Policy Rationales and Integration Rationales, Implications for Subject Area Teaching
Over the past three decades, the number of national educational policies addressing technology integration in teaching and learning has significantly increased. Rationales for these policies have largely reflected the perception that the world is more technological and to raise the quality of national workforces schools must prepare students to compete in a knowledge economy (Kozma 2008). The problem is that these national aims do not translate to technology integration in teaching and learning (Hammond 2014). As a result, high-level educational technology policies often will have limited impact on teachers’ practice and student learning.
One of the key reasons for this problem is a lack of alignment between national educational technology policy and curriculum. The recontextualization of educational policy to the classroom is largely a political rather than educational practice, which is often driven by a social agenda rather than teaching and learning. As such, rationales for technology education policy are often oversimplified, which often makes them unattainable in practice. As such, policy often treats digital technology integration as a homogenous practice, which does not address the specifics of learning and teaching in subject and learning areas (Howard et al. 2015a). “Teachers accept or resist particular reforms according to … their academic subject orientations and commitments, and their school’s identity” (Hargreaves and Goodson 2006). However, policies are unlikely to address the processes of technology integration and teacher change or make explicit connections to teaching and learning (Levin 2008). Schools and teachers will often feel unclear about how they should engage with expectations of educational policy, while ensuring that students are meeting learning expectations and subject curriculum outcomes. Therefore, a disconnect between policy and classroom integration is often present, which affects the overall impact of educational technology policy.
This article will address educational technology policy rationalizations and how they are recontextualized within educational systems and aligned with teaching and learning. Further, it will discuss how educational policy enables and constrains technology integration in teaching and learning and problematizes teaching in specific subject and learning areas. Progress in this area will be discussed.
Educational Technology Policy
Internationally, it is relatively agreed that use of digital technologies promotes social, economic, and educational change and innovation. The importance of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in peoples’ daily lives, in business operations, and in education is accepted internationally. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) (OECD 2017b) and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) (OECD 2017a) both include repeated measures for adult and students’ numeracy, literacy, and problem-solving in technology rich environments. The PISA studies in 2003 and 2012 explicitly addressed students’ capacity to use digital technologies, stating that ICTs “have revolutionized virtually every aspect of our life and work” (OECD 2015). Results from these tests are used in both developed and developing nations to guide educational technology policy.
The current OECD outlook for future work is that automation and computer intelligence will play a large role, and those not prepared for such changes will suffer limited prospects (Elliott 2017). Helsper and Reisdorf (2016) and other researchers in the area of digital inclusion have long stressed the association between the effective use of technology and future inclusion and participation in society. Those that are not able to harness digital technologies will not flourish in future society. Recommendations such as this guide national social, economic, and educational policy development. They provide countries with strong rationales for national educational technology investment and initiatives.
The World Bank (2017a) has stated that “with globalization, the information revolution, and increasing demands for a highly skilled workforce, nations are increasingly prioritizing education” (para 1). However, decision making about how to do this is often inconsistent. Government agendas shape educational policy, but agendas are influenced by social and political pressures (Connelly et al. 2007). Using publications such as these from the OECD, individual nations can decide how they will prepare young people for this future, through creation of relevant educational technology national policy. For example, consistent social pressure to motivate the creation of national ICT education policies, such as Singapore’s ICT Masterplan (Singapore Educational Technology Division 2015c) and Australia’s past Digital Education Revolution (Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations 2012), are required. Both of these policies are driven by the rationale that young people need to be prepared to compete in current and future global societies, but they address the issue in different ways. In Singapore, the policy was first implemented in 1997 “to enrich and transform the learning environments of our students and equip them with the critical competencies and dispositions to succeed in a knowledge economy” (Singapore Educational Technology Division 2015d). In 2015, this focus was specifically to promote “teachers as designers” and “school leaders as culture builders” (Singapore Educational Technology Division 2015e). In Australia, the policy was more about infrastructure; providing computers and broadband connections to schools, the logic being that having a personal device would promote students to have the types of competencies needed to be competitive in future work and learning. Both of these policy initiatives are based on the idea of developing twenty-first century competencies, which were strongly supported by the OECD (e.g., OECD/CERI 2008). These represent some of the complexities addressing educational technology, where two very different approaches to technology integration come from the same rationale.
