with colleagues to talk about teaching, as I did a few weeks ago at our annual Faculty Development Workshop, I find myself trying to assess where my colleagues are with adopting technology in their teaching–and where I stand in relation to them. The group who attend professional development seminars are, perhaps, not the best group to gauge technology penetration among college faculty. These folks, by the nature of their attending a professional development day, were probably among the more progressive of those who teach at our college.

Still, whether it’s because my colleagues are experimenting more or because the Luddites are staying home, I seem to hear fewer comments these days of the “well-that-sort-of-thing-is-not-for-me” variety. It’s clear that many faculty members at my institution are experimenting with technology. Rather than the “that’s-not-for-me” comments I used to hear, more and more I’m hearing comments of the “this-semester-I-plan-to-try-out-the-(insert: blog, discussion board, wiki, journal)-tool.”

All of this has me thinking about the stages that faculty go through as we adapt to new teaching technologies and try to account for changes in our practice. Not surprisingly, I’m not the only person thinking about this question. A quick Google search revealed any number of studies examining faculty use of and attitudes towards technology in the classroom. One of the most interesting studies I found was “Analysis of Predictive Factors That Influence Faculty Members’ Technology Adoption Level” (PDF) by Ismail Sahin & Ann Thompson. I’ve tended to think that in the not-so-distant future, this question of technology adoption will become a moot point, as more and more of the so-called “digital natives” enter the classroom–as faculty. Faculty at the mid- and end-points of their careers today came of age at under a different pedagogical regime and during a different era. It’s understandable that many are not so enthused to embrace new teaching technologies or ways of teaching.

However, I was interested to learn that in Sahin and Thompson’s study, demographics (including age) were “not a significant determinant of the level of instructional technology use by faculty” (the focus of this study was on College of Education faculty at a midwestern university). Rather, factors such as availability of self-directed information/learning sources, interaction with other faculty members, and participation in learning communities played a much more important role in faculty members’ use of technology. In other words, use of technology in the classroom seems to have less to do with how old you are and more to do with…well, who you spend time with on campus when you’re not in the classroom.

Through the Sahin/Thompson article, I also discovered the interesting Learning/Adoption Trajectory model developed Sherry, Tavalin, & Gibson (2000). Created to evaluate technology use by K-12 teachers, the model contains five different stages (and identities) among teachers:

  • Stage 1: Teacher as Learner In this information-gathering stage, teachers learn the knowledge and skills necessary for performing instructional tasks using technology.
  • Stage 2: Teacher as Adopter In this stage, teachers progress through stages of personal and task management concern as they experiment with the technology, begin to try it out in their classrooms, and share their experiences with their peers.
  • Stage 3: Teacher as Co-Learner In this stage, teachers focus on developing a clear relationship between technology and the curriculum, rather than concentrating on task management aspects.
  • Stage 4: Teacher as Reaffirmer/Rejecter In this stage, teachers develop a greater awareness of intermediate learning outcomes (i.e., increased time on tasks and greater student engagement) and begin to create new ways to observe and assess impact on student products and performances, and to disseminate exemplary student work to a larger audience.
  • Stage 5: Teacher as Leader: In this stage, experienced teachers expand their roles to become action researchers who carefully observe their practice, collect data, share the improvements in practice with peers, and teach new members. Their skills become portable (p. 170-171).

I’m not sure that Sherry et al. intended for readers to understand this model as a series of stages that one moves through in a linear way arriving, eventually, at Stage 5. I think it’s possible and probably likely to be at different stages at different times, depending on a range of other factors. In fact, depending on the kind of technology you’re talking about, I recognize myself in almost all of these stages. So, where are you with your technology practices? Do you see yourself in one or more of these stages? Where are you headed and where have you been with learning about and adopting technology in the writing classroom? Or is technology in teaching just still not for you?

Categories: Michael Michaud
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