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College Quarterly
Spring 1996 - Volume 3 Number 3
Overcoming Resistance to Educational Technology Innovation
by Clayton R. Wright and Ingrid Stammer

The rate of change within educational institutions has increased during the last few years. Change has been the result of many factors, including shifting government priorities, an aging student population, industry demands for computer-literate graduates, the recognition that industry is producing training materials and programs that can directly compete with the accredited courses and programs offered by institutions, and the growth of educational technology which not only makes the world more accessible to all, but also allows students to assume greater responsibility for their own learning.

Barriers to Change

Technological systems will become an integral part of the educational environment, yet many instructors are hesitant and even reluctant to embrace a future in which educational technology plays a major role.

Instructors may resist the implementation of educational technology because they:

  • fear change and the unfamiliar;
  • fear technology and are threatened by it;
  • feel that it would be difficult to acquire technological skills;
  • feel that they should be an expert with using technology;
  • may feel incompetent when surrounded by students who are comfortable with technology;
  • recognize that they may need to become facilitators rather than content experts as students seek out their own learning opportunities; therefore; the instructor's role as an educational expert may be challenged;
  • feel that technology may reduce their freedom to conduct their classes as they choose;
  • feel that technology may threaten their jobs;
  • believe that the quality of student's interaction and the opportunities for socialization may be reduced when technology is used;
  • hope that, if they wait long enough, the technology will become easier to use.
Institutions may not provide:
  • adequate professional development opportunities;
  • recognition of instructors' efforts to use technology;
  • incentives, including monetary compensation and opportunities for development;
  • the necessary hardware and software;
  • access to appropriate copyright materials;
  • support for instructional design projects that incorporate new technology;
  • release time to enable instructors to try something new;
  • funds to maintain equipment and support initiatives once the pilot projects have been completed;
Administrators may:
  • not fully institutionalize leadership;
  • not be fully aware of the potential of educational technology;
  • not recognize the efforts and resources required to mount innovative projects;
  • oversell the technology;
  • demonstrate a lack of commitment to any specific technology;
  • have hidden agendas for implementing technology;
  • not have considered or provided support services for self-study and distance students;
  • embrace a technology or implementation plan because others are using it, even though the plan may be inappropriate for a particular institution;
  • not follow through with promises to support a given project.
Strategies for Change

"Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections are first." - Samuel Johnson

Here below are a number of suggestions that may help you to assist faculty who are resistant to change, particularly changes that involve the implementation of educational technology.

1. Be Proactive. Prior to initiating change, take the time to:

  • ascertain the needs of students and faculty;
  • foretell the future (what do you expect to occur in the next year, two years from now, after three years?);
  • decide how you can help students and faculty move from where they are now to the future envisioned by you and the institution;
  • identify key adopters and administrators who might support your ideas;
  • analyze your strengths and limitations (surround yourself with people who have the skills you may lack);
  • set your goals. What do you want to accomplish? Are your goals realistic?

2. Create a Vision. A vision should outline your expectations and give meaning to the work ahead. It should state where you are going and, if possible, how you are going to get there. When forming your vision:

  • take into account the needs of students, instructors and staff;
  • de-emphasize technology and focus on instructional problems and future challenges (Ask yourself: What will students and instructors be able to do in the future that they cannot do today? Will the use of technology help them to accomplish a task more efficiently and/or effectively? Will the technology help them to do a task that was unimaginable just a few years ago?)
  • emphasize what can be done: will the change lead to higher quality courses, the increased use of individualized instruction, more flexible student access, and/or the implementation of asynchronous or time independent student-instructor interaction;
  • be careful when proposing that the implementation of educational technology will yield cost savings (In the short term, there are major investments that must be made for the network infrastructure, hardware and software acquisition, maintenance and professional development);
  • recognize that institutions are conservative; therefore, making widespread, radical changes will be a substantial challenge.