To help policy makers navigate ICT in education, The World Bank created the Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER; The World Bank 2017b). This tool provides support for policy makers in “assessing and benchmarking their own ICT-in-education policies against those of comparable countries around the world” (The World Bank 2017b; para 1). One of the key reasons for using benchmarking as a way to address educational technology policy, as outlined by The World Bank, is that there is little accessible data showing impact of ICTs in education. While there is clear consensus about how digital technologies are used in work, there is a lack of evidence about the benefits of using and why digital technologies should be used in teaching and learning. This has complicated development and implementation of educational technology policy and is part of the reason why there is a disconnect between the policy and integration in the classroom.
The development of national educational policy can be divided into two approaches: strategic and operational (Kozma 2008). Strategic policies will often act as a tool to motivate and stimulate change to address a nation’s overall educational goals. National educational goals are often based on high-level needs of society, such as an improved work force for the future and producing better educated citizens. Common rationales for strategic educational technology policies have been preparing citizens for “future work” in the United Kingdom (e.g., Department for Digital Culture Media & Sport 2017), increasing participation in a knowledge-based economy (e.g., EU Science Hub 2017), creating democratic access to learning for all individuals (U.S. Department of Education 2017b), just to identify a few. Strategic policies provide a future vision and direction for ICT initiatives and justification for funding necessary to make it all happen (Kozma 2008). Therefore, they are by nature high-level broad goals and have tended to be oversimplified (Hammond 2014).
The second type of educational policy, operational, are where strategic policy visions are realized. They will often have a more pragmatic focus, such as setting up programs and resources to support change in relation to national educational goals. In many cases, this type of policy will be tied to a strategic policy. Therefore, it is likely to have a more direct connection to implementation at the state, district, or school level. An example of this is the national “Funding Digital Learning” (FDL) program in the United States, which is linked to the strategic National Educational Technology Plan (NETP; U.S. Department of Education 2017a). The strategic NETP vision of technology in education is one of “equity, active use, and collaborative leadership to make everywhere, all-the-time learning possible” (para 1). Good connectivity and infrastructure are key aspects, as outlined in the NETP, to make “all-the-time learning” possible. The FDL program is designed as an operational approach to provide funds to purchase digital or related resources for states and districts to fulfil NETP aims. The rationale for the FDL program is to support technology upgrades, to keep pace with technological change, and improve instruction and student outcomes. The FDL represents a particular approach to help district and state leadership realize that aspect of the national plan.
Considering Singapore’s ICT Masterplan again, the realization of this policy illustrates the connection between strategic and operational policies. The Masterplan is now in its fourth version (Singapore Educational Technology Division 2015c). As stated earlier, it is a strategic policy based on the rationale that it is necessary to put “quality learning in the hands of every learner – empowered with technology” (Singapore Educational Technology Division 2015e). This policy is operationalized through four “approaches”: (1) deeper ICT integration; (2) sustained professional learning; (3) translational research, innovation, and scaling; and (4) connected ICT learning ecosystem (Singapore Educational Technology Division 2015a). Each of these approaches have a number of individual priority areas, which are addressed through specific programs or initiatives. A specific element of this is the operationalized policy Cyber Wellness, which is part of “Deepening Digital Learning” in Approach 1. The rationale for this is the importance of internet users having positive well-being and that it is a necessary aspect of appropriate technology use in teaching and learning (Singapore Educational Technology Division 2015b). This has been realized in part of the Singapore ICT Connection website for teachers and students to access.
These examples demonstrate how broadly defined educational technology policy is implemented within an educational system. The process of translating and operationalizing a strategic policy requires recontextualization. This means that policies are interpreted to suit values, needs, and requirements of a given context. The process of recontextualization changes the intent and goals each time the policy is translated to a new part of an educational system. Depending on the context and the nature of the policy as it is operationalized, it may result in good (meaning matching values, needs, and requirements) alignment between the policy and the context or not. If not, the policy is likely to lack impact.
