Confusing Technology Integration with Instructional Reform

For many years the rhetoric and substance of national reports written by bands of technologists eager to see electronic devices work their wonder on children and adults in schools have puzzled me. I am especially puzzled now as I try to make sense of the mountain of data I have collected at Las Montanas, a 1:1 laptop school in northern California (see posts of August 7, 13, and 20).  In these national reports issued periodically by U.S. government sponsored agencies (e.g., Office of Technology Assessment, the National Education Technology Plan) or privately-funded groups (e.g., CEO Forum on Education and Technology), I noted two things.

First, on the critical issue of getting new technologies integrated into regular school and classroom routines, advocates differed. Some spoke about integrating technology to advance the content of lessons in reading, math, social studies, science, math, art, music, and other subjects. Others championed learning skills such as critical thinking, analysis, creativity, and inquiry barely mentioning content. I did not find that conflict puzzling since the issue of content vs. skills–is (and has been since late-19th century educational progressives banged the drum for learning life skills and creativity) a perennial dilemma among curriculum designers, subject-matter specialists, academics, and teachers. I have seen it in action at Las Montanas.

Second, many of these reports used the language of fundamental change such as “transformation” and “revolution” while scorning any incremental or short-term teacher-crafted practical efforts that worked within the system as it is. Anything smacking of incrementalism seemed foul to those ideologues seeking only “transformative” changes in schools. I have also seen that in action at Las Montanas.

Where my puzzlement grew in these well-funded reports written by smart folks and with principals and teachers at Las Montanas came from figuring out how the perennial dilemma of content vs. skills got entangled with fundamental vs. incremental change. Then I read Judi Harris’s 2005 editorial in Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education.  I don’t know Professor Harris personally but her work at the University of Texas (Austin) and William and Mary in integrating technology into schools positions her as someone in the community of technology educators to listen to carefully.

In her editorial, Harris tries to explain “why many–if not most–large-scale technology integration efforts are perceived to have failed.” Think Seymour Papert’s LOGO in the 1980s, Apple Classroom of Tomorrow in the 1990s, and schools that abandon 1:1 laptops in the past few years. She offers two reasons: technocentrism and pedagogical dogmatism.

Borrowing Seymour Papert’s coined word, “technocentric,” Harris points to the blinders that eager educators wore (and continue to wear) in embracing the next new gadget.

Technocentrists, she says, seek “educational uses for particular technologies.” Instead, “educators must focus upon how best to assist students’ learning.” Many teachers and principals have said repeatedly to the point of the words being cliched: “integrating technology is not about technology, it is about learning.” Yet those who buy and deploy new technologies continue to seek “educational uses”  for the electronic devices. Thus, technocentrism rules.

Harris’s second reason is “pedagogical dogmatism.” Among academics, particularly, and many educators there is a decided tilt toward progressive pedagogy, now called in its various incarnations, constructivism. As an example she quotes Christopher Moersch, author of  LoTi (Levels of Technology Implementation), a popular tool used to measure classroom use of technology. The designer expresses an unvarnished preference for one kind of teaching:

“As a teacher progresses from one level to the next, a series of changes … is observed. The instructional focus shifts from being teacher-centered to being learner-centered…. Traditional verbal activities are gradually replaced by authentic hands-on-inquiry related to a problem….”

Harris find the same bias toward constructivist teaching in other commonly used tools, even in the 739-page major work called Education and Technology: An Encyclopedia.

Why, she asks, should K-12 teachers’ roles change to integrate technology effectively? Certainly, the technologies themselves do not require such a fundamental change. Evidence of technology use in Europe, Asia, and the Americas  (see JECR PDF) have pointed out how powerful devices end up being used to support teacher-centered instruction.

