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Expert Teachers' Technology Integration Knowledge and Skills

Sara Dexter, Ed.D.

Department of Curriculum & Instruction

University of Nevada, Las Vegas

(702) 895-1540

Christine Greenhow

Center for Applied Research & Educational Improvement

University of Minnesota

April 14, 2004

Paper prepared for the 85 th Annual Meeting of the
American Educational Research Association, April 12-16, 2003, San Diego, CA.

Questions or comments about this study can be directed to the first author at the Department of Curriculum & Instruction, University of Nevada, Las Vegas 4505 Maryland Parkway, Box 453005, Las Vegas, NV 89154-3005 or at


A cognitive task analysis of twenty experienced in-service teachers to report the key knowledge, concepts and skills they draw upon to plan technology-integrated instruction. Data, collected through focus groups, show expert technology-integrating teachers' focus on curriculum goals, consider their students' technology skills and interests, and find models of the technology product expected of students important for guiding their pupils' understanding of their assignment. How much teachers plan for logistics and trouble-shooting depends on the level of access to technology in their school.

Expert Teachers' Technology Integration Knowledge

Teachers' decision making has been defined as the course of action during which teachers gather, organize, and interpret information, generate alternatives, select a specific course of action, and after its implementation consequently evaluate the effectiveness of the decision (Clark & Yinger, 1977; Lipham, 1974). The research literature emphasizes how critical teachers' planning and interactive decisions are in determining what they do, or do not do, in the classroom (e.g., Clark & Yinger, 1977; Jackson, 1968; Shavelson, 1976; Peterson & Clark, 1978).

Several researchers (Joyce, 1978-79; Morine-Dershimer, 1978-79; Shavelson & Stern, 1981; Yinger, 1977) use the metaphor of "routines" to describe how teachers manage both the planning of and execution of the moment-to-moment processes of teaching. Shavelson and Stern (1981) posit that teachers' decision-making processes are influenced by schemata that are activated from memory.

Research on expert and novice teachers' cognitive processes note that experts have more elaborated, information-rich schemas, which aid their metacognitive and monitoring skills (Westerman, 1992). During the lesson planning stage, experts formed mental representations, or images, of lessons that aided their connecting instructional goals and lesson content to student learning (Westerman, 1992) and during the lesson's execution the meaningful interpretation of students' cues and needs. Westerman concluded that novices might develop such skills by, during the planning process, anticipating problems and formulating contingency plans, viewing the lesson from the students' perspective---especially acknowledging their prior learning and striving to keep the overall curriculum in mind so as to not view each lesson in a too narrow and sequential fashion.

In response to the call to prepare teachers to teach with technology (CEO Forum, 1999, 2000; Office of Technology Assessment, 1995) there are now standards in place that detail how teachers should be able to use technology in the classroom to plan and design learning environments and experiences, and support teaching, learning, and the curriculum (INTASC, 1992; ISTE, 2000). The Educational Technology Integration and Implementation Principles (eTIPS) (Dexter, 2002) are another example of statements that outline the ideal extent and nature of teachers' instructional planning schema in terms of educational technology. The NETS-T and eTIPs were both developed with input from practitioners but neither were based upon empirical studies that validated their set of knowledge and skills.

A cognitive task analysis is an inquiry approach designed to model "the action and especially the knowledge and thinking that learners engage in when performing some task" (Jonassen, Tessmer & Hannum, 1999, p. 107). This knowledge might include conceptual prerequisite knowledge, descriptions of system components and their interrelations, and if-then decision rules (Jonassen et al, 1999). Eliciting experts' schema for planning to integrate technology into lessons can provide insight into the sorts of knowledge and skills important to develop in novice technology integrators. It also can be used to support the development of learning materials and experiences for teachers who are novices at integrating technology into their teaching.

Here, we present findings of a cognitive task analysis of twenty in-service teachers experienced in the technology integration planning processes. These data answer the question of What considerations do teachers make when planning technology-integrated lessons? as well as providing insight into the relative priorities and sequence of those considerations.

Methods and Data sources

There are a variety of methods in the research literature that are suggested for conducting a cognitive task analysis (Brown, 1998, Jonassen et al, 1999; Smith and Ragan, 1993). Brown (1998) suggests that the analysis need requires researchers to first analyze which strategy will best meet their needs, meet the cost-efficiency constraints, ensure reliable and accurate information, and allow for updating and review of the analysis and concludes that a combination of methods may produce the best outcome.

