Teachers’ Perceptions of Teaching with Computer Technology: Reasons for Use and Barriers in Usage
This paper investigates the teachers’ reasons for integrating technology into teaching and their barriers in using it for teaching. Semi-structured interviews were employed as the means for collecting data. The findings reveal that the majority of teachers who use technology in teaching are aware of the benefits of using technology and these benefits in fact become their main reasons for integrating it into teaching. The barriers mentioned by teachers are such as lack of knowledge and skills, lack of technical support and lack of rewards.
Keywords: Computer Technology, Integration, Reasons, Barriers, Benefits, Problems, Training, Institutional Support, Access, Incentives
A large number of educational institutions in many parts of the world have exclusively begun introducing the integration of computer technology into teaching. Many also have invested millions of dollars only to procure the technical equipment for improving the quality of their academic programs (Li, 2007). It should not be a surprise that technology-based educational institutions often require higher fees from students than those which do not have similar facilities.
The use of technology in teaching such as World Wide Website, multimedia presentation tools and so forth can offer a number of benefits. First, it allows teachers to organize their teaching in an efficient manner (Achacoso, 2003). With technology, teachers can visualize the abstract concept and create the real world simulations. They not only help students understand the topic better, but they can save their time for explaining the abstract matters to students. Second, technology, the world wide web for example, provides teachers with a wide range of resources that are useful for their teaching (Li, 2007). If they have limited time for developing the teaching materials, they can directly go to the website and select any materials or topics that meet their needs. Usually, the already available resources can offer more than what may be needed by teachers. Technology can also help teachers develop networks with other teachers from different parts of the world who share similar interests or who have the expertise in certain field (Dirksen & Tharp, 2000). Network building can help teachers solve their teaching problems and, therefore, enhance their professionalism (Becker, 1999).
The benefits of technology integration, however, can only be attained if teachers know how to use the technology well, technically and pedagogically (Achacoso, 2003). In other words, the presence of technology does not automatically promote the benefits for teaching and learning (Owen & Eaton, 1999; Chu, 2000; Achacoso, 2003; Shaunessy, 2007). Technology such as computers, Ehrmann argues (1999,p.32), “do not have predetermined impacts. It is their use that influences outcomes”. Many educational institutions that spend a lot of funding on technology, Ehrmann adds, believe that the mere presence of technology can automatically enhance teaching and learning quality. The result is limited success in their technology integration program.
Several researches have indicated that teachers’ lack of knowledge and skills have become primary factors in failure of a computer technology integration program in the institution (Mouza, 2003; Young, 2004). Many teachers can only operate basic computer programs although the computers they use can provide them with more advanced facility (Doherty & Orlofsky, 2001). The lack of time is also often considered as a problem by teachers in their technology mediated teaching (Granger, Morbey, Lotherington, Owston & Wideman, 2002). They are often loaded with too many teaching hours or other activities outside their teaching responsibility, so they hardly have time to plan, prepare and develop their technology mediated teaching (Kathriner, 2007). In fact, preparing to teach with technology, Kathriner argues, usually requires longer time than the teaching without technology.
The absence of adequate help or technical support to facilitate teachers’ technology mediated teaching is another factor which may hinder teachers’ teaching. Granger et al. (2002), based on the findings of their study about factors contributing to teachers’ success in implementing the technology mediated teaching, revealed that many teachers, when having some difficulties with the technology equipment being used, had to give up using it because there was no one available to help deal with the problems. According to the teachers, the institution did not have adequate numbers of technical staff who were prepared to support teachers in technology mediated teaching. Pelgrum (2001), in his study investigating teachers’ obstacles in using technology, also identified that the lack of technical staff was considered by teachers as one of the main obstacles in their successful use of technology based pedagogy.
In summary, teachers play a significant role in ensuring the successful implementation of technology integration program in any educational institutions which invest in technology. The funding spent for technology investment will be ineffective if, in operation, teachers cannot optimally use the facility in their teaching.
Setting and Purpose of the Study
The study was conducted at a pubic technical college located at the Province of West Kalimantan, Indonesia. It was a small part of a larger study conducted investigating the issue of technology integration program in this institution. The institution, since a few years ago, has been transforming itself from traditional institution to technology-based institution. It now has a wide variety of technology facilities including wireless internet, LCDs in all classrooms, notebooks for all teachers, a computer laboratory, and so forth. The purpose of this study was to investigate teachers’ reasons for using technology and barriers they faced in incorporating it into teaching. As argued, the investment in technology will be considered a waste of money if the facility cannot be optimally used by teachers (Achacoso, 2003).
Instrument for Data Collection
Semi-structured interviews were used as the instrument for collecting data. Semi-structured interviews provide the researcher and participants with the opportunities to discuss some topics in considerable detail. In addition, the researcher can use cues or prompts to encourage the interviewee to consider the question further (Hancock, 1998). The questions asked in the interviews were meant to uncover information about teachers’ reasons for using technology and the barriers they faced in integrating it into teaching. Each participant was individually interviewed at several locations such as the participant’s home and office and one of the rooms in the institution. The interviews were tape recorded and transcribed.
