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Computers in the Schools

Interdisciplinary Journal of Practice, Theory, and Applied Research

ISSN: 0738-0569 (Print) 1528-7033 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/wcis20

Elementary School Teachers' Beliefs about the

Role of Technology in 21st-Century Teaching and

LaToya J. O'Neal, Philip Gibson & Shelia R. Cotten

To cite this article: LaToya J. O'Neal, Philip Gibson & Shelia R. Cotten (2017) Elementary School
Teachers' Beliefs about the Role of Technology in 21st-Century Teaching and Learning, Computers
in the Schools, 34:3, 192-206, DOI: 10.1080/07380569.2017.1347443

To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/07380569.2017.1347443

Published online: 17 Jul 2017.

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, VOL. , NO. , –

Elementary School Teachers’ Beliefs about the Role of

Technology in st-Century Teaching and Learning
LaToya J. O’Neala , Philip Gibsonb , and Shelia R. Cottenc
Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA;
Department of Sociology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama, USA;
Department of Media and Information, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA

Technological advancements have led to changes in the expec- st-century skills;
tations placed on K-12 teachers. Teachers are now expected to technology integration;
better equip students with 21st-century skills, making it impor- elementary education; urban
tant to understand teachers’ beliefs about the role of technol-
ogy in teaching and learning and the skills their students need
to be successful. Using a qualitative approach, the current study
explores these beliefs among a group of urban elementary school
teachers in the southeastern United States. Results suggest that,
although teachers see the value of technology for teaching and
learning, they require more guidance on what constitutes 21st-
century skills and how to effectively integrate technology.

The technological revolution has significantly influenced expectations placed on

teachers to facilitate the development of 21st-century skills such as creativity, col-
laboration, and critical thinking among student learners. Moreover, teachers are
expected to integrate computing across the curriculum in a way that promotes
these skills because they are considered beneficial for future success and are thus
important not only for those pursuing post-secondary education but also for those
who bypass college and enter the workforce (Dede, 2010; Saavedra & Opfer, 2012;
Sipilä, 2014; Walser, 2008). The development of these skills is a process that begins
in early childhood. To ensure young adults are prepared for current and future work
environments, developing these skills must begin as early as elementary school.
The role of technology in 21st-century teaching and learning has yet to be solid-
ified in the elementary school classroom. Despite the need for technological lit-
eracy and other 21st-century skills and the capacity for technology to help build
these skills, technology use in the elementary classroom, especially the urban class-
room, has yet to be implemented effectively on a large scale (Anthony & Clark, 2011;
Banister & Reinhart, 2011; Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010; Levin & Wadmany,
2008; Wachira & Keengwe, 2011). Technology use contributes to better reading,
mathematics, and other academic skills (Suhr, Hernandez, Grimes, & Warschauer,

CONTACT LaToya J. O’Neal latoya.oneal@ufl.edu

©  Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

2010; Wachira & Keengwe, 2011). This suggests that low levels of technology use
in the elementary classroom might have indirect negative consequences for stu-
dent success. Although most educators would agree that technology is important
for teaching and learning, many teachers fail to integrate computing across their
Teachers’ use of technology in the classroom seems to be influenced by sev-
eral factors. Beliefs about students’ learning abilities and learning styles, concerns
regarding meeting stringent curriculum requirements, limited opportunities for
professional development, as well as low levels of knowledge and skill for computer
integration have all been found to impact frequency and content of classroom tech-
nology use (Mouza, 2011). Among teachers in poor, urban school districts, these
barriers can seem insurmountable and contribute to lower levels of technology inte-
gration. Consequently, classroom teachers, especially those in urban school districts,
are playing catch up relative to creating more technology-enriched learning environ-
Because teachers determine when and how technology is integrated in their class-
room (Sipilä, 2014), it is important to understand their beliefs about the role of tech-
nology in teaching and learning, their beliefs regarding the skills their students need
to be successful, how they use and plan to use technology, and what might pre-
vent them from creating technology-enriched learning environments. The current
study examines these questions among a group of urban teachers in a predominantly
minority, high-poverty school system.

