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Software Infrastructure for Teachers: A Missing Link in Integrating Technology with Instruction

by Yao-Ting Sung & Alan Lesgold - 2007

Background: Based on analyses of the difficulties encountered during the process of integrating technology into instruction and the efforts made by researchers to overcome barriers to such integration, we propose that the efforts made to date (e.g., increasing the availability of computer equipment and enhancing computer literacy, support, and training) are not sufficiently comprehensive to achieve the goals of improving teaching efficiency and developing innovative teaching methods.

Objectives: The objective of this research commentary is to highlight the importance of the software infrastructure for teachers (SIT) to promoting the integration of information technology into instruction.

Research Method and Design: A critical synthesis was conducted on the literature of using computer technology for learning, teaching, and teacher professional development.

Conclusions: This study points out the features of SIT, the benefits of using SIT, and the possible approach to the development of SIT, and highlights some problems that have yet to be solved.


For almost two decades, professionals from various fields, including policy makers, education policy researchers (e.g., Light, 2001; Selwyn, Gorard, & Williams, 2001), and experts in instruction technology (e.g., Kozma, 2000a; Papert, 1993), have expressed concern about issues related to the application of technology to teaching. These professionals have also been inspired greatly by the potential of technology to change the nature of teaching and learning. Nevertheless, some researchers doubt whether the investment, research, and development related to technology can substantially influence approaches to teaching and learning in schools (Bryson & de Castell, 1998; Cuban, 2001; Fishman, Marx, Blumenfeld, & Krajcik, 2004; Willis, Thompson, & Sadera, 1999). For example, Willis and colleagues believe that integrating computers into instruction is “an almost painfully slow process” (p. 31). Cuban noted that the sizable investment of funds into the procurement of equipment produced few substantial effects and proposed that the relationship between computers and classroom-based instruction in the United States can be described as “oversold and underused.”

Researchers have identified the barriers that inhibit the integration of technology into instruction and have proposed various solutions, summarized below, that may be used to overcome these barriers. In addition to reviewing these solutions, the objective of our study is to determine whether the development of a software infrastructure for teachers (SIT) is a feasible approach to overcoming barriers that prevent the integration of technology into instruction.


Based on published national surveys (Becker, 2001; National Center for Educational Statistics [NCES], 2000, 2002), school district surveys (Barron, Kemker, Harmes, & Kalaydjian, 2003; Hart, Allensworth, Lauen, & Gladden, 2002; Norris, Sullivan, Poirot, & Soloway, 2003; Russell, Bebell, O’Dwyer, & O’Connor, 2003), and case studies (Cuban, 2001; Cuban, Kirkpatrick, & Peck, 2001; Guha, 2001; Windschitl & Sahl, 2002) of the use of computers in schools, although the application of computers to teaching in the United States has achieved a certain degree of success, there are still three noteworthy problems associated with the use of computers in schools. (1) High expectations versus a lack of preparedness. While policy makers, policy implementers, and education technology researchers have spared no effort in promoting the application of technology to teaching, teachers are relatively unwilling and unprepared to use computers within the classroom (Becker; NCES, 2000; Wallace, 2004). (2) High availability versus low use. Computer hardware has become increasingly popular; this is exemplified by the fact that the ratio of students to computers through which the Internet can be accessed is 5.1:1 in schools within the United States (NCES, 2002). However, despite the aforementioned statistic, relatively little time is spent using computers in classrooms (Becker & Ravitz, 2001; Cuban, 2001; Cuban et al., 2001; Hart et al., 2002; Norris et al., 2003; Russell et al., 2003). (3) Advanced technology versus rudimentary application. Despite the advancement of information technology, teachers have made little change in terms of the equipment they use for teaching and the way they teach in response to these technological advances (Becker; Cuban et al.; NCES, 2000; Zhao & Frank, 2003).

It is clear from the aforementioned issues that computers have not yet been integrated fully into teaching and have had a very limited influence on teaching methods. What are the reasons for the slow progress of incorporating computers into teaching? Scholars have proposed several conceptual frameworks for barriers to the integration of technology into instruction. For example, Ertmer (1999) defined two types of barriers: external and internal barriers. External barriers originate outside teachers; examples are issues that reduce the availability and accessibility of new technology, the lack of opportunities for teachers to be trained to use new technology, and little technical support in particular teaching situations. Internal barriers originate within teachers. Such barriers include teachers’ beliefs about the nature of teaching and learning, recognition and awareness of their role as teachers based on this philosophy, and a perception of the vision that technology may produce as they engage in instruction or promote learning. Some researchers (Cuban, 2001; Cuban et al., 2001; Zhao & Frank, 2003) have extended the analysis of such barriers by making observations from the perspective of a social/organizational context. These researchers believe that factors such as the school culture and the process of mutual adaptation between teachers and technology have important effects on the adoption of technology.

Much effort has been expended to overcome the aforementioned barriers. The U.S. government has invested a large amount of money to bolster budgets that are used to purchase computer hardware and software for schools. The availability of computers through which the Internet can be accessed in public schools in the United States increased from 1 per 12.1 students in 1998 to 1 per 5.4 students in 2001 (NCES, 2002). In addition, investment in computer hardware and software for primary and high school students across the United States increased from $75 per student in 1995 to $119 per student in 1998-1999 (Cuban, 2001). As for the barrier regarding the insufficient ability of teachers to apply IT and the lack of technical support, the most direct manner of overcoming them is to provide teachers with relevant training in computer literacy and technical support. Even though the current levels of training and technical support are unsatisfactory (Davidson, 2003; NCES, 2000), efforts to implement such training have empowered teachers substantially. To overcome the barrier presented by fixed beliefs and visions, researchers have used methods based on the dissemination of ideas of using computers (e.g., International Society for Technology in Education, 2000a, 2000b) or sharing practices and experiences (e.g., Barab, MaKinster, Moore, Cunningham, & the ILF Design Team, 2001; Chancy-Cullen & Duffy, 1999). To overcome the barrier presented by the school organization and culture, researchers have proposed balanced school technology plans, flexible arrangements of courses and hardware (Cuban; Fishman & Pinkard, 2001), and “systemic technology innovation” as frameworks that promote the incorporation of technology into the organizational culture of schools (Blumenfeld, Fishman, Krajcik, Marx, & Soloway, 2000; Fishman et al., 2004).

Despite the aforementioned efforts, we believe that a potentially important, but usually ignored, component that could facilitate the integration of computers into the classroom is the design of software tools specifically for teachers. According to the maturity model of the effects of technology in a complex school environment (Lesgold, 2003), the maturity of various components, such as instruction, staff, the technology infrastructure, and educational software products, may coalesce to achieve technology-based innovation in schools. As discussed above, educational researchers have proposed many innovative ideas about how instruction may be used to promote instructional maturity. In addition, the U.S. government has continued to invest in the development of a mature technology infrastructure, and the training provided by school district personnel or academic institutions has gradually enhanced the maturity of technology use by staff. However, little effort has been invested to promote the maturity of educational software products, especially software designed to fulfill the instructional requirements of teachers. National and local surveys have revealed that most teachers believe that a lack of appropriate instructional software is a major barrier to the integration of technology into teaching (Hart et al., 2002; NCES, 2002), while researchers believe that appropriate instructional software is one of the most important factors that determine the effects of using computers in classrooms (Norris et al., 2003; Putnam & Borko, 2000; Sandholtz, & Reilly, 2004). Therefore, there is an obvious gap between the needs of teachers and the existent investment. In other words, the software infrastructure for teachers, important but long overdue, is a missing link in the process of integrating technology into instruction.



