Towards a Holistic Model for the Diffusion of Educational Technologies: An Integrative Review of Educational Innovation Studies
Assistant Professor, Texas A&M University
Office of Distance Education, The Agriculture Program
College Station, TX 77843-2116 USA
Advanced technological development must occur in our schools and educational institutions if we are to prepare students for a competitive global marketplace. The educational reform movement is forcing changes in many traditional pedagogical practices (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1990; Dede, 1989). Practitioners and government officials are recognizing the effectiveness of emerging technologies in establishing new goals and implementing innovative pedagogical methods.
"Technology has now changed or altered how people access, gather, analyze, present, transmit, and simulate information. Todayís technologies provide the tools, applications, and processes that empower individuals of our information society" (See, 1994, p. 30). Many educators believe that computer-and-communications networking can be employed productively to support and enable needed reform in education (Hunter, 1993). New information technologies can give teachers and students more power in the classroom (Clinton & Gore, 1993; See, 1994). Advances in scientific developments, telecommunications, information processing, and dissemination technologies are accelerating knowledge generation and acquisition (Hefzallah, 1990). There is escalating awareness that our educational systems are facing inordinate difficulties in trying to meet the needs in our changing and increasingly technological society.
However, there are many uncertainties regarding the benefits of technology and the changes that the adoption of technology necessitates, such as the demand for technical support, pedagogical and instructional management issues, teacher professional development, network infrastructure, and costs of all components (Hunter, 1993; Office of Technology Assessment, 1989).
With accelerating knowledge and access to information, how can we embed ubiquitous use of educational technology? How do we deal with the tensions between teachers, pedagogy, technology, and institutional management? Does the literature teach us lessons on the process of change, diffusion of innovations, and adoption of computers in schools? Can this literature somehow be combined into a working diffusion model?
This article will present a diverse set of literature in the area of "adoption" of educational technology in schools. The work of Everett M. Rogers (1995) provides a framework for understanding of the diffusion process, the decision-making process related to adoption, and the varying adoption categories within a social system. "Concerns-theory" (Hall, Wallace, & Dossett, 1973) and the change facilitation process in schools (Hall & Hord, 1987) help in addressing specific interventions that serve to institutionalize an innovation. Also included is an overview of the literature in the areas of computer technology and telecommunications in education, including the factors that impede and embed educational innovations. A diffusion model based on a theoretical base resulting from combining the literature will be described.
Can innovation research help explain the adoption process in schools?
What is an innovation? What is diffusion? Rogers defined an innovation as "an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption" (1995, p. 11). Diffusion is "the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system" (Rogers, 1995, p. 10). The innovation-decision process is the "process through which an individual (or other decision-making unit) passes from first knowledge of an innovation to forming an attitude toward the innovation, to a decision to adopt or reject, to implementation of the new idea, and to confirmation of this decision" (Rogers, 1995, p. 20). This process consists of a series of actions and choices over time with varying stages: 1) knowledge-exposure to the innovation's existence and function; 2) persuasion-formation of a favorable or unfavorable attitude toward the innovation; 3) decision-engagement in activities that lead to a choice to adopt or reject the innovation; 4) implementation-putting the innovation into use; and 5) confirmation-seeking reinforcement of an innovation-decision already made. There are also influences on the process, such as the prior conditions, characteristics of the decision-making unit, the perceived characteristics of the innovation, and communication channels.
Diffusion research can be found in numerous fields of study, including anthropology, sociology, education, public health, communication, marketing, and geography (Rogers, 1983; Rogers & Shoemaker, 1971). In education, diffusion research largely consisted of the work of Dr. Paul Mort and his students at Columbia Universityís Teachers College until the early 1960s, when this tradition expanded rapidly (Deal, Meyer & Scott, 1975; Rogers, 1983). The Columbia University diffusion studies found that the best predictor of school innovativeness was educational cost per pupil. They also found that a considerable time lag was required for the widespread adoption of new educational ideas (Rogers, 1983).
Some scholars have emphasized the relationship between the characteristics of school district structure or environment and the adoption of innovation. These studies revealed that the school districts more likely to adopt innovations were those that were wealthy, large, and had change-oriented leaders. Others have found organizational autonomy, decentralized authority, staff professionalism, and features of organizational climate such as openness, trust, and free communication to be correlates of innovative behavior (Deal, Meyer & Scott, 1975).
