The issue of change as perceived by individual teachers and by a researcher poses a dilemma for the researcher. I was a researcher at Las Montanas high school for two years to study their 1:1 laptop program. I had also been at the school in 1998-1999 when the school had a computer lab program.
At Las Montanas between 2008-2011, for example, 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 lessons differently (e.g., some teachers found video snippets that students watched). During many lessons, students used computers for assignments, projects, notetaking, Internet searches, etc. These were activities that I had seen in scattered classrooms at Las Montanas 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. [See, for example, Seymour Papert, The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer (New York: Basic Books, Inc, 1993); Michael Hannafin and Susan Land, “The Foundations and Assumptions of Technology-Enhanced Student-centered Learning Environments,” Instructional Science, 1997, 25, pp.. 167-202].
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. 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 wanted to happen after purchasing and deploying computers, looked for fundamental changes in teaching. In my case, determining whether teachers had shifted or were in the process of shifting 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 what policymakers intended to happen? “Or should they be considered from the teachers’ vantage point?” David K. Cohen, “A Revolution in One Classroom: The Case of Mrs. Oublier,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 1990, 12(1), p.312)
Researchers can publish their studies but teachers seldom tell their side of the story–although teacher-bloggers are now airing their views far more than a decade ago. Surely, 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 declared that they had changed, had clearly expanded their repertoire of practices. They blended the old with the new. They had created hybrids of innovative and traditional practices in lessons they taught. In all fairness, I must honor teachers’ incremental changes in their creating hybrids of old and new practices while, at the same time, acknowledge few shifts in fundamental patterns of teaching that designers of innovations had intended. That would be a way of reconciling this dilemma in writing about Las Montanas.