SIT refers to a software architecture designed specifically to enhance the instructional efficiency and effectiveness of teachers or to enhance the professional development of teachers. In general, SIT has the following essential features.

First, the design and implementation of software aims at enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of teaching. Studies have revealed that major causes of the low incidence of computer use by teachers are lack of time (Cuban et al., 2001; Guha, 2001; Newhouse & Rennie, 2001) and insufficient preparedness for the integration of computers into their teaching methods (NCES, 2000). As a consequence, teachers usually choose to use technologies that require the smallest investment of time and energy (Zhao & Frank, 2003). Therefore, the software and supporting measures equipped by SIT should be able to serve as labor-saving devices and should facilitate routine teaching tasks while allowing teachers to retain familiar and preferred teaching methods. Subsequently, based on the gradually acquired comfort, confidence, and vision of using computers in teaching, SIT could enhance the effectiveness of teaching by helping teachers become more willing to try different teaching models, to increase students’ motivation for learning, and to make the learning process more engrossing with enriched teaching materials and teaching methods.

Second, SIT is highly contextualized in instructional situations. Because the design of SIT takes into account the demands of teachers and students in the classroom, SIT is highly contextual in nature. For instance, when teachers work on instructional design, they are able to use software that was developed specifically for creating teaching plans or materials (e.g., Chang et al., 2006; McKenney, Nieveen, van den Akker, 2002). Similarly, when teachers conduct assessments, they can use software that was designed specifically for that purpose (e.g., Bennet, 2000). The highly contextual nature of SIT means that less time is required for transfer than would otherwise be required if teachers were to use general purpose software (e.g., Microsoft PowerPoint, spreadsheet software); this enhances efficiency. Moreover, software used by teachers often requires a very high degree of integration; in other words, the functions of many general purpose software packages should be integrated into a single software package. For example, the general purpose software that is required for inquiry-based learning would likely include tools that could be used to access the Internet (to collect information), word processing tools (for writing), database tools (to store information), and presentation tools and/or tools to design Web pages (to present information). It would be extremely difficult for teachers and students to master the wide variety of expertise required to execute each of the aforementioned tasks using independent software packages (Guzdial, Rick, & Kehoe, 2001; Wallace, 2004). However, a SIT package based on the rationale of inquiry-based instruction would simultaneously integrate these tasks, which would allow teachers the flexibility to arrange the content and procedure of activities and monitor the progress of these activities (Schwartz, Brophy, Lin, & Bransford, 1999).

Third, SIT has multiple software support measures for teaching. Not only is SIT easy to use in the context of instruction, but it is also usually supported by additional programs related to the instruction rationale behind the software design, instruction methods implemented in the software, examples of related teaching material, and training to assist teachers with the implementation of the material. Therefore, in the process of becoming familiar with the software, teachers also learn about different teaching approaches and materials.


Leveraging SIT to incorporate technology into instruction.

The first function of SIT is to alleviate the difficulties of, and empower the efforts in, integrating technology with instruction. For example, although an increase in the availability of computer equipment has made it more convenient for teachers to use computers, a greater number of computers does not always result in an increase in the frequency of computer use by teachers and students in the classroom; a greater number of computers is even less likely to change the style of teaching (Becker, 2001; Cuban et al., 2001; Newhouse & Rennie, 2001; Windschitl & Sahl, 2002). One reason that this is the case is that teachers do not have appropriate software for the classroom despite having sufficient computer hardware. In such a case, SIT may increase the willingness of teachers to use computers in the classroom.

Another important consideration is using SIT to empower the effect of training courses that develop technology literacy. Research has found that technical training at the novice level may assist teachers in using general purpose software to perform routine tasks such as word processing, designing teaching materials and teaching plans, recording grades, searching for data, and presenting information. However, because there is a lack of concept-oriented training that combines technology and teaching, many teachers who have undergone technical training are still unable to integrate their newly acquired computer skills into the instructional units or content that they wish to present in the classroom (Cuban, 2001; Ertmer, 1999; NECS, 2000; Williams, Coles, Wilson, Richardson, & Tuson, 2000). The rapid advancement of the development of IT has exacerbated the problem of which computer skills should be included in a training program. If training in higher level literacy were provided, it would be important to consider how to achieve a balance between the required costs and the potential benefits. Whether training would produce the desired effects sufficiently rapidly to keep pace with the demands of application is another issue.

SIT is helpful for solving the dilemma of designing the content of technology training. SIT designers and technicians are involved in the technical issues related to the development of software. Because most software is designed according to specific teaching theories, the effort required to transform theory into practice is limited by the software design process. As they use the software, teachers gain a sense of the feasibility of implementing novel teaching methods because the software itself is an example of the integration of instructional theories into instructional practices (e.g., Schwartz et al., 1999; Sung et al., 2005). In this manner, the development of SIT software may narrow the gap between basic computer skills and applicable instructional design that exists in traditional technology literacy training courses.

Another case is using SIT to overcome the barrier represented by the beliefs of teachers. The dissemination of ideas or methods (International Society for Technology in Education, 2000a, 2000b) and the sharing and modeling of practices using learning communities (Barab et al., 2001; Ertmer, 1999) have been proposed previously as methods that could be used to change teachers’ attitudes about using computers. We believe that an additional, more direct approach may be to provide teachers with opportunities to improve the outcomes of instruction with the aid of computers. As noted by Schoenfeld (1998), if a teacher’s action “makes something happen,” this might change the equilibrium of the original beliefs, knowledge, and goals of the teacher, thereby allowing other beliefs, knowledge, or goals to emerge. As a result, new action plans are also more likely to emerge. The main reason that teachers prefer communication and presentation tools to tools that are used for student inquiry or remediation is that much effort is required to use the latter type of tool for innovative teaching (Zhao & Frank, 2003); therefore, it is difficult for teachers to implement these tools effectively. However, previous experiences of the design of software for teaching or learning activities revealed that tools tailored for teaching activities enhanced the motivation of teachers to use computers and promoted the emergence of innovative teaching practices (Corbett, Koedinger, & Hadley, 2001; Guzdial et al., 2001). Such tailored tools may lead teachers to believe that the implementation of technology improves their teaching practices. If this is the case, teachers will be more likely to accept the potential benefits of computers, they might become more confident in their ability to use computers, and they might be more willing to accept the changes that the integration of computers might bring to their own methods of teaching.

Towards a balanced development of learning tools and teaching tools.

