I and two graduate students studied Las Montanas High School (a pseudonym) in 1998. In 2010 I had completed a two-year study of the same school that had, in the interim, become a 1:1 laptop school. (See last post on the background to this unfunded study). Here is what I did.
With the permission of the principal and volunteer faculty in 2008, I interviewed individual teachers and administrators, observed classrooms, shadowed students as they went to their classes, and surveyed over 800 students and 60 teachers. I completed the study in June 2010 and now face a Mt. Everest of data. I have yet to analyze the data and reach crisp conclusions. I have yet to figure out the story I have to tell.
In fact, I have yet to figure out what Las Montanas is a case of. Is the decade in which the high school has used technologies extensively a case of success or failure? Does examining the high school at two different points in time reveal the difficulties state and district school reformers have in improving teaching and student achievement through new technologies? Or does this high school case shed light on how schools are mobilized to deal with state and national economic and social problems?
Years ago when I taught and did research at Stanford I would create a course around the question driving my study and teach a seminar directly dealing with that question. Graduate students who chose to take the seminar–usually around 10-15– would read portions of the manuscript, write papers on the readings I supplied, and discuss issues I raised. That seminar helped me think through what I wanted to say in a book. That process of teaching-while-doing-research happened with How Scholars Trumped Teachers, The Blackboard and the Bottom Line, and when David Tyack and I did Tinkering toward Utopia.
No graduate students now, however. Now I do have readers and, of course, family and friends. So to answer puzzling questions about using new technologies and the process of painting the larger picture into which the story of Las Montanas might fit, I will be using this blog as a tool to help me tell the story. There may be readers who might, if they are so inclined, comment on upcoming entries (these have yet to be written) about teachers using laptops and interactive whiteboards in lessons, changing school leadership over a decade, using new technologies when a school is put on academic probation, linkages between the school and the district and state reform policies, and other topics.
I have taken away a few impressions after two years of being at the school. These impressions are only that and much too early to be called either conclusions or findings.
*In shifting from computer labs at Las Montanas in 1998 to 1:1 laptops in 2004, in the past six years, teacher and student daily and weekly use appears to be more frequent and spread far more broadly among both than in 1998.
*Even with nearly complete faculty turnover between 1998 and 2010, there seems to be far more stability, rather than change, in how teachers taught then and now.
*Connections between student achievement and teacher and student use of laptops appear, at best, indirect and, at worst, non-existent.
Given these impressions, why do these periodic entries? The main reason is that I do not yet know whether these impressions will become conclusions–note such words as “appear” and “seem”–or whether I will find evidence in the data that contradicts these impressions even leading to opposite conclusions. Thus, sifting the data and analyzing it sufficiently to compose entries will help me figure out what has happened at the school over the past decade. Moreover, and of equal importance to me as a writer is figuring out what Las Montanas in 1998 and 2010 is a case of–see above.
If all of these impressions and meandering sounds like I am thrashing about, that is accurate. In past writing projects I have circled around and around in the early stages as I try to unravel puzzles embedded in the data and answer questions that arise surprisingly as I muddle through interviews, classroom observations, survey results, and other documents. Working with graduate students in seminars had helped me considerably in the past. Now I am about to embark on a similar venture in future entries to this blog.