Some thoughts about change theory

I’m currently in my final course of my MEd before I do my project. (YAY!)

My professor posted this question in our discussion forum: 

 In describing his “systematic strategy for change” in Chapter 1, Ellsworth (2000) states: “[The] situation becomes even more pronounced when the core innovation under discussion is an emerging technology. Successful infusion of such an innovation will generally require accompanying innovations.” This relates to an example discussed in some breakouts regarding the the infusion of new educational technologies such as interactive whiteboards (e.g., Smartboard) or digital gaming in the classroom. Please elaborate on the meaning of Ellsworth’s statement and relate this to some of Fullan’s (2006) ideas regarding successful and unsuccessful change processes (theories of action) and/or also to Roger’s (1995) Diffusion of Innovations framework as described in Ellsworth (2000).

I’m posting my response here too, because it seems very relevant when considering current change initiatives involving technology. 

Ellsworth states that “[s]electing and coordinating the types of changes that one makes are also critical aspects of a systemic strategy for change” (2000). Essentially,  problems in education usually are not the result of one simple problem that needs to be set right. He goes on to write that, “[m]ost often [the types of changes] reflect a desire to bring new tools to bear to enable the system to meet new requirements.” And then cites the fact that although it seems logical that smaller class sizes would yield positive results, there is little evidence to support this. This is likely because the teaching methods have not been adapted to the needs of a smaller classroom.

This is very much like what happens with technology.  Students don’t appear to be reading or writing enough in a traditional sense. Where are they reading and writing though? Online. Therefore perhaps online technology is the solution for improving students’ literacy scores. But this idea, while appearing to be sound, is flawed on its own because it neglects one very important component: How must teachers’ instructional strategies change when implementing new tools for teaching literacy skills?

For example, if a teacher wants to try blogging in her classroom rather than traditional reader response journals, she needs to consider the ways in which the affordances of a blog are different from those of a traditional model. What are the characteristics of a blog? How do individuals interact with them? What are the different skills that are needed?

The sheer novelty of composing online versus composing on paper may appeal to some students enough to engage them when traditional methods wouldn’t. But is engagement enough? And for how long? What about the students for whom this new form of composing is frightening and unappealing?  Shouldn’t we have a better reason for implementing the change?

This connects to Michael Fullan’s (2006) article when he describes flawed change theories. When he describes the flaw in the standards-based district-wide reform initiatives, he points out that  “If theories of action do not include the harder questions – ‘Under what conditions will continuous improvement happen?’ and, correspondingly, ‘How do we change cultures?’ – they are bound to fail.”

It’s not that blogging can’t be an effective tool to improve student literacy, but it’s bound to fail if the teacher or change agent doesn’t ask the harder questions. Often in education, I think administrators, and superintendents are looking for the “silver bullet,” the one simple magic solution that will solve all the problems and will be simple to implement and understand, without considering things like school culture, classroom culture, and broader pedagogical underpinnings that need to be in place for a change to be successful.

Ellsworth, J. B. (2000). Surviving changes: A survey of Educational change models. Syracuse, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse (Chapter 1, pp. 20-30 and Chapter 3, pp. 44-58).

Fullan, M. (2006). Change theory: A force for school improvement. Centre for Strategic Education, 1-14.

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