Drawing upon Jonnassen, Tessmer, and Hannum (1999) and Smith and Ragan (1993) we employed the following mode of inquiry. First, we considered the mental and physical steps teachers must go through to plan to integrate technology into lessons. From this information we created a set of questions to ask our expert subjects. Experts were then interviewed in a focus group format so as to catalyze their metacognition about everyday activities through ensuring they heard other teachers' ideas and thinking.

Four, two-hour focus group sessions on a university campus were held over a three-week period and each had five teachers in them. The following questions were asked

1. When I say "planning for technology integration" what words, thoughts, images, etc. come to mind?

2. How do you go about planning for technology integration? What steps do you take? What must you think about?

3. How does this planning process vary depending on if you alone will be using the technology in your teaching or if students will be using the technology? Are there things you add or subtract from that planning process?

A note-taker recorded all discussions. The focus groups were also audiotaped; the audiotape was listened to separately by both authors, who added detail to the notes. Data analysis was ongoing and iterative in that the data were reviewed after each session to discern emerging patterns and sorted into themes according to common steps and decision points. After all the sessions were completed the authors established a set of categories for coding and these codes were then applied to all of the notes.

Data Sources

Data sources are the tapes and notes from the four focus group sessions. Participants were also asked to complete three online simulations designed to elicit technology integration instructional decision making. They were also asked to complete a questionnaire about the comparison of their experience within this online problem space to the technology-integration planning process they had articulated in the focus group discussion. These data will be analyzed at a later date in order to improve the design of the online simulations, and they are not reported upon here.

The 20 subjects were identified via postings to teacher listservs as well as through networking with local district technology coordinators and school administrators. Seventy-eight teachers identified as experienced technology-using teachers were then screened for characteristics believed to predict expert technology use and planning ability. This included looking for evidence of working in a "high-usage" setting with ready access to technology resources and technical support (Anderson & Ronnkvist, 1998; Ertmer, 1999); years of teaching experience, computer-using experience, and content area expertise (Becker, 1999; Sandholtz, Ringstaff & Dwyer, 2000); and leadership, and engagement in a professional community (Dexter & Seashore, 2001).

Twenty teachers were selected who represented dimensions of variation along these characteristics. Nine were secondary school teachers; five, middle or junior high school; five, kindergarten or elementary; one taught in a private arts education center. Teachers ranged in years of teaching experience from five to thirty-two years. The group was split evenly among males and females and consisted of at least two licensed teachers in each of these seven content areas: English, math, science, social studies, physical education, foreign language, art. Plus one music teacher was selected. All teachers had classroom access to high speed Internet and laptop or desktop computers with projection capabilities. Subjects ranged in their school context from large urban districts to mid-size suburban districts to regional districts outside our area to small private schools. Teachers possessed between five and sixteen years of experience in using computers to enhance their teaching or in using technology with students. Teachers varied in their purposes, methods, and types of classroom technology use but shared a belief in the potential of technology to facilitate a more student-centered classroom. In addition, participants played leadership roles related to technology in their schools such as serving on the technology planning committee, writing curriculum for their district, or securing federal grant monies for school-level technology integration.


These experienced technology-using K-12 teachers described their technology integration planning as needing to span from the big picture to the minute details in the consideration of both instructional and technical issues. Instructional considerations included taking into account overall learning and curriculum goals and student skills, and more detailed planning of how to prepare examples and scoring guidelines to help ensure students' success. Technical considerations included logistical issues surrounding first gaining access to technology and then managing it for maximum efficiency of its use in their classroom as well planning for inevitable glitches and allowing for varying levels of their students' technology access outside of the classroom.

Instructional Considerations During Technology Integration Planning

The mental schema or template these teachers had for technology integration planning was oriented around matching technology to their classroom goals. When asked what is technology integration and then how they went about planning for it the majority of teachers spoke first of considering their general curriculum and how to use any technology resources in support of those goals. These teachers began the planning process with the question " Why use technology? How will using it enhance my curriculum or students' learning?"

At the initial stages of technology integration planning many of the teachers described how they also took into account their more general learning goals for students and how to use any technology resources in support of those goals. Teachers from schools that were more technologically rich said that technology use was "a given" in their classrooms; in the context of their learning goals they thought about what technology resources they had and could use with students. Many of these teachers mentioned the importance of challenging students to learn to use technology capabilities they will be expected to work with in future jobs.

