A study of 15 teachers who had undergone training in integrating new technologies in education found that technology remained an add-on in their classrooms. The ICT tools provided were not being used to integrate content, pedagogy and technology. The only hurdle between teachers and the establishment of a transformative classroom experience appeared to be teacher training following the TPACK model, which could help them bring technological, pedagogical and content knowledge together.

Today’s generation of learners has been referred to as the “Net generation”, a generation with a greater preference for experiential and hands-on learning (Oblinger and Oblinger 2005). According to Prensky (2001), “Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our education system was designed to teach.”

In keeping with these changing needs of learners, a number of schools in India too have adopted technology-enabled solutions to transact knowledge in the classroom. The information and communication technology (ICT) resources being widely used today include interactive whiteboards, projectors, computers, laptops, tablets and smart phones. The typical Indian classroom, once characterised by students sitting through hour-long teacher monologues, is now increasingly seeing the use of digital technology solutions to engage a generation of learners well-versed in technology (Wharton University 2012). However, technology is still more an add-on in schools than an integral part of the school curriculum.

The current generation of learners is more knowledgeable and fluent in the use and application of digital technology than their teachers. They are “digital natives”, whereas their teachers are “digital immigrants” (Prensky 2001). Therefore, the success of technology in the classroom is dependent on how it is being used, by whom, for what purpose, and the behavioural changes it brings about among learners (Lavin et al 2009).

Studies suggest the need for a parallel growth in teaching-learning strategies and ICT use, with the two complementing each other in an organic manner. According to Condie and Munro (2007), the integration of technology into classrooms will need new methods of presenting information to learners and a change in the role of the teacher from an “expert” to a moderator, facilitator or guide. Koehler and Mishra (2009) suggest a model in which teachers possess technological, pedagogical and content knowledge as a unified whole in order to be able to successfully integrate digital technology solutions in their daily teaching-learning practices. Given below is a diagrammatic representation of the model.

In the model, technological knowledge (TK), content knowledge (CK), pedagogical knowledge (PK), technological pedagogical knowledge (TPK), pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), technological content knowledge (TCK) and technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK) are the main components of teachers’ knowledge. Most training programmes in schools that have chosen to adopt ICTs focus on CK, PK, PCK and TCK. Since these training sessions focus on the above-mentioned elements separately instead of as a unified whole, the connections between TK, TPK and TPACK are lost, leading to poor ICT integration in schools. According to Maor (2013), there is a relatively low correlation between the domains of technology and pedagogy, but a high correlation between content and pedagogy, emphasising the need for further research and development in this area.

The Next Education study aims to understand the instructional practices of teachers who have received training in the use of an interactive whiteboard called Teach Next, developed by Next Education Pvt Ltd. The study aimed to observe existing patterns of use of the whiteboard to work towards a seamless transformative integration of digital technology solutions in classrooms. The results show that training programmes need to be based on the TPACK framework as teachers’ understanding of technology knowledge (TK), technological pedagogical knowledge (TPK), and technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK) was non-existent.

Integrating technology in classrooms

Pre-service teacher education plays an important role in shaping teachers’ use of the digital technology resources available in the classroom (Gao et al 2009; Lim et al 2010). Additionally, teachers who have received ICT training in their teacher education courses display a greater willingness to use technology in the classroom as well as display a higher sense of self-efficacy in relation to the use of digital technology in classrooms (Brown and Warschauer 2006; Hammond et al 2009). The success of integrating technology in classrooms is dependent on how teachers and students accept and use technology in their daily classroom practices. A number of studies indicate that teachers’ beliefs, experiences, competencies and attitudes are critical for successful integration of ICT (Hew and Brush 2007). One study noted that although teachers had a strong desire to integrate ICTs with education, they encounter barriers such as lack of confidence and competencies, negative attitudes and inherent resistance towards ICT integration (Bingimlas 2009). Like teachers, students are important actors in the integration of ICT in classrooms. And unlike teachers, students are far more receptive to ICT use for daily teaching-learning practices, with a significant number of students believing ICT makes them more effective learners (Edmunds et al 2012).

