Progress or Regress at Los Montanas, Part 2

Judgments about the use of technologies in schools, past and present, are never value-free. So let me deal with the ideological underpinnings of technological “progress” and “regress.”

By ideological I mean ideas that are political and value-driven. For example, as Judi Harris,  an expert on technology integration, pointed out (see post August 27, 2010) most advocates for more technology in schools (e.g. educators, vendors, academics)  are “techno-centrists” (think Seymour Papert, Nicholas Negroponte, and the latest champion of online instruction to replace teachers and schools). Techno-centrists, she says, seek “educational uses for particular technologies,” i.e., technical fixes for school problems. They have ideological blinders that lead them to celebrate the next new gadget in the name of better student learning.

The second ideological blinder technological-driven educators wear is “pedagogical dogmatism.” Most technological-inclined educators believe in their heart that these computing devices will transform undesirable teacher-centered instruction into desired student-centered classroom where teachers will be coaches, students will work on real-world projects in groups, and be self-regulated, independent learners. Constructivism–call it up-dated Dewey’s “learning by doing”–is the ideological bias built into much that passes for high-tech wisdom.

Harris points to Christopher Moersch, author of  LoTi (Levels of Technology Implementation), whose popular tool is 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….”

Why, she asks, should K-12 teachers’ teaching practices 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.

Others, of  course, have written about the ideological baggage  that techno-centrists and pedagogical dogmatists carry with them (see Langdon Winner, David Nye, Douglas Noble, and Neil Selwyn). These biases are hardly value-free ideas. They express political power and  call for organizational control mechanisms when policymakers introduce 1:1 computing, iPads, and online instruction as technical fixes to solve problems of low student achievement and the low standing of U.S. schools on international tests.

Now, I return to the question of progress or regress at Las Montanas between 1999-2010 as the school moved from computer labs to 1:1 computing.

So was there progress or regress? Many readers have probably figured out that the question itself is loaded with values. Progress toward what goal? Regress from what goal? Soon as I mention “goal” I am talking values. For example, are higher test scores the goal of 1:1 computing? Or getting students prepared for college? or reducing inequalities from the “digital divide?” Transforming teacher-centered into student-centered instruction? How about preparing students for a knowledge-based economy where jobs demand computer-based skills?

All of the above, at different times, have been explicit goals for high-tech innovation at Las Montanas. Different values drove the venture as it was launched, stumbled, and regained its footing. Each principal, however, saw the innovation through value-tinged lens (see August 31, 2010 post) and made decisions based on those values and evidence at hand.

But the evidence on reaching these diverse goals is fragmentary and jumbled.


*Academic achievement– Introduced in 2004, 1:1 computing was shelved for nearly two years after the state placed the school on academic probation because of low test scores. In 2006, laptops returned after scores improved and the state ended the school’s academic probation. That the principal then abandoned 1:1 computing for two years to get scores up is telling in of itself. Achievement test scores have risen and fallen since 2006 with the state Academic Performance Index rising each year but leveling off in 2009. There is a correlation between 1:1 computing and test score improvement but it would a huge leap of logic to say that one caused the other.

*Getting students into college– In 2005, sixty-five percent of graduates completed requirements to enter California universities. The percentage rose to 74 the following year and since then has fallen to 31 percent in 2009.

*Reducing social inequalities–most families already had home computers before 1:1 laptops were introduced. No “digital divide” existed then or now.

*Transforming teacher-centered into student-centered instruction–evidence I have gathered says that this shift in practice has yet to occur.

*Preparing students for jobs in the knowledge economy–no data available from school or district.

Ideological commitments inhabit the goals that policymakers and educators seek in launching technological innovations. Nothing about schools or technology is value free. Given the goals stated above and the checkered evidence I have, determining progress or regress, then, is hardly clear-cut adding up of numbers; there is no “slam dunk” here.


Filed under how teachers teach, technology use

10 responses to “Progress or Regress at Los Montanas, Part 2

  1. There you go again, name calling, “techno-centrist” and using red herrings. For the record, Richard Clarke was correct when his meta-analysis research on technology stated that it (technology) has no effect on achievement. Just like books alone do not affect a learner’s achievement. But you can read it for yourself as shall include the information. So, it still boils down to the instructional strategies and how technology can limit or expand those strategies. Read, not all technology is worthwhile technology. But to ignore over 20 years of research from the researchers who used to make up the Learning Technology center at Vanderbilt or national research studies such as the Horizon Report…well I just don’t have words. So if you want to continue your propaganda that’s on you. Here’s Clarke:
    At the beginning of the 1980s, Richard Clarke conducted a well-known meta-analysis of this type of educational technology research and concluded that media are “mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition” (1983, p. 445). This perspective might be termed the transmission model of educational technology – the view that technology is a delivery mechanism with no unique capacity or capabilities that might intrinsically affect learning.

