Defining Technology Integration (Part 2)

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:




Filed under research, technology use

20 responses to “Defining Technology Integration (Part 2)

  1. Seb Schmoller

    Larry – I like the “technology in the background” definition, but I do wonder whether you may be missing a trick by making it so 100% classroom focused? I think the following would probably avoid the problem: “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.” Seb Schmoller

    • larrycuban

      Thanks, Seb, for the additional words. It does broaden the scope in ways that are consistent with what I have in mind. I appreciate the comment.

  2. Dr. Bob

    You may not care, but this study remains anecdotal and only a case study when your observations were hand picked and not randomly selected by you. I’m just noting that whatever your findings, they will be susceptible to justified criticism.

    • larrycuban

      Thanks, Bob, for comment. As you well know, all research is “susceptible to justified criticism” in design, the research questions asked,and

  3. Joseph B. Smith

    Hi Larry,

    I’ve always found it curious that the term “integration” as it relates to technology seems only to get applied to education. If you Google “integrate technology”, all you see are references to education computing. No one ever talked to secretaries or accountants about “integrating technology” into their work, yet their technology utilization rates far outstrip education’s rates. Curious.

    • larrycuban

      That’s an interesting point you raise, Joseph. Here’s my guess as to why the differences in industries (insurance,manufacturing,banking,etc.) and schooling appear when phrase “technology integration” is applied. In all of those industries the actual product or service could be made and rendered efficiently and effectively through automation and specific technologies. These decisions were made top-down and work was reorganized to accommodate the new technologies. In education, apart from automating business and administrative functions (payroll, purchasing, billing), using technologies in classroom instruction was perceived by teachers and principals initially as an add-on, not intrinsic to the daily lesson. As access to hardware and software increased over time and 1:1 became close to reality in many districts, the question of how best to use these new add-on technologies to advance teaching (the “service”) and learning (the “product”) in all grades and across all subjects became an issue. Thus, “technology integration” in schools but not most industries that welcomed degrees of automation. That’s my guess, Joseph. What’s yours?

      • Joseph B. Smith

        Hi Larry,

        Thanks for asking. My take is that the computers we use today were designed to replace business equipment and business processes. They were not designed to replace education equipment and education processes, and simply don’t fit as transparently in classrooms as they do in offices. Thus, while you seldom see a typewriter or an adding machine next to computers in an office, you often see pen and paper right next to computers in a classroom, i.e. computers are realistically still an add-on. What we are calling “integration” is education’s attempt to “fit a square peg…”


      • larrycuban

        Thanks for your further comment, Joe.

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  7. This is in reply to Joseph B’s reply (re: computers today were designed to replace business equipment). For some reason there is no link there for me to reply directly…

    I think the “square peg” analogy is spot on. I just completed a master’s degree in which I researched how well my students and I worked towards completing various types of assignments using technologies like google classroom, google docs, google drive, and many others. What I found was that the technology solutions I was using did not make it easier for my students to complete their work. I suspected that it had something to do with the type of work I was assigning them, which is where the “square peg” comes in. I was giving them a series of worksheets to help them plan for a science fair (breaking the task into small pieces, helping them organize their thoughts, etc) and it turned out that just giving them pencil and paper was a much more effective method in terms of keeping track of their work and how often they completed assignments. It was a small study, I have small classes, but the results completely spoke to me. It’s motivated me to start working towards a technology solution that may be more effective for these unique and individualized types of classroom assignments.

    • larrycuban


      Thanks for your comment, especially your description of what you did with your classes,why you did it, and what you learned. Any chance you could cover those three points in around 800 words? I believe readers of this blog might appreciate what you did and learned.

      • Sure thing…I’ll step through a little background, brief summary of methods, and what I learned/will do differently. 800 words or less ought to be a fun challenge after typing 70-some pages on the topic…

        I teach in the states on the East coast and work with a unique population. All are high school students diagnosed with some type of learning difference. Their areas of challenge are numerous and include time management skills, organization, cause and effect relationships, and almost anything you can imagine related to executive function skills.

