Digital Youth in Brick and Mortar Schools (Craig Peck, et. al)*


University researcher Craig Peck and colleagues including a high school teacher studied two schools in southeastern U.S. to see the interplay between students, teacher use of technologies and students’ personal media devices during the school day. In the two high schools (one urban and the other suburban), these factors interacted in complex ways that go well beyond what advocates for schools becoming more high-tech have either promised or foresaw. As part of the research design and methodology, the researchers shadowed ten students through their school day. To illustrate those interactions and display that complexity, the researchers offer a snippet of one student’s day in the urban, largely minority high school. The full text of the article published in Teachers College Record, May 2015 is in (DigitalYouthinBrickandMortarSchools)


One Friday morning in late spring, the instructional day began at Downtown High School, located in a large Southeastern United States school district. African-American 11th-grader Joanna Miller and 19 other students entered room 321 for their Small Business course, a technology-infused elective, and took seats in front of desktop computers. The session began as a guest speaker, a 1961 Downtown High School alumnus who had retired from a career as a lawyer and business person, described his work experiences, discussed resume tips, and offered motivational words.

The course instructor transitioned the students into the day’s assignment: They completed computer-based multiple-choice responses regarding business term definitions and reviewed for a test that coming Monday on creating a personal “business image.” The teacher monitored student progress through a program on his computer that provided a real-time screen shot of each student-assigned computer.

This system allowed him to lock individual computers or the entire group to provide updates or check that everyone was on task. At one point, a student tried to access a popular social media website through a proxy but had the action blocked by the monitoring program. The teacher’s computer-based monitoring of the students actually seemed rather laissez-faire. At one point, several students were engaged in completing the assignment, while a few others were completing work for other courses, surfing the web, or, at intermittent moments, quickly texting on their personal media devices. Joanna, in fact, used her computer to complete the assignment’s multiple-choice responses. She explained to the researcher how she preferred the online format because it allowed her to retake questions she answered incorrectly.

After the bell rang, signaling time to move to the next period, Joanna continued on with her school day. She encountered instructional technology along the way, including when fellow students used a computer-interactive whiteboard for problem demonstrations in mathematics. In other courses like English, decades-old practices predominated as students sitting at desks arranged in traditional rows completed a photocopied crossword puzzle regarding a classic play. In Latin, the instructor engaged students in a discussion regarding Celtic mythology and read a myth from a book. In this sense, her instructional day offered Joanna a mix of technology-rich and technology-free experiences. Despite the varied nature of instruction, one technology pervasive throughout the day was student personal media devices.

Downtown High School rules specifically prohibited students from bringing technology like cellular phones and digital music players to school. In classrooms and in the halls, however, headphones dangled from ears and tiny keyboards met eager text-typing thumbs as students routinely, if often surreptitiously, indulged in their favored virtual electronic communication modes.

In some cases, educational spaces became contested domains. In math, the teacher confiscated Joanna’s cell phone (which a classmate was using) and two others. The teacher returned the devices at the end of class with a stern admonition against further use. In Joanna’s Latin course, meanwhile, instruction in the aged language competed against modern times as one student in particular showed a remarkable affinity for modern multitasking. Shielding her personal media device beneath her desk, the student quickly tapped out text messages. She also used a pen to write notes to secretly pass onto classmates and, for good order, offered periodic comments to the larger discussion pertaining to Celtic mythology.

In part 2, Craig Peck and his colleagues describe the different kinds of students they encountered and their use of technology based on interviews and following students into classes in both the suburban and urban high schools.


*Craig Peck is a professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He was one of my graduate students who assisted me on a study of teacher and student technology use at two Northern California high schools in 1998-1999


Filed under how teachers teach, technology use

5 responses to “Digital Youth in Brick and Mortar Schools (Craig Peck, et. al)*

  1. David

    Hi Larry, I just read the article, which was very interesting, so thank you for highlighting it here. My chief complaint with it gets back to pedagogy–the underlying assumption of the researchers is that the teacher-led instruction is outdated and holding back the sort of transformative change that the technology being promulgated could bring. The researchers focus in on why this is (hitting some important points about top-down implementation), but do not challenge the basic premise of the supreriority of student-centered pedagogy.

    Now, if that assumption were not made–let’s say instead that teacher-led instruction was considered at least as good as student-centered models, then how could the technology be shaped to conform with that premise? As the researchers point out, rather than saying to a teacher “here’s a whiteboard–you didn’t ask for it, but you need it”, technology designed around teacher-centric practices might make a big diffrence in how it is utilized.

    All this reminds me of the review you did in 2010 of the Weston and Bain article about how there needs to be “new paradigm schools” for 1:1 programs to work. The tension between the forces trying to push tech into the classroom versus the teachers trying to do what they know works won’t be resoled IMHO unless the tech folks stop trying to push their vision and instead attempt to accomodate teachers’ current practices.

    • larrycuban

      Thanks for the comment, David. I have asked Craig to respond.

      • Craig Peck

        Hello David – Thanks for your thoughtful comments on our manuscript, and glad that you found the study interesting. We actually did not intend to argue either for or against student-centered teaching as a superior pedagogical approach; rather, we wanted to emphasize that in the study schools, student-centered practices had not emerged to the extent that some who promote technology in education anticipated they would. This is a finding that connects back to what we found in the high school technology research I did with Larry back in the late 1990s, so in this manuscript we wanted to note it as a trend that seemed consistent between the two eras. Personally, I think good teachers use a variety of strategies, and that their approaches can range from student-centered to teacher-centered. I do appreciate your thought-provoking question about what technology designed explicitly around teacher-centered practices would look like – interesting to think about.

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