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Media and Education in the Digital Age

Concepts, Assessments, Subversions

Edited By Matteo Stocchetti

This book is an invitation to informed and critical participation in the current debate on the role of digital technology in education and a comprehensive introduction to the most relevant issues in this debate. After an early wave of enthusiasm about the emancipative opportunities of the digital «revolution» in education, recent contributions invite caution, if not scepticism. This collection rejects extreme interpretations and establishes a conceptual framework for the critical questioning of this role in terms of concepts, assessments and subversions. This book offers conceptual tools, ideas and insights for further research. It also provides motivation and information to foster active participation in debates and politics and encourages teachers, parents and learners to take part in the making of the future of our societies.
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Enthusiastic, Hesitant and Resistant Teachers Toward the One-To-One Laptop Program: A Multi-Sited Enthnographic Case Study in Catalonia

Enthusiastic, Hesitant and Resistant Teachers Toward the One-To-One Laptop Programme: A Multi-Sited Ethnographic Study in Catalonia1

Cristina Aliagas Marín2 & Josep M. Castellà Lidon

Abstract

How do teachers make sense or struggle to make sense of the top-down process of classroom digitalization? This chapter tackles the fore concern by analysing the narratives of 12 teachers reflecting on the adoption and implementation of the one-to-one laptop initiative in the autonomous region of Catalonia (Spain), locally named EduCAT1x1 programme. It examines the teacher’s arguments and counterarguments towards that initiative considering their ideological and pedagogic positioning as techno-enthusiast, hesitant or resistant. It shows that teachers holding these three stances differ in the underlying assumptions regarding computers as tools for learning and in the educational benefits they think computers can bring about. Findings also indicate that all teachers, regardless the stance they take, have assumed the “discourse of inevitability” (Ferneding, 2003) that dominates viewpoints concerning technology and education. By looking at the teacher’s narratives we claim that their experiences, opinions and feelings need to be placed in the centre of the debate on the digitalization of the learning/teaching process. This qualitative study is part of a wider multi-sited ethnography in 18 high schools, aimed at understanding how the educative actors (eg. headmasters, teachers, students, families) are dealing with this digital transformation in their everyday life in-and-out of school. ← 237 | 238 →

Introduction

Inspired by the One Laptop per Child programme, in 2009 the Spanish Government launched the project Escuela 2.0 (School 2.0), with the goal of introducing new technologies into classrooms. It was an ambitious and expensive educational reform, and 15 of the 17 autonomous regions plus the independent cities of Ceuta and Melilla decided to participate by co-financing part of the expenses. We could state that nowadays almost all the “traditional” classrooms have become “digital” or “2.0”, as they have been equipped with a wireless internet connection, interactive whiteboards and low-cost netbooks.

The project of transforming the old pencil-and-paper classroom into a “2.0 classroom” is appealing, but what do the educative agents really think about this process of digitization of the classrooms? How do they make sense or struggle to make sense of this new educative reality? Is the Government investment having a real impact on the daily processes of teaching and learning in the so-called “wireless classroom”? This chapter reports on some fieldwork we are currently conducting in Catalonia to address these questions by investigating students’, teachers’ and families’ perceptions of the use of portable computers in secondary schools. In the study, we qualitatively analyse teachers’ for-and-against arguments to the one-to-one programme, based on the contribution of 12 secondary school teachers.

The digitization of the secondary classrooms

The debate on the digitization of education is part of a larger debate on the politics of education that takes a critical look at the role of technology in it, focusing on the social structures behind the use of technology in education rather than on its technical aspects. Ferneding (2003) argues that the narrative space of educational reform is feeding the cultural bias that equals technology with progress – an ideology for which technology-based policy remains unquestioned, sheltered by a discourse of “inevitability”. Considering that technology is not a neutral or an apolitical tool, but an artefact tied up by global market economy forces, the technocentric discourse underlying the current educational reform policy could be seen as serving corporate market ideologies. Thus, one of the more astonishing educative implications is that behind this reform based on a technological determinism, the model of “student as a consumer” is consolidating. Ferneding’s critical reflection on current American educational reform policy strongly resonates with the Spanish technology-driven reform.

The debate on the digitization of classrooms has been developed around four issues: a) digital natives, b) technology and learning outcomes, c) technology, ← 238 | 239 → teachers and classroom educative practices, and d) the barriers for integrating technology into instruction practices.

Digital natives

Most of the literature about this issue involves the work of Prensky (2010), one of the most popular supporters of the introduction of computers in the learning and teaching process. His distinction (2010) between the so-called “digital native” and “digital immigrant” has become trendy. In Spain, this dichotomy has become a commonly-accepted pillar of the digitization of education although, in fact, it has been wildly criticized for being inaccurate and deterministic.

