TIES: The Influence of Teacher Beliefs

5 Dec 2006

What Role Do Our Beliefs Play in Using the Internet for Teaching and Learning?
Sara Greenhow, University of Minnesota

I love the title of this session. I’ve observed over and over again that teachers’ beliefs do affect how they use technology. I’ve talked to teachers who hold fundamental beliefs about the place of technology in society, classrooms, and students’ lives. When those beliefs run counter to the beliefs of students in the classroom, you get ineffective use of technology.

Teacher beliefs vs. teacher knowledge. We can know something, but not believe in it. Beliefs involve strong emotion and judgement and are, therefore, quite resistant to change. This is relevant to the adoption and use of technology. Beliefs often don’t find their way into practice. (See research of P. Ertmer, Technological Pedagogical Beliefs: The Final Frontier in Our Quest for Technology Integration, ETRD)

So if so many teachers know that technology should be used, why hasn’t it made an impact? (Sara also mentioned Larry Cuban’s famous work on this topic.) One researcher found that high-order use of the Internet with students requires access + preparedness + constructivist beliefs. 81% of teachers have moderate-high computer access; 93% have Internet in the classroom (NCES, 2005). 85% feel they are somewhat well-prepared to use technology for classroom instruction (NCES, 2005). These survey results suggest that we’ve made significant progress on access and preparedness. So what about the beliefs? That’s the missing piece. We must understand, provoke, make explicit and help transition teachers’ beliefs about students’ learning, teaching, teacher learning, and technology’s potential.

Sara is talking now about “cyberinfrastructure for education,” the idea that we should have ubiquitous access to mentors, experts, virtual, augmented reality, content creation/distribution tools, and customizable personal platform for lifelong learning. (See more info at www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/ci-team/)

What about the neomillenial learning styles? When given choices of multiple media, the majority of students do not prefer face-to-face communication as their first choice, but some other media. (Dede, et al., Designing and Studying Multiple Interactive Media to Bridge Distance and Time, 2003)

What does this mean for professional development?

  • The handshake-approach: Change practice first, back it up with data to show effect, gauge confidence. This approach is not for the most resistant folks, but rather for people who are open to change. Collect data from students about how they liked the different approach.
  • “Intuitive screens” approach: Simple tech uses + current goals (vs. new goals) = happy outcomes. Give them easy successes. This might work for the most resistant teachers.
  • Dialogue early and often: Target making preexisting beliefs explicit (public conversation) (about learning, teaching, technology, capacity for learning/change) For example… Do you think students can learn this way? How do you think students learned differently in that activity?
  • Challenge the adequacy of the existing beliefs. (Data and questioning)
  • Give extended opportunities to examine, elaborate, integrate new information.
    1. Vicarious experiences with supervising/mentor teacher (modeling)
    2. Provide multiple models to develop more nuanced ideas.
    3. Opportunity to try to emulate and get constructive critique (low-stakes simulations)
  • Make sure it is social, extended, and recognized over years!

This is one of the best sessions I’ve attended in a long time. The professional development approaches that Sara mentioned were really thought-provoking. I don’t want to sound too harsh, but how much longer do you think we need to keep trying to convince teachers to utilize the Internet (and technology more broadly)? When you take a serious look at how students use technology and the ways that technology has permeated the work world (and will only increase), doesn’t the debate really have to end at some point? Shouldn’t we be focusing on best practices instead of trying to convince to give technology a try?

Increasingly, I think the “prove to me that technology helps kids learn more” argument has outlived its usefulness. We live in a technological world, and I don’t think we should have to convince anyone anymore that we should learn in technological schools.

ties, ties2006, professional development

One response to TIES: The Influence of Teacher Beliefs

  1. Richard Jopp 8 Dec 2006 at 11:22 am

    Teacher chiming in here- I have always been enthused about incorporating new technologies into my classroom, but both time and testing have conspired against me. I would say this is true of most teachers.

    The time taken to gain funding for new technology is often not there or requires hours of grant writing to procure. I have even had the experience of writing a grant along with another teacher to get a set of 30 handhelds for our students. We received the grant, spent hours learning of various applications we could use with our students, yet we are not allowed to connect to the desktops computers in our rooms because of a “security risk”. What use is data collection if we cannot even download our data into other applications. I would say that many, many teachers would echo my sentiment. We support and believe in the power of technology but become frustrated by the effort we must put forth just to use it.

    The other hurdle over wider adoption of technology in classrooms involves testing. Funding and “success” is measured using informational indicators, not skills learned. I small step forward may be the online tests being piloted this spring Minnesota science classes as part of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) tests. Small step….but at least it’s forward.