Zhao's Framework: Innovator--Innovtaion--Context --> Successful Implementation of Technology
Reading the Zhao article Conditions for Classroom Technology Innovations, and the descriptions of the different cases mentioned, I saw many instances in common with some of the things that I’ve seen at my college. However, because I teach college electives, I felt lucky not to be constrained by the rules and regulations of high school or grade school districts and outside tests. Generally my college has pretty good technology and a strong support infrastructure. The technological infrastructure has improved but it's always a work in progress.
The Teacher -Innovator
Zhao's framework really hit on key areas and could be used to analyze innovative projects in higher education settings. Their first major category looked at the Innovator in terms of technology proficiency, pedagogy belief and technology, and social awareness. Key things to improve success here were :
- knowledge about technology and enabling conditions,
- being reflexive and understanding your own pedagogical beliefs,
- as well knowing the dynamics and culture of your environment.
Right now I’m partially seconded to work in the Innovations area but I also teach courses in the Liberal Arts. Before I was seconded to this area, I always had a relationship with Innovations because of my interest in technology. Years ago when I decided to try online testing for all of my courses, I met with Innovations and we worked together to pilot online testing. In this case I was the strong teacher who had an understanding of the dynamics of the culture. Even though the computer lab was “owned” by Innovations, the person who ran the lab resented my intrusion into his territory. They have a fully online computer course that all students take at their own pace in the lab. On one hand I had full support of the chair and others but then there was this person who viewed me as an intruder. Since I was the first to try online testing, we really had to develop a plan that would suit the teacher, the students, Innovations and administration. The innovation was distant from the school culture but because it was just my class it didn’t impact other classes except the computer class. I was somewhat dependent on others because it had to do with WebCT, the computers, and IT. I knew all the people involved and they all knew I was a big supporter of what they do so the project went smoothly.
As far as context goes at my college we have a good human infrastructure. One of the key people – a translator-in Innovations was willing to give me her home phone number and actually told me to call anytime. The department had a vested interest in the pilot because they wanted to get full use of the lab and promote technology in order to secure a bigger and better lab. We were lucky that we had the technological infrastructure in place. What we worked on was creating a secure system for testing. My division really wasn’t involved at all in this project but because I was a friend of Innovations people, I had strong social support. After the pilot we wrote up a system and a set of policies and I talked a few people into trying online testing. Now we had different levels of technological expertise with the different teachers, but overall we had a good system so it has been successful. I'm still working on turning faculty on to "a scantron free life" and last year we got a dedicated lab for testing.
One of the next projects I implemented had to do with a first semester Student Success course given to all business and creative arts students (1000 students in Sept). At the time I was working in the Business and Arts and we were having problems with space. This course was a half credit course that was 1 ½ hours in length but it took up 2 hours in the timetable.I said to my chair, why don’t we just put 1/3 of the course online and then schedule one hour in the class for the teachers. The next thing I knew my summer disappeared as I created the completely self directed portion of the course. To make time for the teachers to teach, I took all the testing in the course and put it online. The problem here was that we had 5-7 teachers who taught the course, none of whom were full time and none who were technologically savvy. So even though they really didn’t have to do much technologically they had to learn how to use WebCT to use the gradebook, and a couple of basic functions. Because there were common tests there had to be some collaboration and we had 1000 students who had never seen a learning management system or an online test. When reading the Zhao article, I related this to the teacher who couldn’t get buy-in from the group. I had a good social support system in my chair and Innovations but I was the support system for the group of teachers and the students. It took a while but eventually it worked out and it increased the usage of the Innovations lab too.
One of my responsibilities in Innovations is teacher training. I help faculty with different technology and especially WebCT. On one hand we try to get resistant teachers to adopt new technology and on the other we struggle with the technologies infrastructure. For the last year and a half everything has been stable with WebCT but a couple of years ago we moved to a new version of WebCT that was a significant change. We had to get everyone’s courses from the old system into the new system. It was a bit of a nightmare. After we pretty much had everything going along we had a major server crash. It was a pretty disruptive event and it caused a lot of negativity towards technology. The usual resistant crew used this event to reinforce their anti-tech view, and the newbie’s were disillusioned. Ultimately the school realized that we needed a better infrastructure, so we ended up with better technology and dedicated IT. The difficulty in this situation was with the technology, but the human infrastructure took the beating.
Trust and Dependance
The article also talked about trust and dependence. It mentions that teachers don’t trust administration. In any college this is almost always an issue. Firstly because colleges are union environments but also because it seems to some that colleges are in the business of education. Promises about technology don’t always happen in a timely manner, and often when new things are adopted it’s not the users who are involved in the discussions. Classrooms are designed by people who don’t use the technology. Rather than creating new, the old is adapted. These are the things that happen in organizations dependent on government money.
The Zhao article recommends that innovators take an evolutionary approach rather than a revolutionary one. To me this is a key for anyone who is not that knowledgeable about the technology. In general I find this good advice, but sometimes a strong innovator can take a larger step if other things are in place. Zhao also recognizes the importance of infrastructure. Institutions need to have good human and technological support as well as a supportive culture. As technology evolves more and more rapidly the technological and human infrastructure is more and more challenged. We seem to always be running to catch up.
If I had to point out something that the article didn’t talk about, I’d question where the students were. It seems like success was measured only by the teacher’s reflections.
For me working in post secondary education, it’s not always so much what I think is a success but what the students think.
Zhao, Y, Pugh K, Sheldon, S and Byers, J. (April 2002) Conditions for Classroom Technology Innovations Teachers College Record Volume 104, Number 3 pp 482-515