The second function of SIT is to promote the development of tools that meet the particular requirements of teachers. For more than a decade, studies of teaching and learning have been dominated by the culture of learning (Greeno, Collins, & Resnick, 1996). This predominance of the culture of learning resulted in a change in the role of the teacher, from someone who instills or disseminates knowledge and skills to someone who merely facilitates learning. This affected the development of educational technology by resulting in more emphasis being placed on the learning requirements of students (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1996). The influence of the culture of learning on instruction technology was expressed by Kozma (2000a) as follows:

We need to shift the focus of our work from the design of instruction to the design of learning environment. . . . It is a shift of mindset: we do not set the objectives for learning, they [students] do. . . . Learners are also in charge of arranging-of designing-the context for their learning that works for them. Our goal should be to provide them with tools and resources to get them where they want to go, that empower them to do what they want to do. (pp. 13-14)

Most researchers of educational technology are sympathetic to Kozma’s (2000a) view. However, shifting too much attention to the requirements of students may retard the development of teaching tools. Because the learning environment in classrooms is affected largely by teachers, an imbalance between technology development for students and that for teachers not only negatively affects the integration of IT into instruction but also may eventually hamper the ability of IT to have a positive effect on the learning experience of students.

The combination and mutual support of learning theories and IT over the last decade created favorable conditions for the development of the computer-assisted learning environment. Existing tools for learning fall into at least four major categories (Means et al., 1993). Examples include tutorials such as the problem-solving environment of math classes (Nathan, Kintsch, & Young, 1992) and the Cognitive Tutor systems (Anderson, Corbett, Koedinger, & Pelletier, 1995); application tools such as Writing Partner (Salomon, 1993) and the concept-mapping system (Chang, Sung, & Chen, 2001, 2002); exploratory environments such as ThinkerTool (White, 1993; White & Frederiksen, 1998), the Knowledge Integration Environment (Slotta & Linn, 2000), Learning Through Collaborative Visualization (Edelson, Gordin, & Pea, 1999), and 4M:Chem (Kozma, 2000b); and communication environments such as the Computer-Supported Intentional Learning Environment (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1996) and the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (Means & Coleman, 2000). These tools are some examples of a large number of research-generated products. As Kozma (2000a) put it,

I believe that no other area of research in education is now as productive and intellectually stimulating as that related to educational technology R&D. The reason why this research is so vital and vibrant is that it combines design with advanced technologies, new collaborations, large-scale implementation, and alternative research methodologies. (p. 6)

Kozma’s optimistic attitude toward the development of educational technology echoes the views of many other researchers who have declared that computers have the potential to change class-based teaching practices and enhance learning (Papert, 1993; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1996; Sandholtz, Ringstaff, & Dwyser, 1997). However, as Kozma (2000a) stated, the reasons for the prosperous development of education technology research include easier access to advanced technology, the ability to organize teams for cooperative efforts, and abundant resources for the large-scale implementation of projects. The optimistic attitude of education technology researchers can be attributed to specific circumstances: Most researchers developed software for learning in the favorable environment created by the aforementioned circumstances and observed apparently favorable effects of their “cognitive tools” and “learning companions” in situations that were regulated by researchers. The favorable outcomes under these conditions reinforced the confidence of researchers in their vision of applying technology to change teaching methods and improve learning. However, for most teachers, particularly primary and high school teachers, cooperative teams are scarce, there are insufficient resources to implement novel “teaching tools” or “teaching companions,” and there is a lack of training to facilitate the application of new technology to teaching. How is it possible for teachers to be confident and full of expectation in technology when most of the tools and procedures are not functional unless they personally bear the brunt of the work of designing and thinking? Is it possible for teachers to believe that they can change their teaching methods by integrating new technology? Can teachers envision themselves using computers to teach engaged students in a digital learning environment?

Based on the arguments above, we believe that computers must act as teaching tools that allow teachers to achieve their full potential and should facilitate the creation of the teacher’s own vision of applying technology if technology is to change teaching methods. From the perspective of situated and distributed cognition, most human learning occurs through interaction with the environment, including other people and various artifacts and tools. Tools shape the user’s cognitive activity and, depending on the type of tool used, the corresponding cognitive product is likely to be shaped (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Resnick, 1987). In the same manner, the knowledge and skills of teachers regarding instruction are shaped by the teaching tools that teachers use. It is therefore pertinent to ask what tools have been provided to teachers by education technology researchers over the last decade. Compared with the tools that are available to other professions such as medicine, agriculture, and culinary arts, the tools used by teachers can be described as unevolved and decontextualized in terms of the speed of development and applicability to the teaching profession. This is true because most tools available to teachers more than a decade ago comprised word processing software, spreadsheets, and databases (Becker, 1991). More than a decade later, most teachers still use essentially the same types of software (Becker, 2001). Therefore, despite rapid development of IT over the last decade, software that is available to teachers has not evolved substantially.

Although Becker and Ravitz (2001) expressed the optimistic opinion that much has changed in terms of the functions and types of software available to teachers over the last decade, and that this trend will continue, the increased complexity of computer technology does not mean that software has become more relevant to the teaching context. In fact, most general purpose software does not support teaching tasks such as the design of teaching materials, the implementation of teaching activities, and classroom-based assessment. If we will not expect that general purpose Swiss Army knives are suited to the tasks performed by surgeons to perfectly perform operations, for farmers to effectively harvest their crops, and for chefs to make excellent dishes, why should we expect general purpose software to enable teachers to effectively and innovatively proceed with their instruction? It is not surprising that more than 70% of primary and high school teachers believe that the lack of suitable software is a major barrier to incorporating IT into teaching (Hart et al., 2002; NCES, 2000). Without suitable tools and adequate training to apply new software tools to the teaching environment, it is difficult for teachers to change their attitudes toward and visions of integrating computer technology into teaching.

Equal emphasis on student and teacher learning.

The culture of learning has created an imbalance in the emphasis placed on learning by teachers and students. The third function of SIT is to provide teachers with more technology-based tools for learning and professional development. From the perspective of constructivism and situated cognition, teacher-training programs require major reform (Putnam & Borko, 2000; Yost, Sentner, & Forlenza-Bailey, 2000). How much has technology facilitated the transformation of teacher-training models and methods? Compared with the involvement of technology in the various domain subjects for student learning, teacher learning has clearly been overlooked (Marx, Blumenfeld, Krajcik, & Soloway, 1998; Putnam & Borko).

For example, researchers have designed numerous cognitive tools according to situated and distributed cognition for student learning. Furthermore, social constructivism has led researchers to design a variety of environments for collaborative or interactive learning, whereas cognitive constructivism has led researchers to design environments that promote inquiry and simulation to facilitate students’ knowledge construction. However, what tools have been developed to help teachers to learn? Researchers have proposed that social interaction and learning communities are beneficial to the professional growth of teachers (Ertmer, 1999; Grossman, Wineburg, & Woolworth, 2001). Nevertheless, the most common tool available to facilitate interaction among teachers is e-mail, but whether e-mail enhances the sharing and enhancement of professional knowledge is extremely controversial (see Blanton, Moorman, & Trathen, 1998; Goldenberg & Outsen, 2002). Computer-based environments that are established specifically to promote learning communities for teachers and to facilitate social interaction among teachers are very rare (Carroll et al., 2003). Researchers have argued that making inquiries or conducting action research promotes the professional growth of teachers (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999), yet few such learning environments are available to teachers. Similarly, the results of some studies have suggested that the teaching portfolios of teachers may be effective tools for reflection and learning (Borko, Michalec, Timmons, & Siddle, 1997; Darling-Hammond & Snyder, 2000; Sung & Chang, 2005; Zeichner & Wray, 2001). However, teachers who wish to establish and exchange their teaching portfolios more effectively through the use of IT must invest a substantial amount of time and energy into the design of Web pages, databases, and multimedia presentations (e.g., Bartlett, 2002; Cole, Ryan, Kick, & Mathies, 2000; Kilbane & Milman, 2003; Wright, Stallworth, & Ray, 2002) because few tools are available to facilitate this process. The lack of computer-based environments for teacher learning or professional development raises the issue of how the power of IT might be exploited to promote learning and professional growth for teachers.