From a critical stance, Thomas (ed. 2011) argues that the notion of “digital natives” cannot be empirically informed. An example of this is Brown and Czerniewicz’s (2010) study, which demonstrated that the digital divide in South Africa University is not characterized by age, but by access and opportunity. Moreover, Bennett et al. (2008) make use of rigorous quantitative research to refute one important assumption underlying the notion of the “digital native”: the idea that young people are imbued with sophisticated technical skills because they live immersed in technology. One of the counter-arguments regards multitasking, and how it can result in a loss of concentration (Bowman et al., 2010). As for the implications for education, Bayne and Ross (2011) consider that Prenky’s methaphor is a simplistic binary that constructs the teacher as lacking, as a digital immigrant doomed to have an illegitimate voice in the current digital age of education.

Technology and learning outcomes

The second main concern in the literature is the impact that technology has on the outcome of students’ learning. Claims have been made both in favour of and against technology.

Researchers furthering the cause argue that substantial academic achievements have been reported in literacy skills, above all in writing and problem-solving tasks (Lowther et al., 2003; Warschauer, 2006). Prensky (2010) argues that computers in the classrooms are the key to reducing the digital generation gap in the United States. This idea is consistent with the work of Warschauer (2006) who, after conducting a two-year laptop literacy study at 10 schools pointed out that having laptops in the classrooms helped to overcome the home-school divide. As laptops are devices that “travel” back and forth crossing these domains, they create a kind of “continuity” between these contexts socially associated with different values, practices and ways of using texts. ← 239 | 240 →

At the same time, the work of Cuban (2001) is driven by the goal of dispelling the assumption that more technology creates better learning and in fact, according to Hu (2007), some high schools have cancelled their one-to-one laptop programmes arguing lack of evidence of gains in achievement. Selwyn (2011) argues that the claim that technology improves learning is usually backed by personal beliefs, opinions and conjectures. Probably due to the lack of evidence to categorically state one or the other stance, other authors (Cassany, 2013) are beginning to dissociate themselves from this unanswered question, arguing that it is in fact too early to observe any solid relationship between laptops and academic benefits.

Technology, teachers and classroom educative practices

The third key issue in the literature is about the impact that one-to-one programmes may or may not have on everyday teaching practices. Are computers changing the ways teachers teach and the ways students learn? Nowadays there seems to be a tentative answer to these questions: so far, laptops have had a minor impact on classroom practices, and it seems that, apparently, whatever impact there is stems directly from the teacher’s decisions, which, in turn, are closely influenced by many personal and institutional factors. Why do teachers struggle to include computers and ICT in their teaching practices? Let us consider two well-known explanations in that regard.

Prensky (2010) argues that the role of technology in teaching in the classroom consists of bringing about a change of teaching paradigm, of moving from the “old” pedagogy of teachers telling onto the “new” pedagogy of kids teaching themselves under the teachers’ guidance. Prensky says that every teacher is at some point along the continuum between the old and the new paradigms. Teachers who are closer to the new paradigm (student-centred learning, problem-based learning and case-based learning) fit in the 2.0 classrooms, in which computers have become the instruments of such constructivist pedagogy. Prensky highlights that it makes sense that many teachers resist being taught to use technology because it is not they who should be using the technology to teach students, but rather their students who should be using it, as a tool to teach themselves. On that particular point, other advocates of the School 2.0 as Davies and Merchant (2009:7) argue that “teachers have a role to play in guiding their students’ use of technology”.

Digging a little bit more into this problematic, Cuban (2001) has been arguing for the past decades that computers in the US classrooms are underused both by teachers and by students despite the astronomical amount of government money invested in them. It is quite puzzling that nowadays teachers are more likely to use ← 240 | 241 → their home computers for personal, leisure and business issues than for classroom instruction. Cuban’s point is that computers have been oversold by policymakers, constructing the image that ICT is the “panacea” to all the educative problems. Accordingly, computers were expected to motivate both struggling and good students, to help teachers to find better learning materials, to transform traditional instruction into active classroom learning and even to make education cheaper in terms of expenses in textbooks and paper. The problem is that policymakers driving the ICT educational reform expected the digitization of the classrooms to unleash a quick deep pedagogical revolution, which has not yet occurred. They naively assumed that, with the physical presence of laptops in the classrooms, student-centred education would naturally emerge, pushing teaching practices into autonomous learning, critical thinking and creativity.

The barriers for integrating technology into instruction practices

Research concerning the uses that teachers make of technology in their everyday teaching practices has been mainly tackled from a psychological stance, and through quantitative methodologies based on, for example, statistical analysis, cognition, beliefs or personality tests. The most salient issues concerning teachers and ICT in education have been a) the social and psychological factors that determine its uses, and b) the barriers that teachers should overcome to achieve the integration of ICT in their teaching practices.

The factors influencing teachers’ decisions about technology have been largely identified in the literature. According to Liu (2011) some of these factors are: teacher professional development and training, administrative support, positive school environment, adequate technological resources, access to technology, technical assistance, adequate planning time, and sustained funding for technology. Instructional styles, attitudes toward learning, pedagogical beliefs, and personal characteristics have also been documented as being relevant influences. In relation to teachers’ pedagogical beliefs, it seems that those who have strong constructivist pedagogical beliefs are more likely to use technology in the classroom than teachers who have more traditional pedagogical beliefs (Ertmer 1999).

