Educational CyberPlayGround ®

Bonnie Bracey Teachers and Technology May 1998

Todd Oppenheimer is the associate editor of Newsweek Interactive. He has won numerous awards for his writing and investigative reporting. His article ("The Computer Delusion") can be found at

Last year before NECC, I had a couple of telephone calls from Mr.Oppenheimer because I was a member of the National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council. I looked forward to the article he was writing. It was interesting to see the finished commentary. First of all, he had wrongly dismissed the council as people who were all pro-technology. We came to some understandings that we all shared after the two years of intensive work. The work of the council reflected lots of different thinking about different kinds of technology, and though we came to agreement most of the time, there was no consensus on everything. We worked to achieve a balanced set of reports. Of course all of our agreements and disagreements are a part of the Congressional Records , which Mr. Oppenheimer should have had access to.

Second of all, it was interesting to find out that Mr. Oppenheimer had similarly dismissed most of what Linda Roberts had also said to him in her phone interview. Dr. Linda G. Roberts, is the Director of the Office of Educational Technology and Special Advisor to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. As Senior Advisor on Technology, Dr. Roberts represents the Secretary on the Vice President's National Information Infrastructure Task Force, and other interagency efforts. She is also a member of the White House educational technology working group.

"Nobody believes that technology is the quick-fix for what ails education,"she had said, "But what we do believe is that putting computers in our classrooms, linking our classrooms to electronic resources, other classrooms, and experts around the globe can be a very important component of improving the quality of education for our students.( If you look at the four pillars of the technology initiative, they are not simply about infrastructure or computing ). They are about teachers and helping teachers use this technology and integrate it in the most effective way into their classrooms, and it is about building the base of applications across the curriculum so that we have a strong set of high-quality, challenging, high- motivating, effective learning resources that go hand-in-hand with the computers and the networks." She was one of many people who had positive things to say that were not a part of the article.

After the article was published, her comment was "Unfortunately, Mr. Oppenheimer never provided any statistical data in his diatribe. It was a very thinly-documented piece, and if he had shown us some statistics, I think we would have lent some credibility to his argument. There has been a trend in place for the last 15 or so years that overall shows a decline in some schools in music and art and shop programs, I will not deny that, but it has nothing to do with technology. When school budgets get cut, those are the programs that are typically under siege. What has been very exciting, however, is that where there hasn't been a music teacher, some very clever teachers have been able to use interactive software to engage their kids in music. There's some pretty incredible software that supports the arts and there's been a very interesting consortium of arts educators that has now pointed to some of the most exciting applications of the arts through the use of interactive technology. So, I think he's got it wrong. And in the case of shop programs, that is the one area where I have been in some schools where I have literally been standing on the floor of what used to be the auto mechanics laboratory. Most of your car is now made up of computer-based components. I'm thinking particularly of one of these labs in Des Moines, Iowa. In the spot that used to be the auto mechanics lab, the school had replaced it with a CAD cam, computer simulation, interdisciplinary, vocational arts technology program and I think they did the right thing."

Dr. Roberts herself agrees that we need more research but she provides more and balance in her discussions

This is a summary of Todd Oppenheimer's points.
*Districts are cutting funding for art, music, library, shop and other vital subjects to spend it on computers.

*Many of the positive studies and "meta-analyses" are scientifically flawed and others are "inconclusive." Some studies even show negative results from computer use.

*The president's technology task force, which touts computers in schools is biased: Its members are all technology fans.

*Computers are the "filmstrips of the '90's"--fun and easy but educationally useless.

*At schools where technology does seem to be making a big difference, other changes (e.g., longer classes or new teaching methods) might be just as responsible.

*Technology's complexity makes it less useful in lower grades.

*While there are some teachers who are "true believers," others are finding that their kids get overexcited and "wired" as a result of their time at the computer.

*Computers are too abstract and not as effective as "real-world" experiences. As Clifford Stoll puts it, "No computer can teach what a walk through a pine forest feels like."

*Rather than worrying about "computer literacy," many employers say that a well-rounded education is most important to them and that all the computer skills their workers need can be learned in a brief on-the-job training program.

*Computers are expensive and become obsolete too quickly. High-tech companies offer help at first, then withdraw their support, leaving schools to foot the bill. Instead of spending more, schools (especially elementary schools) should settle for less expensive solutions--including donated equipment.