The assessment of alignment is one of the ways policies can be analyzed to determine its impact, but also a way to identify where policies need reconsideration. Policies can be evaluated for horizontal, vertical, and strategic-operational alignment (Kozma 2008). “Horizontal” alignment relates to compatibility of policy goals and other policies in a system, such as curriculum and teacher training. “Vertical” alignment is the coordination of policy between different levels of an educational system, such as agreement between the state, district, or school levels. Alignment in these two areas ensures that resources are appropriately allocated across a district and in schools, but also that policies are working efficiently and not duplicating other efforts. “Strategic-operational” alignment refers to how well operational policies support national goals and rationales.
The alignment of a strategic policy with the realization of operational policies at a school and/or classroom level is significantly affected by the nature of an educational system, distance of implementation from the original national goal, and the context. It has been argued that alignment between national policy rationales and implementation of technology integration in teaching is not possible (Hammond 2014). One of the reasons for this is that educational technology policies are unable to fulfil the driving rationales, as digital technologies are unlikely to have a significant impact on teaching and learning themselves. Where digital technologies do affect learning and teaching is difficult to measure.
Policy and Technology Integration
The “disconnect” between educational technology-related policy and digital technology integration is well known. After several decades of educational technology policy, digital technology integration continues to be inconsistent within and between schools (Perrotta 2013). As highlighted earlier by The World Bank, there is a lack of evidence guiding leadership and teachers on how to best use digital technologies in schools and for teaching and learning. For teachers, integrating digital technologies in teaching represents a considerable change in practice and how they conceptualize learning, which has proven to be difficult. This is compounded by ongoing educational technology policy change in education resulting in change fatigue (Orlando 2014), lack of principled understanding of technology integration, and how it can be best used to support learning in their subject and learning areas (Howard and Maton 2011). Thus, schools and teachers are often unsure how new technologies will affect learning, if curriculum and assessment expectations can be met, and how to fulfil policy goals and rationales.
A Case Study
To explore how issues of policy alignment enable and constrain technology integration in a classroom, a case study will be examined. The case study is the Australian Digital Education Revolution (DER), which was an Australian national strategic educational technology policy and part of a government education reform agenda. The underpinning rationale for the DER was that all states would receive funds: “… to achieve technology enriched learning environments to assist students to achieve high quality learning outcomes and productively contribute to our society and economy” (The Commonwealth of Australia 2009). It was initiated as a political campaign promise in 2007 and was implemented from 2008 to 2013.
The aim of the DER was for all schools to achieve a one-to-one student-to-computer ratio by the end of 2011. This national strategic policy was operationalized through three other policies. First was the provision of money to states, which is the next level down in the Australian educational system, through the National Secondary Schools Computer Fund (NSSCF). The aim of this funding was to increase students’ access to digital technology, to achieve a one-to-one student-to-computer ratio across the country. The second approach was to fund High Speed Broadband to Schools for installation of “fibre-to-the-premise”, to provide all schools with a high-speed fibre optic internet connection. The final policy was the Digital Strategy for Teachers and School Leaders initiative to fund support for teachers’ ICT professional development (Digital Education Revolution program – National Secondary Schools Computer Fund 2011).
Initially, the DER program was administered from the federal level to schools directly, through an application process. However, this became too difficult to manage and maintain accountability. Funding was then transferred to the states through a National Partnership Agreement and then distributed to schools. An audit of the program reported that by mid-2011 schools had not achieved the one-to-one ratio. Many were at 1-to-1.3 to 1-to-1.25. The audit also reported that school principals felt that the impact on teaching and learning was positive (Digital Education Revolution program – National Secondary Schools Computer Fund 2011, para 17–18). A state evaluation of the program told a different story. In one state, all Year 9 (aged 14–16 years) students and teachers had a personal laptop, but a survey of state secondary schools showed no significant change in students’ use of digital technology or a significant change in teaching practice by the end of 2011 (Howard et al. 2012).
