Schools, technology, test scores, and the New York Times

[cross-posted at The Huffington Post]

HollyvictoriaEarlier this week the New York Times wondered whether investments in educational technology were worth it since most schools don’t see any concurrent improvement in students’ standardized test scores. That’s not exactly a new issue but it’s worth examining again. After all, we are talking about large sums of money here. I’ll start with some broad categories of pushback against the article…

1. Striving for different, higher-level learning outcomes

It’s hard to get at critical thinking, problem solving, effective communication and collaboration, complex synthesis and analysis, and other higher-order thinking skills with a bubble test. Many schools aren’t aiming at low-level factual recall and procedural knowledge with their technology initiatives.

2. An appalling lack of support

Most school districts ask their technology coordinator(s) to support computers and/or people at ratios that would absolutely horrify folks in the business world. Support ratios that are 3 to 10 times higher than in other sectors don’t result in meaningful, reliable technology usage. Also, many (most?) school districts still don’t have technology integration personnel on hand to work with teachers; they just have IT support folks.

3. An appalling lack of training

We shouldn’t expect test score gains when few teachers have been trained well to use digital technologies to improve learning outcomes. Instead, teachers usually are just given various technology tools and, if they’re lucky, some minimal training in how to access the various features. Deep, rich technology integration training that has the potential to change educators’ pedagogy is rare.

4. We need more technology

There’s not enough technology in schools to adequately judge the claim that they don’t impact test scores. The average student still uses digital technologies pretty infrequently. Ask the children in your extended family / circle of friends how many minutes per week they get to use technology to further their learning in school. Most likely will say very little…

5. Technology at the periphery leads to replicative use

Digital technologies have yet to significantly impact the day-to-day core work of learners and teachers. Instead, we have seen mainstream adoption and growth of replicative technologies (i.e., those that allow teachers to mirror traditional educational practices only with more bells and whistles). We still primarily see learning environments where teachers push out basic information to student recipients and then assess them on the kind of stuff that you can find on Google in 3 seconds. Also, when digital technologies are used, it’s primarily teachers using them, not students. Schools still mainly buy teacher-centric tools, not student-centric tools. We’re not actually seeing technology uses that would ‘change the game’ and thus maybe ‘change the scores.’

6. It’s the future [actually, it’s the present]

In case we haven’t noticed, it’s a digital world out there (and will be even more so in the future). What’s the alternative to putting learning technologies in the hands of students? Is there one? Knowledge workers in the real world (i.e., outside of school) use computers to do their work. Can educators really claim to be relevant to life outside of schools while simultaneously ignoring the technological transformations that surround them, as if digital technologies were a fad that were going to go away?

So, let’s sum up…

We have schools and classrooms that are still doing what they’ve always done, but with some additional infrequent and marginal uses of new learning tools. We have educators who don’t really know how to use the tools very well and who also have little access to those tools, reliable IT support, and/or regular integration assistance. For some reason we expect changes in certain learning outcomes to occur anyway, despite these environmental factors and despite the fact that those outcomes may not be what the schools were striving for in the first place. And, if we don’t see those outcomes, we’re going to claim it’s the fault of the technologies themselves rather than human and system factors and then we’re going to claim that traditional analog learning environments are just fine in a digital, global world.

Does this make sense to anybody? Apparently it does, because plenty of people chimed in to support the slant of the New York Times article…


This has been a long post so I’ll close with three thoughts:

A. I think that George Siemens has it right:

If it changes how information is created…
If it changes how information is shared…
If it changes how information is evaluated…
If it changes how people connect…
If it changes how people communicate…
If it changes what people can do for themselves…
Then it will change education, teaching, and learning.

Digital technologies and the Web WILL change education, teaching, and learning. Maybe not yet, at least not in the ways that we hope (and definitely not in the ways that we think). Maybe not until we get our collective act together and actually get serious about these technologies and start recognizing their learning potential and begin doing the things we should be doing to realize their affordances. Maybe right now we’re still in that place where corporations were in the 1980s and 1990s when pundits bemoaned that productivity gains were yet to be realized from technology investments, the place where we have yet to change the human and system factors sufficiently to realize the desired goals. But change is coming (and for many of us it already has).

B. I also think that Virginia Heffernan has it right (look, also at the New York Times!):

we can’t keep preparing students for a world that doesn’t exist. We can’t keep ignoring the formidable cognitive skills [that students] are developing on their own. And above all, we must stop disparaging digital prowess just because some of us over 40 don’t happen to possess it. 

