Current definitions of technology integration are a conceptual swamp. Some definitions focus on the technology itself and student access to the devices and software. Some concentrate on the technologies as tools to help teachers and students reach curricular and instructional goals. Some mix a definition with what constitutes success or effective use of devices and software. Some include the various stages of technology integration from simple to complex. And some include in their definitions a one-best-way of integrating technology to advance an instructional method such as student-centered learning. Thus, a conceptual swamp sucks in unknowing enthusiasts and fervent true believers into endless arguing over exactly what is technology integration. [i]
To avoid such a swamp and get into semantic arguments in identifying teachers and schools where a high degree integrated devices in daily practices had occurred, I relied upon informal definitions frequently used by practitioners.
From what practitioners identified as “best cases” of technology integration, I learned that varied indicators came into play when I asked for exemplars. These indicators helped create a grounded definition of technology integration in identifying districts, schools and teachers:
* District had provided wide access to devices and established infrastructure for use . System administrators and cadre of teachers had fought insistently for student access to hardware (e.g., tablets, laptops, interactive whiteboards) and software (e.g., the latest programs in language arts, math, history, and science) either through 1:1 programs for the entire schools, mobile carts, etc.
*District established structures for how schools can improve learning and reach desired outcomes through technology. District administrators and groups of teachers had established formal ways for monitoring academic student progress, created teacher-initiated professional development, launched on-site coaching of teachers and daily mentoring of students, and provided easily accessible assistance when glitches in devices or technological infrastructure occurred. They sought to use technology to achieve content and skill goals.
* Particular schools and teacher leaders had requested repeatedly personal devices and classroom computers for their students. Small teacher-initiated projects–homegrown, so to speak–flowered and gained support of district administrators. Evidence came from sign-up lists for computer carts, volunteering to have pilot 1:1 computer projects in their classrooms and purchase orders from specific teachers and departments.
* Certain teachers and principals came regularly to professional development workshops on computer use in lessons. Voluntary attendance at one or more of these sessions indicated motivation and growing expertise.
* Students had used devices frequently in lessons. Evidence of use came from teacher self-reports, principal observations, student comments to teachers and administrators and word-of-mouth among teachers and administrators in schools.
Note that in all of these conversations, no district administrator, principal, or teacher ever asked me what I meant by “technology integration.” Some or all of the above indicators repeatedly came up in our discussions. I leaned heavily upon the above signs of use and less upon a formal definition (see above) in identifying candidates to study.
I wanted a definition that would fit what I had gleaned from administrators and teachers about how they informally concluded what schools and which teachers were exemplars of technology integration. I wanted a definition that got past the issue of access to glittering new machines and Gee Whiz applications. I wanted a definition that focused on classroom and school use aimed toward achieving teacher and district curricular and instructional goals. I wanted a definition that put hardware and software in the background, not the foreground. I wanted a definition grounded in what I heard and saw in classrooms, schools, and districts.
Of the scores of formal definitions in the literature I have sorted through, I looked for one that would be clear and make sense to experts, professionals, parents, and taxpayers. Only a few met that standard. [ii]
I did fashion one that avoided the conceptual morass of defining technology integration and matched the “best cases” that superintendents, technology coordinators, and teachers had selected for me to observe.[iii]
“Technology integration is the routine and transparent use in learning, teaching, and assessment of computers, smartphones and tablets, digital cameras, social media platforms, networks, software applications and the Internet aimed at helping students reach the district’s and teacher’s curricular and instructional goals.”*
If this definition succeeds in putting technology in the background, not the foreground, then the next step in my research is to elaborate how such a process unfolds in classrooms, schools, and districts by examining the various stages teachers go through in integrating technology before moving to assessments of how successful (or not) the technology integration works.
*Thanks to reader Seb Schmoller for adding to this definition
[i] Examples of the different definitions mentioned in text can be found at:
[ii] Rodney Earle, “The Integration of Instructional Technology into Public Education: Promises and Challenges,” Education Technology Magazine, 2002, 42(1), pp. 5-13. His definition of integration concentrates on the teaching, not hardware or software:
“Computer technology is merely one possibility in the selection of media and the delivery mode—part of the instructional design process —not the end but merely one of several means to the end.”
Khe Foon Hew and Thomas Brush, “Integrating Technology into K-12 Teaching and Learning,” Education Tech Research Development, 2007, 55, pp. 223-252. Their definition is:
“[T]echnology integration is thus viewed as the use of computing devices such as desktop computers, laptops, handheld computers, software, or Internet in K-12 schools for instructional purposes.
[iii] I took a definition originally in Edutopia and revised it to make clear that the integration of technology in daily lessons is harnessed to achieving curricular and instructional goals of the teacher, school, and district. The devices and software are not front-and-center but routinely used in lessons. I then stripped away language that connected usage of technologies to “success” or preferred ways of teaching. (No author) “What is Successful Technology Integration, “ Edutopia, November 5, 2007 at: http://www.edutopia.org/technology-integration-guide-description