The computers had been delivered to the schools through the NSSCF program and funds had been provided for professional learning through the Digital Strategy for Teachers and School Leaders. These represent two operational policies, related to the broader DER policy. These addressed access to digital technologies and teacher training to use the new tools in the classroom. However, the DER policy aim was to have “high quality learning outcomes” through the use of digital technologies. But at the time, there was very little structure provided from the national level to states about how to implement the initiative in their contexts. At the state level, little guidance was provided to schools and teachers on how to appropriately use the computers or what professional learning was needed to support the wider policy rationale. The reasoning for this at both the state and school level was to ensure autonomy of stakeholders to be able to enact the DER policy appropriately for their context. However, the lack of specificity on how to operationalize the policy goals and how to use the computers resulted in a range of alignment issues, which constrained integration.
Implications of Alignment
Using the DER example, it is possible to explore how educational technology policy may be enabled and constrained as a result of horizontal, vertical, and strategic-operational alignment. Specifically, the discussion will address the DER in New South Wales (NSW). NSW is one of the largest school districts in the world and chose to deliver a laptop to each Year 9 student (aged 14–16 years). Laptops were also provided to all full-time teachers. This program was evaluated between 2009 and 2013. Overall, the program was met with mixed reviews and with slow up-take across the state. Only after 4 years of having access to the laptops were significant changes in technology integration observed. However, this change was inconsistent across schools and subject areas (Howard and Mozejko 2013). The following sections will consider why the policy did not result in stronger and more consistent impact.
In terms of horizontal alignment, the DER-NSW program was widely supported throughout the state and by the school department. Changes in state policy to support the DER included putting significant funds toward professional development to support teachers’ technology use, such as providing face-to-face training, creating DER-specific online curriculum support and resources, having a Festival of Learning, and so on. Teachers were provided with a wide range of ways to engage in professional learning through the state education department. This suggests strong horizontal alignment between the policy and teacher training. Further, the state provided funds to increase technical support by placing laptop technicians in schools to support maintenance and management of the laptops.
However, there was a lack of alignment between the DER policy and learning, specifically the state subject area syllabi and national assessments. The subject area syllabi at the time did not include areas for digital work or integration, beyond including that students would use certain tools. For example, in science they used spreadsheets and databases. In mathematics, they used spreadsheets (BOSTES 2012). These uses tended to be quite straightforward and would not have qualified as the “high quality learning” desired as part of the national DER strategic policy. Feedback from teachers and students revealed a belief that the DER laptops were not needed for learning, particularly to do well on assessments. In many cases, the laptop was even seen as a detriment to learning (Howard and Mozejko 2013). Without technology integration as a priority in subject area teaching, curriculum, and assessment, horizontal alignment was not strong even with good alignment in other areas. This was a significant contributor to the policy having minimal impact on teacher practice and was of little benefit to schools (e.g., Kozma 2008).
Vertical alignment of resources from national to state to school levels was visible and well managed. In many cases, teachers felt pressure to use the laptops because of the significant government investment, national policy, and availability of DER professional learning opportunities (Howard and Mozejko 2013). Research has shown that this kind of pressure can be a strong catalyst for teachers to adopt and integrate digital technologies in their practice (e.g., Zhao and Frank 2003). However, at the time of the DER, there was considerable fluctuation in the national government and significant ambiguity if national funding of the DER would continue, year to year. Moreover, the state did not commit to continuing the DER if national funding ceased to be available. This left schools and teachers with a feeling of limbo about the program and if it would continue. This significantly affected how much time and energy they were willing to invest in new teaching strategies and creating integrated lesson plans at the subject level (Howard and Mozejko 2013). Therefore, while there was actual strong vertical alignment, stakeholders perceived weak alignment resulting from a lack of government commitment, which impacted on their willingness to change their teaching practice and significantly engage in the DER program.
