September/October 2000 // Commentary
Why Can't We Just Get on with It? Forces that Complicate the Integration of Technology into Teaching and Learning
by Nancy Cooley and Michelle A. Johnston
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: Nancy Cooley and Michelle A. Johnston "Why Can't We Just Get on with It? Forces that Complicate the Integration of Technology into Teaching and Learning" The Technology Source, September/October 2000. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Why do so few teachers use technology to support teaching and learning? Schools serving pre-school through 12th-grade (P-12) students are spending substantial sums on technology infrastructure; many schools are connected to the Internet, and students generally like technology. Yet on the first page of a recent report, the CEO Forum (2000) identifies educators' minimal use of technology as a "national crisis." Because colleges of education prepare teachers for P-12 classrooms, some argue that it must be the colleges' fault if teachers are not using technology. Perhaps universities are not placing enough emphasis on this important aspect of teacher preparation, or maybe faculty are doing a poor job of preparing teachers for the Information Age.

Critics forget that many members of the present aging teacher population graduated before computer and Internet-based technology existed—and thus before teacher preparation programs addressed the meaningful integration of technology into instruction. Even teachers prepared relatively recently, but before the advent of Internet-based technology, may not have received the training they need to meet the demands of new and emerging technologies. Early teacher preparation in technology focused on lower-level skill acquisition (Valdez et al, 1999) such as performing simple computer operations, running basic software, or operating a scanner. That training did not help teachers or teacher educators understand the promise of technology to transform education.

These facts constitute only a partial explanation for the slow pace of P-16 technology integration. We have a combined total of nearly 60 years of experience in a wide variety of educational environments, and we have worked with pre-service teachers, in-service teachers, and teacher educators in the United States and abroad. Through reflection on and discussion about these experiences, we have identified several interrelated forces that impede the integration of technology into P-12 education and complicate the technology leadership role of colleges of education. A recent publication commissioned by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education substantiates many of our conclusions (see Kent & McNergney, 1999).

Forces Impeding the Integration of Technology into P-12 Teaching and Learning

Eight major factors hinder the integration of technology into P-12 education. First, many school districts spend technology dollars on the acquisition of technology infrastructure and have no funds left for software or teacher training. In one district that bought computers but no software, teachers used illegal copies of friends’ and relatives’ software. The district subsequently issued a policy prohibiting software piracy and removed all unlicensed software from the teachers’ computers. District officials did not, however, provide funds for the purchase of legal software. In this war of wills, the teachers eventually refused to use technology in their classrooms.

Second, decisions about hardware and software purchases often are made by P-12 administrators, business officers, and/or vendors who do not seek teacher input. One district purchased a computerized "drill-and-practice" reading program for multiple grade levels and the hardware to support it. The teachers, who favored a whole language approach, resisted any use of the inflexible computer program because they thought it would destroy their students’ emerging love of reading.

Third, although many P-12 buildings have Internet connections, often they are not where the teachers want them or can use them. In some schools teachers must take their students to a computer lab or to the library/media center. The lab or library schedule limits the number of teachers who can use the Internet on a daily basis. Sometimes the connection is in the teachers’ lounge; thus teachers can use the Internet only while preparing lessons and not during class periods. In a few schools, the only Internet connection is in the principal’s office, where the principal finds teaching materials and prints them off for teachers. This situation leaves teachers with less autonomy over their lesson plans, especially when material selected by the principals does not match the teachers' instructional plans. Finally, teachers lucky enough to have classroom Internet connections often find them unreliable because the infrastructure of the schools cannot support multiple Internet connections.

Fourth, technology training for P-12 teachers is sometimes inappropriate. Training conducted by non-educators too often focuses on hardware or software mastery rather than on the integration of technology into teaching and learning. One district ran a special session on how to use a scanner, but trainers did not discuss what materials might be scanned or how a scanned image could be used in the classroom.