Concerns theory emerged in the late 1960s from the pioneering research of Frances Fuller. These early studies became the first indicators that the differing perceptions and needs of teachers are important considerations when developing and delivering teacher interventions. Rather than offering evaluative judgments about these differences, emphasis should be upon developing and understanding the implications these differences have for assisting teachers in professional growth (Hall & Hord, 1987).
The concept of "concerns" has been described as "the composite representation of the feelings, preoccupation, thought, and consideration given to a particular issue or task. Depending on the personal make-up, knowledge, and experience, each person perceives and mentally contends with a given issue differently; thus there are different kinds of concerns" (Hall & Hord, 1987, p. 59). Change is a process rather than an event and should be examined by the various motivations, perceptions, attitudes, and feelings experienced by individuals in relation to change (Hall et al., 1973). Change entails an unfolding of experience and a gradual development of skill and sophistication in use of an innovation. An individual's concerns can move in developmental progression from those typical of non-users of an innovation to those associated with fairly sophisticated use.
The theory and research of Hord and associates showed that there was a general pattern to the intensity of the different stages of concern, and that changes in this pattern can be linked to the change process as it unfolds (Hord, et al., 1987). At the beginning of a change process, the typical "non-user" has concerns that are relatively high in Awareness, Information, and Personal (self concerns). Non-users or low users are more concerned about gaining information about the innovation and about how change will affect them personally. As they begin to use the new program or innovation, concerns become more intense in the area of Management (task concerns). As a teacher becomes more experienced and skilled with an innovation, the tendency is for concerns at the lower stages to decrease in intensity while those in higher stages such as Consequence, Collaboration, and Refocusing become more intense (impact concerns).
Concerns theory and research reveal that concerns change over time in a fairly predictable, developmental manner (Hall & Hord, 1987; Hord et al., 1987). If we can predict how concerns will change throughout the phases of the change process, we can design in-service and other intervention activities to address those needs. For example, when an individual is primarily concerned about self, that person does not have much residual energy for concern about the tasks and consequences of use of innovations. In addition, a school whose personnel show a larger percentage of impact concerns is more likely to continue the use and further diffusion of that particular innovation.
Since the mid-1980s, microcomputers have invaded nearly all companies, schools, and households. That represents a staggering rate of adoption. Why? According to Sid L. Huff, a professor at Westernís Business School, the adoption and diffusion of innovations throughout organizations have been studied quite thoroughly in many different contexts and some powerful conceptual frameworks have emerged to help us better understand the microcomputer invasion (Huff, 1987). Rogerís (1983) five characteristics of innovations (relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability), help to explain the computerís rate of adoption. Microcomputers have relative economic advantage, are becoming more and more user friendly and compatible, becoming more light and portable, can be experimented with privately, and come with tutorial programs and fancy screen graphics that gain the attention of potential adopters (Huff, 1987).
What happens to attempts at innovation and restructuring within education?
According to Glenn Latham (1988), the typical innovation is born in a moment of great interest, is soon implemented, and peaks in about a year and a half. This peak is then followed by a decline in enthusiasm, and the innovation dies about four years from the time that interest in it was first generated. Interest focuses on another innovative idea and the process begins anew. Lathamís works revealed common characteristics that seem to explain why innovations fail: practitioners are disenchanted and disillusioned because the innovation is more difficult than expected and it causes too much change and takes too much time; innovation supporters depart; personnel lack training and enthusiasm; funds run out; there is inadequate supervision; there is no accountability; there is a "take-it-or-leave-it" attitude; and/or there are no consequences for termination (Latham, 1988).
The past three decades have been characterized by extreme social, political, economic, and technological changes; but schools have not changed their basic organizational structure. Recognition that the curriculum and methodology of the past are unsuited for todayís world has prompted a call for a restructuring of education. We are currently in the "third wave" era (Toffler, 1981), the post-industrial information age in which change continuously takes place at all levels of society. Computers and multimedia technology will form a major part of that restructuring process (Dyrli & Kinnaman, 1994d; Kurshan, 1991; Madian, 1990; Pearlman, 1991; Reif & Morse, 1992; Stinson, 1994).