These I didn’t have technology when I was a kid and I turned out okay or technology makes kids dumber attitudes to which Heffernan refers are both rampant and unhelpful. Again, what are we supposed to do, go back to the quill or slate? I struggle particularly with folks like Larry Cuban, who somehow can internally reconcile his statements that digital technologies have no place in P-12 learning environments (“There is insufficient evidence to spend that kind of money. Period, period, period. There is no body of evidence that shows a trend line.”) with his own admission that he has learned greatly from using the very tools he criticizes (“Learning also has come from the surprises I have found in the 1300-plus comments readers have posted. From those comments, I have received ideas I had not considered, sources sending me off to explore other topics, and counter-arguments I had overlooked.”).

C. And, as usual, David Warlick has it right:

There are many barriers that prevent us from retooling our classrooms for 21st century teaching and learning. But at the core is the story of education that resides in our minds. Most adults base their knowledge of schooling on their education experiences from 20, 30, or 40 years ago. It is a story that is etched almost indelibly by years of being taught in isolated, assembly-line fashioned classrooms.

How do we retell the story of education and fashion a new image of the classroom as a rich and comprehensive environment where students learn by asking questions, experimenting with a rich and diverse information environments, and interact with people around the world — in order to discover and build knowledge?

Right now – as evidenced by the New York Times article and its many supporters - we educational technology advocates still aren’t telling ‘the story’ very well to many educators, parents, community and school board members, policymakers, and/or the news media. That’s something we all have to work on if we ever are to accomplish the goal of making our children’s learning environments relevant to the world in which they and we now live.

Image credit: Holly and Victoria download datasheets

41 Responses to “Schools, technology, test scores, and the New York Times”

  1. this has been true since Apple put the first IIe units in classrooms two decades ago! playtime for the kids & extra prep time for the teachers… not much learning going on.

    • This is an example of the problem thinking that is causing us to stagnate. The IIe may have been used for little more than games 20 years ago, and any teacher doing that today with any tech is not a 21st century teacher. Teachers need to change. I know, I am a teacher fighting for this change. Anyone fighting to keep the tech out of kids’ hands is simply clueless.

  2. I don’t believe David Warlick has it quite right when he says, “Most adults base their knowledge of schooling on their education experiences from 20, 30, or 40 years ago. He should say “many adults” because those of us who have been working in business and industry for 20, 30, 40 years have been taking advantage of the latest technology as it became available in order to stay competitive. Employees of those businesses were given two choices – learn to effectively use the new technology or seek employment elsewhere.

    • One of the ways I “break the ice” with parents is reminiscing about “the olden” days when we programmed Basic onto Apple IIEs.

      Then I show them what the kiddos are doing now. We look at how student’s file structures tend to match the organizational structures of their bedrooms.

      Parents may think back to their technology of youth – and that can be a way to connect with them before introducing the new learning possibilities that technology can unlock.

      Janet |

  3. Several years ago I argued with an administrator that using United Streaming to show video clips online was no more tech savvy than pushing play on the dvd player (or VHS for that matter). It accomplishes the same end, perhaps only adding a small element of convenience. In the end they both have the same impact on student learning.

    I think the article supports your point that technology integration into the curriculum lags behind. Even in the midst of budget cuts, money is available for technology and across the nation it is easy to find examples of districts making great progress in the acquisition of new technology.

    Perhaps districts across the nation would benefit from spending less on technology (hardware and software) and investing more on the human side of support, training, and time required to effectively infuse technology into curriculum.

    • I agree with you Steve that technology will never reach its full potential unless substantial funding is provided. This ongoing battle is weary at times, but it must always continue.

  4. Our students entered the world of technology long before most ventured. Unfortunately, this is ignored. The power of social media is demonstrated on a daily basis. We must model appropriate behavior online as we must offline. We must teach to discern online as we must offline.

    Unfortunately, those who view technology as the destroyer of education have not witnessed the power of collaboration, creation, and curation. Meet my students: the blogger, the designer, the social activist, the teacher, the inventor, the graphic designer, the architect…Students who explored their passion because they were allowed. The system allowed the exploration.

    I have learned from professionals via social media, and I have been inspired. There are educators, librarians, technology integrationists, administrators learning with me. There are educators, librarians, technology integrationists, administrators teaching me. My students are benefiting. All of our students are benefiting. I am still learning, and I always will be learning. I want to be relevant, and I want to be effective in my profession

    I would rather my children be empathetic, understand a global perspective, solve problems, create inspiring media influencing positive change, share their talents and ideas with others who share their talents and ideas than fill in a bubble test.

    Effective technology integration is empowering. I will not deny my children, nor will I deny my students their voice in the world. I will teach them to use as a means for learning, as an avenue for inspiration, as a place for collaboration, and as a platform for curation, and as a tool for invention and design.