Current ICT use is broadly characterised by collaborative, investigative and problem-solving activities designed to develop increasingly independent learners who are confident users of ICT. ICT-based curriculums follow an inquiry-based approach to learning, encouraging a greater level of peer interaction compared to non-ICT lessons (Hennessy 2005). As a result, studies show that a number of primary and secondary school teachers have found that ICT has had a positive impact on student attitudes towards school work, attendance at school, reading, writing and presentation skills. In addition, teachers believe that ICT has a positive effect on learners’ behaviour during lessons, making pupils more committed to the learning task, allowing them to feel more in control and able to achieve more professional outputs.

A common problem faced while preparing teachers for ICT integration is that many teachers do not have enough exposure to pedagogical use of digital technology solutions. Many teacher education institutes offer only one technology course for teacher preparation, where the major focus is on developing ICT skills. Here, it is important to note that acquiring ICT skills alone does not adequately prepare teachers to integrate ICT in their daily instructional practice (Chai et al 2010). According to Koehler and Mishra (2009), meaningful use of ICT in the classroom requires teachers to integrate technological affordances (Gaver 1991) with pedagogical approaches for the specific subject matter to be taught. The TPACK framework developed by Mishra and Koehler provides a strong theoretical framework for integrating technology with content and pedagogy.

Teacher training sessions designed on the TPACK framework are intended to build comprehensive understanding of the dynamic interplay of technology with teaching, learning and content/subject matter representation and its communication to students (Chien and Chang 2015). Development of TPACK among teachers is essential because it helps teachers choose and combine different learning activities, taking into account the learning needs and preferences of students. Research suggests that only when teachers are familiar with a full range of learning activity types in a specific content can they choose and execute the activity effectively (Rocha et al 2011). This is in line with the RAT (Hughes et al 2006) framework that describes different stages of technology integration.

The RAT framework defines three stages of technology integration: (1) Replacement, where technology serves merely as a means to the same instructional end; (2) Amplification, where technology increases efficiency and productivity but without any fundamental change in the transaction of knowledge; and (3) Transformation, where technology allows forms of instruction and learning that were previously inconceivable.

According to Smeets (2005), ICT has the potential to create a powerful learning environment in which (1) rich and authentic contexts and tasks are provided, to present links to the world outside school; (2) active and independent learning is stimulated; (3) cooperative learning is stimulated; and (4) the curriculum is adapted to the needs and capabilities of individual pupils. An interactive whiteboard can help create this powerful learning environment where teachers have access to vast amounts of content, with the possibility of adapting the content to the learning needs of individual students in class (Glover and Miller 2001).

According to Miller et al (2004), teachers’ use of interactive whiteboards appears to develop in stages. Initially, it is a resource, a visual stimulus or support for teaching, with little interactivity. As the teacher’s skills and confidence develop, it is used to support conceptual development, allowing learners to gain better understanding of specific concepts and processes. Pupils engaged more interactively with the technology benefit from its capacity to challenge their thinking through its ability to manipulate images and text. The most advanced stage, which Miller et al refer to as “enhanced interactive”, is achieved when the technology itself fades into the background, becoming an integral and accepted classroom resource.

The digital features of an interactive whiteboard, such as interactive video modules and use of voting boxes for conducting assessments, change the nature of interaction between teachers and pupils, and increase collaboration between pupils (Kennewell et al 2008). According to Beestman (2014), an interactive whiteboard can stimulate independent learning among students provided teachers receive TPACK model training and implement the said training in their daily classroom teaching-learning practices. TPACK model teacher training is a cardinal factor to achieve the above because teachers need to possess technological, pedagogical and content knowledge as a unified whole in order to be able to design ICT-based classroom practices to transform the learning experience.

Methodology and findings

The Next Education study examined teachers and students of grades 3 to 8 in schools located in Chennai, Harda and Mahabalipuram. Three schools, one from each city, participated in the study. Each of the schools uses the Teach Next interactive whiteboard in all classrooms. Fifteen teachers and 172 students participated in the study. Each teacher would teach seven 40-minute periods every day, with an average class size of 12 students. Only four of the 15 teachers held a BEd degree, while others held BA/MA or BCom/MBA degrees. Six of the 15 teachers had less than one year of teaching experience. All three schools were English-medium private schools catering to students from middle- to low-income groups. The Mahabalipuram and Harda schools were set in a rural location with children from agricultural, small business/vendor families attending. The Chennai school had students from an urban middle class background.

