Deep Dive: Barriers to integrating tech — identify, contextualise, reflect, and overcome

Discussions about barriers to teachers embracing change — from curriculum changes to pedagogical approaches — have long appeared in the literature about all aspects of teaching (Green et al., 2021). The specific discussion around barriers to technological integration was divided by Ertmer (1999) into first order (or external) barriers and second order (or internal) barriers.

‘First order’ refers to those external factors, which may be beyond the teacher’s scope of influence, such as resourcing, access to training, and internet access, while barriers of the second order can be anything arising from within — for example, skills and knowledge (or orientation towards professional development), beliefs of attitudes of the teacher (Ertmer, 1999; 2005).   

Even a decade ago, the research discourse was shifting from external barriers to internal barriers; as access to technology expanded, teachers were less hampered by external factors, allowing for a focus on understanding how internal barriers impacted the extent to which a teacher might effectively integrate technology into practice (Ertmer, 2012).  

A decade on, technological advancement and the proliferation of personal devices has expanded access to most students (Selwyn et al., 2017), though a digital divide persists between remotely located students and urban school communities (Hunter & Radoll, 2020). Even so, these technologies are only effective if a teacher knows how to use them, and/or adopts the attitudes required to learn (Hyndman, 2018).

A key ‘2020s’ example of this is virtual reality, a technology which might have transformed Covid experience of many more students if teachers had been afforded more “opportunity to study or embed VR in teaching and learning” (McGee & Jacka, 2021, p. 76). Ironically, the same rapid technological change that affords teachers the opportunity to embed technology into teaching and learning “potentially creates a barrier when educators need to learn the ‘logic’” of each new technology (Fransson et al., 2020; McGee & Jacka, 2021, p. 76).

While the benefits of technologically-mediated practice are apparent — and the promise of 21st Century classroom transformation compelling — without deep engagement and a sense of ‘pedagogical purposefulness’, technology in the classroom is in danger of remaining superficial and tokenistic (Howard & Mozejko, 2015). Consequently — considering “reforms are undone by superficial understandings or by hollow enactments of idealized schemes” (Shepard, 2015, p. 47, cited in Scarino, 2019, p. 65) — concerted professional development will be required if I am to “implement teaching strategies for using ICT to expand curriculum learning opportunities for students” (as described in Focus area 2.6 Information and Communication Technology [AITSL, 2017, p. 14]).

Appealing to Ertner’s (2010) concept of “teachers as an agent of change”, it is “essential” that I further overcome both external and internal barriers to develop my capacities for meaningful and impactful integration of technology (p. 256). As mentioned in my ‘purposeful integration deep dive’, I (reluctantly) identify with Howard and Mozejko’s (2015) image of “risk averse” and “resistant” teachers (p. 5); however, it is the ‘risk aversion’ which leads the ‘resistance’.

Teacher identity is a complex and multi-faceted construct, providing a new application for attitudes, behaviours and tendencies that are exhibited in all other aspects of their lives — such as sport, cooking or indeed parenting (Walker, 2008). Teacher engagement with their ‘technological self’ is no different (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010), and, if a person actively avoids failure in their general life — either through overworking or selecting opportunities in which they feel destined to succeed — they will likely do this in the classroom.

This is dangerous. Before the loss of Ken Robinson (2013) left the education world much reduced, he warned us that “great teachers” must “mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage” students, and disengagement occurs when their natural curiosity is stifled (6m8s). Equally troubling are the findings of Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2010) that teachers’ mindsets towards technology remained “supplemental”, rather than “essential to successful performance outcomes”, while citing the considerable benefits of meaningfully integrated technology to enhance learning and engage students (p. 256).

This is particularly significant in languages education because the most important thing for us is quite existential: nobody cares about the subject in Australia.  Engagement at a senior level sat just below 11 percent in 2012 (Kohler et al., 2014) and has steadily declined — albeit with a couple of decimal fluctuations — to rest at 8.6% in 2021, the most recent published Year 12 subject enrolments report (ACARA, 2023.). 

Engagement has long been linked to motivation (Collie et al., 2019), and positive associations with languages are linked to concepts such as “play, creativity, curiosity, and exploration” thus “broaden[ing] the perspective of an individual learner” and “facilitating engagement with the language” (Boudreau et al., 2018, p. 152). Using technology and the internet to bridge the geographical divide in “fun and adaptive” ways has also been associated with “increased interest and curiosity” in both students and teachers (East et al., 2022, p. 116).

Most students now have access to some sort of device, at home or school, with mobile phones a potential replacement when then school’s context means 1:1 BYOD/school provided laptops are not an option (Selwyn et al., 2017). This means the most likely barriers to my own integration of technology are likely to be internal barriers such as attitudes — and for, me — the most likely attitudinal barrier is confidence, related to a fear of failure (Ertmer 1999; 2012).

Unfortunately, this same self-limiting fear applies to my approach to other areas of vulnerability in my life. In the past 20 years, I have rarely spoken my second, third and fourth languages. Preferring to speak to myself and engage in passive self-study options, I allowed my languages to slip into the background. This same character trait explains why I chose something familiar for this assessment.

The OECD pre-empted this transition to technology-based education as the norm back in 2005 with their definitions of 21st Century ‘key skills’, as they realised technology was placing “new demands on individuals both inside and outside the workplace” (Murchan & Johnston, 2021, p. 91). Equally significant for a language teacher was another OECD-promoted 21st Century skill: intercultural communicative competence.

Consequently, I resolve to apply a personal development lens to a professional development problem and engage with growth mindset frameworks in these two key areas of my TPACK capabilities, aided by a happy confluence between my dual aims and aligned solutions. For my language content knowledge, I have enrolled in an online Italian conversation class, which is supported by programs and collaboration tools that will expand my technological experiences. One such program is Canva, which I have downloaded and used to develop and exemplar for the proposed task for this investigation of TPACK.

Click here for a full reference list.