These two reasons, technocentrism and pedagogical dogmatism, Harris argues, explain why for decades, enthusiastic policymakers, researchers, and practitioners have confused technology integration (involving  the perennial conflict of content vs. skills) with technology as an instrument for pedagogical reform (moving from teacher-centered to learner-centered instruction).  The editorial ends with her calling for a separation of the goals of technology integration from the goals of transforming teaching and learning. That call went out in 2005. Few have heeded the call.

Harris has helped me unravel part of the puzzle but I remain uncertain over what has occurred at Las Montanas where after six years of having a 1:1 program, the principal decided to shift to a mobile cart program. I take that up in the next post.


Filed under Reforming schools, technology use

20 responses to “Confusing Technology Integration with Instructional Reform

  1. Great post. This conflation of technology and teaching is extremely problematic. I would go one step further to say there are some technologies that actually encourage a teacher-centric classroom, and I’m not talking about just power point.

    Technologies are designed to do something better or faster. Since most technology designers do not understand effective teaching (or are not designing something for teaching purposes), they often focus on making content more appealing or easier to access instead of creating a technology that causes students to more deeply engage mentally with content. These technology biases are rarely brought up and even more rarely questioned. Considering that most technologies require the teacher to have preset agendas, the art of socratic dialogue has gone by the wayside.

    I don’t know if separating technology discussions from teaching discussions is wise. Instead, I believe we ought look at teachers’ fundamental beliefs of what “learning” is and how these beliefs get transferred to teaching practice including technology use.

    On a separate note regarding the incremental vs revolutionary change, I wrote a piece recently on the topic discussing why incremental (which I call “evolutionary”) change is most powerful, but because of the mechanism of evolution, we must be wary of educational pressures. That post is here:

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  3. When I did my doctoral research, I found that just bringing in technology and showing teachers how it worked did not change pedagogy. I believe that if you want to change pedagogy to a more constructivist approach, you need to tackle this head on and not make it part of some technology project.

  4. Larry, you know what I think about it. However I might mention that if technophiles conflate, technophobes are easily worse, being incapable of identifying *any* benefit. Perhaps it would be beneficial to look for benefits in new places.

    jerridkruse mentions efficiency. One thing you might measure is productivity of high performance students. I’m thinking that students that actually use technology effectively are indeed fast but productivity improvements are plowed into leisure activity.

    I disagree vehemently with his suggestion that a storage and display medium can affect pedagogy badly. Interactive media are designed for active dialog. How can you lose dialog by opening new channels?

    Doesn’t anyone remember being yelled at in class for reading or passing notes before there were computers? O tempora! O mores! (Cato was such a drag.) Education embraced the new technology of books in the 1400s. Do you think they agonized like we do?

    • Jerridkruse

      I think they did. Wasn’t it Socrates, or Plato, who questioned the invention of writing as degrading people’s ability to remember, as it has.

      Please don’t dismiss me as a Luddite, I use(d) social technologies with my students often & as they engaged we discussed how the trchnilogies improved & detracted from their learning (8th graders).

      To think there is no “down side” to tech use in a classroom is short sighted. Even my 8th graders recognized how their engagement with their neighbors diminished when a monitor was in front of them. Additionally, they recognized how the “open” communication encouraged them to only talk to their friends rather than engaging new people with different perspectives.

      Every new tech we use means we give something up. Every new technology carries its

    • Jerridkruse

      Sorry, on phone so hit button accidentally.

      Every new tech carries its own ideology that must be identified if we are to resist & maintain important aspects of our culture.

      Our culture WILL change, but to just lie back and accept change rather than critically examine change is the wrong attitude. We ought carefully examine both new ideologies purported by technologies & out current ideologies in hopes of identifying what should change, what should be added, what should be avoided & what must be conserved.

      • You have hit the nail on the head so to speak. The pertinent question is to what extent we resist immersion.

        Persona is important:
        I advocate immersion because I believe my students will be immersed at some indefinite period, whether it be in six hours or six years. The sooner they learn how to manage their ability to navigate and make sense of their surroundings, the sooner they can develop a functional persona in the culture in which they live.