Wherever possible, ask others to review your vision. When your vision is complete, ascertain whether it will lead you to observable, realistic changes. Then, outline a strategy for achieving your vision. List the activities that must be done, identify who can help you achieve your goals, list the resources you need, and establish timelines for each activity.

Obtain Administrative Support

"Some men see things as they are and say 'why'? I dream of things that never were, and say 'why not'?" - George Bernard Shaw

Unless there is strong administrative support, significant long-term change will not occur. Administrators need to buy into your vision in order for it to succeed, but they will be reluctant to do so unless they are aware of:

  • exactly what you propose and the expected outcomes;
  • the relation between your proposed direction and the mission and goals of the institution; vthe probable effects of these changes on the institution; vrelevant changes occuring external to the institution;
  • the resources, both human and financial, that may be required to achieve your vision.

Do not oversell the potential of educational technology. Inflated expectations for educational technology are rarely achieved. Remember how educational television and programmed instruction were going to revolutionize education? The use of technology has and will continue to transform how we conduct our educational business is both predictable and unpredictable ways. No longer can we equate the amount of instruction with the equivalent amount of learning. Today's technology allows any student and any instructor to create and access a learning-instructional environment that is tailored to their needs. In short, the technology empowers the user. We can influence the shape of their empowerment.

Develop a Sense of Ownership

If those who will be affected by the vision are not involved in determining how the vision will be achieved, they may sabotage your efforts. Remember that some people fear technology. They will not easily express their fears. Therefore, ask others for their input. Always keep administrators informed of your progress. Ensure that you involve those who have not used technology as well as those who are adept at using it. Ask them to identify and prioritize existing needs as well as anticipate future needs. Then, outline how the vision could address their needs and, if possible, ask the participants to take some responsibility for one aspect of the vision. If the vision is to be implemented successfully, instructors must develop a sense of ownership for the transitions that must occur.

Establish a Core Group of Adopters

In every institution there are those who easily accept change and embrace technology. Bring them together and keep them together. They will provide you with support and ancouragement, and help you to identify possibilities. constraints and potential risks. They can outline how the role of the instructor is changing with the introduction of educational technology. They can discuss the emerging trends regarding the new roles for students and instructors in the information age and the change from a synchronous, fixed-space, time-linked, instructional model to an asynchronous model that is independent of time and place. More importantly, they can assist those who want to change but who lack the necessary skills. They will inspire others. They will be your champions.

Establish Incentives and Recognition Programs

Frequently, instructors report that there is little incentive for mounting techologically related projects or including technology in their class. At universities, research is usually highly praised. At community colleges, instructors strive to maintain face-to-face instruction in classes of 25 to 40 students. As government funding to postsecondary institutions is reduced, universities seek additional funding through the results of their research and the workload of community college instructors increases.

Therefore, efforts to provide quality instruction and to explore new ways of improving the learning-instruction transaction may not receive as much attention as efforts involved in research or the management of large classes. In order to encourage instructors to try new educational technologies, you could:

  • recognize their efforts by asking the president to send them a letter, highlighting their project in the institution's newsletter or local newspaper, and/or presenting them with an award for their efforts;
  • give course release time to those who want to mount innovative projects;
  • provide them with additional professional development funds;
  • assign them an instructional assistant for the duration of their project;
  • give them an increment on the salary grid.
Provide Appropriate Training Opportunities

"The deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated." - William James

In order to encourage people to look at the world a little more differently, you could:

