Implementing New Technological Tools in Schools

Jan Webb - ICT coordinator, e-learning lead teacher at Weston Village Primary School, Weston, Crewe.

Introducing new tools into schools is often a challenge for those implementing the change. “WHY?” is frequently the first question asked by colleagues which needs answering with:
  1. Relevant reasons for using new pedagogies – academically sound, researched and based on enhancing pupil learning 
  2. Relevant examples of new pedagogies being used – effective use speaks for itself and starts ideas snowballing 
One of the challenges in rolling out the use of new technologies is conveying the shift towards new metaphors to make the change intelligible such as ‘secondary orality’, ’cyberspace campfires’ or ‘global villages’.

New metaphors for learning

We are still tweaking a model of teaching and learning that was introduced during the industrial revolution for educating the masses. At that time, schools were introduced which enabled a greater number of people to be educated and learning became paper-based. This superseded but did not differ radically from the oral model of learning, or ‘first orality’, where learning was apprentice-style at the side of people from the extended family and community. Children were taught by a whole village community. 20 years ago, Papert wrote about the need for megachange in schools so we can equip children for the future rather than the past. This change depends on developing a ‘secondary orality’ – as described by David D Thornburg in “Campfires in Cyberspace”, where we learn from a much larger – potentially global – online community, apprentice style but using new technology to connect, communicate and collaborate.

In our communication-rich society, learning is still facilitated by human contact. The theory about 6 degrees of separation was originally proposed by Karinthy as long ago as 1929 to describe how the developments in communication of his own era were making the world a smaller place (Barabasi (2003)). If we want to contact an unknown person, it has been shown that by talking to a sequence of no more than 5 people we can make that link. It would make sense that this will affect how we are able to learn in an information-technology based society, with the advent of social media tools and online search engines reducing the number of clicks/connections with others that we need to make in order to find the answer to a question. Nearly 100 years post-Karinthy, my own personal experiences of asking questions online via a search engine or twitter is that this number of connections is substantially reduced! This contraction of the world we have at our fingertips to explore the answers to questions has implications for self-directed learning. Rather than tweaking a post-industrial revolution model of education, we need to develop our pedagogies to embrace this ‘secondary orality’, creating a position whereby where we are closer to the 'first orality' of a community of learners. Putting the use of tools into this context is important for those who believe them to be an additional burden/workload rather than a way of enhancing learning in a way traditional tools can’t.

The Problem

Even with many examples of how these tools can be used, initial attempts to use them with a class are often cautious, experimental and with any number of back-up plans. Even the technologically confident and adventurous adopt this approach, so it makes sense that less tech-confident colleagues will need more than simply being shown relevant examples, which could intimidate if colleagues can’t see them as achievable or applicable in their context.

Even when use was soundly justified, it was found that there was:
  1. Resistance to change – it takes time for a new way of teaching to be accepted. 
  2. Pressures on time – “fiddling” time needs to be in place, so there is time to explore possibilities and try out new ideas (– the need for this is inversely proportional to staff confidence in using technology, i.e. less confident staff need more “fiddle time”). Besides addressing staff confidence/skills, it also takes time for a new tool to become embedded. 
  3. Conflicting school priorities. These become more of an issue as the use of the tool moves beyond one person’s/class experiment to whole school adoption. 
  4. Competence levels being greater than confidence levels – and varying levels of support for this depending on school context. This links to time pressures, but building confidence as well as skills is key to sustainability. 
1. Resistance

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Mahatma Gandhi

Being ignored/laughed at seems to be a fairly typical response to the introduction of new ICT-based tools but this can be overcome with carefully planned professional development and the recognition of the emotional response to change. Seymour Papert (1993) talks about the “immune response” of schools/staff to change, likening the resistance to the self-protection processes the body uses when an infection comes its way. It’s as though staff/schools effectively seek to integrate anything new into the models of teaching/learning that they already use rather than embracing ‘megachange’. New ideas are merely tweaked to fit with existing practice and this occurs becaus
e no matter how open we are to new ideas as professionals, ‘megachange’ is scary and we seemingly revert to a ‘script’ that we are comfortable with at times of crisis or grief for the ways of doing things that we leave behind. The Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle is just one way of describing why introducing a major change takes time and meets resistance. 