Literature review

21st-century technology and skills

Advancements in technology have contributed to changes in the skills and abilities
considered desirable by employers. Dede (2010) noted that 21st-century skills differ
from the previous century’s skills because of the change in “very sophisticated infor-
mation and communication technologies” (p. 1). Twenty-first-century skills such as
critical thinking and analysis, problem solving, initiative, and innovation are in high
demand. Moreover, using information and communication technologies (ICT) is a
21st-century skill that will be in greater demand due to the impact of technology
in creating new jobs (Sipilä, 2014). Unfortunately, however, there is a disconnect
between the current educational environment and the technology-driven society
that students experience outside the classroom (Saavedra & Opfer, 2012). Schools
have yet to implement a curriculum that adequately prepares students for modern
Many teachers still focus on memorization and passive learning, whereas
active learning, such as the ability to think critically, solve problems, collaborate,
express creativity, exhibit leadership and responsibility, and be culturally conscious
(Saavedra & Opfer, 2012; Walser, 2008), is needed for modern-day employment.
As Dede (2010) explained, in today’s workplace, colleagues communicate remotely
and work asynchronously using advanced technology, thus making collaboration a
194 L. J. O’NEAL ET AL.

valuable skill. However, within the classroom, students are taught analogue com-
munication techniques, including simple presentation skills and face-to-face group
work. If teachers are to adequately prepare students for the future, they must use
technology in new ways.

Teachers’ use of technology

Teachers use technology for a variety of reasons, with many teachers reporting the
use of technology to meet both their professional needs and the needs of their stu-
dents (Milman, Carlson-Bancroft, & Boogart, 2014; Ertmer, Ottenbreit-Leftwich,
Sadik, Sendurur, & Sendurur, 2012; Ottenbreit-Leftwich, Glazewski, Newby, &
Ertmer, 2010; Sipilä, 2014). Using a case study design which included an interview,
observation, and teaching portfolio of eight teachers who had been rewarded for
using technology in the classroom, Ottenbreit-Leftwich and colleagues (2010) found
that participating teachers used technology for professional reasons, such as creating
lessons and newsletters, communicating with parents, calculating student grades,
and researching new ideas. They also reported using technology for student based
reasons, such as engaging students, promoting higher level thinking, and developing
important skills for the future.
A similar study by Ertmer and colleagues (2012) used a case study design with 12
award- winning teachers and found that teachers used technology to reinforce skills,
transform their teaching, and enhance their curriculum. Among larger samples of
teachers, different patterns of use were found. For example, as it relates to overall
use, Gray, Thomas, and Lewis (2010) reported that 40% of teachers said they and
their students used computers often during instructional time in the classroom and
29% of teachers said they and their students used computers often in other school
locations. These teachers reported using computers for instructional and admin-
istrative purposes, such as word processing, spreadsheets, graphing, presentations,
Internet use, and managing student records. Therefore, while many teachers seem
to benefit from using technology for administrative tasks and some see the benefit
of using technology to enhance students’ skills, there remain many barriers to cre-
ating technology-rich learning environments, thus limiting their ability to promote
the development of 21st-century skills.

Barriers to technology integration

Barriers to technology integration fall into two primary categories (Ertmer, 1999):
external barriers, which are outside of the teacher’s control, such as lack of computer
resources or administrative support and internal barriers, which are more teacher-
related, such as attitudes toward computers or perceived technology skills. Both
types of barriers have been found to impact classroom integration. Using a mixed-
methods approach, Wachira and Keengwe (2011) studied barriers to technology
integration among urban teachers. The study included 20 teachers who taught math-
ematics. The teachers reported that both external barriers and internal barriers had
an impact on their technology integration. External barriers included inadequate

access to technology, unreliable computers, and low levels of technology leadership

and support, while internal barriers consisted of the time it takes to develop a les-
son, lack of skills and knowledge, and computer anxiety. In a study with 379 teach-
ers, Inan and Lowther (2010a) also identified external and internal barriers to tech-
nology integration. The external barriers identified were professional development,
school support, and technology support. The internal barriers included teacher
beliefs, computer proficiency, and readiness for computer integration, with teacher
beliefs having the strongest impact. Thus, internal barriers play a significant role in
computer integration: Teachers who believed that computers had a positive influ-
ence on students were more likely to incorporate computers into their curriculum.
Technology use is often impacted by teachers’ beliefs and attitudes regarding the
role of technology in teaching and learning. Ertmer and colleagues (2012) found that
the attitudes and beliefs of teachers were thought to be the most significant barrier to
technology integration. Teachers who believe that technology benefits their students
use technology more often than those who do not (Blackwell, Lauricella, Wartell, &
Robb, 2013; Inan & Lowther, 2010a). An and Reigeluth (2011) surveyed 126 teachers
regarding their beliefs about the role of technology in teaching and learning. Among
this group, who were predominantly female with an average of 10 years of teaching
experience, participants believed that technology helped students learn and allowed
them to be more efficient in the classroom. Most participants supported using tech-
nology and reported being willing to learn more about integrating technology in
the classroom. This attitude toward the role of technology in education contrasts
with another common perception among teachers, that technology is a means to
occupy students’ time and attention or is a reward for good behavior in other class-
room activities (Hew & Brush, 2007). These misinformed attitudes predictably are
barriers to integrating technology in the classroom.
Although barriers are acknowledged as having an impact on technology inte-
gration, the expectation for teachers to help students develop 21st-century skills
remains. While research regarding barriers that influence technology integration is
abundant, less is known about how teachers view the role of technology in teaching
and learning and their knowledge of the skills their students need to be success-
ful in the future. The ability of teachers to overcome what they perceive as barriers
may be dependent upon the value they place on using technology to build necessary
skills as well as how they are already using technology in the classroom. To better
understand teachers’ beliefs about technology for teaching and learning as relative
to 21st-century skills, the current study used qualitative data collected from a focus
group with nine teachers from eight urban elementary schools in the southeastern
United States.

Current study
Integrating Computing Across the Curriculum (ICAC) was a five-year,
intervention-based project implemented in a large, predominately African Ameri-
can, urban school district in the southeastern United States. The goal of the project
196 L. J. O’NEAL ET AL.

was to increase the number of minority students pursuing STEM (Science, Technol-
ogy, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers. The project worked with fourth- and
fifth-grade teachers and students. Professional development, in-class support, and
in-class modeling of curriculum modules were provided for participating teachers.
Our aim was to answer the following research questions:
1. Do teachers’ technology integration practices encourage the development of
21st-century skills?
2. What do teachers believe about the role of technology in teaching and
3. What computing-related skills do teachers believe students need to be suc-
cessful now and in the future?
4. What challenges do teachers believe impact technology integration?



Data for this study came from a focus group conducted during the fifth year
(2013-2014) of the ICAC intervention. There were nine participants with varying
degrees of previous participation in the intervention: Four teachers had participated
in other years of the project. However, they either participated during Years 1 or 2
of the project and therefore needed basic instruction or were from a school with low
levels of previous participation and were considered beginners. The other partici-
pants had no prior experience with the project. Teachers were informed of the focus
group during informational meetings at the beginning of the school year, at which
time they elected to participate. The sample was 78% female and 100% African
American. The average age of participants was 41, with an average of 13 years of
teaching experience. The majority of teachers, 67%, taught fifth grade and 78%
taught all subjects.

The focus group was conducted in October 2013, which was before any training
activities were held. The group was led by two ICAC staff members: One asked
questions and facilitated the discussion; the other assisted in refereeing the discus-
sion. A structured interview schedule was used. The main concepts assessed in the
focus group included teachers’ attitudes toward using computing and technology
for teaching and learning, their beliefs about the kinds of skills their students would
need to be successful in school and beyond, whether their use contributed to the
development of those skills, and finally the challenges they faced in attempting to
create technology-enriched learning environments. After each question was asked,
participants took turns answering and then were given an opportunity to respond
to points brought up by other participants. This process continued until there were
no new responses.

The focus group was recorded and transcribed. Initially the transcript was coded
line by line by two different coders. The coders then compared their results and
constructed 30 coding categories based on initial codes. At this point, both coders
again coded the transcript using the agreed upon categories and again compared
their results to ensure that similar conclusions were reached. Cohen’s kappa was
calculated to test for inter-rater reliability (K = 0.72), and it was concluded that
there was satisfactory agreement between the coders.
From the 30 categories, themes were derived. The themes included tools and
approach to classroom integration; perceptions regarding students’ current use of
technology as well as projection of future skills needed to be competitive students
and members of the workforce; perceived impact of teachers’ roles in facilitating
development of those skills; and administrative, resource, and skill-based barriers to
effective classroom integration. These themes were then grouped according to their
relationship with the key areas of investigation included in the focus-group proto-
col: teachers’ attitudes towards the use of computing and technology for teaching
and learning, their beliefs about the kinds of skills their students would need to be
successful in school and beyond, whether their use contributed to the development
of those skills, and the challenges they faced in attempting to create technology-
enriched learning environments.


Teachers’ integration practices and the development of 21st-century skills

Teachers use computing in the classroom in several ways to improve their instruc-
tion. However, much of their use does not truly involve integrating technology to
enhance 21st-century skills but continues to involve the treatment of computing as
a separate activity from regular instruction. In the focus group, some participants
described their use of computing as a center, separate from their regular instruction,
as in the following example:
In my classroom, I normally use the computers as a center. I have various programs. We
have extra math which is an online math program, Storybird. I mean there are so many
but what I do when the students go to the different centers they have been trained on …
already; then they go and use them. (46-year-old female)

However, other teachers attempted to move away from using computing as a sep-
arate activity from regular instruction:
The way that I’ve been using it, it’s not a separate center in my classroom first of all.
I’m not going to use it as separate center. The reason that I do not do that is because I
incorporate it.
… I have a student that’s on a 0.5 level. [There’s] no sense in giving him that textbook; he
can’t read it. But by incorporating that technology throughout the day, he’s learning how to
read basic words. When he goes to the computer with his earphones, no one knows what
he’s doing. (61-year-old female)
198 L. J. O’NEAL ET AL.

In this example, the participant discussed her use of technology to meet students
at their current learning level without exposing them to embarrassment they might
experience in a larger group setting. However, this strategy still conceptualizes tech-
nology as a supplementary part of classroom instruction, rather than being a core
Focus group participants did, however, frequently describe technology as a way
they can facilitate communication with students, providing an alternate means of
interaction to classroom discussion:
We used to send one or two assignments home, and it worked really well. When I was
using chapter books discussion, I would post a couple of questions and they would answer;
and you could find out what they were thinking and whether they read well. But now I’m
only teaching one subject which is math, and I’m finding that I’m going to have to find a
way because they’re not good at long division. Of course, regrouping is one of the biggest
problems and multiplication is the other. So I have to find a way to where they can talk
to me privately and tell me where they’re going wrong because some kids will say it in the
classroom–well this is where I’m stuck–but ok when I walk around you can find out where
they’re stuck sometimes, but they don’t want you to say anything. (35-year-old male)

Comments such as this participant’s suggest that teachers may see technology as
a way to enable other means of communication with students that encourage them
to discuss problems they are experiencing with what they are learning. Teachers also
indicated a positive attitude toward posting questions on blogs and allowing their
students to respond to them online, as well as using technologies such as presen-
tation software to present information to students. However, one shortcoming of
these teachers’ implementation of technology in the classroom was that it seemed
to be limited to enhancing pre-existing modes of teaching and learning, rather than
facilitating new methods of learning that are not teacher-centric. Participants men-
tioned a few examples of times when they encouraged students to perform their own
undirected research with computers, but the majority of their comments about their
use of computing in the classroom involved enhancing their pre-existing teaching
strategies. This tendency is also reflected in their beliefs about the role of technology
in teaching and learning.

