Technology in schools today is ubiquitous. Educational technology makes bold claims of efficiency and the ability to provide instantaneous, useful information about teaching and interactive, simulated learning experiences. Technology is also viewed as a liberating force by virtue of access (to both hardware and virtual worlds) and the appreciation of multiple learning dimensions. In short, technology has been seen as the tonic to what ails society in general and schools in particular. Technology zeitgeists like Thomas Friedman make a compelling, if not alarming, economic case for more technological innovations in schools. More recently, my colleague and friend Scott McLeod (in this issue) states that we need educators
who are brave enough to create the new paradigm instead of simply tweaking the status quo.
I agree. However, if technology is to be not only a disruptive force in schools, but also to have a transformational impact on teaching and learning, we must look beyond the tools of technology and pay specific attention to its purveyors.
New technological innovations have promised to revolutionalize society and schools. The radio (1920s-1940s), TV (1950s-1980s), and computers (1990s-2010s), and now virtual environments and interactive, instantaneous communication tools have all traveled a cycle of high expectations and low results in schools. For example, educational radio promised to “up grade” teaching skills by having a “tremendous influence and have adjusted the curriculum, teaching processes, and even administrative practices to take full advantage of this powerful learning aid” (Levenson, 1945, p. v). The story of how technology, such as the radio, infiltrated the classroom but not the practices of teachers’ teaching and students’ learning is common. The chronic hype for educational technologies has outpaced the use of educational technologies (see Cuban, 2001). Why does this cycle continue? Why do technologies come in ceremoniously but leave in its wake dust-covered ghosts of technology past?
A Detroit school principal in the 1930s provides a rationale for the failure of educational radio to make a mark on teaching and learning:
The degree and rapidity of the development [of the radio] was determined largely by the interested and carefully controlled activities of teachers themselves (Thomas, 1932, p. 980).
This principal’s reasoning served as a prognostication of how future educational reforms, with or without technology, were not able to penetrate the practices of teacher pedagogy, student learning, or principal leadership. Failure has not been a result of technical issues. Reform after reform has met psychological, organizational, and institutional issues, and reforms have lost. Rob Kling (1996) summarized these powerful dimensions with an effective analogy,
We do not simply replace horses and mules with cars and trucks. We have configured an elaborate system of motorized transport, including new roads, traffic regulations, gas stations, repair shops, insurance and so on (p. 44).
There certainly continues to be issues of access—implementation of innovations have notoriously been a story of “have” and “have nots” (currently access to Internet connectivity in schools and at home is an issue of educational equity). Beyond access there is another issue that is often conspicuously overlooked: the skill (capacity) and will (motivation) of the end-users. This is also known as the readiness of individuals to effectively use technologies and the capacity of the technology itself to make a meaningful contribution to both teaching and learning in schools.
Without regard for the changes in human life patterns that may result, new machines, new forms of organization, new ways of increasing efficiency, are constantly being introduced. To do this without regard for the effects on life patterns is lawlessness (p. 52).
The lesson here is that meaningful and effective change needs extensive, supported, and sustainable strategies for the institution, organization, and individual that correspond with a disruptive force such as educational technological innovations. The multitude of factors or deficits that inhibit such change has been reported ad nauseam. Here I offer three grand challenges to create conditions for technology integration in schools. Taken together these grand challenges may prove useful in the meaningful, effective, and sustained integration of technology in schools.
Grand Challenge No. 1: Technological Grammar
Institutionally we need to allow technology to change what schools currently look like. Traditionally, reform efforts have been thwarted by the public’s perception of what schools look like—mostly from their own experience. This has led to isomorphism where innovations transition back to the established grammar of schooling (see DiMaggio & Powell, 1991; Tyack & Cuban, 1995). While there have been recent strides to innovate our school (e.g., Department of Education Investing in Innovation funds, local magnet schools, etc.), the constant issue such as assessments and standardized curricula continue to remind us that the form and function of schools has changed very little. That is, while technology has seen radical changes over the past 100 years (e.g., think of the technology of flight from 1911 to today—the Wright Brothers would be stunned looking at a Stealth fighter, but feel right at home in a classroom) in general school design, teaching, and student activity have remained static. The rules and designs of schools morph reforms back to this static grammar we have all come to recognize as schooling. A technology grammar will need to be accepted by the public and the institution of education. If we want different outputs from schooling, technically competitive students, then what schools and schooling looks like must change—and this change must be accepted as the new grammar of schooling.
