Friday, January 14, 2011

Larry Cuban discusses how mere access to ICT does not lead to fundamental change unless teachers are integrated in the process (eg teacher ICT professional development). Cuban also raises the broader goals of public schooling beyond learning to include the civic goals of public education. Finally, Cuban raises the critique of "magical thinking" in techoenthusiasts.

Larry Cuban is a noted historian of education, former superintendent and secondary school teacher. Although Cuban is a noted technoskeptic, his on the job experience and his research on teacher practices make him an informed one.

3 Reasons Why Sloppy Thinking Leads to
Careless Educational ICT

If ICT means the use of computers in schools and classrooms and if learning means what academic content, skills, and behaviors students can perform in and out of school, then the massive investment over the past 30 years in wiring schools, buying computers and the latest hand-held device has fallen far short of being a “revolution” in students’ learning and teachers’ teaching (Failure of computers PDF 1995). While not a fruitless mission – a fool’s errand – the idea that ICT would revolutionize schooling was, at worst, sloppy thinking and, at best, ardent wishfulness.
Note I said “use” of ICT, not access to it. For access to ICT has been an unvarnished success. From a national average of 125 students per computer in the mid-1980s now there are about 4 students, on average, per computer in the U.S. (2009 tech survey). In fact, many districts and a few states now give each student a laptop. Moreover, the digital gap between high poverty and low poverty schools in having ICT and Internet access is nearly closed.
So while access has been a success, actual use by most (but not all) teachers and students in classroom lessons has disappointed ICT champions. Without regular use in classrooms, then ICT advocates cannot even hope for increases in student academic achievement, transformed teaching, and technologically proficient students entering the job market.
Instances of falling far short of “revolution”:
  • After spending $30 million on computers in Louisville (KY) schools, two-thirds to three-quarters of the teachers did not regularly use computers in their lessons in 2006. Subsequently, new technologies have been purchased and improvements have been claimed (Tablets for Teachers 2010).
  • When researchers directly observed classrooms rather than relying on teacher reports of use, they have found a distinct minority of teachers integrating the use of computers into daily lessons. Most teachers, however, used computers occasionally for instruction. They also found that even now with abundant access, large numbers of teachers never use ICT in their classrooms.
These patterns of classroom usage occur in spite of the easily observable fact that nearly all teachers use their home computers daily and administrators swear by their Blackberries, iPhones, and iPads . (2009 tech survey).
Why in the face of abundant access to machines at school and home is there such limited student use of ICT for instruction in schools?
The reason is that technology-driven policymakers, educators, reformers, and vendors err in their thinking about the role of schools in a democratic society and the nature of classroom teaching and student learning.
  1. Technological enthusiasts overestimate the importance of students’ access to technology in schools and underestimate teachers’ influence on students’ learning.
Most policymakers, parents, and reformers assume that availability of machines is the same as using them. That error in equating access to use has bedeviled decision-makers for decades. The crucial link between any announced policy, deployment of machines, and classroom learning is not the devices, but the teacher.
In fact, the current Utopian hype about “disruptive innovations” and “Liberating Learning” transforming teaching and learning through online instruction and hybrid schools tries to outflank teachers by focusing on parents and students as home consumers rather than upon teachers using devices in schools regularly with students.
  1. Technological enthusiasts see public schools as only about learning.
Surely, learning concepts, facts, and skills are a central task of tax-supported public schools. Preparing students for college and the workplace is important. But voters, taxpayers, and parents expect more of their public schools. They want schools to socialize the young into the workplace and community, provide for their personal well-being, and produce civic-minded, engaged adults. As multipurpose and compulsory institutions that serve the community, schools, then, do far more than teach content and academic skills. Utopian claims that bringing new technologies into schools—laptops, iPads, etc.—will transform both teaching and learning fail to consider the all-important social and political tasks that teachers and principals face every day.
  1. Technological enthusiasts indulge in magical thinking.
Researchers have failed again and again to show that students using computers in classrooms will improve test scores, lift graduation rates, and reduce dropouts. The lack of evidence-based practice in students using computers in classroom lessons, however, has seldom stopped policymakers, reformers, and vendors from promoting even more devices for teachers and students. These Utopian fantasies have the virtue of spinning out beautiful scenarios of individually tailored lessons for students but are divorced from current school and classroom realities.
Not a revolution or fool’s errand, just careless ICT policy
These three errors add up to sloppy thinking about ICT in schools. Sloppy thinking leads to careless policymaking about technology’s link to learning. While no “revolution” has yet occurred in schools, a “fool’s errand,” technology is not.
Why? Because schools are political and social institutions that have to be responsive to voters and parents who provide funds to build schools, hire educators, and insure that children get taught what the community expects. What every U.S. community now expects from its schools is for their children to be technologically literate, college-educated, and skilled to step into the labor market upon graduation. With these expectations, public schools, dependent upon voters and parents, must make some effort to buy and deploy the most recent technological tools even as school boards and superintendents know that they cannot keep up with constant technological changes.
So no “revolution” yet and not a “fool’s errand.” Just more muddling through as ardent educators, decision-makers, and entrepreneurs wrestle with the complexities of using new technologies to implement abiding political, social, and economic goals in highly vulnerable but essential public schools.

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