(via changing 

In the context of introducing a learning platform, sometimes the tech doesn't do quite what people envisage it doing, which can, in itself, cause a resistance to using the tools – some might give up and go back to comfortable familiar methods. Sometimes that's just because of time available/other stresses rather than lack of willingness to engage. Others find a way around it so the tools do what they want them to do but it’s important that colleagues don’t end up saying: “We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.” (Douglas Adams). The new tool needs to be reliable and appropriately-supported and the emotional factors considered otherwise it will be rejected.

Becoming ‘wallpaper’

Children seem to embrace change and new ideas more rapidly than adults and introducing a learning platform typically takes three times a long for an adult. 

This is due to developing the familairty and skills needed to make it function well but as the tool is used more effectively, it becomes a natural extension of the teacher’s ability to promote learning and therefore, less intrusive. This was noticed during a project developing the use of forums and wikis for collaboration. 

Resolution – a way forward? 

A ‘megachange’ such as Papert discusses is more likely to provoke immune responses or grief-type responses but ‘megachange’ doesn’t need to happen all at once. The answer to the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” is instructive; “one bite at a time” demonstrates that change, one small bite at a time, will enable colleagues and make seemingly insurmountable tasks possible. In this sense we need to treat our colleagues as learners themselves (albeit with additional pressures) and just as we want our pupils to reach a “zone of proximal development”, (Zygotsky), so we want our colleagues to reach a similar zone so that they can develop professionally. As Papert put it, we need to allow the cold regions of our brain to become heated up by the hot regions – i.e. we are motivated to learn when the new skill touches on our interests and passions. We also need to consider differentiation because as we differentiate for our pupils, we need to take into consideration the skills/confidence of our colleagues so we personalise their learning experience. What is also important to remember is that being technologically competent doesn’t necessarily equate to technologically confident for some. Technological confidence isn’t just a “yes/no” answer – it is a continuous scale, is related to confidence but sometimes despite good competence levels, confidence isn’t high. 
Bearing this is mind and using what we know, tweaking it, improving it, revisiting it, tweaking it, improving it (the professional reflection cycle we go through as teachers already) was used in “shared planning/teaching” sessions for colleagues so they became increasingly familiar with the tools. The success of such an approach is occurs because it is socially based AND action oriented (Fullan: 2007). Personal contact diffuses innovations through 1:1 support/peer buddying and provides relevant contexts for trying new tools (Hoban: 2002).

Hoban also suggests that the chances for change are increased if there is a framework in place to support long term teacher learning and to help teachers cope with the non-linear process of changing classroom practice. Assimilation and use of new tools needs a combination of a situated perspective (which disregards prior knowledge/motivation) and cognitive perspective (which disregards contextual/social influences on learning). To move change through stages of initiation and implementation into institution wide use, there needs to be a community of practice where personal relationships between staff members allows for the recognition of the issues and complexity but also foster development. Hence a person driving forward the change from within the school has an even larger role to play in ensuring the change is sustainable than an outsider who visits to deliver a training session. With their understanding of the unique context of the school and people involved, they will be key to the development of their colleagues.


In order to embed new tools for learning, there needs to be a shift in school culture and it takes time to establish new “norms” in school. This depends on the adoption of a range of leadership styles by both the senior leadership team and those to whom they delegate responsibility. Often the person implementing the change has no previous experience of educational change and the associated resistance therefore the advice and support they receive will be crucial for the sustainability of a project in order to minimize its disheartening and discouraging effect. Those new to leading such change will need support to recognise the extremely complex issues so they are able to make informed choices.


Introducing new tech-based tools into schools, whether it is a learning platform, other web 2.0 tools or those still to be invented, is a change process that triggers a range of affective responses. Whilst these tools may be embraced by many, for others it challenges their values and beliefs as teachers. Time, skills and confidence may be constraining factors when aiming for whole school implementation, even with relevant examples of how use of the tool may enhance learning. Conflicting priorities in school may affect the uptake of a new tool or pedagogy but socially-based, action-oriented staff training which is personalized to the context, addresses the affective responses and supports a high-visibility, community-based approach can promote lasting change to attitudes and practice.


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