The DER was fairly typical of large-scale government implementation of one-to-one computer programs, in that there were relatively clear connections between strategic and operational educational technology policies. Similar programs at the time were the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (Silvernail and Gritter 2007), Michigan Freedom to Learn (Lowther et al. 2012) program, and the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative in Massachusetts (Bebell and Kay 2010) in the United States. All of these programs were based on the rationale that increasing access to technology would also promote high quality learning through the use of new and modern tools. The three national DER operational policies provided explicit support to achieve the national goals by providing funding for computers, infrastructure, and teacher training. This has also been the approach in other one-to-one programs. All three of these are necessary for technology integration to occur and for policy to have an impact on teaching and learning. However, this also reflects a historic trend of noncritical treatment of digital technology integration and a general assumption that use of technology will result in learning (e.g., Bayne 2015; Beynon and Mackay 1989; Hammond 2014).
Research has shown that there are gains in learning when digital technologies are used in the classroom, but there is very little understanding as to why or how this happens (e.g., Skryabin et al. 2015; Tamim et al. 2011). Effective uses of digital technologies are those that support teachers and students reaching desired learning goals (Tamim et al. 2011). Learning goals will differ between subject areas, as will conventions of teaching, the types of skills and content knowledge students must acquire, and their assessments. As little is known about how technology integration positively affects learning, there is even less understanding of how to connect technology integration to wider policy rationales and goals (Hammond 2014). Goals related to teaching and learning will naturally differ from those used as policy rationalizations.
The problem is that strategic and operational policies have tended to treat technology integration as a homogenous practice (e.g., Howard et al. 2015b). Little attention is paid to the specifics of teaching within subject areas and how learning goals are achieved, which has significant implications for the enactment of those polices. For example, in the DER, providing teacher training was one of the main operational policies. In NSW, that teacher training often promoted a student-centered and project-based approach to learning (Howard and Maton 2011). This aligned with subject areas such as English and history, less with science and it was at odds with mathematics (Howard 2011). Teachers who were not comfortable with using a student-centered approach in their classroom felt that digital technologies were not necessary for their teaching or were uncomfortable using computers. They would often make the argument “that’s not how we do it” or “that’s not how we teach” in their subject area (e.g., Howard 2013). Therefore, while there may have been alignment between strategic and operational policies in the DER, both lacked alignment with teaching and learning. This resulted in the policy having little impact on teaching and learning, and even having a negative impact on teachers’ willingness to engage with technology integration.
Progress and Conclusions
It is known that students need to be using digital technologies in sophisticated ways to prepare them for future work and learning (Helsper and Reisdorf 2016). However, the complexity of educational change and technology integration makes it difficult to identify why many educational technology policies fail to have significant impact in education. In the example presented here, there are a range of areas that need better alignment, such as the dependability of resources to fund the DER program from national to state to schools, which constrained teachers’ willingness to engage in the initiative. However, what really matters to teachers in technology integration is learning (Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich 2010; Howard 2013). For many teachers, the conception of learning is within the scope of their subject area or the key learning area they are teaching. By and large, they will stay with their known and successful approaches to teaching and learning, rather than put learning at risk by using new digital technologies.
For policy rationales to be attained, stronger alignment with subject area learning goals is essential. This approach would increase alignment and create a direct connection between teaching and policy aims. As a step toward improving the impact of educational technology policy, many countries have started to embed digital literacy, medial literacy, and so on, in curriculum documents. In Australia, the Australian National Curriculum contains an Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) General Capability. This provides a framework for what students need to know about and how they should work with digital technologies (ACARA 2012). The operationalization of curriculum in state subject area syllabi creates a direct connection between learning goals and rationales for national educational technology policy.
Other areas of development, such as school leaders fostering a culture of experimentation and more personalized professional learning opportunities, are needed to support teachers in their own school contexts to integrate digital technologies. For example, while many teacher training options offered as part of the DER were focused on specific subject areas or teaching contexts, they were segmented from the classroom. Teachers need to test and trial new digital technologies in their own teaching, to adapt and pedagogize with their own students (Hammond 2014; Tondeur et al. 2013). Building this level of support at the school level, into operationalized educational technology policy, would strengthen alignment and improve the impact of policy in teaching and learning.
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