Transforming technology-adapted instruction into instruction-adapted technology.

The fourth function of SIT is to facilitate the mutual adaptation of computer technology and the teaching context. Over the last two decades, the development of IT created many possibilities for changes to teaching and has increased the accessibility of instructional procedures that previously were difficult to implement (Lin, 2001). It is not difficult to imagine that rapidly developing new technology such as optical networking, wireless telecommunication, mobile devices, and intelligent agents will have an important role to play in future classrooms. However, it is worth noting that if teachers remain passive toward the process of incorporating IT into teaching by merely following the development of IT and waiting for new products that might be applied to teaching, it is highly unlikely that teaching methods will progress beyond technology-adapted instruction. In this case, teachers must design instructional models that are bound by the limitations of existing hardware and software. However, based on experiences over the last decade, a passive approach to integrating IT into teaching does not necessarily lead to improved instructional efficiency, even in environments within which there is an adequate supply of technological products (Dwyer, Ringstaff, & Sandholtz, 1991; Newhouse & Rennie, 2001; Windschitl & Sahl, 2002); it is even less likely that innovation will occur in such environments.

If it is not possible to create incentives to use technology, even though classrooms may be filled with advanced technology such as laptops and wireless networks, teachers might still be asking the same question that they were asking 10 years ago: “Why do we use technology?” (Peck & Dorricot, 1994). If technology is to create the incentives required to be used in the classroom, technology must be adapted to the context of teaching to become an instruction-adapted technology. The reform of instruction-adapted technology should take place at the level at which it is applied in context rather than merely at a technical level; that is, technology should function in context by enhancing teaching efficiency and learning. SIT is one of the best approaches to transform technology-adapted instruction into instruction-adapted technology.

Instruction-adapted technology, such as SIT, created through interdisciplinary integration is beneficial not only for the development of innovative teaching methods but also for the development of technology itself. This is exemplified by Resnick’s (1987) statements about how maritime navigation tools evolved over the last century from observation of constellations to the development of the magnetic compass and, eventually, to the development of the gyrocompass:

With each of these changes in technology, compasses in effect became “smarter,” and the user needed successively less skill. But the total system lost no intelligence or knowledge. Instead some skill and knowledge passed out of the hands of compass users into the hands of compass designers and their products. (p. 14)


Although the attention paid to the development of SIT has increased in recent years (Putnam & Borko, 2000; Sandholtz & Reilly, 2004), research and development of SIT-related products has been extremely limited (Cuban, 2001; Marx et al., 1998; Putnam & Borko, 2000). In this study, examples of two approaches to implementing SIT will be presented to illustrate the present status of SIT development.


Tools that enhance teaching efficiency and effectiveness include software that facilitates routine tasks of preparation and implementation of teaching and assessment, and software that can promote innovative teaching or enhance learning. In the context of teaching, the most general framework for teachers’ jobs may be instructional design (Mannaz, 1999). Generally speaking, the process of instructional design comprises analyzing student characteristics, designing a curriculum and teaching materials, implementing teaching methods and assessments, and evaluating learning. The following is a description of some examples of previous attempts made by researchers to design tools specifically for the development of teaching materials and methods, and teaching activities and learning assessments (Table 1). These examples do not cover all possible approaches to the design of tools to facilitate teaching, but rather were selected because they include the following features. First, the main objective of designing the software was to (1) design tools specifically to facilitate the execution of teaching-related tasks or (2) develop learning tools for students while simultaneously taking into account the needs of teachers. Second, the design of the software was based on a specific approach or theory of teaching or learning, and the product is a good example of the design or application of such context-specific tools. Finally, the software underwent empirical testing to assess whether it was useful for teaching and learning.

Table 1. Examples of Software Infrastructure for Teachers




Software functions

Domains of application

Tools for enhancing teaching efficiency and effectiveness

McKenney et al.



Curriculum and teaching material design

Science and social studies

Chang et al.



Overall instructional design

Social studies

Virvou & Alepis


Mobile Author

Support for mobile device-based instructional design

Computer sciences, medicine, geography, history, physics, biology, chemistry, and English

Schwartz et al.

1999, 2000


 Support for inquiry-based learning and instruction

Electronics, science, and educational psychology

Guzdial et al.



Support for Internet-based teaching and learning

Science and engineering languages




Support of assessment and instruction for special education teachers

Special education

Bennet & Davis



Support of assessment and instruction for special education teachers

Special education

Roschelle et al.



Support for real-time assessment


Tools for enhancing the efficacy of teachers

Chancy-Cullen & Duffy



Support for teachers’ learning regarding student-centered science instruction

Science and mathematics

Barab et al.



Support for teachers’ learning regarding inquiry-based instruction of science

Science and mathematics

Tools that support instructional design

Instructional design is one of main activities carried out by teachers prior to implementing the instruction. Through instructional design, teachers obtain a precise picture of the teaching materials and activities that are required. However, despite the importance of instructional design, few tools are available to facilitate this process (Van Merrienboer & Martens, 2002). Because the preparation of teaching materials and curricula is time consuming, some software has been designed to allow teachers to produce highly refined and diverse teaching material in a minimal amount of time and to manage the teaching materials in the most effective manner (Marx et al., 1998; McKenney et al., 2002; Mooij, 2002). One notable example is Computer Assisted Curriculum Analysis, Design, and Evaluation (CASCADE; McKenney et al., 2002).1 The main objective of CASCADE is to help individual teachers or institutions effectively execute various tasks during the design of curricula or teaching materials, including analysis, design, implementation, and evaluation. Users may also provide input related to personal needs, objectives, and various situations via the system interface. The system is then able to provide suggestions to the user about curriculum design based on the input conditions; alternatively, a draft can be exported so that the user can make further modifications. The exported product can be used for formative evaluation through sharing and commentary via the Internet. The application of CASCADE has been evaluated in several countries. McKenney et al. believe that CASCADE may allow the user to reduce the amount of time spent designing material, promote efficiency in decision making, and generate more refined and more internally coherent curricula and teaching material. In addition, users feel more professional and confident about their work when assisted by CASCADE.

The Web-based Instructional Design Environment (WIDE; Chang et al., 2006; Sung, Ho, & Chang, 2001)2 differs from CASCADE with respect to design orientation, objectives, and users. The design objective of WIDE is to allow teachers to use teaching resources available on the Internet to develop teaching plans according to their personal beliefs and teaching style. Thus, users can develop teaching materials and activities that take into account both the actual demand for instruction and the instructional situation, and teaching occurs in an Internet-based environment.

