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Archive for July, 2013

Larry Cuban has been studying technology in schools for decades. Nearly 30 years ago, he wrote a book on how little previous technologies, including radio, film, and television, were used in schools over the past 100 years.  He wrote another book claiming the same thing would inevitably happen with computers. And he claimed to have evidence for that from his research in Silicon valley schools.

The methodology of that book was odd. He left out elementary schools and middle schools, which have been the two levels of US schooling most willing to experiment with new technology.  The conclusions were even odder, claiming that the limited use he saw in schools would continue forever.  I argued at the time that Cuban was seriously misreading technological, social, economic, and educational trends, and that computers or some other form of digital media would inevitably become ubiquitous in their presence and use in schools.

I just came across an interview with Cuban published about 18 months ago in which he admits he was wrong. As he notes in the interview:

What I reported in Oversold and Underused was minimal teacher and professor use of technology in classrooms. Since then, with new machines appearing on the market and in schools annually, particularly, hand-held devices, I have seen in my research in schools a clear trend line of increasing teacher and student use of new technologies in classrooms. The growth of online schooling and rise of blended learning options have contributed greatly to that trend as well.

However, in trying to defend himself, he still makes two strange claims. One is that students typically use digital devices less than half the school day.  Is this the new standard?  That computers have to be used more than 3 hours a day to contribute to learning?  Of course, even by this measure, it’s only a matter of time.  Once students move from print textbooks to digital reading materials, they will use computers or digital media most of the day, but that’s hardly the issue.

Cuban then complains that uses of technology tend to be “familiar” rather than “imaginative”, citing typical uses such as Internet searches and word processing.  I can hardly think of two more important uses of technology than (1) writing/revising papers, and (2) planning and carrying out research that involves gathering, analyzing, and using information from the Internet.  Why have students do what is “imaginative” rather than what is pedagogically sound?

I admire much of Cuban’s work, and he continues to raise challenging and important questions about technology use in schools. But he was wrong then in his overly pessimistic view and he is wrong now. Students are using digital devices on a regular basis. They are using them a lot and will use them much more in the future.  And some of the uses he portrays as most “traditional” are simply revolutionary compared to what could be done when he and I were children and they are among the most important.

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