New Project in Technology Integration in Schools and Classrooms (Part 2)

In Part 1, I laid out my reasons for shifting my focus from disappointments and failures in uses of new technologies to best cases of such use in districts, schools, and classrooms. I also laid out two puzzles that have bugged me for a long time that may find solutions in describing and analyzing exemplars of technology fusion into schools and classrooms. In Part 2, I want to share my current thinking about how I plan to do the project in the next year or so and the obstacles that I see in front of me.

How do I plan to do the study?

The design of the project is a series of case studies drawn from districts and schools. The methodology I will use is interviews with district administrators, school principals, and classroom teachers. Also I will directly observe lessons, sit in on meetings on technology integration, and related professional development. Analysis of district, school, and classroom documents will provide the context of goals, strategies, assessments, and outcomes at different levels of schooling. Finally, describing the history of the district and schools insofar as access and use of new technologies over past quarter-century. All of these data make up each case study.

Where will I do the study?

I have chosen Northern California because it is the epicenter of techno-optimism about new technologies transforming the direction and nature of  both K-12 and university education. Major high-tech firms located there such as Google, Apple, Oracle, Intel, and others have launched major initiatives in both software and hardware that focus on improving the practice of schooling. Some of these firms have designed specific educational software, trained teachers, and offered products directly to schools (see here, here, here, and here). Specifically, I will focus on the Bay area which includes “Silicon Valley”–an area that covers San Jose through San Francisco. Early adopters and unvarnished fans of technology are in ample supply. A pervasive ideology across the region is anchored in taken-for-granted beliefs that new technology improves every aspect of daily life. Cultural norms among established firms, start-ups and wannabe entrepreneurs prize innovation, accept failure as part of life, and turn out beta versions of the “next new thing”daily. That ideology and culture is in the water Northern Californians drink and in the air they breathe. So exemplars of technology infusion in K-12 schools, powered by  hallowed beliefs in the power of new technologies to alter habits and institutions, would surely exist here.

Thus far, one high school district and one charter management organization in Northern California have invited me to do this research this Spring. Where I go after February and March, I am uncertain. So far, so good.

What obstacles do I anticipate?

The first barrier I have to get around is defining exactly what is meant by “technology integration” or “technology infusion.” Not an easy task. Multiple definitions abound (see here and here). Moreover, standards used to inspire action and then judge to what degree “technology integration” occurs in a district, school, or classroom vary widely (see here, here, and here). Rather than pick one among many definitions, I plan to find out how teachers, principals, and district administrators I interview and observe in action define technology integration and determine to what degree it is occurring in their locations.  Moreover, I will have an array of standards for technology infusion from which to choose such as the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), National Education Association (NEA), National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), and similar organizations.

Another barrier is determining whether the example I describe and analyze in a district, school, or classroom is “good” technology integration. Why an obstacle? Because conceptions of “good” teaching and learning vary among educators and non-educators. Furthermore, because I am not looking at students’ test scores and other common measures of success to determine “goodness,” I cannot say that what I find out about “technology integration” can be attributed to student outcomes, be they high, plateauing, or low.

Then there is the problem of the design and generalizing from what I find. Doing case studies and figuring out to what degree I can generalize about “technology integration” becomes an issue to think through because the sample (districts, schools, and classrooms) is both small and unrepresentative–they are, after all, exemplars of integration. One way around the issue of generalizing is, of course, comparing what I find with other district and school case studies elsewhere in the U.S. The issue is a perennial one when doing case studies.

Add even another obstacle to the list. “Technology integration”–a desired change–is a reform. District policymakers want teachers to alter how and what they teach in order for students to learn more and better than using conventional classroom approaches. In most districts, such a “reform” is often part of a larger package of desired changes that district policymakers seek (e.g., Common Core standards, school-site decision-making, revised budget formulas). Thus, sorting out the effects of “technology integration” on teachers and students becomes very tricky because it is one of many initiatives undertaken in a district or a school. The temptation to attribute any degree of success–however defined–to, say, schools and teachers integrating technology into their daily routines is a common error (see here, here, and here ). I want to avoid making that mistake.

The list of obstacles is incomplete and this post is running too long. If viewers have any suggestions for me as I begin this work—particularly around obstacles that I anticipate–I welcome your advice and counsel.



