A retake on Larry Cuban’s book
A retake on Cuban’s “Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom ”
The book starts with explaining why education is seen as the “savior” of the societies and then by providing a couple of cases proves the point that investments in technology did not translate into effective usage. The author concludes his book with a some explanations (slow revolution, historical legacies in school structures, activities and roles; and contextually constrained choice) as to why the “revolution” is not happening as fast as it should.
Using computers in education: Could every use be effective?
Reading and thinking about Cuban’s book (2001), I could not help but wonder how we would define the effective usage of computers in education. From the author’s point of view, and I agree, just opening up computer labs or putting an LCD projector and a computer in a classroom would not count as “integration.” In such cases, the technology provide alternative ways to convey information to the students, but if, at the end of the day, the usage of computers is not fully different from usage of a chalk board, then the technology is not used “effectively.”
The book starts with a couple of premises including the power of education to change societies and bring democracy to nations. First of all, the connection between the economic well-being of a country and education is emphasized throughout the first half of the book. In his efforts to prove this point, Cuban also mentions the fact that education is bashed every time the society has a problem and yet it is also seen as panacea of these problems. As a an example, “Nation at Risk” report is given and explained that the failure of the US lagging behind Russia was blamed on education and reforms to change its face was introduced. Similarly, seeing the future needs of the workforce leads the current education systems toward adopting technology in teaching and learning activities.
The goals for such an integration, according to Cuban, is that we need to make our schools more productive and effective, and potentially change education practices toward more constructive activities where the students are more active and engaged. It is believed that technology would bring the change for the betterment of the society.
Setting up such a background, the author goes on giving examples from his case studies about the conflict between the purchase of computers and their actual usage levels. In the schools he visited, he observed that although there are teachers who are champions of technology usage, there is still a large body of educators who cannot go beyond using technology tools as “add-ons” to their teaching.
More strikingly, the example of Stanford University is given to establish the fact that even the most academically advanced institution might be laggard in adopting technology in teaching. However, in the example of Stanford, the author explicates that the effective usage of technology was not tied to gender or age, as the usage of a high-tech classroom was distributed among professors from different backgrounds.
Exploring the myth of “effective technology integration”
So, what is this effective technology integration that the teachers cannot seem to achieve, despite the billions of dollars spent on the infrastructure? In the book, Cuban does not offer an extensive description of the concept, but from the way he talks about ineffective technology integration, one could understand that putting computers as integral parts of the classroom activities, not putting computers as “teaching tools” but as “learning tools” (Cambre & Hawke, 2004). In Cambre and Hawke (2004) teaching tools are explained as tools that aid teaching, so the main form of teaching, lecturing, remains intact, like in the case of Stanford University in Cuban’s study. In this sense, Cambre and Hawke resemble the usage of an LCD projector to help teaching to usage of chalk board or a TV. As for the learning tools, it is speculated by the authors that any tool that make the teaching more student-centered would be considered as a learning tool. In Cuban’s book, the teachers who asked their students to find information online and present it to the class could be put into this category.
Maximum access, minimum change; “adapting an innovation to customary practices, not revolutionizing them” (p. 97) could all be considered as a part of the “ineffective computer usage” cycle. However, it should also be noted that this is not the first time a new technology is introduced to education, but this seems like the first time people have the highest hopes for it might change education drastically.
Why such high hopes?
First of all, it should be noted that, as Cuban puts it, economy of a nation is closely linked with education. In addition, nearly always, educational research follows other research areas for innovations and then adopts them into the title of “educational xxx.” Therefore, inevitably, the change happens slowly, as it takes time to make the new tools compatible for teacher/student usage. And sometimes this change does not bring any concrete success, at least in short term.
The reason why computers were seen as the panacea of the decade could be that the workforce now requires usage of computers in a myriad of ways. From a standpoint of a language teachers, simply, one can say that being able to communicate in another language requires one to be able to compose emails, participate in online activities and establishing and online presence. Through this lens, it might be easy to see why requiring students to use computers to learn a language is the sensible way to go. As computer integrated workforce is believed to have doubled its effectiveness and speed, the same is expected from “educational technologies:” make learning and teaching more effective and productive.
Why isn’t technology making education more effective?
As Cuban explains, schools contain more than teachers, students and buildings. Standards make up a big part of it, and the standards are decided by policy makers, parents and other stakeholders. The reason people generally put standards into place depends on the unique situation of a nation, but in the case of the US, it would not be wrong to say that the fear of loss of economic power has been the main reason. When people put standards and put tests as gatekeepers to assess them, eventually teaching practices start to align toward “teaching to the test.” Therefore, the classroom teacher and the students (and the parents, of course) want success at tests, which overrides the need for creativity and student-centered education, one of the most prominent pot