    Thank you, Scott, for continuing to support the effort. We all must continue to share our students’ genius.

    • Thank you, Erin. You are spot on.

    • Erin,

      I agree completely. However, if I may play devils advocate. Where are the numbers?

      This article points out that there does not yet to be a clear correlation between tech use and reading, writing and arithmetic.

      So, I’d like to suggest that its time people went out looking for the numbers that show a value to the enrichment that tech use will bring?

      Should it be reading, writing arithmetic and technology? Is it important enough to stand on its own as we often talk about in these blogs?

      If so, we should be able to collect those numbers and respect those results…

  5. I am an educator in the UK and thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. I am a great believer in students ‘choosing their own homework’ as only they know what they need to’get their heads around’. When the teacher sets the homework he/she does not know the needs of each student after the lesson, only they know that and so should choose their homework to match their own individual needs. To do this the students need resources which is up to the teacher to provide, hence the reason for creating my website to provide these resources. There is so much excellent material out there and I found that many disaffected students who would not attempt conventional homework would go on to my website and spend an hour watching lessons/animations and completing questions where they had immediate feedback. Also this technology allows me to help students when they need a teacher most which is in the evenings, at weekends and in the evenings when most of them do their work. I believe the full potential of the internet for learning is not even near to being realised by many.

  6. I am all in when it comes to providing students with multimedia projects in which they immerse themselves in the language of the particular technology, collaborate with their peers and create a product worthy to display and communicate the results. Saying that utilizing new technologies is playtime may be accurate. Do you have to hate what you are doing or be miserable during an assignment for it to be validation of learning? I think not! I will certainly agree that the educators that are using technology in the classroom need to be supported and accountable, but there is always a learning curve and to get educators up to speed, there are going to be some bumps in the road. Not every lesson, technology or otherwise is always a hit. If we stopped using technology because our lesson failed and did not satisfy the outcome we were looking for, that would be akin to giving up on a student because they “just don’t get it.” Technology is expensive and as stated above, those in who are utilizing it should be accountable for the use of it and become teacher leaders in there respective schools. There is a great network of teachers all around the world who eat, drink and sleep technology for the sake of students. These folks banter around ideas and learn from each on how to better utilize technology and attend conferences in which they further along ideas and practices that benefit students. To say there is not any research to the fact that students benefit from technology is ludicrous. Dr. Robert Marzano completed a study on the use of interactive whiteboards and responders (an overview of the outcomes can be found here: and the research concluded that using interactive whiteboards increased student achievements by 16% and utilizing voting devices had a positive impact of 26%. These results did not come without parameters. It is not as simple as plugging in the interactive whiteboard and seeing the magic happen, it still requires hard work, preparation and follow through. For example, educators need to utilize visuals, follow up on any missed answers, while discussing correct answers and opinions and should not focus on to many of the bells and whistles, such as crowd applause for a correct answer. Educators, keep using the technology your school provides for you and know that you have to work hard to make it work, but in the end the results will be long lasting and prepare our students for the present and the future.

    • Yes, teacher have to work hard to make technology useful as a means of increased student learning.

      The real beauty comes when students begin helping students. I watched four students collaborate around a table using Google docs to write a story for a writing contest.

      The conversations of the 10-year-olds went something like, “What is the motivation for the character to say that?” and “What if we made the sentence read this way…?”

      I had to force the group to go to recess.

  7. You can find some of my thoughts on the topic here:

    I think technology is going to get there. We’re just going through an initial learning phase. It’ll take time but it is slowly happening.

    The innovators and early adopters are doing great things and others will follow.

  8. One can argue about the use of test scores as a reasonable measure, but the superintendent stated that he has no other assessment of the impact.

    This happens way too frequently in school districts. The easy work is buying technology, placing it in the classrooms and providing professional development and support (and sometimes these last two are optional).

    What about clearly articulated visions for how learning should be different?

    What about classroom observations (by teachers as colleagues and administrators as instructional supervisors) to continue to make sure that learning environments shift towards goals for learning.

    What was the communications plan around this topic (it is a really bad place to be to say, “I’m not sure how this is impacting us, but… we need to sustain it with another referendum).

    The hard work is vision for learning (not technology) and changes needed in “the system” and the determination to see it through.

    As a last comment – the passage about the response system use (clickers) in the article makes me cringe when being identified as an example of learning “unheard of 10 years ago”. It says:
    Minutes earlier, Ms. Smith had taught a Civil War lesson in a way unimaginable even 10 years ago. With the lights off, a screen at the front of the room posed a question: “Jefferson Davis was Commander of the Union Army: True or False?”