Teachers’ beliefs about the role of technology in teaching and learning

Along with discussing their actual use of technology, focus group participants also
discussed their beliefs about the role of technology in teaching and learning. Many of
their comments centered on the idea that technology could be used to promote stu-
dent engagement by making learning more interactive, as in the following example:
Well, I think [the role of technology is] to enhance your lessons to make them more inter-
esting to children because you know … paper and pencil is not very effective for the kids.
(37-year-old female)

Several participants made similar comments, suggesting a belief that technology,

rather than being a primary means of instruction, is a means of increasing students’

interest in what they are already learning. However, at least one participant indicated
a view that technology should be a primary tool for instruction:
I feel like as far as the teacher aspect and the student aspect … technology is the primary
tool that we have right now. In all of our textbooks or whatever, we’re told on a constant
basis that it’s supplemental. We are the primary tool. The teacher is the main tool, but …
we use the technology as an addition to what we’re able to … convey in our classrooms
with our students. (36-year-old male)

This comment demonstrates one participant’s struggle to determine the proper

role of technology in a changing era in education. He compared technology to text-
books, in the sense that it could be seen as a resource that is secondary only to the
The focus group’s discussion about their beliefs regarding the role of technol-
ogy generally suggests an understanding of computing to enhance learning as well
as student interest in learning. This contrasts with teachers’ beliefs about students’
technology skill needs.

Students’ technology skill needs

While teachers may have discussed technology primarily as a supplementary tool for
education, their comments about students’ technology skill needs suggest an under-
standing that technology is an increasingly integrated part of their students’ current
and future lives. The following comments point toward teachers’ understanding that
their students’ lives are heavily influenced by technology:
They need to know how to research. They need to know those basic computer skills, how to
create presentations and to be able to use some of the websites to communicate since that’s
becoming a big component as well as communicating through the Internet. (28-year-old
I think we’re getting to a point where they won’t have to be in front of people, you know. The
technology … allows them to do things.… They can be here and be talking to someone
in China. Being able to use those different things … to build presentations and use higher
order thinking skills to impress … in a field or career they want to go into; it’s going to be
technology based; and being able to do research. These kids know how to go and find what
they want. It’s just a matter of being able to put it into a format that would be desirable for
an employer. (37-year-old female)

Participants seemed to understand that students need integrated technology skills

in their early learning and that those skills will play a key role in their future success.
However, to accomplish this, teachers not only have to change their own approach
to using technology in the classroom but also have to overcome external difficulties
that interfere with their ability to integrate computing into their classroom instruc-

Difficulties creating technology-enriched learning environments

One of the commonly discussed subjects during the focus group was the difficulty
teachers encountered while attempting to integrate computing into their everyday
200 L. J. O’NEAL ET AL.

instruction. While there were numerous difficulties noted by teachers, the majority
of comments centered on problems caused by a lack of equipment and support,
as well as existing time demands. Easily the most salient difficulty encountered by
teachers attempting to integrate computing into the classroom was lack of functional
equipment. One obvious way this problem manifested itself was through a shortage
of computers present in schools. As one teacher simply noted, “We need more
computers” (46-year-old female).
Several teachers echoed this sentiment, pointing out that they often did not have
access to equipment, or that the equipment they had was often broken. Another issue
was that, beyond the physical absence of functional equipment, access to schools’
computing resources was not a given for teachers. Rather, access was limited by the
administrative systems within each school:
I have three different classes and I have to go to three different rooms to teach. They don’t
come to me, which makes it difficult and takes away a lot of my time. It helps with the
kids’ behavior issues so it’s better for them but it’s difficult for me as a teacher as far as
staying organized you know; my classroom and I have eight computers, the lady across the
hall has two, and the person next door has three, so … it’s a situation of organization and
management for me as well. (37-year-old female)

This teacher’s experience points out problems that occur when administrative
practices established prior to the centralization of computing in everyday life inter-
sect with the emergence of technology-driven instruction.
Beyond incidental problems driven by outdated administrative systems, school
administrations interfere with teachers’ access to functioning equipment by regu-
lating the use of available resources. As one teacher pointed out,
I’m new coming to this school and I think the principal is more traditional. So I’m new,
coming, and I want to use all of this technology. And it, there’s no other way to say it, is not
available for me.… I’ve had resources, but I come back and those resources are no longer
in my classroom. (61-year-old female)

