Photo by Vidya Kulkarni
Despite the emphasis on technology in education in India, a Mumbai study reveals that technology remains separate from the curriculum, not an integral part of the learning process. Teachers use technology as little more than a visual prop in the classroom, with students remaining in the passive role of receivers.
The integration of technology is necessary and inevitable in today’s classrooms. The digital transformation of education has been heralded as a “vehicle of change”; a great equalising force with the potential to drive social reform (Gupta 2014; Jhurree 2005). Given this emphasis on technology in recent years, and the value it has been accorded as almost a silver bullet for improving education, it is unsurprising that India has adopted a nation-wide policy for the integration of technology in schools. Its purpose is to bridge “the digital divide amongst students of various socioeconomic and other geographical barriers” (Ministry of Human Resource Development 2016).
Of course, the belief in the ability of technology to transform education usually comes with the caveat “if done right”. And for it to be done right, for technology integration in education to have a real impact on learning outcomes, and for this digital transformation to effectively enhance the learning experience of students, the role of the teacher is pivotal. Educational experts across the globe believe that teachers’ attitudes towards technology significantly shape the process of technology integration in the classroom. Going further, they argue that the integration of technology in the classroom is most effective when supported by constructivist teacher beliefs and student-centric practices (Ertmer et al 2012; Kim et al 2013; Lim and Chai 2008; Petko 2012). The Indian education system, in contrast, is often characterised as a traditional and highly teacher-centric one (Campbell, Mehr and Mayer 2013).
As a Master of Education student with a focus on technology-enhanced learning, I was curious about this apparent contradiction, and wanted to understand how it affected the way teachers in the Indian system incorporated technology in their classrooms. In my master’s dissertation therefore, I sought to explore how teachers choose to integrate technology in Indian classrooms.
Focusing on 15 schools in Mumbai (including government, government-aided, and private schools) chosen using a convenience sampling strategy, I obtained a sample of 79 survey participants. They responded to a detailed questionnaire, which examined their familiarity with technology, the nature of technologies they use in class, frequency of use, and the technology-related teaching practices they adopted. I also interviewed 12 of the 79 survey participants, selected to ensure maximum diversity in terms of participant backgrounds and characteristics. The interview questions were shaped by the participants’ responses to the questionnaire, and focused on their personal experiences and interactions with technology, their perceptions of technology, and how the two intersect. The interview, thus, presented a more nuanced perspective on the research problem.
Factors shaping the integration of technology
The factors that shape teachers’ technology-related pedagogical choices were identified in two broad categories: external enablers and barriers (the cultural and institutional factors operating independent of the teachers), and the internal enablers and barriers (teachers’ own attitudes, beliefs, abilities and skills, which are factors intrinsic to them). To a large degree, these categories reflect the first-order and second-order enablers and barriers defined by Ertmer (1999). However, within the scope of this study, the external enablers and barriers took on a wider meaning, not being limited to factors that are “typically encountered in schools and classrooms” (Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich 2013: 177) such as availability of resources, training and support, but also encompassing macro-level policies and attitudes shaping teachers’ approach to technology integration.
External enablers and barriers
One of the most important external enablers, I discovered, was the policy-level shift the Indian education system had experienced in recent years. Research agrees that, in educational settings where access to technology is easy and ubiquitous—and arguably even when access is somewhat limited—it is the internal (or second-order) enablers or barriers that truly shape teachers’ technology adoption (Ertmer et al 2012). However, it can be argued that, in settings such as the Indian context, external factors do have a large role to play, since until recently, the presence of technology was not just limited, but in some cases, non-existent (Lee, Hung and Cheah 2008; Gaur and Shah 2013). Policy initiatives such as the National Policy for ICT (2012) make a significant difference in such contexts, by bringing about a sweeping change in infrastructure, access and even funding, and by creating a favourable environment for the adoption of technology. This perspective was echoed by many of the interviewees, who believed that this top-down change did factor into their use of technology in the classroom, citing examples such as the inclusion of ICT subjects in the curriculum and the distribution of personal tablets for students.