WIDE has three main features. First, it is based on a complete and comprehensive instructional design theory (Mannaz, 1999). Therefore, appropriate guidance and assistance mechanisms, such as analysis, design, development, and activities, are available at each stage. Second, WIDE is a simple interface that can be provided to teachers to reduce the burdens on time that often result from the use of technology. For example, integration of the open source technology of Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) and Web page functions makes WIDE an Internet-based teaching tool that can be used by any teacher with a basic knowledge of general purpose software to edit and manage teaching materials on the Internet. Furthermore, during instructional design, WIDE provides an on-demand interface that allows users to directly organize the Internet-based teaching activities that are available in the WIDE family of components, such as inquiry-based learning, concept mapping, collaborative learning, and self-/peer assessment. Third, there is a direct connection between the results of instructional design and teaching activities. While teaching, teachers can directly display or implement teaching materials and activities that were designed during the development stage, or teachers can ask students to perform tasks on the Internet before or after class. This mechanism of connecting the process and results of design allows teachers to use the software more efficiently. In applying WIDE to the design of curricula and teaching materials for a social studies course, Chang and colleagues (Chang et al., 2006; Sung et al., 2001) discovered that teaching materials developed using WIDE were more coherent with the teacher’s instruction plan and that teachers were able to develop more diverse and innovative teaching materials and activities within a shorter period of time.

Another example of SIT is the instructional design system that is available for handheld computer devices. In recent years, mobile and wireless devices such as personal digital assistants (PDAs), tablet computers, and cellular phones were considered to be the most promising solution to implementing one-on-one computer use in the classroom. However, the special formats of such devices, such as relatively small screens and device-specific infrastructures and topologies for networking, have made it difficult to use these devices for teaching and learning without expert assistance in the design of appropriate software. Recognizing the importance of fitting the features of handheld devices to the requirements of teaching and learning, Tatar, Roschelle, Vahey, and Penuel (2003) proposed that teachers and software designers should collaborate to develop “tailored technologies.” Virvou and Alepis’s (2005) Mobile Author is an interesting example of such tailored technology.

Mobile Author is an authoring system that uses intelligent tutoring functions for instructional design via computers or cellular phones. Mobile Author exploits the major benefit of mobile devices-that is, the ability to learn anywhere at any time. As cellular phones become increasingly popular, this technology may become increasingly attractive to teachers and students who wish to use their spare time in a flexible manner. Mobile Author has three main features. First, it is a platform for instructional design. Teachers can create teaching materials via a cellular phone or a desktop computer and can then distribute this material to their students. Teachers can monitor the progress of students and communicate with them during a course. Information about the course material and student progress is stored in a database for further reference and management. Second, Mobile Author is a platform for learning. Students can access teaching materials, such as exam papers, that are provided by teachers via cellular phones. In addition, students can communicate with teachers and classmates using Mobile Author. Third, based on the responses of students, the intelligent Mobile Author tutoring system can assess student performance and provide feedback to individual students based on details of their progress.

Virvou and Alepis (2005) evaluated Mobile Author and found that most teachers from universities or grade schools believed that it was useful for creating and maintaining courses. Furthermore, most students of the teachers who used Mobile Author agreed that its learning and interaction functions were useful.

Tools that support the design and implementation of instruction activities.

Teachers who are more inclined to use teaching methods that involve collaboration, inquiry, problem solving, and social interaction are more likely to require greater software support because of the complex procedures and specific demands of these activities. Although many different types of software are available at present to support constructive or interactive learning activities of students (as described above), these software packages were designed originally for students and therefore do not necessarily take into account the particular requirements of teachers. The following are two examples of SIT that was designed to meet the needs both of teachers and students.

The first example is the Software Technology for Action and Reflection (STAR.Legacy; Schwartz et al., 1999; Schwartz et al. 2000)3, which was designed to help students engage in case-based, problem-based, and project-based learning. There are six steps implemented in STAR.Legacy: define challenges, generate ideas, view multiple perspectives, research and revise, test your mettle, go public, and look ahead and reflect back. These steps are designed to assist students with the processes that comprise inquiry-based learning, including thinking, exploration, testing, discussion, and reflection. In addition to supporting learning, STAR.Legacy has another special feature: It uses the concept of flexible, adaptive instructional design to help teachers apply the functions of STAR.Legacy to different subjects or learning activities (the knowledge or activity designs within these different domains are referred to as legacies). By using the simple STAR.Legacy interface, teachers can modify all teaching material and content using the aforementioned six steps and can allow students to engage in inquiry-based learning related to the subject taught via STAR.Legacy. Therefore, STAR.Legacy is a tool that can be used simultaneously for learning and teaching.

Schwartz et al. (1999, 2000) used ecology, electronic circuits, and educational psychology as teaching subjects to evaluate STAR.Legacy. They found that teachers using STAR.Legacy believed that this system enabled them to have a better understanding of the procedures of inquiry-based learning. At the same time, students could reflect on the status of their learning and generate new ideas.

The second example of using SIT to enhance instruction is CoWeb, which was designed by Guzdial et al. (2001).4 Although the Web is used very frequently by school teachers, most teachers find it difficult to take advantage of the most essential functions of the Web, such as display, storage, collaboration, and interaction. To address this problem, Guzdial et al. designed CoWeb to help teachers perform collaborative learning on the Internet. Unlike the multiple steps of STAR.Legacy, CoWeb has a simple application interface. CoWeb supports teachers and students mainly by allowing them to edit their own Web pages or modify other people’s Web pages easily and without any special abilities in Web page design. Despite the simple design of CoWeb, this software is relatively flexible and can facilitate the production of novel teaching and learning activities. One feature of CoWeb is that this software makes it convenient for teachers to produce and publish teaching material. Moreover, because CoWeb allows different students to edit the same Web pages by cooperating with each other, many teaching plans developed using CoWeb involve collaborative learning. One example is projects that involve collaborative writing among different classes and across various grades. In addition, students can easily upload their work to a designated Web site to allow their peers to make comparisons and commentaries, while experts from within or outside the school can evaluate the students’ work.

Because CoWeb can be used in the various ways described above, teachers do not simply adopt CoWeb to send messages; rather, they use this software for more innovative and sophisticated operations such as collaboration, discussion, and commentary. Guzdial et al. (2001) referred to this process as “beyond adoption to invention.” CoWeb is a good example of how efficiency can bring about innovation: Teachers are more willing to use the simple user interface of CoWeb and are more willing to test new teaching methods; this results in the development of more innovative activities.

Tools that support classroom-based assessment.

Technology has had a substantial reformative influence on traditional methods of testing in the last few years; some examples are computerized adaptive testing (e.g., Hambleton, Zaal, & Pieters, 2000), automated testing (e.g., Hunt, Hughes, & Rowe, 2002), and automated scoring (e.g., Powers, Burstein, Chodorow, Fowles, & Kukich, 2002). However, technology has had a very limited influence on classroom assessment even though this aspect of teaching has been promoted strongly by many researchers in recent years (Cizek, 1997; Shepard, 2000). Below, we use the methods devised by researchers for portfolio assessment and self-/peer assessment as examples to illustrate how IT may be integrated into classroom-based assessment.