Restructuring our schools involves deep and profound changes in the way the schools function. Restructuring defines what goes on within classrooms--rethinking the way teachers teach, the way students learn, and the way we assess them. Restructuring also involves a change in the way schools are organized. Such reorganization requires redefining the roles of teachers, administrators, parents, and students in the governance and management of schools (Dyrli & Kinnaman, 1994b; Pearlman, 1991; Stinson, 1994). Computer technologies are changing the teacherís role from information giver to facilitator, counselor, advisor, guide, coach, co-learner, mentor, resource and technology managers, and mediator to the students (Dyrli & Kinnaman, 1994b; Kurshan, 1991; Lee & Reigeluth, 1994; Office of Technology Assessment, 1989; Pearlman, 1991; Perkins, 1991; See, 1994). For schools to improve, teachers must change. For teachers to change, there must be appropriate and promising practices and procedures (innovations) that they develop or adopt and, when necessary, adapt (Hall & Hord, 1987).
What are the benefits and impediments for computer use in schools?
Simplifying daily tasks, such as recordkeeping, may be the most immediate way to involve teachers with technology. As teachers gain experience with technology, they often discover ways it can help them carry out their varied duties better, faster, or more effectively. Telecommunications can also transcend the walls of isolation that plague the profession and allow teachers to converse with colleagues, the school office, experts in the field, parents, and others outside the boundaries of the school. In addition, teachers who are leaders in telecommunications and other technologies are demonstrating how technology can be a vehicle for continuing formal and informal professional development. While improving student learning is a central goal, technology-using teachers express enthusiasm for additional instructional benefits of technology that may or may not be reflected immediately in measures of student learning: bringing a wider range of resources to the classroom, motivating learners, providing new teaching tools, accommodating individual learning styles, and even redefining the role of the teacher (Dyrli & Kinnaman, 1994a; Office of Technology Assessment, 1995). According to Barron and Orwig (1993), the benefits of technology in education include multisensory delivery, increased self-expression and active learning, cooperative learning, communication skills, multicultural education, and student motivation (p. 3).
But, the greatest single educational system barrier for an innovation is the system itself. Teachers teach in the manner in which they themselves were taught. They will likely continue to do so until significant changes in the system itself are effected. Other system problems pertain to the inadequate support available to educators. School district inservice training programs promote survival rather than change. There is ample evidence that schools resist change both actively and passively, rendering many constructive efforts for improvement useless (Hannafin, Dalton & Hooper, 1987).
"Adoption and diffusion efforts do not automatically ensure the best interest of the system. Installation efforts are often little more than attempts to promote painless infusion, to install without really changing, and to accommodate but not to improve. These efforts are often misguided and have complicated rather than enhanced computer use. Failure has often been assured by the methods used to Ďsellí computers in schools. Teachers with limited computer knowledge, and often conflicting priorities, influence how, when, or even if needed innovations are to be implemented. Instead of promoting adoption and diffusion, change is often stonewalled due to the territorial, personal, and political threats posed by innovation" (Hannafin, et al., 1987, p. 7).
In an article by Jessica Siegel (1995), staff development was noted as imperative for technology integration in the schools. Teachers must not only have training on the use of the technology, but on how the innovation can become a part of their teaching repertoire. "While Ďnuts and boltsí training on equipment is obviously necessary, most experienced technology trainers argue that staff development has to move beyond this rudimentary stage to have any real effect" (Siegel, 1995, pp. 44-45). Teachers training teachers and working within interdisciplinary teams allows teachers to develop units and teaming with technology as a tool, not the focus (Norton & Gonzales, 1998; Siegel, 1995). "Teacher inservice has to model how to use the technology in the teaching and learning process. The idea is not only to teach them how to use the hardware and software, but how to integrate it seamlessly into the curriculum. Otherwise, it doesnít work..."(Siegel, 1994, p. 34). Thus, hardware, software, and professional development share an interdependent relationship (Dyrli & Kinnaman, 1994c; Office of Technology Assessment, 1995; Scheffler & Logan, 1999).
