The 3rd Barrier of Tech Integration - Digital Literacy Dover

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The 3rd Barrier of Tech Integration

There are barriers to effective integration, that's probably not a surprise.

The amount of barriers described varies, but probably the most useful summary that made was by Ertmer back in 1999, who helpfully simplified these kinds of barriers by categorising them into two types:

1st order barriers

External (first-order) barriers to technology integration are described as being extrinsic to teachers and include, “lack of access to computers and software, insufficient time to plan instruction, and inadequate technical and administrative support” (Ibid).

2nd order barriers

In contrast, internal, (second-order) barriers are intrinsic to teachers and teaching, and include, “beliefs about teaching, beliefs about computers, established classroom practices, and unwillingness to change” (Ibid.)

It is generally acknowledged that first-order barriers can be significant obstacles to achieving technology integration, yet the relative strength of second-order barriers may reduce or magnify their effects (Ertmer et al., 1999, Miller & Olson, 1994). Since different barriers are likely to appear at different points in the integration process, teachers will need effective strategies for dealing with both kinds of barriers – but perhaps most critically it is the barrier of belief that is most important. As Ertmer wrote subsequently (2005), “If educators are to achieve fundamental, or second- order changes in classroom teaching practices, we need to examine teachers themselves and the beliefs they hold about teaching, learning, and technology.”

Marcinkiewicz (1993) noted, “Full integration of computers into the educational system is a distant goal unless there is reconciliation between teachers and computers.” (p234). Cuban’s observation (1997) supports this: “It’s not a problem of resources, but a struggle over core values”.

So, here we are, in our 5th year of our iLearn, the TEL (technology enhanced learning) revolution that began at UWCSEA in 2010/11, and I'm wondering, how far have we come?

I'd say a long way, in fact I'd go so far as to say that the process has been kind of linear, it's been a process of working through the barriers:

First overcoming first-order challenges associated with learning how to use the actual hardware and software, distribution of devices, sharing, managing, distributing et cetera.

Then, the most significant challenge of building belief moving from, OK, now I know how to use it, but am I convinced that I really need to? And how often? Who with? Why?

I say 'kind of linear' because, clearly, achieving technology integration is a multifaceted challenge that entails more than simply acquiring and distributing computers. Although different types of barriers require different types of strategies to overcome (Ertmer, 1999) we should not try to eliminate one barrier before addressing another, like Scrimshaw (2004), any barrier can be addressed by more than one strategy, and some strategies are likely to effectively address more than one barrier.

But I'd say in our 5th year, we have largely overcome these two barriers, so, job done? No. You see there are critical, third order (and hopefully final) barriers.

Really? Yes.

3rd order barriers

Tsai & Chai (2012) describe a third type of barrier, a lack of problem solving capacity when using digital technologies, they describe these powerfully in terms of ‘design thinking’ where the ability to “re-organise or create learning materials and activities” and adapt these accordingly (ibid, p1058) is seen as necessary to overcome a ‘third-order’ barrier of a lack of ‘design thinking’.  

Design is my background, and I immediately see its relevance in this context. Any designer of any worth knows that the tools are merely a means to an end, they are tools for solving problems in unique ways. If you'll permit me to remix Wikipedia's definition of design thinking a little:

"Teachers who use digital tools seamlessly to accomplish goals and enhance learning environments, by using digital tools as a set of primitive components, to satisfy curricular requirements, subject to constraints. They have a strategic approach with digital tools that allow them (and their students) to achieve unique expectations. These tools frame their specifications, plans, parameters, costs, activities, processes and how and what to do within legal, political, social, environmental, safety and economic constraints, in achieving learning objectives."

In other words, the affordances, the transformative qualities of digital tools become a natural aspect of their practice, losing their initial opacity, and becoming transparent/invisible as tools for meaning making, as transparent as the tools that preceded them, tools like pens, and paper, and protractors. 

Design thinking breakthrough

Teachers who have overcome the 3rd barrier effortlessly accommodate digital tools as and when needed, who use the elements that make these tools unique, elements I describe using the acronym 'SAMMS'. Elements like the situated nature of digital technology, the ability to leverage access to processing power and information, the mutability, and multi-modality of these tools, and the power of working with them within social networks, networks as small as that of the classroom, to that of a grade, a school, a region, or even the globe—the world wide web. All of this, as regularly and as seamlessly and as naturally as breathing.

In this context the creative repurposing of tools to transform learning is ubiquitous, viewed through the lens of frameworks like RAT and SAMR, replacement is rare, amplification is common, and transformation is so common, it is often taken for granted, that is when it is invisible, assumed, the new 'normal'.

Design thinking

'Design thinking' results in practitioners who regularly synthesise the current state of technological knowledge, incorporating new findings, and delineating new dilemmas. A high degree of technological pedagogical knowledge (TPK) (Koehler & Mishra, 2009) is foundational to this final stage—a profound understanding of how teaching and learning can change, when digital technologies are used effectively. This knowledge of the ‘pedagogical affordances and constraints’ of a range of technological tools as they relate to various disciplines with “developmentally appropriate pedagogical designs and strategies (ibid)”, is precisely what gives the 'designers of learning experiences' a capacity to succeed where others have failed.

Sandholtz et al (1997) foreshadowed this decades ago, when describing 'levels of integration', from entry to adoption, adaptation, to appropriation, where the teacher is fully confident in the use of computers and integrates the technology regularly into daily routines. But the highest level, the level where 'design thinking' is required is the level of invention, where teachers, "experiment with new ways of networking students and colleagues and use project-based instruction and interdisciplinary approaches." (p53).

We need to creating a culture of "design thinking" where teachers not only use technology but become creative at repurposing it to better cope with the unique requirements of their various curricular areas. This is the 'RAT challenge'—finding ways for teachers to regularly, naturally, habitually use digital technologies to create learning experiences that would be inconceivable with traditional technologies. 


Cuban L (1997). High-tech schools and low- tech teaching. Education Week on the Web. Online. Retrieved 10 February, 2004, from 

Ertmer P A (1999). Addressing first-and second-order barriers to change: Strategies for technology integration. Educational Technology Research and Development.

Ertmer P A (2005). Teacher Pedagogical Beliefs: The Final Frontier in Our Quest for Technology Integration? ETRandD, Vol. 53, No. 4, 2005, pp. 25–39 ISSN 1042–1629.

Koehler M J and Mishra P (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1), 60-70.

Marcinkiewicz H R (1993). Computers and teachers: Factors influencing computer use in the classroom. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 26, 220–237.

Miller L & Olson J (1994). Putting the computer in its place: A study of teaching with technology. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 26(2), 121-141.

Sandholtz J, Ringstaff C, & Dwyer D (1997). Teaching with technology. Creating Student Centered Classrooms.

Scrimshaw P (2004). Enabling teachers to make successful use of ICT. Becta. Retrieved 6 March, 2006 from   

Tsai C & Chai C S (2012). The “third”-order barrier for technology integration instruction: Implications for teacher education. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 28(6), 1057-1060.

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