Regarding the barriers, Kopcha (2012) lists some of the most frequently mentioned ones in the literature: access to technology, time, professional development and teachers’ own beliefs about the integration of technology. Interestingly, Ertmer (1999) distinguishes between two types of barriers that influence teachers’ usage of technology in the classroom. First-order barriers comprise those that are external to the teacher, including resources (both hardware and software), training, and support. Second-order barriers consist of those that are internal to the teacher: ← 241 | 242 → teachers’ confidence, beliefs about how students learn, teachers’ perception of the value of technology within the teaching/learning process. Despite first-order barriers having been documented in the literature as being significant obstacles, it seems that second-order barriers are in fact the real challenge for achieving technology integration (Condie and Munro, 2007).

Concerning technology integration, Dwyer et al. (1986) identified the phases teachers go through during the process of introducing ICT into their classroom practices, starting at access and adoption onto a period of adaptation, appropriation and, finally, invention. On the grounds of this evolution, a key qualitative step is taken when moving out of a centralized control model in which teachers deliver information to a roomful of students and into a more entrepreneurial approach to learning.

The review of the literature regarding the digitization of schools is brief partly because computers are still relatively new as an educative tool. Much more research is needed to understand what the benefits and the drawbacks for students of handling a laptop every day all day long for academic purposes can be.

Our context: the one-to-one laptop programme in Catalonia

This study is based on an ongoing multi-sited ethnography in 18 high schools, which started in July 2012 in order to document the impact that the one-to-one initiative is having on Catalan secondary school classrooms (see previous studies by Cassany 2013). Our main goal is to describe the role that laptops have in the high school scenario, taking into account the insights of the different actors that are involved: headmaster, teachers, students and families. The data examined here is part of our corpus of 72 teacher interviews, although we focus the analysis on a sample of 12 teachers working in six different high schools (see Table 1 in the Appendix) which amounts to almost 10 hours. We classified the intensity of the teachers’ points of view into three categories: techno-enthusiast, hesitant and resistant.

The context where this research is being carried out is Catalonia, one of the 17 autonomous regions in Spain, the second most densely populated one, with 7.5 million inhabitants. One of its most visible particularities is that two official languages (Catalan and Spanish) co-exist. The one-to-one programme arrived in Catalonia in 2009, when La Generalitat de Catalunya (The Government of Catalonia) accepted to co-finance the national project Escuela 2.0. In Catalonia, the programme was named as EduCAT1x1 programme (Edu=education; Cat= Catalunya/Catalonia; 1x1= 1 student per 1 computer) and the Catalan Government encouraged the secondary schools to “voluntarily” join the project, arguing that ← 242 | 243 → it would imply a structural shift in secondary education by moving the learning and teaching practices from paper to screen. High schools could choose a total or partial involvement in the project.

All the high schools3 that enrolled in the programme received funding for equipping their classrooms with Wi-fi and interactive whiteboards, and the Government bore the expenses associated with the Internet connection and the development of the educative digital platform (ATRIA). Families received a voucher to buy a small laptop at half-price; teachers were offered free-training courses on teaching with ICT; and publishing houses were forced to quickly digitize their textbooks. This investment clearly sought to create an environment of technological immersion.

According to news published on the official website of the Catalan Government4, during the 2010–11 academic year, 539 out of 629 high schools (which means 95,624 students) had digitized their classrooms. In the following year, the economic recession deepened and coincided with a change of government from a left to a right-wing one, which decided to cut the funding of this scheme. Faced with this scenario, some of the high schools decided to go on with the technological programme even without financial help, convincing parents to assume a greater part of the expenses.

The six high schools involved in our study were public Instituts of secondary education (IES in their acronym in Catalan). The IES discussed are located in five different mid-size towns of the Barcelona area (except Montserrat, which actually was located in a wealthy neighbourhood in Barcelona). The next brief description shows that the IES had different ideological positions towards the digitization of education, backed by their institutional trajectories with ICT in education.

IES Vallès is in a middle class neighbourhood in Sabadell, a town 25 km from Barcelona. It was created in the mid-80s with the goal of experimenting with the Educative Reform, and therefore it is usually engaged in pedagogical innovations. IES Vallès carried out a pilot study with the platform DigitalText in two of their science subjects (biology and mathematics), becoming one of the first schools in Catalonia to launch multimedia learning materials. Then, the board decided to become fully involved in the first year of the EduCAT1x1 programme, but were quickly disappointed with the materials for second cycle students, which they considered too childish to be suitable.

IES Torre del Palau is in a working class neighbourhood in Terrassa, a town 30 km from Barcelona. The immigrant population here is generally Latin and ← 243 | 244 → Maghribian. In this context, this high school is an island that tends to attract families without financial problems. The centre is an ardent pioneer of ICT in education, considering that it has been participating in ICT programmes since 2002, much before the implementation of the EduCAT1x1.