Data collection took place through classroom observation, with a researcher taking detailed notes on the instructional practices of the teachers. Thirty-three math, science, English and social studies periods were observed. The tool used recorded: (1) classroom environment, judged on the basis of engagement, interaction, on-task behaviour, management, organisation and equity; (2) lesson structure assessed through sequence, importance, assessments, investigation, reflection and resources employed during the lesson; (3) implementation observed through the questioning, involvement, modification, timing and connections made by teachers while transacting the lesson; (4) content—including the significance, fluency, accuracy, analysis, relevance, interconnections and societal impact of the concepts discussed; and (5) technology integration in the classroom, which was judged on the parameters of use, familiarity, adoption and enactment of the technological resource being used. Teachers’ instructional practices were rated on a Likert scale of 1–5, with 1 being “not observed at all/not demonstrated at all” to 5 being “observed to a great extent/demonstrated to a great extent”. These ratings were determined depending on the number of instances a particular event/instructional practice was displayed by the teacher during class. A rating of “5” was awarded when a particular instance was observed 10 times or more in a class of 40-minute duration.

Students’ response to teacher instruction and the use of ICT resources was also recorded: (1) classroom setting, where student behaviour was observed during independent seat work, small group and large group activities with the teacher present; (2) on-task behaviour, observed through students’ active engaged time, passive engaged time and their responses to instruction; (3) off-task behaviour, which included motor, verbal and passive behaviour displayed by students; and (4) technology integration, which looked at the accessibility, engagement, familiarity and adoption of the technological resource used in class. Student behaviour was rated on a Likert scale of 1–5, with 1 being “not observed at all” and 5 being “observed to a great extent”. These ratings were determined depending on the number of instances a particular event/ behaviour was displayed in class, and on the number of students who displayed this behaviour. A rating of 5 was awarded when a particular instance was observed more than 15 times in a class of 40-minute duration.

A survey questionnaire was used to collect background information on teachers’ education and training, work details and school profile.

Teachers used a self-reporting tool to reflect on their educational beliefs and practices, including classroom management, instructional strategies, technology use in teaching and learning, motivational effects and usability. A semi-structured interview was conducted with teachers to gain anecdotal insights into all these indicators.

The data collected through classroom observation, beliefs and practices questionnaire and teacher interviews reflect that teachers’ instructional practices and technology use was largely learner-centric but not transformative in nature.

A number of teachers had strong content and pedagogical knowledge in the subjects they were teaching, which enabled them to ask questions in class that probed learners’ understanding. They were able to introduce various topics for class discussions, and encourage students to come up with insightful points by digging into their own life experiences. Teachers conducted different collective class activities, and independent activities for learners. Teachers gave each student in class the opportunity to speak up and express her thoughts/opinions/examples. Instead of spoon-feeding answers to students, teachers would let the students construct their own knowledge through discussions. Explanation of concepts was followed or preceded by an activity. However, in classes that held more than 20 students, teachers were unable to give time to every student.

The teachers were found to be fairly familiar with the technological resources. They were able to navigate between the vast amounts of subject-related content available, to reach the particular module that was relevant to the concept being discussed in class on that particular day. Often teachers would pause the video modules either to give additional explanations, or to encourage students to generate examples and discuss those examples with one another. Teachers were also making use of the activities that followed the modules.

However, while teachers were able to navigate between subjects and the available video modules, the add-ons available, such as Next Studio, Next Labs, Dictionary, Tools and Picture Gallery, which have the potential to redefine the learning experience exponentially, were largely left untouched. Teachers lacked familiarity with these features. One of the reasons behind this was that a number of teachers did not have the time to spare during school hours to explore, practice and familiarise themselves with the resource. All teachers, at one point or another, fumbled with the “logical pause” feature of the video modules.

Though the pedagogical strategies employed were learner-centric, they were largely traditional in nature because they were unable to use the add-on features mentioned above in their daily teaching-learning practice. Therefore, the use of the smartboard was always restricted to the playing of video modules and the activities that follow the modules. Thus, although classrooms were learner-centric in terms of curricular goals being met, instructional strategies employed and technological resources selected, they were still not transformative in terms of “fit”—that is, content, pedagogy and technology together (Harris et al 2010).