    The 30 students in the classroom held wireless clickers into which they punched their answers. Seconds later, a pie chart appeared on the screen: 23 percent answered “True,” 70 percent “False,” and 6 percent didn’t know.

    So… student learning doesn’t seem to be changing? I wonder why?

  9. At this point, all I can say is, “AMEN!” Perhaps a more thoughtful response later. I need help getting this message across to our school board and school community.

  10. Instead, suggest that testing doesn’t measure everything which a student learns. Suggest that students build portfolios ( which demonstrate skills in communication, collaboration, creativity, & critical thinking! When those students demonstrate a competitive edge in college admissions and employment or better yet, in entrepreneurship or cause movements, you won’t have to say any more, will you?

  11. The direction to head with this needs to exist outside the box (i.e. outside the school walls).If a student has access to an internet connected device at home, from a value of investment perspective, is it really justified for a school to have a technology goal to provide similar devices in all of the student’s classrooms? Especially when the prime learning time with the device is going to be outside classroom time?

    Data describing the digital divide is abundant, and this divide is currently a glaring inequity in the system. Any emerging solution going forward needs to assure student access to technology 24X7, which can’t happen if the investment in a school’s technology is limited to devices inside the school walls. After 20+ years of trying, schools (in most cases) have proven they aren’t up to the task of doing technology support better than students can now do on their own. This wasn’t always the case, but now that devices have reached a commodity status, it is true now.

    Schools could ensure student home access to devices for $100-200/per student per year. The cost to do it right in the school setting with a traditional model is going to be 5-10 times more, with arguably some but little incremental benefit. And to do it right the technology push has to become the main thing for the school. Aren’t there more important things to be focused on for most schools?

    Equity in education opportunity is a baseline requirement in a democracy. Work for equity by making sure all students have access to technology at home and move on.

  12. Technology is becoming a part of everyday life. Most people use some type of technology everyday and might not even realize it. Schools should be up to date with the latest technology for their student’s to use. Children these day’s are growing up in a world full of technology, and they have got to be able to use it. In the past century a great number of new technology has became came available and it seems as though the classrooms are not using it. Technology is a great thing to have!

  13. I’m about to break the rules about long responses, but I’m procrastinating grading papers and journals and quizzes and exit slips and planning.

    Parts of this post describe my school district so accurately that I thought it must have been written about us. However, as I sat here reading excerpts to my wife (a elementary teacher and technology coach at her school) she and I both had the same thought: you’re assuming that teachers are eager to learn these new technologies; you’re assuming that teachers are interested in transforming the system; you’re missing the role that teachers who are unwilling to learn and incorporate technology play. I’m not talking about teachers who would learn but just don’t have the support; I’m talking about teachers straight-up unwilling to learn–the ones you wrote about who giggle and say, “I’m not a computer person.”

    I think that we love the Replication and Amplification, but aren’t as keen on the Transformation (for reasons various, sundry, real, imagined, well-thought, and stupid). And I don’t think that it’s just the 40+ crowd that we’re talking about.

    We have ONE netbook lab in our high school, and NO dedicated computer lab. So long as there isn’t school-wide benchmark testing going on (that happens three times/year), I can walk into the library on Monday morning and have my pick of days that week for using the netbooks. They are used on average, 2.5 times/week and I’m 1.5 of those times (and now that I see that in print, I’m a little ashamed of my 1.5 times and wish it was higher). This is the ONLY way a non-CATE teacher can get his/her kids on computers at our school and I never have to plan to use them much in advance (not that I’m complaining about that–it’s actually quite nice. I wish we could just leave them in my room and let others check them out from my room!).

    My wife will come into your class, teach a lesson for you using the i-pod cart, train you at your convenience (provided she’s available and not, you know, teaching her own class), and she still has 120 i-pods that have never once been out of their brand-new cart. She’s literally willing to come and do the work for you; if you have an inkling of a lesson you want to teach, she’ll help you plan it. The response for most of her faculty: *insert sound of crickets chirping*

    I know that the reasons for slow technology integration among teachers extend from the ways we’re trained to administration to society to apathy and onward. Still, horse, water, something something drink something something head wall something something.

    Sorry, articles like the one from the NYT, and research like Cuban’s (whose blog I subscribe to) just get my so annoyed with the system and my colleagues. Gin, meet tonic.

  14. Chris,

    I feel your frustration with teachers of all ages unwilling to incorporate technology. I wonder if it is a combination of not wanting to improve or vary from a pacing chart, a pacing chart you are basically evaluated on whether you hit or miss, or if there is an issue of not wanting to spend the extra time to learn or to manage students learning how to technology. Until technology is woven into pacing guides and curriculum, it will be the current slow pace of individual teachers finding ways and spending the time to incorporate the vast number of tools available that drives the change.