Institut Giola is located in Llinars del Vallès, a small town 45 km from Barcelona. They became partially involved (sciences, technology, mathematics and English) in the EduCAT1x1 project in its second edition. One of the promoters of the IES’ participation in the project was the mathematics teacher who, after the experience, has completely changed his mind. In the fourth year, when the funding was cut, the school went back to the previous shared textbook scheme, a project that consisted of different generations of students sharing the same textbooks.

IES Passeig Muralla and IES Rambla Llibertat are high schools located in Girona, a city 100 km from Barcelona. On the one hand, IES Passeig Muralla was involved in the EduCAT1x1 partially (the Departments of Catalan and Life Sciences). It has an attractive active webpage with news, book recommendations, some blogs and the centre’s digital magazine, which is only published online. On the other hand, IES Rambla Lliberat has new technologies as one of the pillars of its educative project, and they were using Moodle5 before the EduCAT1x1. They were partially involved in the EduCAT1x1 programme in its second edition. When they had to decide about their involvement, 70% of the faculty voted yes. Some years after, 95% of the faculty voted in favour of quitting the programme. Both high schools now combine paper and digital textbooks.

IES Montserrat is the only high school in this sample that is located in Barcelona, in the area known as Sant Gervasi, one of the most affluent neighbourhoods. The building, surrounded by a beautiful historical garden, is equipped with ICT rooms, labs and a big lecture hall. Although they already had a good infrastructure to support the use of computers in the classrooms, they preferred to be prudent and wait for one year to hear about the experiences of other high schools. Initially, the IES faculty was a bit hesitant towards the initiative, but they received a formal request from the families and accordingly became fully involved. Now that funding has run out, the students’ families have decided to stay in the project by assuming the expenses.

The following analysis seeks to present a detailed account of the teachers’ points of view, focusing on their arguments and counter-arguments regarding the EduCAT1x1 programme. ← 244 | 245 →

Analysis of data

Techno-enthusiasts teachers

We defined techno-enthusiast teachers in our sample as ardent supporters of the one-to-one laptop programme and the use of digital tools in teaching/learning contexts, regardless of the degree of technological incorporation in their teaching practices.

a) Reasons to be in favour of 1x1 programmes

The most frequently repeated argument by the teachers who defended the use of laptops in secondary education was the recognition that we now live in a digital rather analogue world and hence education cannot turn its back on new technologies. Carme, a teacher of Catalan language, said “I can’t imagine at this point a classroom without technology.” Montse, a science teacher, was convinced that by using ICT she was doing the proper thing an up-to-date teacher needs to do: “If I don’t use the computer I’m not doing it right.”

The idea that it is impossible to step down from the technology-driven world we live in was the key idea sustaining these teachers’ point of view. In the case of IES Torre del Palau, one high school which had bet strongly on ICT before the beginning of the one-to-one programme, the teachers that we interviewed were quite outraged by the Catalan Government’s decision to stop the funding. These teachers were fully convinced of the benefit of new technologies, and the headmaster of IES Torre de Palau even referred to the EduCAT1x1 programme as the best educative reform ever brought in by the Government:

The project EduCAT1x1 has been stopped, and now if we keep on working with 1x1 it is due to the good will of families and teachers. The question is: how do we carry on with a project (…) which I reckon is the strongest bet in recent years in the field of education in Catalonia, with such a revolutionary nature? The funding, the technical infrastructure is (…) debatable, but never has an educative centre had the technical infrastructure to make society and education act with one accord6.

(Evaristo, teacher of Spanish Language)

The teachers’ conceptualisation of the world we inhabit as technology-driven was based on other very remarkable notions. Firstly, they were convinced that the fact of using laptops in their classrooms enhanced the following aspects of the teaching and learning process: ← 245 | 246 →

  • The chance to use virtual learning environments such as Moodle, as it helped them make learning materials more accessible and organized.
  • The improvement of student-teacher academic communication outside the classroom.
  • The increase in readily-available impromptu feedback to students’ doubts, which teachers regarded as helpful to promote significant learning.

When thinking of their particular disciplines, the teachers emphasized different aspects that laptops could strengthen. Carme stressed that laptops boosted the students’ creativity in the writing tasks, thanks to linguistic projects such as running a radio broadcast. Evaristo was delighted with the fact that new technologies made oral competence more teachable, as students could analyse their speeches, having previously recorded them. The teacher of computer science, Enric-I, emphasized to what extent laptops offered the possibility to create contexts for awakening critical thinking and collaborative learning.

Secondly, these teachers felt enthusiastic about online open resources and teaching materials. For technology-enthusiastic teachers, these possibilities acted as a springboard from which to bounce away from paper and onto digital textbooks or even no textbooks at all (in Enric-I’s case). They tended to prepare their own teaching materials using open resources, but just one of them (Enric-I) took advantage of online communities of teachers to share his educative, technological and pedagogical concerns.