After establishing that technology could support their students in working toward the goals and outcomes they had established for their classroom, these teachers' technology integration planning turned toward more practical instructional considerations such as their students' technology-using experience and abilities and how appropriate their technology use plans were in light of them.

While the teachers described considering students' preferred style of learning, interests and language abilities while making technology integration instructional decisions, they did not describe it in terms of how to tailor lessons to individual students. Instead, they described that their using interactive technologies and multimedia "reached" more students and thus helped them to differentiate instruction.

The other instructional-oriented considerations the majority of these teachers described as a part of their technology integration planning were the specific ways they would make clear to the students the purpose for using the technology in the classroom assignment or activity. Examples of this that participants mentioned include showing them examples of good and/or bad end products, creating a rubric, or explaining the role of technology in the assignment so as to guide their performance during a technology-using activity. Considering how to give formative feedback to students on their technology-based work in progress was not mentioned as part of their planning process.

Logistical and Management Considerations During Technology Integration Planning

These teachers reported that technology integration required that they revisit their classroom processes and systems in light of the logistical and management demands made by changing the media within which students produce work. This included reworking established mechanisms for classroom management such as collecting student work or handing back project grades. They acknowledged that technology integration posed unique challenges that teachers must tackle even though many also expressed that technology should be "transparent" within classroom processes.

These teachers, by and large, did not describe their technology integration planning as including technology troubleshooting and operational issues. Although teachers emphasized that having a "back-up" plan was necessary when designing technology-integrated lessons because things will inevitably go wrong, they did not, in fact, claim to in advance make detailed plans against technical glitches and troubles. Instead, they relied on just-in-time actions and their maintaining "flexibility" and "realistic expectations" when implementing lessons as a way to counter technology-based classroom activities that went awry. Moreover, they expressed the contradiction they experienced in setting high expectations for students' learning with technology but also keeping expectations realistic and manageable given what they can accomplish during class time.

These teachers differed in the more detailed consideration of technology access and operation depending upon the grade level they taught. Elementary teachers and teachers in schools where students had limited access to technology in their homes, especially, emphasized the need to plan the "logistics" of technology use, including scheduling lab time, getting training from technical support staff, finding out which students could access the technology outside of class, teaching software usage steps, teaching "computer etiquette" and setting classroom rules. High school teachers and especially teachers in technology-rich schools and affluent communities, saw technology as readily available for use in classrooms and at home. They talked more of technology as "seemless" or "transparent" and approached it as such in their planning process.


These expert technology-integrating teachers describe that during their instructional planning process their desired outcomes are central to their thinking and that they begin by planning in a more general way and then consider details about the execution of their plans. This pattern is repeated when these experienced teachers considered technical and logistical concerns.

The results from this cognitive task analysis can be used by teacher educators to inform the desired learning outcomes of learning environments/experiences for teachers who are novice at integrating technology into lesson plans; it suggests what sorts of activities to design, readings to include, and formative feedback to provide to develop technology integration expertise. These results can also inform the design and analysis of learning materials under development or revision; examples are video cases, multimedia cases, and knowledge banks of technology integration strategies under development as a part of the Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology initiative.

When compared against technology standards for teachers---such as ISTE NETS-T, the technology-specific INTASC standards, and the eTIPs---these results suggest special areas of emphasis needed in teacher education learning environments/ experiences in that these expert teachers mentioned infrequently whole domains of understandings that are a part of these recommended knowledge and skills sets (Dexter, 2002; ISTE, 2000; INTASC 1992): For example, the ISTE NETS-T VI about teachers planning technology use with social, ethical, legal, and human issues surrounding the use of technology in PK-12 schools in mind; both ISTE NETS-T IV and eTIPs number three emphasize the use of technology in support of formative assessment of student learning. Because once preservice teachers are working in schools they are unlikely to see their more experienced colleagues modeling taking these ideas into account while planning for technology integration, it is up to teacher education programs to work toward making these considerations a part of preservice teachers' schema for technology integration.

Teacher educators working to develop their learners' abilities to incorporate educational technology into the classroom should attend to their learners' schema about technology integration and its implementation because of the influence that schema have been shown to have upon actual classroom practice. a formal cognitive task analysis may be too involved a process to carry out for all of the learners in a learning environment where learners' technology integration knowledge and skills are to be developed; however, there are other approaches that ask students to be metacognitive about their approach, such as questions and discussions, or concept-mapping, that can be used.

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