        So I decided we should run a science fair with them every year…

        The same problems showed up year-after-year as I ran the project with them. Students frequently lost notes, could not keep track of all the moving parts associated with designing a science experiment, procedure were very general if they got completed. So, I designed a series of worksheets for them to work through one-at-a-time to help step them through the planning process, essentially following a version of the scientific method.

        That worked pretty well for a while! Students still lost stuff and had trouble organizing, but they got the projects done and were often pretty proud of their work and themselves. But, on my side, I was collecting these mounds of paper, giving feedback, organizing them, carrying them back-and-forth between school and home, it was messy. I thought there had to be a better way, which is when I started trying to work out a solution using technology with the hopes of reducing all the paper. This is where the master’s project came in. I attempted to break it down and design a system that would work for both the student and the teacher using existing technology solutions.

        First, I attempted to define what the general action steps were that students and myself needed to go through before an assignment was deemed “completed”. These steps were able to describe what the process looked like for short-term (classwork or homework, essentially) and long-term assignments (like a science fair). I called it the “workflow” and it consisted of seven steps (steps contained within parentheses are action steps that students are responsible for).

        distribute -> (store -> retrieve -> produce output -> submit) -> generate feedback -> return feedback

        Here, the workflow is presented linearly. However, it does not need to be executed linearly, which is what allows it to define long term assignments as well. The long-term assignments are what I am more interested in, since my students really tend to have challenges there.

        I took a longitudinal approach, so there were four phases that stretched across several months. These phases alternated between students using the technology solutions I mentioned (Google classroom to manage distribution and submitting of assignments, Google Docs to produce output, and Google Drive to store and retrieve assignments) and just using worksheets, binders, pencil, lined paper, etc. to work through assignments. The treatment was applied during phases one and three.

        I created my own instruments. So, similar to Larry’s, mine have not been tested for validity or reliability. I created a survey to gather information on student attitudes towards the use of a computer for work completion in class. It also assessed student attitudes towards use of a pencil and paper. In addition, I created a form to track the methods that students were using to organize artifacts within Google Drive and within their binders during the separate phases. This form also helped me time how long it took students to retrieve their work from the storage location the artifact happened to be in.

        I’ll spare people the numbers, but can provide the actual paper if any one is really interested. It turned out that students were able to retrieve artifacts more frequently and more quickly compared to when they had to use a computer, accessing Google Drive for instance. It wasn’t even close either. Artifacts from a binder were retrieved in seconds compared to minutes with Google Drive (if they were retrieved at all). Here’s the kicker, the survey results showed that most students preferred using the computer and felt they worked more efficiently with it. Go figure…

        A few things to consider for sure…I, in no way, consider this a perfect study. There are some interesting tidbits that emerged if anybody wants to read the full paper. For the start of this year, I’ve been using paper handouts. Students are working really well with them. But, I still have that dream of a system that just replaces all the paper and works really well. Mostly, it should make LESS work for the teacher and students as opposed to MORE, which is what most technology seems to be doing these days.

      • larrycuban

        Hi Steve, thanks for doing this draft. I will contact you by email.

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  9. Larry, is your use of the term ‘technology’ in isolation an intentional one? It seems unnecessarily presumptuous, as—given the context—I’m assuming you’re talking about ‘digital technologies’. The common assumption that all references to ‘technology’ must mean ‘digital technologies’ has always irked me, knowing that the term, and its origins, precede the ‘digital revolution’ by many millennia. Unless you really are referring to the integration of anything that could be defined as ‘technology’ from the whiteboard and pens, paper and pencils to the furniture in the classroom and the electrical fixtures used to light it?

    • larrycuban

      Thanks very much for your comments–re-introducing me to Joan Hughes work, your refinement of stages of tech integration, and links. Appreciate that. As to using “technology” I have been lax and need to be more exact when I refer to new (digital) and old technologies. Thanks for the reminder.

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