Flyers containing information about the study were displayed on the notice boards in the institution in order to recruit the participants. As a result, ten participants were recruited. Their participation in this research is voluntary. Among all the participants, three were senior teachers who have worked for the institution for more than seven years, while the rest were junior teachers. The participants were also assured about their confidentiality. In line with that, in the reporting of findings, false names were used.
A number of themes emerged from the interviews. The themes which were connected to participants’ reasons in using technology include the availability of facility, access to online teaching resources, communication with students, and building network with peers. Meanwhile, the themes under the barriers of technology integration were such as lack of computer skills, lack of technical support and lack of incentives.
Teachers’ Reasons for Using Technology
The availability of technology facility. Most teachers mentioned that the main reason why they integrate technology into teaching is because they are provided with the facilities by the institution. In one instance, one of the teachers explained:
This institution has been very generous. Every teacher is provided with the latest model of laptop. I have been very lucky because if not given by the institution, I will never have my own laptop. So, there is no reason for me not to make use of it for my teaching (Agus)
Another teacher, mentioned:
‘I have been working in this institution for nearly twenty years but I could only experience the teaching with technology in the last couple of years. In the past computers were only used by the bosses but now all teachers can use them. I am glad that we all now have our own computers and can use them for enhancing our teaching quality’(Inul).
The excitement of being provided with a technology facility is not only expressed by senior teachers but also by a number of teachers who joined the institution in the last two years. Yudi and Lilis, for example, said:
‘We are just new teachers here but we are also provided with laptops for teaching just like other senior teachers. That is great’. Yudi further adds ‘You know what… I have been fond of playing computers since I was a school boy. I will use this facility for teaching as often as I can’.
Access to online teaching resources. All participants agreed that with the internet facility they can access the online teaching materials easily. ‘Most of my teaching materials are taken from the internet. Many of them are of good quality so all I need to do is just select them and choose the ones which are suitable for my students’ says Zul who teaches business economics in the institution.
Some participants mentioned that the internet or World Wide Web can provide them with up-to-date materials for teaching. for example Lilis who teaches English explains, ‘I always find new and up to date materials that I can use for my teaching. One of my favorite websites that I always visit to access the online materials is www.tesol.org’. For Ani, the internet has motivated her to always upgrade her teaching materials. ‘I always introduce new teaching materials to students ...all of them are obtained from the internet’.
Improved communication with students. Several participants have also indicated that they use technology, the internet in particular, because they can develop better communication with students. Susan, for instance, asserts, ‘I require my students to always check their emails because I usually inform them about all things related to the lesson via email’. Another teacher also explains ‘the students now do not need to come to me in person for discussing the class related issues. Today we usually communicate outside the class using online facilities’(Anto).
Building network with peers. Most teachers participating in this study reported that making contact with other teachers with similar interests from different schools or colleges also motivate them to use technology. ‘My best place to solve my teaching related problems is through discussion with other teachers from different colleges. Not only that, we also often share and exchange teaching materials to be used in our own college’ respond Ali who develops online communication group with other English teachers from different institutions.
Teachers’ Barriers in Integrating Technology into Teaching
Lack of knowledge and skills. Despite their active use of technology into pedagogy, most teachers still feel that they lack adequate knowledge and skills for optimally integrating the facility into teaching. Susan, for example, admits, ‘I frequently use technology to support my teaching but, honestly, I am only able to use basic computer programs such as email and Power Point. I never use other programs such as CMC or desktop teleconference. Knowing how to operate other advanced programs would be very useful, I think’. Similar to that, another participant explains ‘I actually expect that I can design my own website so that I can send all the teaching materials to it for access by students’(Yudi).
Lack of technical support. Nearly all teachers complain about the shortage of technical staff in the college. They find this a serious problem that needs to be dealt with quickly by the institution. For Yudi, ‘technical staff should be available before, during and after the class sessions’. He believes that the ongoing unsolved technical matters ‘can be a disaster for technology integration program in the institution’. Other teachers such as Susan, Yosi and Taufik also comment that it is difficult for them to get help when they experience problems with the computers. ‘Once I was about to start my teaching and I had difficulty in turning on the LCD…I tried to seek help but no technical staff was available at that time so at last I decided not to use the computer in my teaching’(Yosi).
Lack of incentives. Throughout the interviews, the lack of incentives was repeatedly mentioned by several participants. They admit that there is no additional incentive provided by the institution for the innovations they have made. One of the teachers, for example maintains ‘the main reason I use technology for teaching is because I like learning new things and I like technology…if I didn’t I would be less likely to use it unless there are incentives for that’(Rita). Another teacher seems to be unhappy with the situation. He states ‘This college is rich. It can invest millions of dollars for technology investment but it does not appreciate its teachers who use technology and make innovations in their teaching …how come there is no difference in amount of incentives received by teachers who use technology and those teaching without technology?’(Taufik)
The findings have revealed that the majority of participants are aware of the benefits of teaching with technology. They believe that the inclusion of technology into pedagogy can enhance their teaching quality. Zemsky and Massy (2004) assert that it can be a good indication of successful implementation of the technology integration program if teachers know about the benefits of technology for teaching and make frequent use of it in their instructional activities. However, there are still a few other participants who only mention the availability of technology facility as their reason for integrating technology into teaching. Teachers who only have this reason as the basis for teaching with technology will usually gain very little from the program because they may not realize the extensive benefits that technology can provide to enhance their professionalism. They are only motivated by the institution’s generous policy which provides them with the latest model of laptops. Teachers of this type usually know only very basic things about computer technology. In regard to this, Carnevale (2004) argue that if teachers know only very little about computers, the institution’s investment in the facility may become less efficient.