Portfolio assessment focuses on the collection, organization, and presentation of students’ own evidence of learning, and their reflection on the learning process and its results. Currently, most researchers who design digital portfolios concentrate on functions that are applicable to students, regardless of whether the portfolio is implemented via Web pages (Kariuki & Turner, 2001; Kilbane & Milman, 2003) or a specially designed digital portfolio system (Chang, 2001). However, if a portfolio system also provides teachers with an appropriate interface and functions to display and review assignments and to manage student learning processes and results more effectively, the usefulness of digital teaching portfolios will be enhanced further (Sung & Chang, 2005). This is especially true when students have a limited ability to learn and experience difficulty with collecting and organizing the content of their portfolios without assistance. The Assessment and Instruction Management System (AIMS; Bennet, 2000; Bennet & Davis, 2001) is an example of the design of such an alternative learning portfolio.

AIMS was designed to achieve the goal of assisting special education teachers with evaluating and recording the learning status of children with learning disabilities, and managing related data. In this respect, AIMS comprises portfolio evaluation functions (in addition to the collection and compilation of information during the learning process, which is performed by the teacher). Furthermore, AIMS provides functions that are similar to tailored teaching materials and tests. Regarding instruction, teachers may obtain suggestions related to individualized educational plans that are based on the content of the student portfolio database. Regarding evaluation, the content of the portfolios provides information that can be used to determine the skill levels of students, which can then be used by the teacher to determine the focus and direction of evaluation. Each student’s performance in examinations is recorded immediately by the teacher using digital recording devices such as digital cameras, recorders, video cameras, or scanners. After this information is edited, it is stored in a student’s learning portfolio. In this manner, AIMS provides cyclical recording, management, feedback, and re-recording, which allows teachers to elucidate the complete learning process of individual students.

After assessing the application of AIMS, Bennet (Bennet, 2000; Bennet & Davis, & 2001) found that AIMS was very helpful in enhancing the efficiency with which teachers managed instruction and evaluated special education students. AIMS also serves the function of portfolio evaluation by providing a medium for communication among teachers, students, and parents. When students check the content of their AIMS portfolio and observe their performances in audio and/or video recordings, they are often encouraged greatly and obtain a sense of achievement even though they did not organize the content of the portfolios themselves. Parents can also observe the progress of their children using the portfolio contents and may consequently establish stronger interactions with teachers.

Another example of SIT for assessment is related to self-/peer assessment. When teachers conduct self-/peer assessment using a pen and paper in the traditional classroom, they frequently encounter such limitations as inconvenience in presenting the students’ work, inefficiency in recording and editing scores and commentary, a lack of depth in peer interaction due to the constraints of time or space, and the inability to satisfy the demand for diversification in instructional arrangements. The Web-based Self- and Peer-Assessment System (Web-SPA; Sung, Lin, Lee, & Chang, 2003; Sung et al., 2005)5, helps teachers to solve the problems associated with using pen and paper self-/peer assessment. Web-SPA has several main features. First, Web-SPA has a simple, user-friendly interface that takes full advantage of the presentation, recording, and communication functions of the Internet. This allows students to easily produce online presentations of the results of their learning by displaying information in different formats such as text, sound, graphics, and video. In addition, the results of evaluation can be calculated quickly, summarized, and presented to users for instant feedback by implementing the database technology and suitable computing functions. Teachers are thus able to arrange synchronous or asynchronous student activities in a flexible manner during class or after hours. Second, Web-SPA offers a variety of methods for assessment to be configured. For example, the evaluation criteria can be determined by the teacher or the student. Similarly, the score/commentary forms include a Likert-type scale, a marking scheme, and a text-based commentary. In addition, the assessor/assessee correspondence can be one-to-one, one-to-many, or group-to-group, and the presentation of the students’ work or the results of the evaluation can be signed or anonymous. Third, Web-SPA provides a choice-on-demand mechanism for designing the flow of activity related to the arrangement of overall evaluation activities. Teachers may choose the functions that suit their needs based on their time constraints, course material, and assignment requirements and can then arrange self-/peer evaluation activities according to various methods of configuration.

 Empirical evaluations of Web-SPA have been carried out using college-level courses-experimental psychology and educational measurement and evaluation-and a multimedia design course in high schools. Teachers reported that the use of Web-SPA saved more time and resources compared with traditional pen and paper assessment. In addition, the flexible and user-friendly interface of Web-SPA elicited a greater variety of self-/peer assessment activities, and the process of executing self-/peer assessment became more efficient. Students who used Web-SPA reported that they reflected on their work and subsequently improved it (Sung et al., 2005).

The third case is the use of handheld devices for classroom-based assessment. One of the most powerful functions of handheld devices is to help teachers monitor the real-time learning status of students while they are being taught. Based on this information about student thinking, teachers are better able to modify their teaching methods according to the needs of the students. Roschelle and colleagues (Roschelle, Penuel, Yarnall, & Tatar, 2004, Tatar et al., 2003) demonstrated that Sketchy, software designed specifically for the use of handheld devices to create “tailored technology,” effectively improved the information available to teachers about the knowledge and capabilities of students.6

Sketchy is a system that was designed for students to draw and produce animation by using PDAs. When used to design animations in an inquiry-based course, Sketchy can be used to represent physical phenomena, causal processes, space, and time (Tatar et al., 2003). Furthermore, by beaming their work to peers and teachers, students have more opportunities to reflect on and express their knowledge. Teachers obtain information about the misunderstanding of students by observing students’ drawings. By enabling handheld devices to be used as tools to integrate learning, teaching, and assessment, Sketchy aids to diagnose students’ misconceptions and allows underperforming students to demonstrate their competence in a nontraditional way (Roschelle et al., 2004).


Software has been developed to help teachers enhance their professional knowledge and skills, thereby improving their sense of efficacy. Traditionally, professional development programs for teachers were usually conducted at specific times and in specific locations and took the form of workshops or face-to-face instruction. Because of limitations such as the unavailability of substitute teachers, duties that are not carried out, and travel expenses, researchers proposed that technology should be implemented to provide teachers with different forms of professional training (North, Strain, & Abbott, 2000). Professional development programs designed in this manner are usually implemented using one of two methods. The first method comprises the use of imaging and audio-visual technology (e.g., video recordings, CD-ROMs, and the Internet) to present specific concepts, strategies, or skills to teachers, who learn by viewing the materials presented (Chaney-Cullen & Duffy, 1999; Marx et al., 1998; North et al.). The second method includes an emphasis on the organization of the learning community by using Internet technology, in addition to providing teachers with video materials related to instruction; this method reinforces the shaping and changing of ideas and skills by promoting sharing and interaction among teachers (Barab et al., 2001; Brunvand, Fishman, & Marx, 2003). The following is an explanation of how each of the aforementioned methods is implemented.

Demonstration and modeling constitute the most direct approach to learning new teaching methods. However, live demonstrations and presentations are subject to the constraints of time, space, and procedures. By introducing multimedia technology, recordings of new teaching methods can be demonstrated via videos. With appropriate background explanations and commentary, these programs become effective media for demonstrating and modeling teaching methods and represent one of the tools that can be used for the professional development of teachers. The Strategic Teaching Framework (STF) multimedia system (Chaney-Cullen & Duffy, 1999) is a typical example of how such audio-visual media can be used to help teachers learn new methods to teach mathematics.

