Saturday, March 8, 2008

Does the Research Support the Plan?

In 2004, the United States Department of Education, in compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, submitted seven major recommendations for a National Technology Plan. Suggested steps included strengthening technology leadership, developing innovative budget plans, providing professional development for teachers, increasing eLearning opportunities, expanding broadband access, relying more on digital content versus textbooks, and integrating district, state, and national data systems (US Department of Education, 2004). A review of the research on computers in education uncovers a debate that has been brewing for over 20 years. It also offers insight into the components of the plan by providing evidence that weighs in favor of technology use in the classroom while highlighting issues that slow its progress.
Computers and Instruction
Nearly 100% of public schools have Internet access (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2005), Yet, traditional instructional strategies persist. Only computer and business teachers report using computers in the classroom more than 50% of the time (Peerless, Feldman, and German, 2003). This is not surprising considering that the concept of school is deeply ingrained over a lifetime of attending school and teaching the way one has always been taught. Larry Cuban is famous for his position that the benefit of computer use does not outweigh the cost. He further argues, “kids don’t need years of computing exposure to succeed. People with no computer background generally catch on in a few weeks – a few months tops” (Cuban, 2001, p. 1). However, he also concedes that the “actual impact is limited by virtue of the fact that teachers tend not to incorporate computers in their instruction” (Peerless, Feldman, and German, 2003, p. 3). Whether teachers are using computers effectively versus the potential value of computers in the classroom are very different arguments. Cuban’s concerns are well founded if the measure is the actual use of computers. Personal experience supports the notion that numerous computers sit untouched during an average school day. When one considers the expense of such equipment sitting idle, it makes sense to question the investment.

On the other hand, the nature of computers provides a virtual playground for constructive learning. If teachers start to view the computer as a constructivist learning tool through which students can explore, experiment, create, and gain access to current content, the potential becomes much more valuable. Once we move beyond drill and practice, the evidence begins to weigh in favor of educational technologies. More research is needed, but Gavriel Salomon highlights current research that may support computer use (Peerless, Feldman, and German, 2003). If learning is viewed as a constructivist process where problem solving provides a means for synthesizing knowledge, then the computer becomes a doorway to that learning experience. Social networking and online collaboration may serve as tools that facilitate learning as an interpersonal process. Finally, learning “should take place within rich and complex real world contexts” (Peerless, Feldman, and German, 2003, p. 5). Salomon points out that the educational potential of technology “depends largely on whether we view the use of the computer as an end in itself, or we see it as part of a larger educational vision” (Salomon as quoted by Peerless, Feldman, and German, 2003, p. 5). If seen as a tool to support and execute the latest research outcomes, technology becomes extremely powerful. Further more, the combination of open source and countless user-friendly web applications provide even more opportunities for using the computer as a learning tool. When viewed from this angle, research in support of educational technology far outweighs the counter arguments.
The National Education Technology Plan
If we assume that there is great learning potential in the use of technology, then we must revisit the other side of the issue. Teachers aren’t making the most of the computer’s potential. “The barriers to teacher use of computers most frequently mentioned in an NCES survey were lack of release time for teachers to learn how to use computers, not enough computers, and lack of time in schedules for students to use computers” (Peerless, Feldman, and German, 2003, p. 6). Two components of the National Education Technology Plan address this challenge. The plan suggests that strengthening leadership through an investment in “leadership development programs to develop a new generation of tech-savvy leaders at every level” (National Education Technology Plan, 2005). There is also a full section on improving teacher training. In this regard, the writers of the plan recognize this as a key element in increasing the use of technology.

The plan further confirms that there must be an infrastructure in place to support all of this technology. It calls for increased broadband access and compatible data systems. To some extent it recognizes the need for funding, however the phrase “innovative budgeting” leaves a lot to the imagination. Suggesting that districts consider “reallocations in expenditures on textbooks” (National Educational Technology Plan, 2005, p. 40) offers an option for locating funds.. It is further supported by the recommendation to move toward digital content.

Finally, the report calls for expanding eLearning and virtual schools. It highlights the importance of both student and teacher access, as well as proper accreditation and teacher training.

The plan makes sense. However, it could go even further by stating the importance of technology as a global communication tool and specifying that as an outcome of both student and teacher training. Culture and attitudes are other components that must be addressed in order for change to occur. Yet even in the absence of these recommendations, the plan provides a foundation for further discussion moving forward.

Cuban, L. (1986). Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920. Teachers College Press.

Cuban, L. (2001). Oversold and Underused: Computers in Classrooms, Cambridge, Harvard University Press.

National Center for Educational Statistics. Retrieved March 7, 2008 from

National Educational Technology Plan (2005). Retrieved March 7, 2008 from

No Child Left Behind Act (2001). Retrieved March 7, 2008 from

Peerless, S., Feldman, E., & German C. (Spring, 2003) Digest of Literature on the Impact of the Computer in Instruction, Jewish Educational Leadership (1:1). Retrieved March 5, 2008 from

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