Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Frustrations, Realities, and Possibilities in the Quest for Technology-Driven Instruction: An Organizational Theory Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Frustrations, Realities, and Possibilities in the Quest for Technology-Driven Instruction: An Organizational Theory Perspective

Article excerpt


We are in the midst of a revolution that is transforming society. Much like the invention of the printing press, steam engine, and wireless, the emergence of digital technologies over the past quarter century is altering the institutions of society and redefining patterns of interactions among its members. The evolution and diffusion of these technologies is occurring at a rapid pace, creating--among other things--a knowledge explosion and the demand for labor skills that exceed those found in the current workplace.

As a social institution charged with transferring and making accessible the "funded capital of civilization" (Dewey, 1971) from one generation to the next, public education has not been immune to these changes. The need to ensure that students acquire the knowledge and skills needed for a changing labor market and to see that the nation maintains its competitive edge in a global economy have combined to create demands that schools embrace this technology.

For techno-reformers (Cuban, 1996), digital technologies represent the new Grail in education. The potential of these technologies for improving instructional and organizational efficiency have increased demands on educators to move toward more technology-driven educational models. Not only are teachers under pressure to acquire skills in computer-based instructional technologies, administrators are under pressure to incorporate digital tools that will enable them to collect an array of school and student data for school improvement. The expectations associated with these emerging technologies is such that one rarely finds discussions of educational reform that do not argue for increased use of technology and foresee the day when a virtual chicken is found in every pot (Thorpe, 1999).

The potential of delivering simulations, tutorials, and the world's best libraries to the classroom have resulted in significant technology investments across the States (Education Week, 2005). Data collected by various agencies reflect this. Whereas in 1985 there were few if any computers found in schools, by 2004 the ratio of students to instructional computer was 4:1 (Fox, 2005). Less than 5% of public school classrooms had access to the Internet in 1994; by 2003, the internet was available to 93% of all and 90% of high-poverty classrooms (NCES, 2005a). In a national study of digital technologies, over 50% of the teachers surveyed reported that the availability of such technology for classroom use was "sufficient" (NCES 2005b). These and other data provide ample evidence of the substantial and increased presence of digital technologies in public education.

Yet in spite of this growth, a fundamental puzzle remains: the basic approach to teaching has changed little. Major discrepancies exist between the level technology resources available in schools and the extent to which teachers have actually integrated this technology into day-today teaching strategies. These discrepancies puzzle some while frustrating others. With hopes of increasing instructional efficiency through the transformation of the teaching-learning process, technology advocates bemoan the low-end, unimaginative use of digital technologies in schools. Multiple explanations are offered as to why the envisioned level of integration has not occurred. An extensive conceptual and empirical literature identifying numerous obstacles--resource, training, attitudinal, teacher, leadership, bureaucratic, infrastructure, etc.--testifies to this (e.g., see Ertmer, 1999; Fabry & Higgs, 1997; Maddux, 1998).


In the context of this debate, my purpose is to offer a perspective and set of factors that explain in part why the full and seamless integration of digital technologies has not occurred in classrooms. The observations which follow are informed by concepts and frameworks found in the organization theory literature. As a sub-field of sociology, organizational theory is concerned with the systematic study of formal organizations (Hall, 2002; Mintzberg, 1979; Morgan, 1986; Scott, 2003; Thompson, 1967). …

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