Regarding the online resources that were more highly valued, language teachers stressed the usefulness of online dictionaries in writing activities, presentation software such as PowerPoint as a tool for structuring oral presentations, and they also highlighted the advantages of audio and video recording software. From the science field, Montse pointed out the potential of free online visual materials that made abstract knowledge more accessible to more students (e.g. simulators to represent everyday life situations and then doing physics calculations of motion and speed) as she explains below:

There are a lot of tools which, if you don’t use them, you are effectively clogging learning. For instance, simulators and the immensity of resources that you can find on the net, for free, and which help you understand important, complicated and sometimes abstract concepts of physics. I think that not using them (…) is a loss. You can’t reach lots of students. There’re students who struggle when you explain something abstract, but [some of these] students, if they see, if they perceive, it helps them a lot.

(Montse, teacher of chemistry and physics)

Thirdly, another argument that emerged in the discourse of the interviewees was that computers and ICT made sessions more dynamic and contents more interesting. ← 246 | 247 → Carme said that without computers her lessons were “more boring”. Moreover, Enric-I, the ICT teacher, argued that laptops helped him centre his sessions on students’ learning. For him, learning meant “doing” and “thinking”, and that was why he had organized his sessions around tasks that the students —generally in pairs or in groups— had to solve using the information available on the Internet. In his classrooms, computers were used as tools for thinking, exploring and questioning. Intuitively driven by a constructivist theoretical orientation, he encouraged students to use the computer as a tool for active inquiry and problem solving. In order to illustrate his teaching philosophy he told us about a lesson in which students were asked to demonstrate the falseness of a webpage7 which reported, scientifically and with scientific data and touched up videos, the existence of a tree octopus.

However, Enric-I was rather critical towards the reality of the 1x1 classroom, complaining about how the original idea underlying this programme, which was a methodological change in teaching, had not been achieved. He did not criticize the digital world, but the fact that the implementation had not been authentic enough, in the sense that the teaching methodology had not undergone deep qualitative changes. In the following quotation he compares traditional lessons with the typical situation in a 1x1 classroom. Underlying his comment there is a deep personal commitment to the digital world, rather than a critique.

In a traditional lesson it’s expected that the students sit, take notes, listen, remain in silence while the teacher explains. In a 1x1 class what is usually done is that the students sit, take notes, are quiet and the computer teaches a lot of things. Well, to do that it’s better if they stay at home. For me, a 1x1 class is a class where you don’t explain, the computer explains what students want to know, that is to say, they search for it. You prepare a problem, never say how to solve it, and it is they with these tools, the computer and the Internet, who need to wise up to solve it. This way, they will learn how to solve that problem by themselves.

(Enric-I, computer technician and teacher of ICT)

b) The toll to be paid

There was a general agreement that the two most difficult aspects of the programme were solving the technical difficulties and controlling students’ access to the Internet, but each teacher indicated that the positive aspects of having laptops outweighed the negative ones. About the technical difficulties, Carme said that in the beginning it was unavoidable to use class time to solve problems and carefully explain how the tools work, but it was a good future investment. Regarding the ← 247 | 248 → task of controlling the student internet access, she played it down arguing that the student who wants to get distracted, gets distracted with or without a laptop:

It can happen that sometimes [students] can be playing some random game, but it is the same thing as if they were doodling with paper and pencil. I don’t think that they are any more distracted. The one who wants to get distracted, will get distracted. And the one who doesn’t want to, won’t.

(Carme, teacher of Catalan Language)

In connection with this last point, Enric-I thought that the chance of getting some students’ attention stranded on the Internet was not enough to avoid the use of laptops in the classroom. In the following extract, he argues that the best strategy for tackling the hazards of using screens in the classroom was to control the risks:

Do you forbid the use of computers in class because there is the chance that someone doesn’t do the task, or do you control directly those who don’t do it? This is a constant dilemma. There is a new tool that has some risks. What do you do? Do you prohibit it because it has risks or do you control these risks? Well, people who don’t know how to do it, and don’t want to take care of the risks, what do they do? Off with the computers!

(Enric-I, computer technician and ICT teacher )

Another trait of techno-enthusiastic teachers was that they felt comfortable with the reality that students are usually very experienced with new technologies. These teachers did not feel that this situation undermined their authority as experts in front of the pupils. They tended to think that in fact it is the students who are going to use the tools, so that it is no big deal if the student masters those tools more efficiently than the teacher. This idea has been suggested by Prensky (2010) when trying to convince teachers to use new technologies in their classrooms. Enric-I, who was rather critical of the preconception about young people’s technological expertise, stated that teachers could contribute a lot of relevant issues to students’ know-how, such as the personal elaboration of the information on the Internet and critical reading skills.

I struggle seeing youth as digital natives! I believe that they are trained from childhood to do three or four tasks, and that’s all. When you try and go beyond that point… For instance, if you tell them “look up this information on the Internet”, they will try any [webpage]. If you tell them “find out if this source is reliable”, they answer “reli- what?”. Wikipedia is God and that’s all. They are trained to do a set of operations, and these they do very well, better than us, but not the others… they lack critical thinking skills when using these tools.