        The ability to manage attention and information streams is crucial. I believe it is a personal skill, not one that can or should be imposed by one’s culture.

        Iranian and Chinese Internet filtering, Japanese gun control, and conservative religious rules forbidding certain dress, food, and even entertainment choices are examples of “important” cultural values. Do we need to respect them? If we respect them by enforcement, must we muzzle dissenting voices?

        Social compacts:

        Technology is often a matter of community practice. Take security for example. How secure is your home? Is it more or less secure than your neighbors’ homes? Chances are, it is protected from intrusion to the precise similar degree due to a social compact. These things evolve naturally and efforts to regulate them are probably ineffective.

        Perhaps the only example of honest regulation of technology exists in the Mennonite community and that isn’t very honest if you consider they freeload on medical benefits. You can examine and discuss them for years, but there is really only one metric: the subjective quality of interior mind. I claim I am happy and lead a life that contributes to the community. A Mennonite elder should agree that it is choice and the ability to form a “good” community that is important, not what technology I adopt.

        So we come to Larry’s problem of how education culture measures the effect of technology adoption on learning using multiple choice questions that measure the acquisition of discrete facts, while subjects are deprived of their prosthetic brain extension. I am wondering why we got away with having libraries in schools at this point as a library is nothing more than a storage device. The difference between a computer and a library is one of portability.

        Perhaps the title of the next book on education should be “The Mennonites’ Choice … Should Technology be Allowed in Schools?” and the book will be about shoes, clothing, pencils, and paper. Srsly!

      • “I believe my students will be immersed at some indefinite period, whether it be in six hours or six years. The sooner they learn how to manage their ability to navigate and make sense of their surroundings, the sooner they can develop a functional persona in the culture in which they live.”

        This comment by Bob Calder is one of the primary reasons why we need to better integrate modern digital technologies – and critical thinking about the same – into all aspects of our instruction. Right now parents and schools often have ceded the field; students are on their own to figure much of this out.

      • @Scott, Absolutely, the problem is, there are not many people making explicit the need to critically think *about* the technologies. Instead, the focus is critically think *with* the technologies.

        My approach is to have students use the technologies so they can better navigate their world, better critically examine their world, and communicate in their world. If you haven’t used the technologies, you cannot critically analyze the use of the technologies as deeply.

  5. I definitely would measure the success of a “technology integration” by how it is used (pedagogy). I do not see the problem with combining these two different things.

    I think it is important to recognize that these are two different things. This means that technology by itself typically will not change teaching methods. That is why there is an emphasis on professional development for the purpose of changing pedagogy. Good PD will not focus on how to use technology such as how to operate IWB’s or log into websites, but on how to use it effectively in the classroom to change to student-centered learning.

    Again I see no problems with this being the goal of a technology implementation program. Actually I think it should be the goal.

    How else should technology integration be evaluated?
    By how much the technology is used?
    By changes in test scores? Bleh!

  6. johntspencer

    I am often dismissed as a Luddite as well, despite having a 1:1 ratio in my classroom (they also use paper and pencil).

    I’m not interested in “transformation,” because the system, if faulty, doesn’t need a huge overhaul. I’m not interested in “revolution” because revolutions are always violent and one-sided.

    The reality is that quality instructional practices are what matter most. The tools make a difference, no doubt, but most educational change happens due to social and cultural shifts like urbanization, the Gutenberg Press, etc.

    People are quick to dismiss Socrates for the warnings he offered and yet he was right. Memory and oral language decreased. People mock the Luddites of the past, but many of them had great points about industrialization and urbanization and how both forces would dehumanize and the danger in sound bite snippets of information via the telegraph.

    I want students to criticize the technology they use. I want them to figure out how it reshapes the cultural and social context. If they collaborate globally, I want them to think about the cost of globalization.

    From my experience, most critics of technology often have a more nuanced, paradoxical and open dialog than technophiles. Many of them are not “afraid” so much as skeptical and rightfully so. I grew up hearing about transformation based upon The Oregon Trail and later the internet and still later eLearning and the reality is that the biggest factor was always the teacher and the peer group.