*Although the Internet offers some valuable resources for older students, there's a lot of awful stuff on the Net.

*Too much time at the computer turns kids off to reading and makes them intellectually lazy.

*It's not easy to work together at a computer, so kids either fight or becomeisolated.

*If we stopped spending money on computers, we could free billions for teaching "solid skills" and training teachers.

**Key points as summarized in Technology & Learning, September, 1997

Searching websites, I found this interesting statement again from Technology and Learning. NYSCATE Ammunition Belt,

Open Your Eyes:
The Evidence is There! Technology & Learning, September, 1997
By Ellen R. Bialo and Gwen Solomon

It's happening again. The minute the education pendulum swings toward an innovation, there are folks who want to wrestle it back in the other direction. We've seen it with whole language and phonics, with electives and "basic skills." Technology is suffering the same fate.

Finally, the government wants to spend money to implement it; finally, there are discounts to wire the schools; finally, there is recognition that teacher training is necessary. Along come the critics who say, "The roofs are leaking; the textbooks are old; there are dangers out on the Internet. So quick, close the gate, rope in the kids and make 'em learn like we did in the good old days without this fancy, expensive stuff."

They ask, "Where is the proof that technology makes a difference?" Well, it may not exactly be bedtime reading, but it certainly is there. The soon-to-be-released "Report on the Effectiveness of Technology in Education, 1990-97," written by Interactive Educational Systems Design (IESD), Inc., and published by the Software Publishers Association (SPA), offers abundant evidence that educational technology is having a significant positive effect on achievement in all major subject areas, in preschool through higher education, and for both regular education and special needs students. Here are just a few examples cited in the SPA report:

*A team at Vanderbilt University studied at-risk, inner-city kindergartners for three months and found that a group learning in a multimedia language arts environment showed significantly superior gains in auditory, language,decoding-in-context and story-composition skills over a control group not using the computer.

*In a study of Indiana's Buddy System, which places computers in the homes of upper elementary school students, Buddy students demonstrated gains in writing proficiency more than three times those of students in comparison schools.

*Two studies by researchers at the Stevens Institute of Technology demonstrated the positive effects of commercially-available high school mathematics software on retention of math skills, based on their performance on a delayed post-test.

*Two Israeli researchers found that adding computerized lab analysis tools and simulations to the high school biology curriculum led to significantly better content knowledge and science process skills.

*Another study comparing elementary school students who received traditional classroom instruction to those using software with video vignettes designed to stimulate mathematical problem solving found that the video-using students showed less anxiety toward math, were more likely to see it as relevant to everyday life, and were better able to appreciate complex challenges.

Many critics ignore the positive news, citing less promising studies as proof that "technology is not working." Those with more open minds acknowledge the range of results and say, "There is no conclusive evidence." That's because they are asking the wrong question. What we need to ask is not "Does technology work?" but "Under what conditions and how does it work?"

A closer look at the research shows that technology is most effective when teachers receive more training in its instructional applications; when it is used to supplement a carefully thought-out program of classroom instruction; and when the software being used includes an appropriate amount of learner control, helpful feedback and sound pedagogical design.

Beyond improving upon "traditional" learning, technology can expose students to experiences that weren't possible before. How can anyone dismiss tools that allow students to manipulate 3-D mathematical objects, access primary sources at the Library of Congress online, gather and compare environmental data with students around the world, and publish their writing on the Internet, not just on the refrigerator?

Here are some challenges to all the critics out there:

*Give up spurious arguments. After years of letting school buildings decay and giving outdated texts to kids, don't pretend that the choice is "technology or roofs." If we weren't fixing the roofs before, why must we give up technology to do it now?

*Think ahead. If you keep technology out of the schools today, don't be shocked several years from now when students are unprepared to take their place in the competitive job market of the 21st century--a market in which the vast majority of jobs will require the use of technology.

*Don't rush it. We need to identify what we want students to learn, determine the most promising approaches, and test those out over time. The only way to know where and how technology makes a difference is to use it, study it, and disseminate the findings.

*Get a grip. Today, a teacher's bag of goodies includes technology. Like its sack-mates, it serves some learning purposes perfectly and others not at all.Good educators recognize the difference. Finally, release the pendulum and let it swing calmly and naturally. (And if you don't understand how it works, there's a computer simulation to help you learn.)