Filed under technology use

19 responses to “New Project in Technology Integration in Schools and Classrooms (Part 2)

  1. JoeN

    Larry, I think you’ll find Mike Truncano’s (World Bank) recent Edutech post on visiting schools to observe technology, very apposite. Especially his pragmatic and entirely sensible reference to the “carpenter’s eye” to which I’d add one modification, which a visit to today’s BETT Show in London confirmed at every corner. Over the years I’ve gradually thought one of the major things troubling so much technology adoption in education, is the simple reality that the ordinary, skilled professional, classroom teachers (the carpenters) are rarely, if ever, involved at all.

    I suspect you’ll need your carpenter’s eye rather a lot during your proposed project.

    One other thought about methodology. Is there maybe some value in only studying cases where teachers have adopted specific technologies to accomplish specific things, they identified in advance? That way you can side step the pupil performance minefield, yet establish a credible benchmark.

    • larrycuban

      Again, Joe, thanks for putting me onto Mike’s recent post and your comment. Your question about getting into “minefield” of student performance that can (or cannot) be attributed to technology use is helpful.

  2. Hi Larry,

    I’ve recently led the adoption of tablets across our school in a suburb of London, UK. Depending on who you ask, we’re either incredibly innovative or completely foolish.

    Perhaps surprisingly then, I’ve always been very sceptical of claims of transformation when it comes to the adoption of technology in schools. Throughout the deployment of our 1:1 tablet programme one thing above all was always present on our minds: There is no app for great teaching.

    From the start, some of the myths that we found ourselves dispelling most often were that technology would substitute teachers; that tablets would stop children from writing; and that we were somehow giving up on rigour and in to edutainment. As if mobile technology and high academic standards were somehow mutually exclusive.

    Anticipating my seminar at BETT yesterday, I had asked a colleague, who is a dab hand at filming and editing, to go round the school and film instances of tablets being used in lessons (if they were being used), so we can paint an accurate picture of how they are used, as opposed to how some folk assume they are being used. This is what he filmed

    It is actual lesson footage. Nothing was ‘put on’ for the camera. If you have time to watch this 3 min video, you will notice how students weave seamlessly between tablet and paper. Tablets are not substituting paper or preventing children from learning how to handwrite.

    The teacher is still the ‘sage on the stage’ most of the time. Students are still students. They are still mostly sitting in rows. Some would argue that if tablets have not transformed the classroom beyond this traditional paradigm, then what is the point? But when you tailor into the equation the multiple ways in which mobile devices support teaching and learning (in the classroom and beyond), then their value begins to become more apparent.

    Our school is a great school by all measures. Our results and inspection reports confirm this. Tablets have not yet been shown to have had a great impact on exam results (to early to tell) but, to be honest with you, we will not be surprised if exam results are not dramatically improved by the adoption of these devices. Having said that, our current data leads us to expect a modest improvement.

    At the end of the day, the decision to use tablet to support teaching and learning when appropriate was a value call. Good luck measuring that!

    I look forward to reading the outcome of your studies.

    Best wishes


    • larrycuban

      Many thanks, Patricia, for your comment, suggestions, and offer of help. I just may take you up on it. The issue you raised about getting student data and perspectives is very worthwhile. I would like to do it at a later point. Right now my focus is on the meaning of technology integration, the different views of it from policy and practitioner perspectives, and how it occurs in classrooms and schools. The next step after this would be determining the impact/influence on students (and their perspectives). So I do see this project as a sequence of inquiries ending up with students.

    • Chester Draws

      Technology integration is only successful if the students are empowered and excited about the product.

      I say the reverse. The exact reverse.

      Being excited can only ever be a short-term gain. No technology can hope to keep that up.

      “Empowered” is just waffle anyway. How does technology change a power relationship?

      I would say integration of technology is successful when the students don’t even notice it. That is, they are focused on learning, and not on the fact that it is “new” technology.

      No-one raves about modern calculators, yet they are amazing and have transformed things like how we teach logarithms. Graphics calculators allow much better teaching of graphs. The kids don’t think of them as technology — it’s just how you do Maths.

      I use automated graphing software I wrote myself to speed up my teaching of line equations. The kids don’t even know it is bespoke. They just get on with answering the questions. How would “being excited” about it help?