It was also discovered that "a longer timetable allows teachers time to absorb information, try ideas out in their classrooms, and then come back for more discussion" (Siegel, 1995, p. 45). Boyd (1992) pointed out that change frequently fails because insufficient time was allocated. Fullan (1985) also suggested that emphasis be placed on such resources as release time for planning and training. When staff development is seen as an "add-on" to the school day, itís understandable that workshops are offered infrequently and in one-shot formats (Siegel, 1995). Typically, workshops and "show and tell" demonstrations have been used to provide teachers with the basic "how to" knowledge required to use computers in an instructional capacity (Dalton, 1989). Professional development is more likely to be effective when it encourages teachers to participate in their own renewal rather than supplying teachers with prepackaged information or training (Office of Technology Assessment, 1995). Although we may believe that teachers will automatically seek to learn about new technology and instructional methods, the reality is that, when teachers are lacking confidence to integrate an innovation into their instructional program, they will tend to ignore it.
School districts need to provide the standard workshops to help teachers gain the skills and confidence necessary to use computers, but there must also be support for venturesome methods (Corbett, Dawson & Firestone, 1984). "No risk, no gain could be no truer than for the integration of computers in the schools. Benefits will be realized in proportion to the innovativeness of our prospective solutions" (Hannafin et al., 1987). Because adopters tend to have greater risk tendencies, the higher the risk-proneness of a subject, the higher the innovationís acceptance and adoption, and the shorter the rate of diffusion of a typical innovation. Risk reduction can be accomplished by reducing the uncertainty or by reducing the consequences (Dusick, 1998; Fidler & Johnson, 1984; Herbig & Kramer, 1994; Rogers & Shoemaker, 1971).
Another impediment to computer use in schools is information or innovation overload and burnout (Herbig & Kramer, 1994; Latham, 1988; Sarason, 1982). Information overload is the phenomenon of too much information overloading a consumer and causing adverse judgmental decision-making. It is the userís response to the increasing pace of information, knowledge, and innovations that are appearing. Studies show that effectiveness suffers when too much information is readily available (Herbig & Kramer, 1994). Currently, much information is being presented in such a short time that people are incapable of assimilating it all before the next batch appears, contributing to overload. Overload usually occurs when the nature of the information is uncertain, ambiguous, novel, complex, or intense causing society to be data rich and information poor (Herbig & Kramer, 1994).
Other factors that influence an innovationís success or failure are compatibility, communication, and evaluation. Making sure the innovation is compatible with the schoolís philosophy and mission and that the school board approves and is kept informed is imperative (Latham, 1988). Communication plays a key role in overcoming resistance to innovations and in the reduction of uncertainty (Fidler & Johnson, 1984). When there is uncertainty, confusion, and morale problems in a school, 99 percent of the time it is because of a lack of communication (Office of Technology Assessment, 1995).
Often there is no time for or mention of an evaluative component. Teachers and principals continue to try new things, without allowing for time to assess the effectiveness. Kamala Anandam and Terence Kelly (1981) discussed the three Eís --extensiveness, effectiveness, and endurance as three evaluation phases in an innovation-diffusion process as it relates to technology in education. Extensiveness refers to the widespread degree of usage of technology in education; effectiveness refers to improvement in human satisfaction and in student motivation, retention, and learning; and endurance refers to the long-lasting continuation of an innovation despite roadblocks that appear (Anandam & Kelly, 1981).
How does the school context impact the change facilitation and implementation process?
Every school has its own unique context or culture. Many times innovations are not put into practice because they conflict with deeply held internal images of how the world works, images that limit persons to familiar ways of thinking and acting (Senge, 1990). Frequently, the individualís conception of the system serves as a basis for maintaining the status quo and opposing change (Sarason, 1982). Cuban (1988) states that most reforms fail because of flawed implementation. Teachers and administrators see minimal gains and much loss in changes that are proposed. The difficulty associated with facilitating change in peopleís values, attitudes, and behavior is "grossly underplayed and often ignored" (Waugh & Punch, 1987, p. 244). The result is the likelihood that innovations will not be well received by teachers due to conflict with the firmly entrenched traditions.