    I am a 4th year teacher in middle school, and our classroom has 3 computers. I teach math and science from basically a scripted curriculum, and other than using my document reader and projector to enhance and add to lessons on a small scale, I am praying to be the next on the list for a SMART board to bring a world of applicable tools into the classroom. I haven’t yet created lessons that could rotate students through my computers in class. I feel as a new teacher I am on the right path, also getting my masters in Integrating Technology into the Classrom, but it is definitely at this point me driving my own technology usage, not a school-wide initiative.

    Can you share some of the ways or a lesson example of students using iPods in the classroom?

  15. Hi Michael

    There are so many excellent sites out there to enable students to take ownership of their own learning.
    I taught Chemistry and Science in a secondary school for 38 years. I told my sixth form Chemists they should choose their own homework as only they knew what they needed to spend their time on. I then created my website http://www.jimbakersonlinelearning to provide resources for them. When a teacher sets the same homework to a class he/she is not maximising the students’ learning as those students gaining full marks are wasting their time doing work they clearly know. They should be spending their homework time on topics only they know what they need to ‘brush up on’. The A’Level results obtained by my 14 Chemists using this method were: 8 grade As, 3 grade Bs and 3 grade Cs. I think these results prove the point.

    Have a look at the following links on my KS1/KS2 Links page.

    Most students have computers at home and their ‘online homework’ can be a ‘fun’and ‘family’ activity.

    Have a wonderful day


  16. Hey Michael,

    This is Chris’s wife from his above post on the serious lack of teacher initiative to incorporate technology. I’m also the “iPod lady” at my school. Off the top of my head I can give you several ways I might use the iPods in a math or science setting. First of all, there are tons and tons of free math apps that allow students to practice math skills at an independent level. From basic math facts type flash card apps, to algebra hot potato, to interactive numberlines using fractions and percentages. I use apps like these to support instruction, mini assessments (many actually give you a score), or as a simple hook to get kids in a math frame of mind. The great thing about apps like these is that they have a ‘right’ noise and a ‘wrong’ noise. So it’s easy for a teacher to monitor how students are doing as he/she walks around the room. In addition to apps, I often use podcasts to start a lesson.(Tennessee Dept. of Ed. has some great freebies on iTunesU) These are 3-5 minute long podcasts that give a brief explanation of an idea. I’ll use these to begin a lesson – kids have to watch the podcast twice through and then we discuss some of the things they heard. From there I jump into my own lesson. I’ll also use them to review what we learned the day before. I’ve also created my own podcasts if I can’t find exactly what I want. This allows me to tailor make a video with exactly the information I want to share.

    In science there are some brilliant free apps that show images from all sorts of gorgeous sites. Depending on your standards – the NASA and space sites have some incredible photos and footage that spark really amazing conversations with the kids. It brings something abstract like solar flares to a place where they can observe photos and make an idea more real. Google Earth also has some incredible images.

    Other ways of using the iPods include using any sort of video (YouTube videos can be converted for iPod viewing) to jump-start student driven discussion and observations. We’ll be watching a music video about 9/11 on Monday and discussing why the author of the video chose to use the song “Wake Me When September Ends”. There are free voice recording programs too that would allow you to have students record thoughts, ideas, even exit slips. I recently read about an app that allows students to record a response and then emails it to a website. From here you can monitor student understanding, but parents too can access it to see what the students are learning. Stuff like this just makes the mundane assignment so much more interesting.

    I hope I gave you a start on thinking about using iPods in your own classroom. There are literally millions of ways to incorporate them. I actually teach a low level special education class. The improvement I’ve seen in my students’ comprehension, interest, and especially discussion have been absolutely astounding. I hope you find as much success as I have.

  17. Jim,

    Thank you for the resources! I most definitely will be visiting your sites throughout the year!


    I had no idea the apps available that are student/school specific. I have an iPod but have not purchased any of even the “regular” apps (!). Did your district make a decision to purchase the iPods for school, or did you apply for a grant? Is there a first and second step you would recommend for me becoming an “iPod” guy for my school? Thank you for the VERY helpful and exciting post!