  • circulate articles and books that describe new ways of instructing;
  • provide faculty with a list of professional groups that use technology or a list of on-line professional listserves and news groups;
  • showcase existing activities within the existing institution;
  • bring in guest speakers in person or via audio- and video-conferencing
  • arrange visits to institutions that are more advanced in the use of technolgy;
  • circulate a list of upcoming conferences;
  • provide funding for those who want to attend workshops, seminars or conferences.
When mounting in-house professional development sessions:
  • determine what your instructors need and the needs of the institution;
  • recognize that any proposed learning activity may be unsettling for the faculty;
  • include practical skills that participants can use immediately after the workshop: show activities that will make their current tasks easier and expand their abilities;
  • ask your own faculty to present the sessions;
  • publicize the sessions widely and try to get deans and vice-presidents to attend;
  • consider training all memebers of an academic unit at the same time (when the training is over, members of the academic unit can support each other);
  • consider mounting individual training sessions or offering several workshops with few participants to reduce the embarrassment that some faculty may feel when learning new skills;
  • ask workshop participants to bring in problems they would like to address during the session;
  • encourage participants to ask questions as you proceed through your learning activities (once learners get lost, they will get frustrated and will not absorb the information presented during the remainder of your session);
  • conduct several follow-up sessions after each professional development opportunity.
Make the Technology Accessible

It is pointless to ask instructors to try something new if they are not able to gain ready access to the equipment and the software that they need. Following a workshop or conference, unless instructors use their newly acquired skills within two weeks, their capacity to use these skills will fade rapidly. Several studies conducted by Xerox Corporation indicated that unless there are opportunities to practice, 87% of the skills obtained in training programs are lost within two months. Do encourage instructors to practice their skills.

Instructors will not only need access to appropriate hardware and software, but they will also need access to instructional spaces that can best utlilize the attributes of information technology. Also, students will demand that their educational technology needs be met. They will want to access information and interact with their instructors and fellow students from their homes, workplaces, and even from their cars!

Encourage Small Projects - And Then Larger Projects

Initially, focus on small projects and achieve small successes. As the successes mount, incrementally increase the size of the projects and involve more people and resources. It is easy to start and control small projects. If they are successful, individual faculty members will take credit for their projects and be excellent promoters for their innovations.

Provide Support and Encouragement

Few faculty have all the skills they need to mount innovative projects. Faculty who plan these types of projects may need design, technical and affective support. They may need to network with individuals in other institutions, cities, and countries. These types of support structures are frequently reduced when institutions face budget reductions. The growth of media support should parallel the growth of the institution's investment in information technology. Unless this step is taken, the hardware and the software investment will not be used to its full potential. Then, detractors will be able to claim (wrongly) that educational technology is ineffective and a waste of the institution's limited financial resources. As instructors and students become more sophisticated with technology, they will demand greater support.

Showcase Faculty Activities

To recognize and promote accomplishments, demonstrate what is possible, and encourage others to initiate innovative projects. Faculty activities should be showcased on a regular basis, both internally and externally. These showcases could be held once or twice a year, perhaps on a professional development day. Educational decision makers should be invited to these events. Innovators should be encouraged to publish their work and describe their achievements at conferences. Those who are unfamiliar with the publishing process should have access to editorial assistance.

Evaluate Projects

All educational technology projects should be evaluated so that the wisdom gained during the development and implementation phases can be passed on to others. The effects of the innovation on students and instructors should be noted, as well as the resources needed to achieve the results. Innovators frequently underestimate the time it will take to make an innovation work effectively.

Initiate Partnerships

Partnerships could be developed with other institutions, government agencies or businesses. It should be noted, however, that partnerships may complicate the development of an innovation. When others are involved, it may not only be difficult to coordinate all activities, but the goals of the partners may differ and thereby lead to a competitive, unproductive atmosphere.

Continuously Evaluate the Change Process

The change process is not static; it is a dynamic process in which several events may overlap, occur at the same time, and interact with each other. The outcome of one series of events may alter the direction of the project. The effect of the implementation of instructional technology on administrative systems should not be overlooked. Be prepared to be flexible and take advantage of opportunities as they arise.


Change in education is inevitable. How we manage it will determine the future of our institutions and, ultimately, ourselves. Can we afford not to embrace the possibilities presented by technology? Can we afford to live in the past?

Clayton R. Wright is Coordinator of Instructional Media and Design at Grant MacEwan Community College and Ingrid Stammer is the Distance Education Consultant at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.