Vol 4 . . . No 1 . . . September, 1993
Vol 4 . . . No 1 . . . September, 1993
1. Monthly Comments
2. Barriers to New Technologies, Part One: Staff Balkanization by Bard Williams
3. Barriers to New Technologies, Part One: Staff Balkanization - Reprise by Jamie McKenzie
----- Monthly Comments ----
The state of Washington is caught in an uncomfortable taxpayers' rebellion which threatens to shut down state funding in November, but technology seems to speed along for now with great enthusiasm and vision. It has been a pleasure to return to the "trenches" in a real school assignment once again as Director of Technology for the Bellingham Schools. We are hopeful that our own voters will pass a $6 million bond program this February to fully network every classroom of our 17 schools and connect us with Internet. I find myself working with a great group of people forming wonderful visions of how they and their students might wish to travel this electronic highway. Each staff is busily completing site plans to translate the district tech plan into building realities. The key questions are staff development and program integration.
Although previously committed to Windows, Dos and various clones, the district sees the various platforms converging and the software becoming difficult to distinguish. As price differences narrow, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain or defend a single vendor policy and each staff finds itself freed to make its choices based upon program, curriculum and software.
You might expect a discussion of Balkanization to arise in a middle school social studies class, but at an elementary school faculty meeting during a discussion about technology? Fact is, for many schools, politics and a school culture that supports "turf-guarding", not a scarcity of dollars, is preventing motivated and otherwise creative educators from making greater strides to blend technology into the culture of their school.
The incorporation of technology into education is, after all, quite different from other innovations and reform movements of the past. "Whole-language," despite its claims as an interdisciplinary innovation, most effects language arts teachers. When calculators finally gained acceptance in mathematics, teaching methods changed-predominately for the mathematics teachers. Open classroom models brought new opportunities for student movement, but failed because we were essentially doing the same things in a different environment.
Technology has the potential to touch every teacher, administrator, staff member and student in the building. The change is to the very foundation of teaching and learning in general. What we teach and how we teach it may be fundamentally changed in every subject. Herein lies the challenge...
When it comes to discussions of technology it's strictly "shields up" in many schools. Because computers have the potential to benefit so many in the school, and in so many different ways, proponents and opponents of technology are often at odds. From the media specialist protecting ever-changing turf to administrators confused and frustrated about the role of technology in the school, the battlefield is littered with challenges. The rivals in this struggle are easily identifiable-can you spot them in your school?
The multi-tasking media specialist: No longer are school libraries a depository for books and encyclopedias. The business of being a librarian, or more politically correct, a media specialist, has changed. Media specialists in progressive schools are now faced with challenges no one could have imagined just 10 years ago. Will this CD-ROM disc work with my computer? Are the barcodes on the books wearing with age? Will the file server on my circulation network break down before the day's end? How can we play a laserdisc over our closed-circuit network? Quite different from the libraries of yesteryear, no? Media specialists are also struggling with the information overload that challenges us all. Despite this quick transformation of the business of media, most media specialists have risen to the occasion, quickly embracing each new technology with excitement and, now and then, frustration.
The challenges that draw many media specialists into the Balkanization of a school and build barriers to technology are usually related to the clarification of their role in the total technology picture. Questions they face on a daily basis include: "What is my role in the incorporation of technology throughout the school?" "Who should be responsible for software selection? Who should catalog software and turn in repair orders? Who should handle checking out computers on rolling carts? What is my role in teaching students to harness the power of multimedia?"
These questions often result in unsettling role confusion and turf-guarding between media personnel and, for example, the school "computer guru." The question of "Whose job is it?" often replaces "What can I do that will benefit students?" Competition for time, space and dollars heats up quickly. Can there be harmony between media and curriculum innovation?