    This view stands in stark contrast to the view guiding much of the research to that point, which might be thought of as the “exposure model” of educational technology. After all, what Clarke (rightly) concluded was that mere exposure to technology confers no particular educational benefits.

    Of course, the same is true of pencils, paper, books, teachers, classrooms and all other educational authorities and artifacts. We would not expect that placing a child and a book in the same room would necessarily result in educational benefits. Exposure to books is a necessary but not sufficient condition for books to be educationally effective, but the critical variables will almost certainly prove to include both the content of the book and the way the child interacts with that content. The same is true of technology. To use Clarke’s rather prosaic analogy, in order for the grocery truck to be effective in improving a person’s nutrition, the person has to be on the truck’s delivery route and the truck also has to be delivering something besides doughnuts and French fries.

    Clark’s observation implies a powerful conclusion: There is probably no generic technology effect on teaching and learning. However, the transmission model of instruction is itself flawed, because it treats all instruction as generic and fails to differentiate by content being taught or by teaching strategies employed.

    • larrycuban

      Dr. Bob,
      Yes, we both agree that Richard Clark’s analysis nearly 30 years ago was on the mark. You nicely summarize his conclusions. My argument is (and has been) that the ideological biases toward technology in this culture and surely among many educators are sufficiently strong that they have ignored Clark’s strictures or failed to apply them to their own ideas. Thus, Papert, Negroponte, and less well-known “techno-centrists,” –yeah, I used the phrase again–seldom refer to Clark’s seminal analysis, much less act on it.
      Now, you might be right about the deeper issue being the “transmission model of instruction” but the folks pushing online instruction, hybrid schools, and cyber-schools are as techno-centric as can be while also hewing to that very same transmission model that you find distasteful.

  2. Well, I’ll say that I’m much more agreeable with your response than your original. I might also point to the National Academies report in 2000 and 2001, How People Learn that walks the reader through the learning process and how technology can support. But back to your response, I have my own article coming out soon that puts the onus on administrators. In my mind, its the school boards and administrators who lack knowledge about what technology can and can’t do while making poor decisions based on these corporate entities you refer to. They are also the same ones that fail to provide the professional development and training for their teachers. Oh and one more note, let’s not play fast and loose with our references either. After all, there is a national meta-analysis research out there by the Department of Education support the positive effects of online learning. But remember, it still goes back to that grocery store analogy. Much of what publishing companies are pushing in the way of online learning is outdated, and is often no better than an online textbook. Online learning done well, is interactive, and employs those effective learning strategies that Clark talks about. Just saying…let’s not lump all techno-centrists into the same category and let’s share some of the responsibility with those administrators who lack the knowledge base and training to make the right decisions.

  3. “*Transforming teacher-centered into student-centered instruction–evidence I have gathered says that this shift in practice has yet to occur.”

    Why not study a school where this shift has happened and determine how technology is used there? I think most ed-tech enthusiasts agree pedagogy is more important than the tools and that buying tech. without PD will not lead to a shift to student-centered instruction. That is why social media is exciting as educators choose to improve themselves on their own. This has not reached critical mass yet, but more teachers are moving in this direction. Tech alone does not change teaching style, but can be a door to provide professional develop that can. But this takes vision and leadership from administration when they implement a new tech plan.

    • larrycuban

      Studying schools where a critical mass of teachers use technology to enhance their student-centered pedagogy still leaves you with the question of what role technology, professional development, teacher beliefs, administrative leadership, or even other factors played in having classrooms where student-centered lessons unfolded. Once Apple thought that simply providing computers to each student and teacher in five classrooms across the country would transform teaching. The Apple Classroom of Tomorrow (ACOT) experiment, between the mid-1980s through the end of the 1990s, showed that even with large chunks of professional development only a fraction of teachers shifted their pedagogy from teacher- to student-centered. Whether teacher use of social media will lead to such an outcome (I am puzzled how that might occur) is another question that remains to be answered.