    • Michael,

      Our district used some Title 1 funds to purchase our original iPod carts. I work in an area with a 79% poverty index and this tech integration was an idea the district had to help our student achievement. However, once my principal saw the value of the iPods, she actually purchased a set of 20 to add to our resources. In addition, there are tons of technology grants available – just find an easy one and let it roll. We have the carts that I manage, but I also wrote a grant for a single iPod to use in the classroom. That might be a good place to start. There are tons of great resources online (the post from Thomas Ho above looks great) and honestly I tell everyone that the more you use them, the more comfortable you’ll be, and then it’ll be easy to find ways to incorporate them into lessons. I hope you are successful and would gladly answer any other questions you have. Good luck!

  18. No school should buy any technology without adding in the cost of additional tech support and additional training for teachers. As the sole technology integration specialist for an entire district of approximately 3000 students and nine schools, I have seen decisions made to start 1:1 programs with absolutely no consideration for the training involved in getting a program like that off the ground. Sure, they think about the logistics and possible damage, and how parents are going to feel about kids having the device at home, but the expectation that teachers will change the way they teach just because all of their students have laptops is ridiculous in this day and age. Research showed that P.D. was a crucial part of any 1:1 program back in the ACOT days (1985ish for those of you young’uns!) Of course, they bring me in after the fact and expect that sitting down with teachers during a planning period of 20 – 40 minutes every other week will make it work. So, if all schools are adding technology the way it is happening in my district, without coughing up time and money for professional development, then, of course, not much will change in regard to student learning.

  19. Scott,

    I am a student at the University of South Alabama renewing my teaching certificate that expired 16 years ago. The state provided me with a list of classes available for my renewal. It is not required that I take a computer class and I must admit I was reluctant. Luckily, I am realizing that I will be a better teacher for taking this class and my students will have a better teacher. Should it have been left to luck after being out of the classroom for 17 years? How can things change when this happens?
    Most teachers love their routines and know what works in their classrooms. Teachers resist change on a regular basis. A teacher I know has had a Smartboard in her room for 2 years and “brags” that she doesn’t even know how to turn it on. There’s the lack of training you were talking about. It’s also the resistance to change I was talking about.
    The mindset of so many people needs to change or at least be opened. It’s going to happen but it’s going to be a long road.
    Great post. Thank you.

  20. Gayle Chaney, Alvin Bowen, Noble Marshall and Kristy Spencer Reply September 14, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Although technology has a valuable place in education, we believe it should be introduced gradually. Students and teachers need training and our demanding schedules and curriculum do not allow for changing everything at one time. Research and new information has a need for computers in the classroom. Some other course may use computers only occasionally. As a faculty, we have to judge when computer use is an advantage to learning and when is just a toy used to occupy the students’ time.

    • As I posted elsewhere, I don’t know that waiting for training is going to work. Here are a few ideas as to why I think so.

      1. Tech immigrants are unlikely to ever ‘catch up’
      2. Technology moves to quick for the bureaucracy of the American School District
      3. Teachers are not the ones who will teach the tech skills, students will most often acquire what they need or are interested in regarding technology.
      4. To sell any idea/program/lesson in any classroom, you will need a good (human) teacher who can galvanize the class. This is nothing new and this need will never change. So, waiting around for change this.

      just some ideas…

  21. When I teach writing, I continually return to the lesson objective, “Show, don’t tell.” Don’t tell me a character is happy- show me by describing the character’s actions.

    In the case of technology, we tell parents and the general public what we can do, but we rarely show them. At my parent night last night, I showed parents how I used technology…

    -to help students reflect on why they do what they do in class.

    -to challenge students to coherently summarize chapters of books.

    -to reinforce lesson objectives.

    An administrator once said that, if we give parents only one form of assessment with which to judge us (a.k.a. standardized tests), we will be unfairly judged.

    Teachers have plenty to do without focusing on public relations, but there is probably more we can do to demonstrate student learning through technological means.

    Janet |

  22. Why not use the technology that is available to teachers? The students are using it everywhere else in their lives. There are resources/programs/games out there that tap into the interests of today’s students. Why not use a tool that will gain their attention and show case their creativity all while learning the content that teachers need to teach anyway?

  23. Thank you for this post Scott. I’ll be sharing it far and wide with anyone who will listen. These are the exact problems we are having (and have had for many years) after recently passing a City Bond Measure that provides millions of dollars for the “Purchase” of new and updated technology for all the classrooms in our school district. No one is paying attention to support, training, or higher-level learning outcomes. The shiny new tools are being used to replace traditional classroom technology or are not being used at all. Sigh.

  24. What are we really writing about here? It is a fact; schools are wasting billions of dollars on technology. Just because a school has cool technology does not mean higher-order thinking is taught or that students will perform better on standardized tests. Technology is only a tool to be used by the real difference makers, the teachers. I will also suggest that if students are learning higher-order thinking skills, learning to read for meaning, able to organize and write about their knowledge, and openly debate topics then they will do just fine on standardized tests.