  7. Your post and the article linked by Judi Harris have broadened my understanding of this debate. As the director of technology I am expected to make technology work – whether it is well conceived or not. I have often felt that the technology we adopt is disconnected from the intended outcomes (when there is an intention beyond the technocentric).

    How great it would be if we could follow Dr. Harris’ suggestion: “Perhaps what needs to be further developed, examined, and shared are particular curriculum standards-based instructional strategies that are appropriately matched to students’ learning needs and preferences.”

    It is high time that we support teachers in the selection of technology when and as it is appropriate for particular student needs, skills, and tasks. The grab bag fashion we use now is often driven by individual personalities, trends, sales pitches and political agendas.

    Is there a collection of information that guides teachers and administrators through a rational process of linking tools and processes to student needs? There’s an army of salesmen that claim they have just the solution. I’d rather get my “news” from more trusted sources.

  8. Dr. Cuban, I’m curious whether you believe that ‘progressive’ (defined, in your terms I believe, as ‘student-centered’) pedagogy is or is not what schools should be striving for in their instruction? You state above that there is a ‘bias’ toward constructivism, which perhaps implies that you do not see constructivist teaching as desirable?

    • larrycuban

      Dear Scott,
      I believe that schools and individual teachers should strive toward varying their instruction to fit differences among students (i.e., motivational, cultural, academic, and other factors). Such variations in pedagogies would mean that teacher-centered, student-centered, and hybrids of both would become appropriate, given the ages of students and the content and skills they are expected to learn. So I do not see any one pedagogy as “desirable,” only different forms of instruction that are tailored to students where they are.

      • Thanks for the response. It seems to me that we are on the verge of inventing – if we have not yet done so – a wide variety of learning software and/or simulations that would do exactly this: vary the learning experience for the benefit of individual students. In this sense, the software would sit side-by-side with teachers, helping them differentiate what students do on a class-by-class (or even minute-by-minute) basis. Right now the sophistication of the software varies from fairly basic (adaptive drill-and-kill that) to fairly complex (simulations that get not only at what kids know but what they can do with what they know). All of this requires a robust computing device in the hands of every student and ubiquitous high-speed Internet access, however.

        I think one of the reasons that we technology advocates are so energetic about all of this is that we can see the glimpses of these possibilities already starting to take shape, but we need to build the technological, professional development, and/or operational infrastructures to make it happen. Thus the enthusiastic advocacy to begin creating opportunities for every child to learn in a way that works best for him/her individually. We’re not there yet, but we’re moving that direction pretty quickly. The challenges, of course, are how we get this to scale given the legacy structures, mindsets, and other aspects of the deeply-entrenched, factory-schooling model.

  9. This is the first article and discussion I have read that gets to the central issue of education reform that doesn’t show an obvious bias. Clarifying the conflict as being between two ideologies (pedagogical dogmatism and technocentrism) puts the dilemma into a manageable framework for discussion.

    I’m beginning this school year as half instructional coach and half high school teacher. Coming off the previous year with some time intensive training in using technology in the classroom has opened my mind to a much wider view of teaching/learning that has been shoved under the educational reform umbrella.

    This post and the comments provide much to consider.

  10. Fascinating discussion on ICT integration and particularly the point made by Dr. Cuban that we should use a variety of pedagogies. It struck me that the following article from Daniel Pratt, Good Teaching: One Size fits all?, supports such a stance,

  11. Thanks for posting this. I’ve been making this argument in similar forms for a while, but this gives the evidence I’ve been lacking. It looks like I’m going to be running a PD group at my school on tech, and this will be our opening reading.

  12. Pingback: Confusing Technology Integration with Instructional Reform | Engaging Struggling Readers |

  13. Pingback: Cuban on technology in the classroom then and now | From experience to meaning...

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