Chaney-Cullen and Duffy (1999) found in a pilot study that STF alone may be able to create tension in, or otherwise influence, teachers regarding their existing concepts or practices but that it is not sufficiently powerful to effectively change these teaching concepts and methods. However, the pilot study revealed that the interaction between the teachers and researchers did produce changes. To strengthen the support for teachers, the researchers included a facilitator in the formal study. The facilitator joined the teachers in watching and discussing the contents of the STF to help teachers apply the instructional principles of the STF and to clarify and reflect on the instruction process after the completion of the instruction. The results indicated that when STF was combined with the provision of teachers with assistance by a facilitator, it could indeed change the concepts and methods used by the teachers.

The study by Chaney-Cullen and Duffy (1999) revealed that technology can play a powerful role in the professional development of teachers and that nontechnological factors, such as interaction and support among people, were equally indispensable. In their study, Chaney-Cullen and Duffy showed that personal interaction and support were provided mainly by the researchers outside the group of teachers. A question that needs to be answered is whether it is possible to help teachers form more close-knit learning communities with the help of technology and whether such communities could fulfill the same support function as that of the researchers. The Inquiry Learning Forum (ILF) of Barab et al. (2001) provides an example of getting supports from virtual communities.7

Barab et al. (2001) believe that an important reason that new concepts and methods of instruction, such as learner-centered instruction, seldom exert much influence in the classroom is that teachers do not have a culture of sharing their concepts and practices. One of the most effective ways in which teachers can be encouraged to share and discuss their teaching methods is to help teachers organize learning communities. ILF is an Internet-based learning community environment that was originally designed to help teachers of science and mathematics learn about inquiry-based instruction. The main difference between ILF and STF is that the former treats instructional videos as an anchor that brings teachers together and promotes the formation of a learning community for the teachers. ILF requires that teachers not only watch a demonstration of a method of instruction but also that they share their thoughts regarding the instruction session with other teachers or discuss their own problems regarding the instruction methods. In view of the difficulties inherent in organizing communities, and in order to take full advantage of the sociability function of ILF, the upgraded ILF is focused especially on reinforcing the functions that support teamwork. Tasks such as collaboration among teachers in designing teaching plans have been added to ILF to engender a sense of belonging and engagement among the community members. To enhance online interaction among community members, ILF also strengthens the mutual trust among members through the organization of workshops. In applying ILF to the professional development of preoccupational and practicing teachers, Barab et al. found that ILF helped teachers exchange methods, processes, results, and discoveries. Through such exchange, teachers not only learn about relevant knowledge through different methods of instruction but also are better able to reflect on their own teaching methods by learning from the experiences of others.


Research and development of SIT is at a rudimentary stage at present. Therefore, many issues related to this field remain unresolved. The implications of SIT for educational researchers and teachers are addressed in the following section.


As discussed above, research into the design of SIT has received limited attention to date, and few products are available that have been developed specifically to address the needs of teachers. This limitation is particularly apparent in the degree of context specificity of different types of software to different users and different subjects. From the user’s point of view, most of the software available to aid teaching, which was discussed above, can be applied to teachers and students at universities; very few products are designed for use by primary and high school teachers. The characteristics of courses that are taught at universities differ tremendously from those that are taught at primary and high schools. In addition, the cognitive abilities of university students are different from those of primary and high school students. Therefore, the functional demands that are placed on educational software vary according to the level of education. For example, Guzdial et al. (2001) believe that the unstructured nature of CoWeb is suited best to a university environment within which the curriculum is diverse and students have relatively uniform levels of ability; by contrast, teachers and students in primary and high schools may find it difficult to use CoWeb. One possible solution to this problem may be the development of more structured interfaces and functions that would relieve the burden placed on primary and high school users of CoWeb.

In addition to taking into consideration the demands of teachers in different educational environments, the needs of teachers with different teaching rationales, beliefs, or philosophies should also be considered. Even though the constructivism approach to teaching that was advocated over the last two decades influenced the design of most of the software that is available at present for learning or teaching, this does not mean that other nonconstructive approaches are not relevant to the design of educational software. Indeed, it is important to allow teachers to use different types of software to fulfill their goals because different teaching materials and different types of students may suit different methods of teaching. The availability of more software based on different approaches to teaching should provide teachers with more opportunities to experience and apply different teaching methods; this in turn would facilitate the relaxing of rigid approaches to teaching.

Except for developing new software that is designed specifically to meet the needs of teachers, another approach to expanding the availability of SIT is the modification of the user interface of existing learning-oriented software to facilitate the use of the software by teachers. Because most learning-oriented software targets students as primary users, the design of the user interface and functions of such software are based mainly on the requirements of students rather than on the needs of teachers. Furthermore, the content of such software is limited to specific subjects or teaching units; whether teachers can incorporate the software into their teaching context is seldom considered. However, the designers of learning-oriented software should consider the following questions: Can the activities based on specific software be connected to other activities? Can both students and teachers use the software to present and discuss information? Can the software be used to assess learning? If these questions are addressed by software designers, teachers can use learning-oriented software more effectively. We refer to software that has interfaces and functions that were designed specifically for teachers as value-added software. One noteworthy example of such value-added software is AlgebraTutor (Anderson, Boyle, & Yost, 1985). AlgebraTutor was designed originally for students. Recently, Aleven, Sewall, McLaren, and Koedinger (2006) designed the Cognitive Tutor Authoring Tools (CTAT), which can be applied to the cognitive tutor system, so that software developers or instructors in general who are not familiar with cognitive psychology and artificial intelligence may also design systems that are suited to the needs of their own domain of instruction.


Most researchers who designed the software described above claim that their software has a positive influence on students and teachers. However, most research reports tend to state findings in the form of anecdotal reports. As the evaluation of technology has become a major subject of research (Haertel & Means, 2003), educational researchers can use increasingly diverse methods to evaluate SIT. For example, if researchers are interested in the optimal ways for teachers to use different software to design and organize their instructional activities, design experiments (Brown, 1992; McCandliss, Kalchman, & Bryant, 2003) may be appropriate for this evaluation. If researchers are interested in the possible causal effects of software and software-related factors on the professional development of teachers and on student learning, more complex and contextualized causal models are needed (Lesgold, 2003).

In addition to reinforcing empirical studies, it is very important to focus on how software influences the beliefs and practices of teachers, particularly whether the use of such software, independent of support from researchers, can lead to sustained changes in teaching methods. In most published studies, effects such as improvement in student learning or changes to teaching methods occurred in collaboration with researchers and in the presence of well-defined procedures or strong guidance. This begs the question, Would the same beneficial effects have occurred in the absence of the researchers? In other words, can researcher-generated teaching outcomes be transformed into teacher-generated teaching outcomes?

For software to produce far-reaching effects, educational researchers should consider how to develop appropriate models to facilitate the transfer of technological tools from researchers to teachers. How do we help teachers manage change and innovation? In other words, if the process of transferring the SIT from researchers to teachers can be treated as a scaffold-fading process, then what problems might teachers encounter during the process of transfer? At which stage are teachers capable of generating their own novel teaching methods? What factors might assist in, or prevent the development of, innovative teaching methods by teachers? Are there causal relationships among the application of software, changes to teaching practices, and changes to learning outcomes? Each of the aforementioned questions should be answered before we can gain insights that facilitate the development of software that brings about changes to teaching methods.