In this participant’s experience, at least, the administrative forces within the

school directly impacted access to functioning equipment by policing the avail-
ability or non-availability of resources to specific teachers. Access to functioning
equipment therefore seems to be limited by at least three important factors: (a) the
presence of up-to-date, working equipment, (b) administrative systems that either
facilitate or interfere with teachers’ regular access to technology in the classroom,
and (c) the regulation of technology access by school administrators. Access to func-
tioning equipment is closely related to another issue–lack of technology support.
Lack of technology support was another common difficulty teachers encountered
in their efforts to integrate computing into everyday instruction. One of the most
commonly cited dilemmas related to this issue was that the school system had insuf-
ficient personnel dedicated to fixing malfunctioning equipment or resolving teach-
ers’ issues, such as in the following examples:
One of the basic problems with technology in the classroom [is that] … three fourths of
the time the computers don’t work and you only have one person who comes around and
works on them. (62-year-old female)

Having the technical support to keep it up is another difficulty. In [school system] we all
know this, because roughly there’s one basic person who comes to every school … and he
tries to hit multiple schools in the course of one day if he can. He might go to one school
with one broken computer and then he opens up a hornet’s nest and he finds out it’s not
just that one computer; it’s the server in the school, multiple units in multiple classes, …
and[so on]. (36-year-old male)

It seems clear from comments such as these that the school system in which this
study took place was ill-served by having one technical support person for all schools
in the system. On the surface, this seems like an easy issue to resolve. All that would
be needed is to hire more personnel and perhaps assign each school a technical sup-
port person. However, the issue is not simply a lack of technical support personnel.
Communication issues appear to also be relevant. Teachers and technical support
personnel may not be clearly communicating when it comes to technology use in
the classroom:
Well, the program that they were putting on the computer was not comparable to what
we were already using … So for two to three days we’re thinking our computers are broke
and then they had to come find somebody to say, “Hey this doesn’t work with Windows
Internet Explorer”; so then we had to go join on to Firefox. (62-year-old female)

Comments such as that suggest there is a communication divide between tech-

nical support staff and teachers; teachers are not always included in technology
decision-making and implementation processes. This can negatively impact teach-
ers’ ability to use technology in the classroom and negatively impact their attitudes
toward doing so. This point relates to another difficulty encountered by teachers
attempting to implement computing in the classroom–lack of training.
In attempting to integrate computing into their everyday instruction, teachers
encounter a lack of training with computer programs made available in schools:
We have access to so much technology at our school because we have iPods, the laptops,
iPad. We have all of that, but I don’t really know how to incorporate it … across the cur-
riculum. (28-year-old female)

Most participants agreed with this sentiment at some point during the focus
groups, indicating frustration that they had access to numerous computer programs
and resources, but a disjointed training experience if at all. It would therefore be
imperative that schools improve their technology implementation by accompanying
the introduction of new technologies with intensive training for teachers. However,
one of the difficulties with training teachers to use new technological resources is
the demands placed on their time.
Teachers frequently cited time demands as a key issue that prevented them from
successfully integrating computing into everyday instruction. Teachers already ded-
icate much of their professional and personal time outside of the classroom prepar-
ing instruction, which interferes with their ability to learn about and incorporate
new technological classroom resources. The introduction of new assessments also
interferes with their ability to incorporate new strategies and technology into their
202 L. J. O’NEAL ET AL.