The Power Users: Every school has one or more staff members that are the publicly anointed "computer guru". These folks are fond of helping others learn more about technology, evangelizing the latest new hardware and software and can spot a bad floppy disk a mile away. Their role in the Balkanization of the school comes when they, sometimes inadvertently, widen the knowledge gap. In their zest to move ahead, they may leave others behind. While gurus often understand and envision the capabilities of the latest hardware, others are just beginning their journey into the effective use of technology. Clearly, the existence of power-users in a school can be a comfort to new learners-it helps to have someone to call upon when something goes wrong. The specialized knowledge of the power-user, however, can also get in the way of communication. When it comes to technology planning, challenges arise when the power-user begins to rally for new and often different hardware when thousands of dollars of technology with unrealized potential languishes in classrooms. As with the media specialist, their hearts are in the right place, they have just immersed themselves in the technology so much that others may see them as unapproachable or intimidating.
Anxious administrators: There is no doubt that strong, visionary, leadership can make the difference between a school mired in a sea of unused computers and a school in which computers are used in innovative, exciting ways in every area of the curriculum. Administrators face the challenge both as a participant in the Balkanization of schools, and as a vital part of the solution to these challenges. One aspect that invariably promotes barriers to technology is one of control. Some administrators are more comfortable making decisions about such things as computer platform, curriculum software and how and when computers are used - they literally micro-manage!
Unfortunately, the issue of control often results in a widening gap between administration and the rest of the staff when it's time to talk technology with the rest of the school. Many staffers hold back new ideas because they believe their input isn't welcomed. These barriers to technology decision-making polarize the staff and breed apathy among staff members. To further complicate the control issue, the "over-control" syndrome may well be a trickle-down from an oppressive technology regime at the central office. Inflexible technology plans and pressure to bring immediate return on investment can drive even the most collaborative administrator into the role of "technology terminator."
Aside from the control issue, there is also the challenge of resource allocation. Those principals who manage best without collaboration, reveal their personal educational biases through resource allocation. The money flows to these programs he/she feels are most important. If the all-important beautification of the school or building a new football stadium is a priority, you won't see many funds flowing toward computers.
Where do you go if you want something done in your school? Most likely, the custodian or the school secretary. School secretaries are, by and large, a caring group of folks who take lots of abuse from just about everyone entering your school office. It's not surprising that they often resist the introduction of new technology into the administrative areas of the school. Reared on Selectric typewriters, most of these folks have a good heart, but little computer skills. It is incumbent on every administrator to take great care in ensuring that these valuable employees join the rest of the school along the path toward the 21st century.
Last, but certainly not least, anxious administrators add fuel to the fire by getting bogged down in what I'll affectionately refer to as "platform skirmishes." You know, every teacher in the building wants to have a Pear Computer and he/she thinks that HAL Computers, Inc. hung the moon? Any of the players can participate in this game, which often ultimately results in either impasse or increased tensions. Luckily, administrators today are often very aware of this potential barrier and are adept at working around it.
The "technologically-limited": Let's face it, most educators today didn't take courses in computer applications in college- most of us came through when punch cards were for programmers and computers were for research scientists. Despite colossal staff development efforts, some teachers still haven't learned that technology is the best thing for teacher productivity and learning since the invention of graphite.
Some staff members in your school probably fear technology. I still have a teacher friend who refuses to use an automatic teller machine for fear that it will "eat his bank account." Technologically-limited teachers and other staff members add to the battle in that they often believe that keeping technology out of the school and the curriculum will mean they won't have to buckle down and learn it.
The Static School Teacher: It's always something. First it was open classrooms, then mastery learning, then assertive discipline. What will they throw at us next? Sound familiar? Change is tough. Any time an innovation like technology becomes available people change to achieve an equilibrium between their own style and the use of the tool at hand. For some, this means rewriting tried-and-true classroom activities, for others, tossing textbooks in favor of hypermedia. Static School Teachers (and administrators) simply resist change. Their part in the construction of barriers to technology is to block anything that might cause them to become uncomfortable with what seems to them to be a perfectly wonderful system of teaching and learning-sort of the quintessential educational paradigm shift. This group is usually a quiet one, sitting back and waiting for each fad to pass.