Meanwhile, a task force on technology was involved in a study for The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) . That group has released a report on technology that should drive change in NCATE's accreditation standards and raise the bar for teacher candidate and faculty use of technology in schools of education.Here is where the report of the technology task force is located(

Here is what we reported to the educational community.

"From time to time, someone invents a product or develops a practice which has an unforeseen and massive impact on society. The printing press, created by Johann Gutenberg approximately five and a half centuries ago, was such ,an invention. Who would have predicted that a press initially devoted to publishing the Bible and other religious texts would someday be seen as one of the forces undermining church authority? Who would have imagined that books, then owned by few and treasured as symbols of wealth and power, would someday be accessible to nearly everyone? And who could have foreseen a system of public schools organized primarily for the purpose of teaching children to read and to help them absorb the knowledge books contain?

The results of the printing press, and all of its modern successors, are so much a part of our lives it is difficult to imagine an existence without the ability to read, and the books, journals, and newspapers that support a reading public. It is also difficult to imagine how one could organize instruction without textbooks and various associated readings. For teachers and students alike, learning at all levels of education has been primarily a process of reading what experts have written, discussing what has been read, and listening to teachers explain or expand upon textbooks. In most cases, schooling has become a process for understanding, retaining, and reporting what is found on the printed page.

Inventions of the twentieth century have the potential to influence society as much as did the printing press. The computer, video, and telecommunications of various kinds are having an impact on every aspect of our society: work, leisure, entertainment, household tasks. These inventions are also transforming the way we approach knowledge and sources of expertise.Today, people are no longer required to read about an event; they can see media versions of it unfold before their own eyes and make their own interpretation. Consequently, the ability to obtain and interpret information quickly and accurately is even more important than in the past.

There is no longer a question about whether the new technology will be used in schools. Nearly everyone agrees that students must have access to computers, video, and other technology in the classroom. Many believe these technologies are necessary because competency in their use is an important feature of career preparation; others see equally important outcomes for civic participation. Most importantly, a growing research base confirmstechnology's potential for enhancing student achievement. What is less certain is how and when these technologies will change the nature of schooling itself. For example, the technologies are already providing an alternative curriculum for students that are scarcely acknowledged by the formal school curriculum. Nevertheless, they have been mainly employed as additions to the existing curriculum. Teachers are employed who know how to use them, but knowledge of and skill in the use of technology has not been necessary for all teachers. These attitudes are surely shortsighted if technology infusion is to take root.

The introduction of computers and other technologies into schools is occurring at the same time that three decades of research in the cognitive sciences, which has deepened our understanding of how people learn, is prompting a reappraisal of teaching practices. We know from this research that knowledge is not passively received, but actively constructed by learners from a base of prior knowledge, attitudes, and values. Dependence on a single source of information, typically a textbook, must give way to using a variety of information sources. As new technologies become more readily available and less expensive, they will likely serve as a catalyst for ensuring that new approaches to teaching gain a firm foothold in schools.

Despite the technology changes in society, being a teacher in American schools too often consists of helping children and youth acquire information from textbooks and acting as an additional source of expertise. Teachers are provided role models of this approach to teaching from kindergarten through graduate school; their teacher education courses provide hints for making textbook-oriented instruction interesting and productive, and as teaching interns, they both observe and practice instruction based upon mastering information found in books.

Teachers may be forgiven if they cling to old models of teaching that has served them well in the past. All of their formal instruction and role models were driven by traditional teaching practices. Breaking away from traditional approaches to instruction means taking risks and venturing into the unknown. But this is precisely what is needed at the present time."

3Technology Task Force of NCATE - An on-line version of Technology and the New Professional Teacher:Preparing for the 21st Century Classroom

Many of us struggle to use technology under very difficult circumstances.

People who have no idea of the learning landscape ought to be more involved in observing the places where we work and have a better assessment of what is possible in our teaching and learning areas. The 500+ students in my school have limited access to the internet and we use it in wonderful ways.

I have a service learning article in the Constitutional Rights Foundation School Youth Service magazine ( Spring 1998 Volume 7 Number I , and there is always the Benton Foundation website, as well as to "Learn and Live " about what is really going on in education. I am not running to the bank with a pocketful of money, but I have the future of children in my hands as a teaching professional.

Bonnie Bracey

Member of the National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council (1993-1996)

Currently also doing outreach.