The findings also suggest that teachers are faced with a number of problems or barriers in their teaching with technology. Most of these barriers are, in fact, directly linked to the institution’s willingness to provide supports for teachers in addition to providing them with the technology facility. Several teachers mention that they lack the skills in operating computer technology. They can make use of the facility and feel the benefits of using it for their teaching but they also realize that they can even get more benefits if they have better skills in operating it. It is obvious that teachers need to be provided with technology training to help them become competent technology users. Keengwe (2007) contends that professional development in technology is essential for teachers. The program, he argues, needs to be aligned with the institution’s plan to invest in technology. Similar to that, Mouza (2003, p. 274) maintains that training in technology is “a critical ingredient in effective use of technology in the classrooms”.
The data indicate that lack of technical support is considered one of the major problems experienced by teachers in their teaching with technology. The technical support staff play a very important role in ensuring the success of technology integration program implementation. It is every institution’s responsibility to make sure that teachers are provided with adequate technical staff who are prepared to assist teachers whenever they experience difficulties with the technical equipment. Diem (2000) argues that ‘teachers who are supported are less likely to feel threatened and develop more positive attitudes toward technology’ (p. 495). Teachers should not “get frustrated when using technology” because, if they do, their teaching will be negatively affected.
Lack of incentives or rewards is also mentioned by the participants as a barrier. This component seems to be a small matter but its impact can be disastrous for the institution. Teachers need also to be supported financially for their attempts to successfully implement the institution’s technology program otherwise they may not become motivated to introduce innovations in their teaching. Piotrowski and Vodanovich (2000) contend that the availability of adequate rewards or compensation is also important and may influence teachers’ use of technology. Incentives or rewards, according to them, can stimulate teachers to be more innovative within their teaching. If teachers are not provided with adequate rewards or incentives, or if the compensation they receive is no difference from their conventional teaching, teachers may not be motivated to upgrade their skills in using technology for teaching (Khan, 1997).
The study interestingly did not record any information which indicated that lack of time was considered by teachers as the barrier in their teaching with technology. Many researchers suggested that lack of time was one of the major barriers faced by teachers (Granger et al, 2002 ; Kathriner, 2007). This could be the case because in this technical college teachers were only allocated twelve hours (in maximum) per week for teaching. So, they still have time to, for example, prepare, develop and deliver their technology mediated teaching.
There are a number of implications which arise as the result of this study. First, the institution has taken the right decision, to invest in technology. However, problems will emerge if such a decision is not followed by other initiatives such as sending teachers to technology training, supporting them with better rewards, and making sure that there are adequate numbers of technical staff for teacher support in implementing technology. All these factors or components are important to be considered and implemented otherwise the money spent for technology investment will be considerably less effective.
Second, the institution’s leaders also play a very significant role in ensuring the success of technology implementation program. They need to know how teachers use technology in their teaching. By knowing this, they will then know what needs to be done in order to better support teachers in their teaching. If possible, the leaders also should be familiar with technology and be competent in using it. If they do, they will usually have a better sense about what may be lacking in the technology integration program in the institution.
Finally, it should be well understood that the availability of a good technology facility itself does not automatically impact positively on teachers’ teaching performance. It is their ability to integrate it well in their teaching which influences the outcome.
Recommendations for Future Research
This study investigated teachers’ reasons and possible barriers to using technology. Moreover, it only involved a small number of participants in an educational institution. Therefore, future similar studies which involve a larger number of participants and explore other issues such as teachers’ frequency in using technology, students’ perceptions’ about teachers’ teaching using technology and so forth need to be conducted.
The study looking at the role of leadership in facilitating the success of a technology integration program is also another possibility. There is not many research conducted on this issue. In fact, as argued earlier, leaders are key persons behind the success of program implementation.
The impact of using technology in teaching is also worth researching, especially looking at the differences between learner performance without competent use of technology and learners’ performance following well designed and implemented technology.
This study involved a small number of teachers in one institution. Results do not necessarily to technology integration programs at other educational institutions such as universities or schools. Some findings may be useful for future research or as a starting point for planning technology integration in other institutions.
This study was conducted within the framework of qualitative research and the interpretations of findings were subjective and influenced by the researcher’s ability to make objective judgments. Quantitative studies should be conducted in a variety of circumstances to provide objective interpretation of data and generalized results to guide institutions and teachers in successful implementation of technology integration programs in the future.
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About the Author:
Ardi Marwan is a lecturer at the State Polytechnic of Pontianak, Indonesia. He obtained his Masters degree in the field of education from