I agree, as far as the time frame because you are already teaching the skill, and if they don’t
understand the skill you can’t incorporate technology because they can’t manipulate that
and it adds … to their frustration of not understanding the skill. (24-year-old female)

It appears important to find ways to incorporate technology training at times

when teachers have adequate time to learn and plan to integrate that technology
into their curriculum. Indeed, in previous research, teachers who participated in
summer training institutes, rather than just professional development sessions dur-
ing the year, had better student outcomes (Gibson et al., 2014). These findings, along
with those from the focus group, suggest that school systems would be well advised
to provide technology training for teachers during the summer before the school
year in which they are expected to implement that technology into the classroom.
In addition to the noted barriers, the issue of the digital divide between students and
teachers influences how teachers integrate technology.
A few participants in the focus group brought up the digital divide, a conceptual
gap between themselves and their students when it came to using technology. This
gap manifested itself in both positive and negative ways. On the positive side, some
teachers showed a willingness to take advantage of their students’ status as digital
natives capable of teaching them how to use technology effectively in the classroom:
The role of technology for both teacher and student is our interacting and our engaging
with students and students engaging with us, … because most of my students are way
above me and they can help me out, and well, they said, “Why is that?” And I said, “Well
I got this last year.” I said, ‘You got an iPad last year and I’m still struggling trying to get
one this year.” … They’re doing different thing so we’re interacting and engaging, and I just
figure out and got a sense of what an iPad was through the children because they could tell
me what to do … I think I also said that it’s a key tool for all learning, both for the students
and the teacher. (62-year-old female)

Another positive way teachers can approach the digital divide is through enhanc-
ing the learning experience by relating their teaching to students’ natural capabilities
with technology:
In some instances, we don’t give them enough credit for the type of thinking that they
really do have. It’s just as teachers we have to figure out how to apply that level of high-
order thinking that they already have and bring it into the classroom. That’s where that
technology is that bridge, that key. If we can use that type of technology or those types of
programs that we use to capture them … we’re drawing them in.… If I can use a teach-
able moment such as Madden 2014, and you have to be able to do all of these multiple
button configurations and combinations just to be able to get 10 additional yards on this
particular football game, I can make that into a math problem easily … so... parts like
that or pieces like that to be able to teach–it’s just capturing that moment. (36-year-old
I think it’s one of the best ways to be interactive with the children, to better understand if
they’re having trouble or difficulties and a way to express themselves, because they’re the
ones that are … tech savvy and we’re the ones who have to catch up with them and become
comfortable. We have to get ourselves out there to keep the interactions going and I think
we can better serve them once we know what’s really going on inside them. (41-year-old

In both examples, perceptive teachers are able to take advantage of their students’
proclivity toward technology, either incorporating technology use into their topical
instruction or using it as a tool to allow their students to better express themselves.
The example from the female participant, however, also points out a negative aspect
of the digital divide. While students are digital natives, teachers are often “digital
immigrants” and must train themselves to fully communicate with their students.
The focus group’s discussion of the digital divide points out both an opportunity
and a challenge teachers face in implementing computing during classroom instruc-
tion. Teachers can use their students’ status as digital natives to both enhance their
own learning about technology as well as to engage their students more effectively.
However, to engage their students using computing, teachers have to deal with their
own status as digital immigrants by proactively seeking out training to boost their
computing skills.

The purpose of this study was to explore teachers’ beliefs surrounding the role of
technology in teaching and learning skills suitable for modern-day opportunity
and employment. Our results revealed that only two of the nine teacher partici-
pants mentioned a 21st-century skill and those two did not label it as such. Over-
all, our findings suggest that, while teachers in this study saw the importance of
incorporating technology into teaching and learning, barriers such as lack of func-
tioning equipment, little technology support, lack of training, and time impacted
their ability to do so. According to prior research, lack of technological support and
resources not only impacts technology integration directly, but also has an indirect
effect through impacting teachers’ beliefs about the role of technology in the class-
room as well as their own proficiency with its use (Inan & Lowther, 2010b). Such an
effect was apparent in participants’ lack of computer integration skills and limited
perception of the role technology could play in classroom instruction. As it relates
to technology use, most participants seemed to use computers for basic instruction,
such as posting questions on Promethean boards or preparing for tests. None of
the participants’ reported using technologies that require collaboration, creativity,
and other skills considered important for 21st-century employment (Dede, 2010;
Saavedra & Opfer, 2012; Walser, 2008).
Other studies found that teachers reported using technology for administrative
and student-focused reasons (Ertmer et al., 2012; Ottenbreit-Leftwich et al., 2010;
Sipilä, 2014), but there are marked differences in how technology was used between
teachers in the current study and other studies. In the current study teachers used
technology in a way that was reflective of their belief that the role of technology is
to enhance lessons and engage students in a way that promotes interactive learning.
Only two teachers saw it as a means of fostering higher order thinking skills and
cultivating more competitive students, which were determined as very important
in previous studies (Ottenbreit-Leftwich et al., 2010). Thus, most of the participant
teachers used simple methods to gain students’ attention but failed to incorporate
204 L. J. O’NEAL ET AL.