      • I am not saying that studying those kind of schools will “prove” that technology led to them being student-centered. But you are going into great detail about a single school system that according to your observations is not student-centered.

        It would seem to me to more worth your time to study a school system that is student-centered and ask how it got that way.

        By teacher use of social media I am referring to teachers building learning networks (called PLN by many) and basically building their own customized professional development through blogs, Twitter, Plurk, Facebook, Nings, or whatever. It is anytime, anywhere learning. It is also easy to gain ideas from cutting edge educators who are properly using technology to shift toward student-centered investigations. The shift in these spaces is toward teachers being lead learners because of the learning they are doing in their personal life. This spills over into their classrooms where students are given permission to learn according to their passions.

  4. Sandy

    Every time I get discouraged about the adoption and integration of technology in instructional practice, I always go looking for a Larry Cuban article or posting. I see what you are saying about regress/progress and see it myself daily as the instructional technology coordinator in an Arlington Public Schools high school (Hi from Virginia, Dr. Cuban!). In my capacity of the on-site professional development person who must also manage all the technology in the building and coordinate for online testing, I work with fine teachers who want success for their students. It is why they are teachers. They care. They are also pleasers – they do what they are told. I myself taught HS English for 19 years before I moved into this position. It’s that “pleaser” part of our nature as teachers that might be a factor to focus on. As a pleaser, I want to do the best possible job for my students, for my administration. The teachers in my building are extremely good at this, and as a consequence my high school has high SOL scores (VA standardize tests) and makes AYP every year.

    My teachers use technology daily for productivity, almost exactly as you depict at Los Montanas. Teachers decline invitations to learn about wikis and collaborative writing until after our testing period. Then , when all the work is truly done for the year, we “enhance.” I’ll get them into the lab to do an Animoto video, make a review wiki for the final exam.

    I would only suggest from my own small part of this very large topic, that assessment drives instruction. When the nature of how we test/measure students changes, so too will pedagogy. It will have to.

    In 1997, I introduced the math teachers to graphing calculators. Resistance ran high among the math teachers until the test questions read: Using a graphing calculator, identify the yadayada… So the math teachers had to use the calculators. The SOLs online test built questions that employ calculators and added a calculator to the online testing application. Today a math teacher cannot imagine how algebra could be taught any other way.

    The way out of this no way out conversation might just be: change the tests.

    I come back to you, Dr Cuban, because you remind me it’s not about the technology, but the passion to improve the learning experience. And I appreciate your explanation of “value-driven” agendas. I’m curious what you thought of the Obama/Bush educational summit in Florida. Seems to me there’s another factor at work besides standarized testing.

    • larrycuban

      Hi Sandy,
      Thanks for your description of APS teachers and graphing calculator use being linked to SOL online tests. Connections between pedagogy and assessment have occurred well before NCLB became law. Your example is a fine one.

      As for the President meeting with Florida’s former Governor Jeb Bush, I cannot distinguish very much between them insofar as their school reform agendas. Bipartisanship is strong when it comes to charter schools, common core standards, use of more technology in schools, and pay-4-performance. Perhaps you can make distinctions that I cannot make.

      I retain a warm spot in my heart for the Arlington public schools.

  5. Let’s take away all the technology in a given school overnight. What would we then see the next school day?

  6. Judy A Williams

    Hello Brad,
    I stumbled on this very interesting site.
    I had to smile when I read your comment. It reminded me of a time when our bank was implementing an online teller system in 1984. There were ongoing technical problems especially with the network. The staff decided to send a strongly worded protest to the CEO to have the IT department fix the problem immediately. The IT department responded by recommending that the online system be ditched. The protest became even more strident. How are we supposed to work without this online system?

    BUT what happened thereafter was an engaged partnership between the banking staff and the IT department, something for which the IT department had been begging. In less than 6 months the system was perfected and rolled out to all branches with high marks for usability, performance and adoption.

    I am putting together a research proposal to evaluate the benefits of a newly introduced 1-1 laptop program by the government of a small developing country. The stated goal of the 1-1 program is to improve the achievement of students in their final High School Leaving standardized examination.

    Technology in schools and life is here to stay. We may stumble along the way but it has and will continue to change pedagogy, practice and all the other aspects of teaching and learning. There has to be interested involvement by all stakeholders including students, parents, administrators etc. Neither teachers alone, nor technology alone is the answer.

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