(Enric-I, computer technician and ICT teacher) ← 248 | 249 →

Hesitant teachers

Hesitant teachers accepted the EduCAT1x1 programme, but with some mistrust. They were moderate in their thoughts and opinions, in the sense that they were not extremists. They tended to have mixed feelings towards this initiative, and as a consequence their discourse was criss-crossed with confusing arguments. Moreover, they usually emphasized what they saw as unresolved concerns about the role of ICT in education. Hesitant teachers were initially quite enthusiastic with the one-to-one laptop initiative, but their enthusiasm wavered when they began to experience technical problems that affected their lessons.

a) Affinities and differences within techno-enthusiastic teachers

Hesitant teachers in this sample agreed with techno-enthusiasts on the idea that education cannot ignore the technological reality in which students are immersed. Although they did not hesitate to recognize the importance of introducing laptops in the educative context, hesitant teachers differed from the techno-enthusiasts in the degree of certainty of the potential academic benefits of computers. Hesitant teachers questioned the idea that teaching and learning with computers is perfectly positive, but they partially admitted to some of the benefits. Another particular trait of the group of hesitant teachers was that they were extremely aware of the difficulties that the process of socializing technology into the classrooms may unleash.

b) Reasons for staying on the edge

Although hesitant teachers were convinced that new technologies are the future, they had a lot of reasons to remain a little bit sceptical.

The first concern deals with the control over students when using the laptop in the classroom. Jordi argued that computers generated dispersion in the students, as they are not used to working with screens: “the first year it was terribly difficult because the habit of seeing the computer as a tool was missing: the computer was just a game”. Pilar, the English teacher, claimed that it was essential to be able to monitor what students do in the classroom with their laptops, “so that you can see on the teacher’s screen exactly what students are doing on theirs”. She complained about feeling like a policewoman in the classroom (“no way if I have to be acting as a policewoman”). In her classrooms, students did not use their laptops, but she used the projector to show the digital textbook on the screen while the students used the paper version.

The second reason underpinning these teachers’ sceptical position is purely technical. These teachers repeatedly complained about poor wiring, crashing servers, computers running too slowly and insufficient technical support. Pilar ← 249 | 250 → complained that she could not use Youtube videos in her English class because this site was blocked by default in her centre. They told us how they used to have a back-up plan when doing activities that involved Internet searches, PowerPoint presentations, or particular video and audio programmes, and even digital textbooks.

Some of the hesitant teachers constantly mentioned that digital textbooks were not as useful as they had expected. Enric-II said that the year when he used a digital textbook in his mathematics class, he experienced a lot of problems with electronic materials due to the Internet, the computer or the projector. Moreover, students also used to have problems with their computers or with the browser or they needed to install some programme. He felt demotivated and he went back to using photocopies. Another reason was that digital textbooks were slow and that students were unable to find the materials. Jordi was upset with the publishers he had chosen for three years because he missed some more interactivity in the digital textbooks, and he eventually reached the conclusion that there were not many differences between digital and paper textbooks, so finally he decided to go back to paper textbooks and use Moodle as a platform to organize all the learning materials. He did not want their students to merely be “spectators of screens”.

The third key reason for staying on the edge was related to learning. Hesitant teachers accepted that laptops promoted some interesting learning benefits when combined with paper although, as Francesc states, they thought that it had not been definitely demonstrated that computers have a positive impact on learning: “I don’t really know, in part because I’m not an expert, if the learning target improves substantially… what I can state is that methodologically it’s beneficial”. These teachers emphasized different specific benefits in their classrooms. Pilar cited listening activities, which she considered practical and excellent, how ICT made correction easier, and she valued the fact that online activities allowed students to check their understanding autonomously. Jordi said that ICT had improved their biology lessons by providing images and movement, as he now can use videos, simulators and also animations, that is to say, lab environments where experiments can be done virtually. Simultaneously, these teachers defended the traditionally handwritten processes: e.g. drawing in the biology class, and handwriting in the language classes to learn spelling and grammatical rules.

Regarding their usage of ICT in their lessons, it seems that these teachers tended to feel more comfortable using new technologies for teaching than as tools for the students to learn with autonomy. Hesitant teachers would use new technologies to show the knowledge of their disciplines in new ways. Francesc summed up this idea clearly: “I’m not interested in remaining as a language teacher with a book, a piece of chalk and a dictionary of the Royal Academy.” Regarding learning, they asked ← 250 | 251 → students to use ICT as a complementary tool but hardly ever as the main tool. Enric-II argued that “the future will be hybrid”. Starting from that idea, he claimed that computers should be integrated into formal learning because this is what teenagers will find in their lives, but “we don’t have to convert all things into digital”.