Grand Challenge No. 2: Technological Coherence
Organizationally, schools must become more coherent. Coherence will make or break any reform effort, no matter the stakes (see Elmore 2003). The prowess and power of an organization will always supersede individual efforts of reform. A key figure in a school’s organizational coherence is the school principal. The principal should model the way and engage in a learner-centered evaluation of practice. School leaders should engage in the very technologies they want teachers to use. Why lead a meeting with a White Board when you demand that teachers integrate Smart Boards? Additionally, school leaders must look at educational technologies not as “tools” that may be “used” in a classroom. Rather, leaders must evaluate technologies through the lens of student learning. This is a different frame in which to evaluate teaching and learning. Looking at student engagement and learning, not teacher practice liberates evaluators to focus on what works.
Grand Challenge No. 3: Technological Accommodation
Personally, there is a base knowledge that educators must acquire. Modern technologies must be taught by inquiry and doing. The advancements of technology “tools” are emerging at a ferocious pace. Open source programming, application design, and communication skills have created a new accessibility. Educators must not only learn a technology, but the process for integrating them into their teaching and their students’ learning (see Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge, Koeler & Mishra, 2008). Getting teachers to create their own avatars, to blog, create Wikis, QR codes, or to edit video are examples of development activities that advance knowledge to skill. Such a transformation is difficult and the change process has been compared to stages of grief (see Marris, 1974). Asking individuals to alter their professional practice will require breaking an existing code of pre-existing practices and schema. We want to avoid the assimilation of new practices and seek a deeper schematic change, or accommodation. This will require innovations that are meaningful, doable, observable, and compatible to one’s practices (see Rogers, 2003). This change will come slowly over time and must begin in pre-service training, survive the informal learning in the teachers lounge, and be reinforced and supported by the reflection and evaluation by the school leadership.
* * * * *
Perhaps Philip Jackson was a Vonnegut fan as well:
… the greatest intellectual challenge of our time is not how to design machines that behave more like humans [we are already there], but rather, how to protect humans from being treated more like machines (p. 66).
The protagonist, Paul Proteus, in Player Piano lives through a neo-Darwinism where technology subsumes every aspect of living creating a dystopia.
This takes away creativity, individualism, and in the end freedom. Of course nobody is seeking such a world, the lesson is simple: Technological innovations in schools must seek more than efficiency and entertainment and be anchored in elements of creativity, collaboration, and communication. Here technology is liberating and equitable.
So where is the balance, the sweet spot, between technological bliss and dystopia? Can new technologies break the constraints of the institution, organization, and individual readiness triumvirate? Will any new technologies replace the chalk-smudged sleeve of the teacher of tomorrow? The answers to these questions will reside in the fit of technology with the institution’s ability to reconceptualize what school looks like, the organizations ability to model, observe, and support innovations, and the match of technology and individual’s ability to accommodate new ways of teaching and learning. We cannot allow the intoxicating advances such as a Player Piano to replace the creativity of a composer and the artisanship of the pianist. We must regain control of the machines. To do so requires us to reimage our current institution of education, our organization of schools, and expectations of teachers. To ignore both emergent technologies and the grand challenge to integrate them into teaching and learning is inexcusable.
Hopefully you are here vis-a-vis the QR code that was embedded in the online and print editions of this article. Our intent is to make these articles accessible as well as interactive. We welcome your comments on this sticky issue. You can also contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cuban, L. (2001). Oversold and underused: Computers in the classroom. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
DiMaggio, P. J., & Powell, W. W. (1991). The iron cage revisited: Institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields. In W. W. Powell & P. J. DiMaggio (Eds.), The new institutionalism in organizational analysis (pp. 63-82). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Elmore, R. (2003). Accountability and capacity. In M. Carnoy, R. Elmore & L. S. Siskin (Eds.), The new accountability: High schools and high-stakes testing (pp. 195-209). New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.
Friedman, T. (2007). The world is flat 3.0: A brief history of the twenty-first century. New York: Farrar, Staus and Giroux.
Jackson, P. (1968). The teacher and the machine. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Kling, R. (1996). Hopes and horrors: Technology utopianism and anti-utopianism in narratives of computerization. In R. Kling (Ed.), Computerization and controversy: Value, conflict and social choices (2nd ed., pp. 40-58). New York, NY: Academic Press.
Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2008). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A new framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054.
Levenson, W. (1945). Teaching through radio. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, Inc.
Marris, P. (1974). Loss and change. New York: Pantheon Books.
McLeod, S. (2011). Are we irrelevant to the digital, global work in which we now live? UCEA Review. 52(2), 1.
Papert, S. (1993). The children's machine: Rethinking school in the age of the computer. New York, NY: Basic books.
Rogers, E. (2003). Diffusion of innovation (5th ed.). New York: Free Press.
Thomas, J. S. (1932). Radio as teacher. Michigan Educational Journal, 9(7), 980.
Tyack, D., & Cuban, L. (1995). Tinkering toward utopia: A century of public school reform. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Vonnegut, K. (1952). Player Piano. New York, NY: Dell Publishing.