Beginning Steps in the Development of a Comprehensive Framework for the Implementation of Information Technology into a Learning Environment
by Brent Phillips
December 4, 1997
At each leap of evolution, there has been a corresponding moment where the individual component part was subsumed into something greater than itself. 
                                                            (Rushkoff, 1996, p. 4)
The present information revolution has placed society is in the midst of one of the greatest cultural upheavals in history.  Global evolution is taking place as the industrial age is slowly giving way to its evolutionary successor -- the information age -- at a pace which is unprecedented in human history. Traditionally, change has occurred over vast periods of time, primarily affecting societies rather than individuals. The speed of the present information revolution, however, has forced individuals who grew up in a static world to struggle to adapt to a more dynamic and transitory society.

One constant in this cultural shift is the difficulty of change. Yet change is what must occur if society is to progress into what Rushkoff referred to as "something greater than itself".  Educators are in an opportune position to lead this change by virtue of the students they work with and the societal responsibilities given to the institution of education. Teachers have the power to help shape society's future. To do this, the education system must implement change, not just talk about it. The following are key components that I believe are necessary to implement technology into a school setting and to begin the process of change.

1. Leadership
Vision is required to produce positive change in any system.  In education, it can come from many different levels of the hierarchy: the government, the local board of education, the principal, or the classroom teacher. Regardless of its source, a strong, clear vision will provide the individuals within the system with something tangible for which to strive. It is also paramount that the vision is operationalized by individuals or teams that can motivate others to begin to change their existing practices and beliefs.

It is not enough to have a strong vision, though. Educators who assume the role of leaders must lead by example. Without evidence of success, others will not opt to participate. It is important for leaders to be understanding when helping others to develop the skills and knowledge necessary for them to learn about information technology. Effective leaders will support and encourage novice users as they learn how to use technology. They will help foster positive experiences and attitudes through their guidance.

2. Professional Development
Before technology weaves its way into classroom application, teachers need to be inserviced on the philosophy of technology in education and the actual use of computers and software. While it is true that many teachers will learn from their students as time progresses, there is a need for teachers to have basic computer skills and a positive attitude toward computers in the classroom for effective technological learning to occur.

It becomes the role of the leaders to introduce technology to the teachers and generate a plan for its implementation. To begin with, a gap analysis is a useful tool to clarify current understanding and establish future goals. An effective gap analysis should generate a logical sequence of inservices that can be conducted over a period of time,  each one comprehensively building upon previous skills and successes.

In addition to in-school inservicing, there will be many opportunities for teachers to attend conferences and local school board workshops. Experts from elsewhere should be utilized. Also, by providing helpful handouts and informal "tip" sheets regularly throughout the year, a leader can increase the amount of professional development that occurs by letting people work at their own paces while not having to depend on limited allocated professional development days. Increasingly, as time becomes more of a premium, creative coverage and school organization are ways that are being used to increase professional development time for teachers.

3. Communication
Creating a culture of change takes time. An integral part of implementing technology into a school setting is the communication.  Ideas, philosophies, and feelings must be shared if there is to be success in the school and in the classroom. New users are sometimes intimidated by technology. To help minimize stress, the effective communication of strategies to deal with common problems is vitally important. Frustration can often lead to learned helplessness and negative attitudes among new users. The common defence mechanisms or retreat and denial are activated and before long there is a strong anti-technology uprising in your staff room!

A good leader will use frustration as a starting point for communication by listening and empathizing with troubled users. They need to be assured that even the current experts all experienced problems when starting out.  By having new users share successes and lead inservices, others will recognize that it is possible to learn how to use new technologies.

4. Application
The fourth area that is critical for implementation of school-based technologies is the application of new skills and the opportunity for teachers to use them in the classroom. Teachers need to know how they can use computers to improve student learning. There are numerous resources which can aid a school in implementation. Journals, books, world wide web (WWW) sites, other teachers, magazines, and parents are a few of the sources for innovative and exciting applications of computer technology in learning.

Another method involves mandated participation in a school-wide project. This is an effective way (similar to the psychotherapeutical technique called "flooding") of forcing people to begin to use technology in their programmes. For example, a school-wide multimedia project is a good way to generate interest among the students, and action among the teachers. Each class is responsible for a piece to the larger multimediaic puzzle. Cooperation and collaboration are required among students and staff to successfully complete the final product. There will be pitfalls along the way, but through support and encouragement there will be a sense of pride and accomplishment when it all comes together.

5. Evaluation
I am uncomfortable placing evaluation at the end of a linear sequence of events, for it implies that evaluation is something that occurs only when everything else is finished. This traditional view of evaluation as something that is summative and final can not be accepted in this model. By its very nature, change is constant - there is no endpoint. An effective organization will continually evaluate current practices and philosophies. Technology leaders should continuously revisit the reasons for doing things the way they are being done. What is working well? What is not? How have we learned from our experiences? How will we change things next time in order to improve learning? To help answer these questions, input should be sought from teachers, parents, society, and students. This assessment and evaluation can occur at each stage of this model. In fact, it needs to occur at each stage.

The five key components that I have outlined are by no means complete. What I have presented are beginning steps in the development of a comprehensive framework for the implementation of information technology into a learning environment. At the present time, I feel that these components work well together to illustrate this process. I am unaware, however, of how well they will work in the future, since leadership practices and philosophies are always changing.

It is my wish that in the future there will be no need for this type of framework. Hopefully, in my lifetime, information technology in education will become ubiquitous.