The combatants are on the battlefield, is there a way to call a truce? The best way to prevent staff Balkanization is to concentrate not on the hardware or software, but on the process of building a plan for the incorporation of technology into your school or district. Building an environment where communication is valued and responsibilities are shared helps ensure barriers, when they arise, have an opportunity to be toppled with a minimum of effort.
The most important element in resisting Balkanization is the establishment of an open collaborative environment for discussion, planning and evaluation related to technology. Create a work-group of people representing every viewpoint in your school-department chairpersons, beginning teachers, community members, administrators and students. Through the work of this group, a mission can be identified and plans for technology can be developed that specifically address the interrelationships between those in the school with a different perspective. Offer the group time, space and information resources to help them accomplish their task. Rotate group members on different cycles to ensure a constant infusion of fresh ideas.
Once the technology task force is established, have them consider how funding might be applied equitably to accomplish your stated technology mission. If you have a good plan, funding will follow whatever priority is identified for the current year-with ample room for special needs that may arise.
Staff development is another way to increase communication and combat the fears of those that are unsure about the impact and implementation of technology. Provide ongoing "technology update" classes and new-user classes for new staff members. Encourage the establishment of "computer mentor" relationships that allow staff members to share technology information in return for innovative ideas. Build incentives for teachers and administrators to work together to develop staff development opportunities and projects.
Finally, blast away at uncertainty by pulling warring parties together and turning them loose to build, on paper, a list of duties and responsibilities related to technology within your school. During the process, they will undoubtedly realize that because technology is a part of the infrastructure of the school, their duties often overlap providing opportunities for them to work together. Encourage them to capitalize on the strengths in your school. Invite computer guru and the timid user to participate in shared responsibilities.
Most of the aforementioned challenges are directly influenced by the school's overall opinion about the value and benefit of technology in the instructional process. If technology and computing is a part of the culture of the school, resources and support will follow. Because staff Balkanization deals with the people aspect of technology implementations, it is critical that schools and districts be pro-active in their planning to ensure barriers are considered before they arise. People respond best to an open-collaborative environment where communication is the rule rather than the exception. None of the barriers is insurmountable and careful anticipation of the battles help ensure that your technology implementation is a success. I can see the barriers beginning to fall at your school already...
(c) Bard Williams, 1993
Great technology plans are unlikely to overcome staff resistance or achieve program integration unless district or building planners take into consideration the culture of schools and the types of groups or factions which arise whenever change is promised or threatened.
If we were to spread teachers out along a spectrum representing the degree to which they embrace new technologies (or any educational innovation) with enthusiasm and comfort, most staffs would fall into three main groups:
This group is constantly looking for new and improved ways of setting up learning experiences for children. They tend to scan the professional literature voraciously. They are eager to attend workshops and conferences with innovative tinges. Some of their professional identity depends upon public awareness of their early embrace of innovations. They love adventure, change and risk. When it is time to learn how to employ some new software or equipment, they usually just plunge right in, only reading the manual when they are stuck. These teachers often function at what Mandinach (1992) calls the Innovation Stage (see end of article for full description of the stages).
This group concentrates on the job at hand. They gradually incorporate some innovative practices into their repertoires, but they are not in any rush to do so. They maintain a balanced and stable approach to their assignment, seeking procedures and models which can deliver a high degree of certainty, comfort and reliability. They have little appetite for risk or public attention. They are most apt to function at what Mandinach (1992) calls the Survival and Mastery Stage (see below).
This group is generally suspicious about bandwagons and educational innovations. They have seen several dozen come and go, along with their zealous advocates, during the past twenty years. They have carefully honed classroom systems and instructional practices which have endured throughout all those fashions and trends. They view much innovation as potentially threatening to the system, to the children and to their own sanity. If they work with new technologies at all, they are most likely to remain within the Survival Stage.
Relationships between these three groups and the way they are handled can present one of the greatest barriers to the successful adoption of new technologies in many districts and schools. Conversely, the development of what Senge would call a learning organization with open-minded decision-making may virtually eliminate the barrier.
