Educators Acceptance of Technology

President Clinton has stated that every classroom in America must be connected to the "information highway" (Cuban, 1996). Last year the United States spent $2.4 billion to help accomplish this goal (Bits& Bytes, 1996). Current research indicates that over 35 million Americans are now connected to the Internet and that the number of "telecommuters" will increase to over 13 million within the next two years (Tsanti & Keef, 1996). The same research states that while few people even knew of the Internet two years ago, it is now the most important force in communication. Unfortunately, while additional research indicates that virtually every school in the country now has computers, with an average of one computer per nine students (Cuban, 1996), less than 3% of those computers are connected to the Internet (Yow, 1996). As such, while telecommunications may have ushered in an age of communication that is a step beyond the information age (Thornburg, 1992), most schools lack sufficent resources to either access the Net or provide the necessary staff development for their teachers (Winans, 1996). In fact, Cuban (1996) found that not only is computer access limited, it is also uneven. Students from high-income families have far more access to computers in school than peers from low income families. Minority students and those whose native language is not English use computers less frequently than their classmates, and low-acheiving students are less likely to use computers to enhance reasoning and problem solving and more likely to use them for drill. Hawkins, Loterman, Lam and Korres (1996) researched the use of technology within educational programs serving d/hh students. The researchers received survey responses from over 546 schools. While 96% of the schools had at least one computer that was available for instruction (median of 15 and a mean of 35), the computers were essentially older, extremely limited computers (i.e., Apple IIEs) that would be unable to "run" current software. It should be noted that while the researchers did not examine the schools' use of the Net, over half of the respondent schools noted that not even a single modem has been placed in thier instructional computers. This finding is in stark contrast to the preliminary findings of the author. A survey of 950 U.S. educational programs that serve d/hh students is now underway. The survey requested information concerning the programs' faculty and students current and projected use of Internet based techlologies, e.g., e-mail, listservs, Net browsers, search engines and chat rooms. While the survey will not be completed until May 1997, current findings indicate that while a minority of programs are now "on-line," the majority expect to have all of their teachers and most of their students accessing e-mail, listservs and Net browsers within the next five years. Results also indicate that while the programs expect to gain additional curricular materials, instructional activities and professional development opportunities for their teachers and students, they are at a loss regarding where they will find the necessary money to equip their classrooms and prepare their teachers.

The contrasting hope, some would say hype (Winans, 1996), availability and classroom use of the Net, parallel the historical introduction and use of other educational technologies. Cuban (1996) notes that of all the technologies that have been introduced, only the mimeograph/copy machine, overhead projector, videocassette recorder and text book, have been consistently embraced by teachers. The researcher noted that Thomas Edison, following the introduction of film, predicted that books would soon be obsolete. Finally, Cuban sited Benjamin Darrow as predicting that radios would bring the world to the classroom. The failure of these and other technologies, e.g., educational T.V. and closed captioning, to revolutionize education reflects the fact that while administrators may decide what to buy, teachers decide what to use. As a result, while educational reformers state that schools must shift away from teacher-directed, didactic instructional methods (Cohen, 1990) and that teachers should adopt a "constructivist" (i.e. guided learning-by-doing) style (Tsantis & Keef, 1996) in which they stop attempting to drive the bus on the information highway and "...start serving as pump jockeys that provide directions to independent travelers with their own itineraries." (Killian, 1994 p 86), teachers, not reformers decide what to use in the classroom.

Hoffman (1996), in his analysis of the barriers to classroom computing, notes that technology complicates teaching and that many teachers feel they are doing just fine without all the problems and uncertainties that computers bring. Hoffman goes on to note that most teachers lack the time needed to get "up-to-speed" on computers and that many teachers are uncomfortable with the fact that their students may very well know a great deal more about computers than they ever will. Additionally, familiar problems cited by the research include the following list of teacher frustrations:
  1. if they get computers, they may not have enough electric outlets;
  2. if they have the outlets, they may not have a phone line;
  3. if they have the infrastructure, they may lack the software necessary to integrate with curriculum;
  4. if they have the software, they may not know how to integrate it with the teaching methods that they have come to rely upon; and
  5. they may fear that their old methods will not work with the new technology-and they may be right!

These problems have led teachers to ask a number of basic questions concerning any new technology that they are asked to use.

  1. Is the machine simple enough for me to learn quickly?
  2. Can it be used in more than one situation?
  3. Is it reliable, or does it break down often?
  4. If it breaks down, do I have to fix it or will someone else repair it.
  5. How much time and energy do I have to invest in learning to use the machine vs. the return it will have for my students?
  6. When students use the machine, will there be disruptions?
  7. Will the machine maintain or compromise my authority to maintain order and cultivate learning? (Cuban, 1996 p 39)

The preceding problems and questions have led many teachers to conclude that computers and the Net are simply not worth either the effort or the risk.