Interestingly, the findings also highlighted an apparent contradiction in the education policy. While the specific technology-related policy initiatives focusing on the inclusion of ICT and access to technology resources served as enablers for teachers, there appeared to be little change in the overarching educational policy, which would have facilitated the integration of technology. While teachers were expected to adopt technology in their classroom, the curriculum they had to teach was hardly adapted for technology, and was in fact, as several of the interviewees commented, incompatible with it. The survey participants seemed to agree with this perspective, as almost 50% of them cited “not enough time to spend on technology as there is a lot of syllabus to cover” as one of the difficulties they faced in the class.
Since the demands of the strenuous curriculum could not be ignored, the use of technology often had to be sidelined. One interviewee said that, without a change in the syllabus, there was only so much she could do with technology. For her, it was not that the infrastructure was not good enough, but that the syllabus was too demanding: “With this infrastructure I can bring about change; but I need to have a change in the syllabus. If somebody does that for me, then whatever I have right now is enough. So somebody has to change the syllabus for me, somebody has to tell me that a child does not have to learn 15 lessons in one term. Then I can use technology and do so much with it.”
This dissonance between the strong drive towards technology in education on the one hand, and its incompatibility with the curriculum on the other, arguably demonstrates a lack of clarity at the policy level about the pedagogical implications of technology. The emphasis appears to be on technology for technology’s sake, in isolation from the overarching policy framework. This, then, results in technology being treated in isolation even at the classroom level, as something separate from the curriculum; not as an integral part of the learning process, but as something that can be used after the syllabus has been covered.
The final external factor acting as a barrier in the integration of technology was a persistent lack of availability of technology resources in school. Of the 79 survey participants, 33 chose lack of computers or other technologies as one of the obstacles in using technology in the classroom. Forty-six participants had never had access to internet in school. Interviewees also agreed that inadequate and poor-quality resources were some of the primary concerns they faced when teaching with technology.
This may seem something of a contradiction, since I have previously credited policy-level initiatives as an enabler of technology integration. I would argue, however, that this contradiction can be explained by examining the period when this study was conducted. At the time of the study, the major policy initiatives, such as the National Policy for ICT—initiatives that would arguably bring about a change in the educational landscape—were fairly recent (Ministry of Human Resource Development 2012; IDFC Foundation 2013). It may be that while for some of the teachers, those who were touched by these initiatives and had reaped their benefits, they served as an enabling factor, others whose classrooms were yet to become the technology-enhanced modern classrooms envisioned in such initiatives, still saw lack of access as a critical barrier. It is possible that in studies conducted today or in the future the external barriers resulting from a lack of access would appear to be almost non-existent, as has been the case in other educational settings where similar studies were undertaken (Ertmer et al 2012; Kim et al 2013; Prestridge 2012).
Internal enablers and barriers
When examining the various ways in which teachers used technology, I discovered that most of the participants in the study relied heavily on the use of technology primarily as a visual aid in the classroom. Power-point presentations and videos appeared to be the favourites of all interviewees. “When you see, you learn better,” commented one of the interviewees. By using technology to project visuals as a prop in the classroom, the teachers appeared to be placing students in the passive role of receivers, while the teacher, still the imparter of knowledge, if now through newer media, continued to occupy a central position in the classroom. It Is evident that this technology-integration strategy is consistent with a fairly traditional and teacher-centric pedagogy, a hallmark of the Indian education system. While researchers have identified the potential for collaboration, communication and interactive learning as some of the key affordances of technology in education (Conole and Dyke 2004; Lim and Chai 2008; Ottenbreit-Leftwich, Brush et al 2012), it seemed that when technology was perceived through the lens of traditional pedagogical beliefs, these affordances were left entirely unexploited, perhaps even unnoticed, by the teachers. Only two of the interviewees expressed an interest in exploring the potential of technology beyond the visual, but in very abstract terms. Neither could elaborate on how they would change the way they used technology in class, only that things needed to change in some way.