High-performance, Internet-based computer technology requires a paradigm shift. Technology allows students to access more information faster and present information in new ways; teachers therefore need to learn instructional strategies that actively engage their students, pose meaningful problems for students to solve, and guide their students to think critically. The teachers cannot employ such strategies if they have not practiced them during their own training. Putnam and Borko (2000) contend that teacher education should be situated in the teachers’ environments, include authentic problem-based activities, and involve social discourse. Specifically, they suggest that the most productive models are continuous on-site learning communities, where teachers collaboratively investigate ways to integrate technology into their instruction to support learning outcomes, reflect on their teaching, and assess student learning. This is vastly different from isolated teacher training on how to use a scanner.

Fifth, most P-12 districts do not provide adequate technology support. Unless teachers are confident that someone will be available to help them if they experience technical difficulties during the preparation or delivery of a lesson, they are reluctant to become involved with technology tools. Teachers often prepare lessons in the evening or on the weekend; even those districts that do provide technical support for teachers seldom have anyone on call "after hours." Teachers must sometimes wait for months after reporting a problem to receive technical assistance—and by the time help comes, they have moved on to a different unit.

Sixth, few P-12 districts have a plan for funding equipment maintenance, repair, and upgrades. If equipment breaks down or no longer supports the software teachers need, then the use of technology in teaching and learning is sharply curtailed. Teachers historically have augmented their meager instructional budgets with personal funds; the poorest schools have expected the most financial augmentation from staff members. The high costs of technology equipment and service calls, however, make it nearly impossible for teachers to fund these items without a commitment from the district. Districts that purchase technology through bond issues must be careful to set aside funds for upgrades, or taxpayers will end up paying for outdated equipment.

Seventh, P-12 teachers are typically comfortable with the lessons and units they have used successfully in the past, and they resist technology because they believe that it will alter the nature of those assignments. Resistance to the use of technology is often tied to the following philosophy: a teacher’s role is to motivate and facilitate a commonality of interest and purpose among disparate learners, and technology detracts from this process (Graves, 1999). The teachers who hold this philosophy are uncomfortable with the notion of students interacting independently with a computer or with online peers, and they have difficulty translating their own central classroom role to the virtual environment. One teacher, whose students were actively engaged in mathematical simulations, reported that she felt "extraneous" to the learning process.

Eighth, incentives and rewards promote other district priorities, and teachers’ are directed to other responsibilities. P-12 administrators often advise teachers to focus primarily on raising students’ test scores; learning to use technology is lower on the "to do" list.

Forces Complicating the Technology Leadership Role of Colleges of Education

Colleges of education are increasingly chastised for their unwillingness or inability to transform P-16 education and particularly for their failure to transform it with technology. A report by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (1997) declares that "a majority of teacher preparation programs are falling far short of what needs to be done . . . The reasons for these deficiencies . . . are relatively easy to explain, if difficult to excuse" (pp. 6–7).

Five major factors complicate the technology leadership role of colleges of education. First, most of these colleges have inadequate infrastructure development. Although there are some shining examples of education schools with cutting-edge technology facilities, on most campuses the college of education receives fewer equipment investments than other colleges. Many education faculty members who would like to use technology do not have easy access to a technology-mediated classroom or to an Internet connection. They must either take their classes to another, better-equipped building or use a portable multimedia cart.

Much of the equipment that is available to faculty has been bought with grant money, but grant-funded equipment, like all equipment, must be supported, repaired, and upgraded—and grants do not typically include funds for such needs. One university is considering "taxing" faculty $200 for each grant-funded computer (for on-going maintenance and support); if it implements this levy, the university will inadvertently dissuade faculty from acquiring additional hardware. At other universities, fiscal planners simply filter out technology requests from planning and budget cycles in an attempt to avoid ongoing costs for maintenance, repair, upgrades, software, faculty development, and technology support staff.

