I have embarked on a new project of describing and analyzing “best cases” of teachers, schools, and districts. In earlier posts, I explained why I have shifted the center of gravity in my research (see here and here). The past three posts describing lessons of teachers identified as exemplars illustrate the direction I will take in my research (see here, here, and here). I am not the first, nor the last, researcher who examined and analyzed “best cases” of a practice.
What I did not explain, however, was how I came to sit in the classes of these teachers (and others who I will describe in subsequent posts). The question gets at the criteria I used to contact these teachers and watch them teach their lessons. The answer to the question of why these teachers and not others becomes complicated because there is no agreement on what exactly “exemplary” means. In this post, I will deal with criteria for choosing “best cases” of teachers integrating technology into their lessons. In later posts, I will specify the criteria I used to choose instances of exemplary schools and districts.
Before getting into the criteria I used to enter teachers’ classrooms, documenting past efforts to identify, describe, and analyze exemplary teachers who integrated computers into their daily lessons is essential.
History of seeking classroom exemplars
In the late-1980s, Karen Sheingold and Martha Hadley surveyed 600 teachers across the nation in grades 4-12 who had been “[n]ominated because of their involvement and accomplishments in integrating computers into their teaching.” These were teachers who had developed a reputation among colleagues and administrators for being expert users of computers and its many applications to stretch their students into learning more, faster, and better. These were “best cases” of computer using teachers based on reputation. In the earliest years of teachers and students gaining access to desktop computers, this study showed that such teachers do exist. But what percentage of teachers are motivated and skilled sufficiently to become known among peers and administrators as experts in using computers in their daily lessons?
That is the question that Henry Becker tried to answer following the Sheingold and Hadley study. In a national sample of nearly 1000 teachers in elementary through secondary schools across the country, Becker found that five percent of the teachers could be called exemplary (see Table 1). What distinguished the five percent of exemplary teachers from the 95 percent of computer-using colleagues was, in Becker’s words: