I am drafting a chapter on access and use of computers at Las Montanas high school that will be in my next book. I did a study of computers there in 1998-1999 when there were stationary labs and returned in 2008-2010 when the school had 1:1 computing and mobile labs (see posts of August 7, 2010 and February 18,2011). In drafting this chapter, I have run into a dilemma that has bothered me for many years as both a practitioner and scholar. The issue is about what researchers see and what teachers see when it comes to changes in practice.
An example. What does a researcher make of the teacher who says with passionate confidence that she has made a 180-degree shift in her teaching of science to fourth graders from wholly teacher-centered activities to student-centered ones; she cites as evidence the different materials and practices that she uses in daily lessons. Yet after observing these lessons, the researcher sees those very same new materials and practices are being used in ways that undercut the purposes intended by the designers of the reform and the policymakers who bought the materials and trained the teachers in their use.
Who do you believe? Other researchers have noted discrepancies between what teachers say about the changes they made and what is observed in their classrooms.
Now, let me be specific to Las Montanas. It was clear to me—and data I collected from student surveys, the media center sign out sheets for mobile carts, and extensive classroom observations confirm this point—that frequency and pervasiveness of technology use (e.g., PowerPoint lectures, Interactive White Boards, clickers, students taking notes, doing digital worksheets, and viewing video segments) had increased substantially since 1998-1999 albeit unevenly across academic subjects..
Moreover, most of the academic subject teachers I surveyed and interviewed told me that they had, indeed, made changes in how they prepared lessons and used electronic devices for administrative and instructional tasks. They told me that they have become more efficient in record-keeping, assigning grades and homework, and teaching lessons. Additionally, they saw that their students responded well to these changes in their teaching. Now here is where the dilemma pinches me.
In my observations of lessons, I saw that teachers had, indeed, made changes in practices. They prepared for lessons differently (e.g., some teachers had found snippets of video for the lesson that students watched). During many lessons, students used computers for assignments, projects, note-taking, Internet searches, etc. These were activities that I had seen far less in Las Montanas classrooms a decade earlier. Yet, to me sitting in the back of the room, all of those changes added up to an enhancement of teacher-centered lessons, not a move toward student-centered instruction–what policymakers wanted, vendors promised, and techno-enthusiasts sought.
One way out of this dilemma is to explore what each party means by “change” and then determine who judges the worth of the change. “Change” clearly meant one thing to teachers and another to researchers like me. Teachers had, indeed, made a cascade of incremental changes in their daily lessons. Researchers such as me, however, trying to keep in mind what policymakers intended to happen after purchasing and deploying computers, looked for fundamental changes in teaching. In my case, getting teachers to shift from traditional to non-traditional instruction in seating arrangements, lesson activities, teacher-talk, use of projects, etc. Las Montanas teachers saw substantial incremental “changes,” while I saw little fundamental “change.”
So whose judgment about change matters most? “ Should researchers “consider changes in teachers’ work from the perspective of new policies….[or intentions of policymakers]? Or should they be considered from the teachers’ vantage point? (p.312).
Researchers publish their studies and teachers seldom tell their side of the story–although teacher-bloggers are now airing their views far more than a decade ago. Teachers’ perceptions of change have to be respected and voiced because they have indeed altered their practices incrementally and as any practitioner (lawyers, doctors, accountants) will tell you, that is very hard to do.
The truth of the matter is that the Las Montanas teachers who swore that they had changed, had clearly altered their repertoire of practices. They blended the old with the new. They had created a hybrid of innovative and traditional practices in lessons they taught. For now I am thinking that I must honor teachers’ incremental changes in their creating hybrids of old and new practices while, at the same time, acknowledging few shifts in fundamental patterns of teaching. That would be a way of reconciling this dilemma in writing about Las Montanas.