Resistant teachers

Teachers who displayed resistant positioning in the interviews were sceptical about the benefits of computers in the classrooms. They did not see any advantages in using ICT in their sessions and consequently their discourse was characterized by a strong questioning of it.

a) Affinity with hesitant teachers

The resistant teachers we interviewed agreed with the hesitant teachers on some aspects, but they differed from them on the whole, in the sense that they made a negative global assessment of the experience with the EduCAT1x1. Resistant teachers agreed with the moderate ones on these points:

  • They stressed the fact that they are not against the digital world and that they consider computers to be important future options on which education cannot turn its back.
  • They had added some digital resources to their teaching practices: they used the digital blackboard and the Moodle virtual learning environment.
  • These teachers believed that the optimal position in the technology conundrum is the combination of resources.

b) Reasons to be against the 1x1 project

One of the key arguments to be against the EduCAT1x1 in resistant teachers’ discourse was the evidence from the preceding experiences. Pere remembered that the pilot experiences had never demonstrated that this initiative was an improvement. Marga was very surprised when she knew that the programme was being implemented on a massive scale in Catalonia because she had heard that in Germany they had already decided that laptops should be used in combination with other non-digital resources, rather than a central educational tool. Almost all teachers were very critical of the exorbitant economic investment that went into the one-to-one programme, and some of them even described it as a “squandered public money project”.

Moreover, these teachers suggested that the project had been implemented hastily:

I don’t know if the 1x1 originated in a pedagogical issue or in commercial pressure. It was a hurried decision, there were resources from Madrid and this was a necessary condition ← 251 | 252 → to profit from them (…) a more progressive implementation was needed, giving people time to digest things.

(Pere, teacher of life sciences)

In relation to the hurried implementation of the 1x1 scheme, another argument was about the lack of training. The one-to-one laptop initiative caused uncertainty in teachers because they felt compelled to use a tool with resources that they had not had the chance to explore. Marga was very critical of this issue, arguing that there had not been any proper training for teachers.

For the resistant teachers, technical malfunctioning was another motive to be against the 1x1 programme, which continually emerged in the conversations with them. Some of the interviewed teachers said that they preferred to use their own computer because the one provided in the classroom was too slow or sometimes was uncomfortably located or did not have any desktop screen. Besides the infrastructure, their complaints were above all focused on the poor quality of the Internet connection. As Pere explains next, problems with connectivity made students become restless. He recognizes that this aspect has been improved in his high school.

It was so distressing because every day you entered in the classroom and you didn’t know what you would find, whether [the internet] worked or not. It was a daily lottery… if a child would be able or not to enter the [digital] platform. Now connectivity has improved.

(Pere, teacher of life sciences)

Another key complaint in their discourse was the fatigue of having to control students’ activity when using laptops in the classroom. They were concerned about students being connected to social networks or playing computer games. Pere said that about 15 or 20% of his students used to be on Facebook. All resistant teachers were concerned that, unfortunately, students unwisely using the computer were the weakest ones.

The issue is control: the big mistake is that children have a computer right there in the classroom. In overcrowded classrooms with more than thirty students it’s not possible to control what they are really doing. The best students use the computer correctly, but those who would need the capabilities a computer can offer, those pupils don’t use it for studying, they do stuff that has nothing to do with studying.

(Pere, teacher of life sciences)

Resistant teachers thought that the screen had an irresistible power of attraction, so they argued that using computers in the classroom was to put a candy in front of ← 252 | 253 → students, when they were not mature enough to understand that “they have to be in command of the tool and not let the tool control them” (Toni):

When you’re explaining something, and students have their screens switched on, it can be very difficult to get their attention. (…) They open Moodle, but at the same time they’re on Facebook; if you put a candy in front of them, it’s very difficult to keep them from eating it…

(Jaume, teacher of music and informatics)

It’s very difficult to get students’ attention when they have a computer right in front of them: even if they only get to see the desktop background, they will be staring at the desktop background, even when it’s what they see every other day!

(Marga, teacher of history and geography)

c) Reasons to be against digital tools

We found that these teachers’ discourse against the EduCAT1x1 project was impregnated with other underlying reasons to be against digital tools. These substantive grounds for refusal are related to the use of computer tools as a way to learn and not to the one-to-one project itself. Further research should be done on this issue. Here, we just summarize the most prominent motives underpinning these teachers’ refusal, as they were revealed in the interviews:

  • The computer resources promote mechanical work, on top of impulsive and impatient behaviour.
  • The interactive materials dilute subject contents, as contents are presented schematically and in a rather unstructured way. (Toni: “Digital textbooks are more and more schematic, more insubstantial, shorter”).
  • The learning of reading and writing is better done on paper, and thus good students prefer it. (Marga: “The best students are more resistant to computers. Good students do a lot of handwriting”).
  • We don’t believe in the supposed pedagogical shift brought about the one-to-one programme: students need pencil and face-to-face interaction to learn.
  • Some cheekiness and cheating both on the part of students and teachers (e.g. copy-paste things from the Internet in the student’s case, and self-assessed exercises that make teachers less aware of the students’ learning).

