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.