technology in a way that promotes developing of skills. This is likely reflective of

the teachers’ beliefs about the skills students need to be successful.
Our findings also showed that the teachers believed the most important skills
their students need are keyboarding and research skills. Again, the literature says
otherwise (Dede, 2010; Sipilä, 2014; Walser, 2008). Keyboarding and research
skills are important; however, they are not reflective of core 21st-century skills. This
is evidence that teachers in this study need additional guidance regarding educa-
tional and career-related 21st-century skills. Moreover, despite their beliefs that stu-
dents need keyboarding and research skills, the teachers’ use of computers in the
classroom did not contribute toward the development of these skills. These discrep-
ancies make it difficult to determine whether these teachers were limited by their
beliefs or discouraged by their limited resources. Like findings from other studies
with urban teachers (Wachira & Keengwe, 2011), the teachers reported several exter-
nal barriers including equipment, time, training, and support. Although they did not
report any internal barriers, they did bring up the digital divide between their digital
native students and their digital immigrant selves. It might be that anxiety regarding
the fact that their students know more than them also influenced classroom integra-
tion. Finally, considering that many other studies found that teachers reported both
internal and external barriers to integration (Ertmer et al., 2012; Inan & Lowther,
2010a; Wachira & Keengwe, 2011), these teachers might not be aware of the inter-
dependent complexity of the relationship between beliefs, functioning equipment,
time, training, or skills. For example, their beliefs may impact their skills, which are
limited by time they have for training as well as equipment they have to practice
integrating technology.


Due to the small number of participants (nine teachers), our research is limited in
generalizability. Participants in this study came from one focus group in one school
district, located in an urban, racially homogeneous area. The thoughts and opinions
of the participants may be different from teachers who live and work in other kinds
of communities. Specifically, the kinds of difficulties faced by the participants may
or may not be relevant to teachers in well-resourced school systems. Additionally,
the experiences of teachers in other school districts may differ from that of the par-
ticipants in this study with regard to administrative and philosophical differences
between school systems. Additional studies with larger, more diverse samples would
allow more inferences to be made.
Other limitations are related to the nature of focus groups. Since one of the goals
of a focus group is to reach a consensus, it may be that some opinions were not
shared or given the same value. Although we attempted to prevent this, as well as
any attempts to monopolize the group by dominant participants, by having each par-
ticipant respond to every question, there is no way to ensure that each participant’s
views were equally shared. Furthermore, it may be that some participants chose not
to share all their thoughts due to the open style that is reflective of focus groups.

Consequently, one-on-one interviews or even observations might have provided

other interesting findings.

Effective technology integration involves the ability to not only enhance teaching
and learning but to promote higher order thinking skills as well as other 21st-
century skills that are important for student success. In our exploration of the expe-
riences, beliefs, and practices of urban teachers, we found that all of these factors
were related and influenced how technology was integrated. Lack of training was
noted as one of the most significant barriers in this as well as other studies. Profes-
sional development sessions as well as professional learning communities increase
effective use of technology in the classroom (Carter et al., 2014; Liu, 2013). Thus, it is
imperative that educators and administrators collaborate to improve experiences by
increasing access to not only functioning equipment but also training and support.
Improvements in these areas should contribute to more positive beliefs regarding
the role of technology in teaching and learning, resulting in more teachers integrat-
ing computing across the curriculum and helping develop the skills necessary for
the 21st-century student.

This project was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (DRL-1404467). The
views expressed in this manuscript reflect those of the authors and not the National Science

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