Conclusions

In this first analysis of data of a multi-sited ethnographic study about the implementation of the one-to-one laptop programme in Catalonia, we have examined ← 253 | 254 → the arguments and counterarguments that enthusiastic, hesitant and resistant teachers use in order to justify their insights on that initiative. In the following, we provide a brief summary of each positioning.

• Enthusiastic teachers differ from the other two groups in their assumption that ICT can have a positive impact on students’ learning, this being the main reason why they agree to take on the drawbacks. Their pedagogical philosophy is intuitively driven by socio-constructivist approaches to learning, and thus in their teaching they tend to stress task-based learning, creativity, learning through interaction and the collaborative construction of knowledge. They have integrated ICT within their curriculum and they recognize that, with the computers that the EduCAT1x1 has brought to their classrooms, they can afford to teach things they could not have possibly taught before.

• Hesitant teachers think that computers might have an interesting impact on particular competences of the disciplines they teach, but they are all too aware of the fact that it is still not possible to demonstrate what the benefits or the damages are. Although they do not put up resistance to the one-to-one laptop initiative, they are especially aware of the disadvantages of using computers in the classroom in terms of setbacks in their teaching planning, and also because it increases the likelihood of students being inattentive. On account of this, hesitant teachers feel much more comfortable using ICT as a tool for teaching than as tool for the students to learn with autonomy. Their students keep learning on paper except for one-off activities where ICT is used because they are pedagogically relevant.

• Resistant teachers are sceptical about the use of ICT in the classroom. They have not found much sense in the integration of new technologies in their teaching practices, although they really believe that new technologies are a social reality that education cannot just ignore. These groups of teachers are critical to some particular aspects of the implementation of the one-to-one laptop program in Catalonia: previous experiences in European countries that demonstrate that digital tools should just be another tool and not the main one, weaknesses in teachers’ training, technical blockage and the students’ tendency to get distracted. Moreover, they have deeper underlying reasons to justify their dissenting stance, such as the fact that screens have the power of attraction that is hard to fight against.

All three groups of teachers agree on the fact that it is impossible to avoid the use of technology in the classroom. They have assumed the discourse of “inevitability” (Ferneding 2003), but they all differ in the educational benefits they think it can bring about. Regarding the EduCAT1x1 initiative, they all refer to the same aspects (e.g. students’ attitudes towards computers, the technical barriers) but they adopt different ← 254 | 255 → stances: for the most critical teachers, these facts are proof of the failure of the initiative, whereas for the enthusiasts these aspects are just a toll that has to be paid.

Therefore, this analysis suggests that there is a deeper stance that every teacher assumes regarding computers as tools for learning. Such views do not stem from classroom problems, but from teachers’ will and motivation to overcome the barriers they might find. The potential of these new technologies to alter existing social practices of teaching and learning explains the ambivalent opinions that teachers have expressed about these powerful machines. Similar results were found in a study analysing primary school teacher’s perspectives on digital technologies in the context of the Portuguese ‘e.escolinha’ one-to-one laptop programme (see the previous chapter by Pereira). Further research is needed in order to understand the influences that shape the teachers’ viewpoints on ICT for learning, which could be tied in with the following aspects:

  • the teachers’ beliefs,
  • their approach to teaching instruction and their insights on how learning is triggered,
  • their particular personal relationship with new technologies,
  • the subject they teach and the group attitudes of other teachers in their area, and
  • the predominant social class in the school.

References

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Appendix

Table 1: Teacher sample analysed

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  1.    Data comes from the research project IES2.0: Prácticas letradas digitales. Materiales, actividad de aula y recursos lingüísticos en línea (EDU2011-28381; 2012-14), co-ordinated by Dr. Daniel Cassany and funded by the Spanish Government. More information about the project can be found here: https://sites.google.com/site/ies201x1/.

   Moreover, the authors of this paper participate in the consolidated research project GR@EL, which has received a grant from the Catalan Government (AGAUR 2009 SGR 803, resolution 3-7-2009). We thank the high schools that have collaborated in this project for their generous co-operation, and especially the teachers being interviewed. Some members of our research team have participated in the process of gathering the data analysed here: Daniel Cassany, Sònia Oliver del Olmo and Glòria Sanz. Àngels Oliva has contributed a helpful linguistic revision of the final version of this chapter.

  2.    With the support of the Secretary for Universities and Research of the Ministry of Economy and Knowledge of the Government of Catalonia and the Co-fund programme of the Marie Curie Actions of the 7th R&D Framework Programme of the European Union (Beatriu de Pinós 2011-A).

  3.    Some of the teachers’ and high schools’ names are pseudonyms.

  4.    http://www10.gencat.cat/gencat/AppJava/cat/actualitat2/2010/00813programaeducat1x1.jsp.

  5.    Moodle (https://moodle.org/) is an open source virtual learning environment that implements tools for online interaction.

  6.    All quotations translated.

  7.    The link to this webpage is: http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/.