  3. If I were looking for a “best case scenario,” I’d be looking for a school or district that had a clear vision for how they wanted to improve learning (can they answer the question: “after these efforts, how will the students you graduate in the future be different from those you graduate now?”). That school/district would then be using technology in the service of those goals for instructional/cultural improvement. Basically, I’d be looking for a school that was renowned for a focus on instructional/learning improvement and had a technology program that could support those goals, rather than a school that was renowned for using technology…

    I’d also be attentive to places where technology adoption went beyond pockets of excellence (which are present in many schools or district), to systemwide adoption of ambitious or effective practices (which are quite rare). What helps districts tip from pockets of excellence to systemwide instructional improvement is a mystery worth investigating…

    Sounds like a great project.

  4. jturner56

    As always appreciated.
    Two points. Firstly, if looking at school as traditionally structured, it’s already been identified. See John Hattie, as quoted in Mal Lee (2015) Digital Technology And Student Learning: The Impact Of The Ecology >
    “Hattie’s (2009) meta-analysis of the known key learning variables and readers will see all the pathfinder schools had a clear, shaping educational vision; had set high expectations; had clearly identified the desired educational benefits; had an astute principal willing to lead and develop a culture that encouraged risk; and had striven to empower all their teachers to consistently lift the quality of teaching, to employ a diversity of teaching strategies and to foster the collaboration between the school and the home.”
    Secondly, case studies provide a snapshot in time, but too often miss the 3Ss > sustainability, scalability and systemizability. In Ed Tech proponents have been ignoring such issues going back as far as MLC as the first 1:1 laptop school in 1989, and even beyond. I hope you don’t fall for the same three card trick.
    Where those looking outside-in should meet with those looking inside-out, is where you identified in your December 2015 post – Predictions, Dumb and Otherwise, about Technology in Schools in 2025 – that “fundamental questions have to deal with matters of educational philosophy–what knowledge is most worth? Why? What are the best ways of teaching and learning? What are other ways of organizing schools to help students learn and grow into independent, clear-thinking, and whole people?” In this we are all too often stuck considering K-12 as a singular, blanched consideration, when there are clear development levels identified by cognitive research.
    In the meantime we try to maintain a balanced approach to integration/infusion as if that is as good as it gets within our current leadership and structural frameworks, stuck between the willingness of School all too willing to see ever-changing Digital in Isolation ((segmented, disjointed, paper as default) up against Integral (personal interactions at the individual level beyond the permit of School). Perhaps this also is not helped by an ed tech industry long on words but short on actual commitment to K-12 (As noted in a recent NYT article: Education Technology Graduates From the Classroom to the Boardroom. This is one key area where School education differs from medicine and other professions. Another, of course, is how Teaching as a profession is viewed politically (from outside-in and inside-out) compared to other professions.
    I wish you luck.

  5. Pingback: Response to Larry Cuban’s “New Project in Technology Integration in Schools and Classrooms” « Light Offerings

  6. Really exciting development Larry….your name came up several times at the recent BETT show in London and the associated Education World Forum….I hope to catch up with you in the summer when I am at Stanford as a judge at the Learning Design with Technology expo at the end of July.

  7. As a student in a rich community, we have had IPads, laptops, desktops and projectors at our disposal. The view on technology use in our school has never been separate and it really does increase productivity. When we first go all these new tools, I have to say there was a learning curve for both the students and the teachers in how to use the technology effectively. Therefore, I think it’s normal to have some misuse in technology in the first couple years of implementing it.

    However, the school I attend does reside in a rich community where the property taxes gives the school district all this money to afford this technology. I think technology use has to be universal and affordable for everyone so everyone gets the same advantages. Why should some students have all of these tools available in a rich community while another student who lives in a poor community has none of these tools? This just creates a greater difference in the achievement gap.

    Not only this, if students somehow make it out of their poor community then they will most likely move to richer communities to live somewhere nicer. By doing so, the poorer school district gets less money from property taxes and the richer community gets more competition for the purchase of property which makes the prices go up giving more revenue for rich school districts.

    I think the solution for having new technology for all schools is to redistribute property taxes within each state, that way every school district will be able to afford these technologies.

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