    After fifteen years as an educational technology director, I have concluded that technology plays four primary but fairly independent roles in education.

    1. Productivity Tool – Like any business, technology is essential for operations. Functions like payroll, state reporting, attendance, data analysis, and scheduling are much more efficient with technology. The list of these types of business functions is quite long and schools are heavily dependent upon technology just to run the day-to-day operations. This includes teacher productivity in the classroom and other non-computer technologies such as communications and security.

    2. Teaching Technology – Most schools use technology to teach technology skills at some point. This could be keyboarding, word processing, accounting, or computer programming. Having appropriate and up-to-date technology is important. The argument has been made that some of these skills, at least in part, should be taught as part of the core curriculum.

    3. Teaching Tool – This used to be the overhead projector and videodisc player and has been replaced with more complex, capable, and more expensive technologies. I think this gets into the “replicative use” you mentioned, where teachers are just using the new tools to do the same old things. There is one technology, field sound systems, that has proven to improve student achievement, more on that later.

    4. Learning Tool – This is where the technology is used to enhance student learning. Items like assistive technologies, digital storytelling, one-to-one laptops, tablets, or handhelds. There is some crossover between this category and the teaching tool category such as interactive digital projectors and classroom clickers.

    Item #1 is necessary, represents a certain percentage of a schools technology budget, and has a priority in technical support, training, and replacement.

    Item #2 is common although there is controversy regarding whether some of these skills should be taught in isolation or integrated into the common curriculum.

    Item #3 is the focus of much technology planning and leads to my fundamental and common theme. It is not the technology that improves student achievement or causes higher order learning, it is the teacher. However, one technology, sound field systems, has proven to improve student achievement. A Sound Field Amplification Research Summary (Millett, 2008) provides a summation of research studies on the effects of sound field systems on student achievement. Although, even with these systems there are techniques such as voice inflection for attention that is teacher independent.

    Item #4 encompasses a lot of technology and can become quite expensive. Nevertheless, it does not matter because it is really about the teacher, not the technology.

    I respect your support for technology in education but I think you really missed the mark on this issue on several points. I am going to respond to each of your points, although you will see a pattern or common theme emerge.

    1. Striving for different higher-level learning outcomes
    Yes, this is true but it is not a function of technology, it is a function of teaching. Brain base learning and cognitive information processing research has been around for a long time. There are some fundamental truths about learning, including higher order thinking and learning that come down to instructional practices and the environment the teacher creates. If you want higher-level learning outcomes focus on the teacher not the technology.

    2. An appalling lack of support
    This is true, I live this fact everyday as I have to prioritize what is going to get done and what is going to have to wait. It is getting worse with the ever-increasing state and federal reporting requirements.

    3. An appalling lack of training
    Again, you are putting your eggs in the digital technology basket. To train teachers to use digital technologies to improve learning outcomes first you need to teach them the fundamental concepts of learning, provide abundant opportunities to practice, alter curriculum and pacing guides, and eliminate the numerous classroom distractions. Why, because it is about teachers and teaching, not the technology.

    4. We need more technology
    Agreed, but only after we address the fundamental issue of teaching. Just because every student has access to a word processor, blog, or Facebook whenever they want does not mean they are going to write any better. These are great tools for a teacher that understands external and internal attention management, the barriers to student attention, and concepts such as pre-exposure, exposure, expansion, and re-creation. For a lot of teachers, the ones whose student just cannot seem to learn, these are just additional distractions.

    5. Technology at the periphery leads to replicative use
    Sure, if it is all you know and it has been good enough for the last (fill in the number) years, why should I change. You are making my point for me here. It is not about the technology, it is about the teachers.

    6. It’s the future [actually, it’s the present]
    Yes, it is, but putting technology in the hands of every kid is not going to make them better learners. Until we address some fundamental issues in education, no amount of technology will make a difference. It is not about the technology, it is about the teachers.

    “For some reason we expect changes in certain learning outcomes to occur anyway, despite these environmental factors and despite the fact that those outcomes may not be what the schools were striving for in the first place. And, if we don’t see those outcomes, we’re going to claim it’s the fault of the technologies themselves rather than human and system factors and then we’re going to claim that traditional analog learning environments are just fine in a digital, global world” (McLeod, S., 2011, September 11)

    Of course it is not the fault of the technologies, but neither can the technologies fix the problem. You really lose me when you talk about traditional analog learning environments. It has nothing to do with digital or analog, the real issue is about what we know, scientifically, about the brain and the learning process and translating that into teaching practices.