Enhancing the maturity of SIT involves a cyclical process of implementation, evaluation, and application. This process requires the collaborative efforts of researchers and teachers.

Regarding implementation and evaluation, most software developed for teachers (examples of which were presented above) has not been subjected to formal software testing procedures such as the capability maturity model (Paulk, Curtis, & Chrissis, 1995; Persse, 2001). In general, context-specific software is adopted more readily but may be of inferior quality; for example, this software may be unreliable. Furthermore, it is more difficult to carry out repairs effectively when there are a small number of users because the highest software development costs are associated with unreliability and the repair of software bugs. More rigorous and extensive testing procedures can facilitate the modification and refinement of software, thereby increasing the reliability and usability of the software. Even if some test procedures are not available because of a lack of expertise or funding, researchers should still take into consideration some important features of software maturity during the process of software development (Lesgold, 2003), such as interoperability, interface quality, modularity, tailorability, and embedded training.

In addition to researchers, school staff, including teachers and administrators, also play important roles in enhancing the maturity of SIT. Teachers, as powerful mediators of school reform (Olsen & Kirtman, 2002), should express their needs when using technology as a tool for innovative instruction. Instead of passively accepting the technology that is offered to them, teachers should actively engage with SIT developers and express their specific requirements. This would lead to the development of software that is more diverse and better suited to the needs of teachers. Furthermore, SIT may facilitate action research and development of new software via reciprocal adaptation: By using SIT in the classroom, teachers may develop new teaching models that incorporate new computer technology, and their feedback during this process may be used by researchers to further refine SIT. This process of reciprocal adaptation is an essential element of technology-based teaching innovation.

In addition to being integrated into teaching directly, SIT may form an important part of the technology plans of school administrators. A common organizational barrier to the incorporation of technology into schools is the fact that the technology plans of schools often comprise little more than a shopping list of computer equipment. Moreover, budgets for computer equipment usually are not balanced, and computer hardware and software that are purchased often fail to meet the requirements of teachers and students (Cuban, 2001; Fishman & Pinkard, 2001). Incorporating SIT into technology plans might facilitate the balancing of budgets and may make merchandisers more aware of the importance of designing and implementing suitable tools for teachers and students; this would in turn facilitate the design and implementation of SIT.


In this article, we have presented a framework for the development of solutions to barriers that prevent the integration of IT into instruction. We have presented some common solutions that could be implemented at present, such as increasing computer software and hardware, enhancing training and support for teachers who use computer technology, changing the attitudes of teachers toward computers, and overcoming barriers presented by organizational and cultural factors. More important, we have illustrated possible solutions that could be implemented by software infrastructure for teachers. We have presented several examples of how SIT can help teachers save time and energy in implementing technology that exists at present. This in turn makes it easier to achieve the aims of enhancing confidence (McKenney et al., 2002), creating vision (Marx et al., 1998; Schwartz et al., 1999), reforming the practice of instruction (Guzdial et al., 2001), and enhancing the efficiency and effects of instruction (Sung et al., 2005, 2003). The examples of SIT that we presented also support the idea that the design of SIT allows technology to enhance teaching efficiency and eventually leads to the development of innovative teaching methods.

Teachers have been referred to as Luddites with respect to the lack of technology-based instruction within the classroom (Bryson & de Castell, 1998); this perception of teachers may be due to the discrepancy between the high expectations of policy makers and researchers and the low level of actual integration within the classroom. However, we believe that sufficient logistical support should be provided to teachers to enable them to live up to the expectation that computer technology can enhance instruction. In light of the barriers represented by limited training and support, the lack of a suitable software infrastructure, and the existing demands of the organization and the culture, it is understandable that teachers are reticent about using computer technology in the classroom. In such a climate of strong advocacy versus weak logistics, it is unfair to accuse teachers of being an obstacle to the integration of computer technology into teaching. In fact, teachers are the greatest force behind the enhancement of teaching by integrating technology. The main reason that technology has not reached its full potential in classrooms is the lack of support from developers with respect to the design of tools specifically for teachers. This lack of support for teachers is the main reason that instructional reform failed previously (Elmore, 1996). We believe that with the support of a suitable software infrastructure, teachers may be more motivated, willing, and able to develop innovative approaches to teaching by incorporating new technology.

It is pertinent to note that we do not believe that SIT is a panacea for all the problems associated with incorporating technology into instruction. As discussed above, specific difficulties must be addressed at every stage of integration; with each solution to an existing problem, a new problem might emerge. At present, even as we strive to bridge the availability gap between users and computers, another gap is growing between the availability and frequency of application. Furthermore, it is highly likely that we are also about to face the gap between the frequency of using computers and the effects of use. SIT can complement current efforts to bridge the aforementioned gaps. We also anticipate that proactive integration will accelerate the progress of integrating technology into teaching more rapidly than passively leaving such development to the passage of time (Becker & Ravitz, 2001; Cuban, 2001). Thus, this “painfully slow” process (Willis et al., 1999) can proceed faster, and teachers and students will be able to enjoy the substantial improvements to teaching and learning that can be provided by technology.

This article was completed when Yao-Ting Sung was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh and was supported by grants to the first author from the National Science Council, ROC (Contract Nos. NSC93-2524-S-003-013 and NSC94-2524-S-003-014), the Center of Research on Educational Evaluation and Development, NTNU (Contract No. 95E0012-C-01-01), and the Fulbright Foundation.


1 CASCADE: see http://projects.edte.utwente.nl/cascade/.

2 WIDE: see http://elearning.ice.ntnu.edu.tw/km, in Chinese.

3 STAR.Legacy: see http://aaalab.stanford.edu/complex_learning/cl_star.html.

4 CoWeb: see http://coweb.cc.gatech.edu/csl/9.

5 Web-SPA: see http://elearning.ice.ntnu.edu.tw/webspa.

6 Sketchy: see http://www.goknow.com/Products/.

7 ILF: see http://ilf.crlt.indiana.edu/.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 11, 2007, p. 2541-2575
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14536, Date Accessed: 1/18/2022 8:56:35 AM

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About the Author
  • Yao-Ting Sung
    University of Pittsburgh and National Taiwan Normal University
    E-mail Author
    YAO-TING SUNG is an associate professor of the Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling, National Taiwan Normal University. His research interests include computer-assisted learning and using technology for teacher professional development. His recent publications include “The Design and Application of a Web-Based Self- and Peer-Assessment System” and “Web-Based Collaborative Inquiry Learning.”
  • Alan Lesgold
    University of Pittsburgh
    E-mail Author
    ALAN LESGOLD is professor and dean of the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh. He received his Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University in 1971 and also holds an honorary doctorate from the Open University of the Netherlands. In 2001, he received the APA award for distinguished contributions of applications of psychology to education and training. In 1995, he was awarded the Educom Medal. He currently is president of the Applied Cognitive Psychology division of the International Association for Applied Psychology. Lesgold is a Lifetime National Associate of the U.S. National Research Council (National Academies).
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