The literature appears to be in consensus on the fact that how teachers use technology is largely determined by their own beliefs; and that if the integration of technology is not accompanied by a transformation in pedagogical beliefs and attitudes, the use of technology is unlikely to significantly enhance the educational experience. This relationship between teachers’ beliefs and their use of technology is revealed in the findings of this study. It was not so much that teachers were reluctant to use technology in their classroom; they were ready and some even eager to do so. However, their beliefs appeared to restrict them when imagining how they could exploit technology to truly enrich their students’ learning experience.
Moreover, the teachers’ own beliefs—largely leaning towards the traditional—were aligned with the Indian curriculum, also predominantly traditional and teacher-centric (Campbell, Mehr and Mayer 2013). In most cases, where the two factors were complementary, they appeared to shape teachers’ use of technology. For two of the interviewees, who showed an inclination away from the traditional towards more constructivist beliefs, the shift in their pedagogical beliefs was not strong enough to overcome the external barrier in the form of curriculum restrictions, and it seemed that the limited traditional use of technology is what prevailed in the end.
Another important factor shaping teachers’ use of technology is, quite obviously, their own perception of technology. Literature identifies teachers’ beliefs (or attitudes) specifically towards ICT as one of the key elements that contribute to effective technology integration (Ertmer et al 2012; Mama and Hennessey 2013). The findings from this study indicated that participants under the age of 40 had a more favourable attitude towards technology. The level of confidence and comfort the younger participants felt towards technology, possibly because of using it prolifically outside the classroom, could explain why they might have found it easier to adopt it in their classroom. Here I must mention an interesting observation, which seems at odds with the above conclusion. In the data collection stage of this research, the participants had the choice to complete the questionnaire online or on paper; and out of the 79 participants, all but 11 chose the pen-and-paper option. This may be coincidental, and too small a detail from which to draw conclusions about their attitudes towards technology. Nonetheless, the fact that given the choice, a huge number of participants preferred not to use technology for a questionnaire about technology arguably indicates a hesitation towards technology, irrespective of the age of the participants. Familiarity and comfort thus may not have been the factor that drove younger teachers towards technology and older ones away from it. Most of the teachers agreed that the technology they used in the classroom—primarily visual—helped increase student engagement. Hardly any of them, however, could say the same about learning outcomes. The difference in their attitudes towards technology, then, could stem from the fact that some of them valued student engagement the most, while others prioritised learning outcomes, and were not satisfied with technology as a solution in that area.
The purpose of this small study was to examine the ways in which teachers used technology in their classrooms, and explore the factors acting as enablers and barriers in technology integration in the classroom. It appeared, at the time of the study, that external factors had a stronger influence on technology integration that internal ones; and that the internal factors—mainly the teachers’ traditional pedagogical beliefs—prevented them from employing technology in creative ways.
This was a small study, and by no means a representative one. Education is an extremely complex domain, with multiple stakeholders and perspectives. In India, it is arguably more so, with the underlying socioeconomic context and the issues that result when it intersects with the educational context. With its limited scope and purpose, this study did not delve into these complexities of the Indian education system. It restricted itself to understanding only one aspect of the technology integration process—the teachers’ perspective.
Nonetheless, its findings are relevant, because they highlight the dangers inherent in current technology practices in India, where the lack of synergy between the curriculum and technology, coupled with the teachers’ traditional beliefs threaten to stifle the potential of technology and keep teachers and students alike from truly experiencing it as an empowering force.
Mukta Paranjape has a master’s degree in technology-enhanced learning, and currently works in the field of e-learning technology. This article draws on her master’s research on teachers’ perspectives on the use of technology in the classroom and the factors driving or preventing effective use of technology in the classroom.
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