Purkey and Smith (1983) proposed that change in schools means changing attitudes, norms, beliefs, and values associated with the school culture. Researchers have found particular cultural norms that can facilitate school improvement. Norms such as introspection, collegiality, and a shared sense of purpose or vision combine to create a culture that supports innovation (Straessens, 1991). Teachers who had adopted more progressive teaching practices over time felt that computers helped them change, but they did not acknowledge computers as the catalyst for change; instead, they cited reflection upon experience, classes taken, and the context or culture of the school (Dexter, Anderson & Becker, 1999). For teachers to implement the use of educational technology in a constructivist manner, they must have opportunities to construct pedagogical knowledge in a supportive climate (Dexter, Anderson & Becker, 1999; Parr, 1999).
In the seventies, Havelock (1971) introduced the idea of "linkers," or the human interface, to connect new information and practice with those who could use them. Lipham (1977) suggested that the school administrator could serve as the linking agent. "A key ingredient in facilitating diffusion of any innovation is the presence of a credible change agent. The most significant role of the change agent is to act as an interface between the adopters of the innovation and those with a vested interest in seeing the change occur: the stakeholders" (Dalton, 1989, p. 24). Successful change agents must share communality with the client group. Understanding the clientís needs and wants, as well as the specific skills necessary to facilitate the particular change are critical attributes (Dalton, 1989).
Usually, there is no single entity responsible for planning and managing change, although, by default, the principal often assumes the task. "If educational programs for students are to improve, principals must take the lead in providing teachers with the instructional leadership they need and are entitled to as they strive to improve their practices" (Hall & Hord, 1987, p. 43). The principal has the primary role in encouraging or discouraging individual teachers to try out and report upon their new ideas, thus creating a staff atmosphere that supports experimentation and sharing (Chesler, Schmuck & Lippitt, 1975). Encouraging informal meetings for the discussion of teaching techniques and improving teacher communication by providing opportunities for teachers to observe other classroom procedures helps to demonstrate active support and concern. This type of environment allows the principal to remain sensitive to the needs of the teachers and the effectiveness of promoting creativity and innovativeness (Chesler, et al., 1975).
Within the school context, administrators who share the vision, support venturesome methods, and act as a linking (change) agent help facilitate a change in traditions, beliefs and attitudes regarding innovations. But ultimately, itís the teachers who implement the innovation.
Putting it all together: A model for diffusion
Reflecting upon the innovation research, how can we "put it all together" to determine the diffusion of computer technology in schools? Perhaps a place to start is by determining where school personnel are in the innovation-decision process and what their concerns are (self, task, or impact) with regard to technology in the school. Only with this information can we begin to design appropriate professional development programs and an environment where impediments are minimized.
School change is extremely complex. There are contextual factors impacting the change facilitation process: the role of principals and others who help teachers integrate technology in the school. There are contextual factors impacting the change implementation process: the role of teachers at varying levels of technical competence. There are concerns (self, task and impact) about the innovation and the stage where the individual is in the innovation-decision process (knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation, and confirmation). Is there a way to compile all these factors in order to visualize whatís happening within a school?
To integrate information about individual diffusion and concerns, a model was developed and tested in several schools. This model considers the contextual factors, the stages in the decision-making process from the perspective(s) of the principal, internal trainer(s), external trainer(s), and high, middle and low using teachers, and a pie graph representation of the percentage of concerns that were self, task, and impact. This model provides a snapshot of diffusion of computer technology and telecommunications (Dooley, 1995).
Selection of Schools and Respondents
In the initial study, three schools were selected based upon equivalent funding for the purchase of technology and professional development and that were expected to demonstrate similar diffusion. These schools housed 6th-8th grade students and received funding because of their interest in school restructuring and their presumed ability to be innovative. All three schools were located in east-central Texas within 100 miles of each other. Two were classified as urban, while the third was rural.
Selection of individual respondents was based upon an interview with the school principals. The principals mentioned key people (site coordinators, technology trainers, learning specialists, external consultants, etc.) who were impacting the diffusion of technology. It was at this point that the researcher realized the importance of other change facilitators on the campuses and also contacted these individuals to be respondents for the study. Among them were technology site coordinators on the campuses and external training consultants.
At the conclusion of the initial interviews, the principals were asked to identify high, middle, and low-using computer technology teachers. This nonprobability sampling technique, the snowball sample (Babbie, 1989), meant that each person interviewed may be asked to suggest additional people for the study. During the interviews of teachers, additional high, middle, and low users were identified until the sample became redundant because of names being repeated.