    The brain is constantly learning, processing sensory inputs, attending or filtering these inputs, making associations with existing knowledge, and expanding that knowledge or creating and storing new knowledge. This is occurring regardless of whether someone is teaching or not. The teachers’ job is to focus the attending, for both the external stimuli and the internal processing. This requires eliminating or at least reducing barriers to attention:

    • Threats – Learning requires a safe learning environment, if students perceive threats then attention is diminished.

    • Logical conflicts – New information many conflict with current knowledge or understanding. These conflicts must be identified and addressed, otherwise attention is devoted to resolving the conflict or the idea is outright rejected. If the environment is not perceived safe the student will be reluctant to question conflicts.

    • Ethical barriers – These will also divert attention and rejection of ideas or even completely shut down the learning process
    Additionally, to capture attention and facilitate learning incoming stimuli or information needs;

    • To relate or connect to existing knowledge

    • Be meaningful and relevant

    • Be sufficiently complex to avoid loss of attention

    • Be properly organized to assist processing

    Without prior context, the learner will have difficulty understanding the material, meaningful and relevant helps with context and attention. The goal being more brain activity, processing and connections for expanding existing information and creating new information (Nummela & Rosengren, 1986).

    This is not rocket science, these are fundamental principles that we have known for over twenty-five years. Furthermore, they do not change whether you are teaching with technology or not. Master teachers understand these principals and effectively teach students regardless of technology availability.

    To conclude, I reject the concept that technology in education is a waste of money. I understand the concept that a lot of money is wasted on technology in education. Like I said, it is about the teachers, not the technology.


    McLeod, S. (2011). Schools, technology, test scores, and the new york times. Retrieved September 17, 2011, from

    Millett, P. (2008, September). Sound field amplification research summary. York University, Retrieved from

    Nummela, R. M., & Rosengren, T. M. (1986). What’s happening in students’ brains may redefine teaching. Educational Leadership, 43(8), 49. Retrieved from

    • To your Number 4, good sir.

      I don’t think that waiting to address the teaching gap with regards to technology makes any sense. We would wait a generation for that to happen fully. Heck, I know quite well a few peers (early 30’s) who don’t have their act together.

      Our students are not tech immigrants, and with their native status comes an ability to learn by doing that is quite remarkable.

      Lets put some tech in their hands and help guide!

      As far as the billions wasted, well I must admit that some waste always exist and that attitudes in schools can add to waste. Should tech arrive in schools, the idea of getting in the hands of the students is not always priority. They would just break it after all!

      • Jim,

        It is a quandary for sure, my point being technology in the hands with the right teacher could be powerful indeed. However, with the wrong teacher it could be a powerful distraction.

        So, with the limited technology dollars we have, we need to make careful choices.


  25. The idea of using digital connections in the classroom makes sense to bring the curriculum to life for all students but especially for struggling students. The problem I see is that nothing has changed in the testing system. We have been forced enhanced our classroom lessons which does open up new doors for our students, but we are still requiring students with language limitations, reading and writing limitations to take the same standardized tests with the same standardized accommodations. If we want to see an overall change in student’s improvements we need to revisit how we are testing them. I for one test horribly. As a student my year round grades never reflected my test scores at the end of the school year. This is a common problem that in my opinion has yet to be reviewed. I think the idea of digital connections in the classroom is a great benefit. As a first year teacher in an academic classroom, but fourth year teaching to the at risk population; it has allowed me to simplify a complex curriculum for a struggling population. Moreover, I have never been formally trained on the heights of digital programs, therefore, I’m sure I have not used the maximum of programs I could be using if I receive training.

  26. My concerns are not for the results of these initial studies but for what the first paragraph describes as what some consider “a utopian vision of education’s future”. After reading Shakespeare, the students in the class are creating facebook pages for characters and choosing songs to describe the emotions of another. This doesn’t sound like Utopia to me, this sounds like students lacking in critical writing skills.

    I think that technology in the classroom is amazing, to an extent. However we still need to sit students down and teach them how to write essays, not facebook pages and blogs. Again, I think these are great tools to get students involved, as long as they are also practicing essay writing in class. All the knowledge in the world about blogs and facebook will not help these students write college applications and cover letters in the future.

  27. Well said, Scott! And also, technology, training, and the right implemention appears to very effectively improve student learning. I addressed this post of yours in my blog today. Take a look when you can and I welcome your comments.

  28. Once again, the value of technology within this nations’ modern educational systems is being underscored and belittled. It amazes me that out world has to thrive on the idea of “high tech modernism” and yet we do not want our schools to be properly funded to teach the most cutting edge technology.

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