Unfortunately, the change literature of the 1970s and 1980s often urged school leaders to create "critical mass" by investing heavily in the pioneers and innovators. The prevailing change strategy in most schools is to develop a leadership group or committee of enthusiasts and pioneers who are meant to "lead the way." The more one examines the relationships between sages and pioneers, the more evident it becomes that this change strategy almost guarantees substantial resistance and Balkanization.
Generally speaking, sages and pioneers do not each lunch together. They usually do not carpool with each other. They would not often volunteer to team teach together. And they would generally avoid serving on committees together unless they wish to blunt the influence of the other. If you asked each what they think of the other, you might hear something like the characterizations below:
Sage describing a pioneer:
"Sam is always running about showing off the latest technology or trick. Last year he missed 12 days of school in order to attend conferences and meetings of various kinds. Makes you wonder how the children ever learn anything. Half the time I pass that classroom it's pure chaos. You never see any teaching going on. I often feel judged by Sam, as if I'm some kind of outdated fuddy-duddy. He's a prima donna, always grabbing the limelight, always showing off, bragging. He's not a team player. He doesn't listen. He's arrogant, ambitious and insensitive. I hope he gets that administrative job he's always angling for . . . in some other district."
Pioneer describing a sage:
"Helen is stuck in reverse. I think it's been years since she's budged from her classroom or read an educational article. The moment anybody suggests any change, no matter what it is, she starts criticizing and attacking. It's always negative. The only electronic technology in her room is the lighting and she uses that to control her students. They're always lined up in rows dutifully listening to her lectures. I dread meetings she attends because she is unrelentingly negative. She doesn't listen. I hope she retires soon."
Successful implementation of technology plans during the next decade will require coalition building across these human fissures. We must ask how to build alliances and partnerships between sages and pioneers. How do we create adult learning experiences which break down the isolation characteristic of most schools and replace it with effective working relationships based upon mutual respect and open-minded problem-solving?
Another way of thinking about Balkanization is to consider the preferred teaching styles of colleagues and how they might relate to acceptance of new technologies. The Myers-Briggs scale suggests four dominant styles:
Several studies of teachers have pointed to a predominance of the two top style preferences out of proportion to their share of the general population. Combined with the knowledge that 50 per cent of new teachers leave the profession after just five years, it may be that the isolation of the profession and its rule orientation proves disheartening to "feelers" of both kinds. The pendulum swings of the past 25 years may, then, be a shift of power back and forth between the two main groups, one advocating strong structures and teacher control, the other pushing for inquiry and student-centered learning.
Our democratic voting traditions may have contributed to part of our difficulty with change. Instead of working toward consensus, we are quick to appoint representatives and take votes. A 60-40 split is not a healthy foundation for a unified school improvement plan, but we often lack the organizational skills to forge alliances and coalitions between seemingly disparate groups.
Several decades of so-called educational reform based upon pioneers should have taught us some lessons. If we wish to see technologies blended thoughtfully into our regular classroom programs, we would be wise to steer clear of such strategies. If we load our committees and planning groups with pioneers we almost guarantee organizational gridlock and resistance from the sages.
It is time for yet another paradigm shift. Avoid the pioneer trap. Invest in partnerships between unlikely partners. Invest in human resource development. Invest in open-mindedness and rational problem-solving. Invest in a broad-based team.
- Impact Stage
- Innovation Stage
This view of technology adoption was developed by Mandinach and based upon the work of Mandinach, et. al.
*Mandinach, E. and Cline, H. (1992). The impact of technological curriculum innovation on teaching and learning activities." Paper presented at AERA.
*Sandholtz, J., Ringstaff, C. & Dwyer, D.C. (1990). Classroom management: Teaching in high tech environments: Classroom management revisited first-fourth year findings (ACOT Report #10). Cupertino, CA: Apple Computer, Inc., Advanced Technology Group, Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow.
Credits: The background is from Jay Boersma.
Other drawings and graphics are by Jamie McKenzie.
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