There were 39 interviews (Table 1). All of the respondents and schools were coded to ensure confidentiality by using a one or two letter designation and number corresponding to the type of position in the school and the consecutive order of the interview. For example, when designating comments of the eighth person interviewed, who was a middle-using teacher, the researcher would use the code "M8."
Note. The teachers were divided into High (H), Middle (M), and Low (L) Users.
Table 1. Respondent Selection by School
For this study, the researcher used a variety of qualitative methods in order to gain a valid glimpse of the multiple realities associated with the school context. These methods helped to ensure truth value, applicability, consistency, and neutrality (Erlandson, Harris, Skipper & Allen, 1993, pp. 133-161). Interviews served as the primary data collection instrument. The interviews were open-ended, but based upon an interview protocol designed to determine "concerns" and the stage in the innovation-decision process. Audiotaping supplemented field notes to insure accuracy.
As discussed in Lincoln and Guba (1985), the constant comparative method was used for the data analysis. The transcriptions were analyzed using A Manual for Assessing Open-Ended Statements of Concern About an Innovation (Newlove & Hall, 1976) to give a glimpse of the individual concerns and innovation-decision process. As concerns were identified in the interview transcriptions, tally marks were made to determine percentages of concerns (self, task, and impact).
The comparative case studies and data analysis allowed the researcher to place individuals within the Rogerís (1983) innovation-decision stages, to determine the concerns from the Concern-Based Adoption Model (1973), and to characterize each schoolís unique contexts, such as the environmental factors that impacted the rate of diffusion. A diffusion model emerged to help "make meaning" out of the multiple data sources.
The model forms a circle to represent the overall school context, with the outer edge of the circle indicating high diffusion, and the center representing low diffusion. The model includes spokes for the varying perspectives in order to visualize the individualís progression through Rogerís stages of diffusion. The pie graphs represent the percentages of concerns that are impact, task, and self.
An example of the diffusion model for one school is included to serve as a sample (Figure 1). Notice the relationship between the level of computer competence and percentage of concerns/innovation-decision stage. Low users of technology had a higher percentage of self concerns, middle users shifted more to task or management concerns, and high users were more concerned about the impact the innovation had on their students or other teachers. In particular, school personnel indicated that further diffusion of computer technology and telecommunications depended on the willingness of the "change facilitators" to understand and collaborate with the teachers in developing training and in-service programs to address their needs. Also, the principals and technology trainers in the schools tended to range between implementation and confirmation on Rogerís innovation-decision model. Higher users were also in this range, with middle users closer to the decision stage and low users often only at the knowledge stage.
As one would expect, low users are closer to the center of the circle and high users at the edge. A dynamic continuum results, with added training and support encouraging outward movement, or continued frustrations causing individuals to discontinue use or never to decide to adopt. In the model, there is a relationship between the individualís location on the innovation-decision spoke and the individualís percentage of concerns. As internal or external factors enter, they become a part of the school context. The context can be further divided because most schools operate under the leadership of the principal and other support personnel, where change is generally facilitated. These are the people who write grants, order equipment, train teachers, and keep equipment up and running. Although the diffusion of computer technology and telecommunications is dependent on the change facilitatorís vision and leadership, it is truly the teachers who impact the use of technology in the classroom. The change implementation or acceptance of change therefore occurs with the instructional personnel or teachers.
Now I ask youódoes innovation research help us understand the adoption process in schools? Are there benefits (in time savings, teaching tools and learning strategies) to using computers in schools? Can we predict and even prevent the impediments to the adoption of computer technology in schools? Can we change schools, including the role of teachers, administrators, and students? I hope you answered "yes" to at least three of these questions. We have made great strides in recent years in the diffusion of computers as instructional/learning tools. But, the biggest challenge remains. The institution we call "school" must change truly to embed ubiquitous educational technology. Yet, schools have not changed for centuries. Will the next century be the one?
I believe it will take a holistic, systemic approach, the infusion of all these factors working together to facilitate and implement change. This diffusion model attempts a holistic view to aid institutions with the change process. "From a concerns-based point of view, it is insufficient simply to assess teachersí and other clientsí concerns and use of a particular program or process; it is the responsibility of the concerns-based change facilitator to Ďdo somethingí on the basis of the assessment--to intervene" (Hall & Hord, 1987, p. 142). Will you be that change facilitator?