Second, education colleges frequently experience technology support crises. It is difficult for most campuses to find the funds to attract and retain technology support staff. On many campuses, it can take months for a faculty member to get a new computer set up or a software program loaded onto that computer. A catch-22 situation arises: faculty are prohibited from installing software themselves, but the technology support staff places a low priority on software installation. (With limited personnel, support centers tend to focus on high-priority requests.)

Third, there is a pervasive lack of faculty technology training in education colleges. Moreover, Kent and McNergney (1999) believe that some education faculty members are "out of touch" with today’s P-12 schools: "They have little understanding of the vast changes that are occurring in P-12 classrooms as a result of the introduction of technology and how they must change their own instruction to stay abreast of changes in the schools" (p. 14). These faculty members need to spend time observing P-12 classrooms and receive training that helps them incorporate technology into their own teaching. Although there are some outstanding faculty development programs at a number of higher education institutions, the quality of technology training programs at most institutions is uneven. Some sessions are conducted by staff without formal training in pedagogy. These trainers often emphasize the technology itself rather than its integration into teaching and learning; such a focus does not meet the needs of education faculty.

Fourth, insufficient incentives and rewards exist for educators who use technology. There is little institutional encouragement for the use of technology in postsecondary teaching (Kent and McNergney, 1999). Promotion and tenure guidelines typically divide faculty responsibilities into three categories: research, teaching, and service. However, at many institutions, the first category is the only one that truly matters. Until there are greater rewards for teaching, including teaching with technology, faculty will continue to focus on research. They will also become anxious as they see examples of powerful disincentives for the use of technology in teaching. Randy Bass, founder and Director of the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship at Georgetown Univesity, and an early faculty pioneer in technology integration, has detailed the difficulties he encountered in having his work accepted for purposes of promotion and tenure at Georgetown in many keynote presentations (Guernsey, 1999).

Fifth and finally, some faculty view pressure to teach with technology as an infringement on their academic freedom. Many universities now require new faculty to teach with technology. At other institutions, however, faculty union contracts explicitly state that faculty cannot be required to use technology in their teaching. Most faculty members will remind administrators that the latter tread on thin ice when they attempt to dictate what and how faculty should teach, because that is a matter of academic freedom.


To support the integration of technology into teaching and learning, administrators must work collaboratively with teachers and higher education faculty. Together they can develop a comprehensive approach to technology use that includes funding for hardware, software, upgrades, network and Internet access, equipment maintenance and repair, and technology training and support. It is also crucial that P-16 educational institutions establish appropriate incentives and rewards—and remove structural disincentives—for teachers and faculty who would transform teaching and learning through the effective use of information technology.

A recent report issued by the American Council on Education (1999) places responsibility for teacher preparation squarely on the shoulders of university presidents. The report urges presidents to make teacher preparation an institutional priority and a campus-wide responsibility. With increased attention to this issue, institutional support may overcome the structural and economic obstacles that have, until now, impeded the use of technology in P-16 classrooms.


American Council on Education (1999). To touch the future: Transforming the way teachers are taught. An action agenda for college and university presidents. Washington, D.C.: Author.

The CEO Forum on Education & Technology (2000). Teacher preparation Star chart: A self-assessment tool for colleges of education. Washington, D.C.: Author.

Graves, W. (1999). Developing and using technology as a strategic asset. In R. Katz et al (Eds.), Dancing with the devil: Information technology and the new competition in higher education (95-118). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Guernsey, L. (1999, February 26). With Web skills—and now tenure—a professor promotes improved teaching. Chronicle of Higher Education, A24.

Kent, T., & McNergney, R. (1999). Will technology really change education? From blackboard to Web. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (1997). Technology and the new professional teacher: Preparing for the 21st century classroom. Washington, DC: Author.

Putnam, R. T., & Borko, H. (2000). What do new views of knowledge and thinking have to say about research on teaching and learning? Educational Researcher 29(1), 4-16.

Valdez, G., McNabb, M., Foertsch, M., Anderson, M., Hawkes, M., & Raack, L. (1999). Computer-based technology and learning: Evolving uses and expectations. Oak Brook, IL: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.

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