Learners’ attitudes

Learners understand concepts better and faster when a smartboard is used for explanation. This is because teachers used the smartboard primarily as a visual aid. As a result, students understood and familiarised themselves with the content, and retained and reproduced it at a later date. This is because multimedia representation of information effectively delivers information to both auditory and visual learners (Mayer and Moreno 2002). During class observation and teacher interviews, a number of teachers noted that they spent less time on explaining concepts and more on discussing the examples and ideas generated by students once they began using a smartboard.

Learners displayed active engagement—they were attentive to concepts taught, eager to participate in discussions with peers and facilitator, and keen to explore new concepts and take notes. When one student contributed his/her view on the matter being discussed in class, another student would add to the point, leading to a whole class discussion. Thus, it was observed that students and teachers collaborated with one another instead of competing with one another during their pursuit of knowledge.

Learners’ attitudes towards formative and summative assessments are free of fear. They enthusiastically engage with the assessments given in smartboard learning modules. These modules are followed by activities, which enables the teacher to assess how much each student understands the concepts covered in class. It was found that students viewed these activities more as a game than assessment. They were eager to participate and waited their turn to answer the question that popped up on screen.

Teachers’ beliefs and practices

All the teachers rated themselves high on the constructivist parameters mentioned in the questionnaire, and low on the traditional indicators. However, classroom observation data showed that their practices were not entirely in sync with their beliefs. Eleven of the 15 teachers observed employed learner-centric instructional practices. But all the teachers employed the smartboard as an add-on, rather than as an integral part of the curriculum.

Most of the teachers were unaware of the knowledge they were lacking. When asked if they needed more product training they said, “No, we have received a few trainings and there is nothing more we want to learn.”

Most of the teachers use technology as a substitute for themselves. According to them, the Teach Next video modules significantly reduce their work burden, allowing them to spend less time on repeated explanation of concepts and focus more on activities to be conducted or discussions to be held.

Teachers were found to make extensive use of only those features of the smartboard that were easiest to find and most convenient to use. For example, videos and activities. These are the two aspects of the smartboard that require less effort on teachers’ part, which led them to instantly gravitate towards these, while eclipsing the rest.

A smartboard successfully grabs learners’ attention, resulting in the facilitator managing instructional time effectively. Teachers interviewed all felt that smartboards significantly reduced the time they spent on classroom management. However, teachers do not use this to their advantage by designing learning experiences that can transform their classroom.

Teachers had a hectic schedule, with little or no free time for their own professional development. Given their tiring and burdensome schedule, they felt no motivation to undertake such activities.

The conflicting findings suggest that while teachers possessed subject knowledge, knowledge of pedagogy and the ability to use the smartboard for their respective subjects, they were unable to put the smartboard to creative use. Seen in the TPACK framework, we can conclude that while teachers do posses content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and technological content knowledge, they lacked partially in technological knowledge, and completely in technological pedagogical knowledge and technological pedagogical and content knowledge. As the interview data collected later revealed, this was mainly because of a gap in the training they have received.

Additionally, due to the school policies in place, teachers lack the opportunity to explore the smartboard as an essential part of their job. All the teachers who participated in the study handled at least seven periods, with only one free period during the whole day. This free period would usually be spent correcting students’ homework and classwork assignments. The arrangement effectively left no time for teachers to explore the interactive technological resource and improve their own technological skills, TK, TPK and TPACK. Therefore, the only hurdle standing between teachers and the establishment of a transformative classroom experience is training sessions based on an integrated TPACK model and convincing the school management of the advantages and necessity of such training.

Transformative practices have the potential to redefine student learning and enable them to make comprehensive connections between subjects and within subjects (Puentedura 2010). On the other hand, knowledge of technology, pedagogy and content in isolation from each other leads to only “replacement”, or at the most “amplification” (Hughes et al 2006).

Vindhya Velagapudi has a master’s in education. She is a Research Associate with Next Education India, which conducted this study.

Soorya Menon has a PhD in language education. She is a Product Manager at Next Education.

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