Everything changes and nothing changes…

When I first opened this book, my initial thought was… Why am I reading this 24 year old book?

So, perhaps my mindset was a bit negative at the outset. I dutifully began reading Chapter 1 of Teachers and Machines. Cuban’s discussion of reform in American education at the turn of the century struck a chord with me… “Pedagogical progressives called for instruction that built upon student interests, that opened up classroom windows to the larger world, and that plunged students into activities that had intellectual and social outcomes…”(p. 10)

This statement could have come from professional development that teachers currently receive, even though a century has passed. This is still good practice (yet not all teachers practice it!).

Enter the educational miracle known as the motion picture film.  Brimming with potential, yet careens unharnessed and unguided through the schools for forty years. Spotty and sporadic implementation… why? This is the part that resonated with me… the four obstacles to utilizing the potential of film in classrooms (p. 18) Remove the word film and replace that word with any technology and the four obstacles would still apply.  These are universal obstacles to implementing ANYTHING in education on a large scale: teacher lack of skill, cost, inaccessibility, and fitting the technology into the curriculum.

Many technologists write about technology implementation obstacles. Leggett and Persichitte have coined the acronym TEARS to encompass these obstacles:

T – Time

E – Expertise

A – Access

R – Resources

S – Support

I think this is quite appropriate, and as a classroom teacher I have experiences those TEARS quite literally when I have struggled to implement something new I believed in.

I think the question for educational leaders here should be: “How can we minimize the TEARS?” What can be done to streamline the process of implementing new technologies?


  1. I, too, was struck by the contemporary nature of the attempts at reform and introduction of new classroom technology that Cuban describes. It’s clear to me that some methods really are not as effective as others when it comes to reaching students. However, I wonder about the perennial rush to engineer a “new and improved” classroom, teacher, or even student through technology.

    Sometimes I feel, as a teacher, that I’m bombarded with the equivalent of ads for fad diets when I attend professional development events. Just as those ad promise to make me “lose weight, feel great, and get dates!” the tech boosters sometimes seem to be promising the moon. I’ve definitely encountered the TEARS you posted about!

    Isn’t it true, then, that the more things change, the more they stay the same?

  2. This post describes my thoughts when I was reading the chapter and was much better expressed than I might have done. I agree that we are facing the same challenges today with infusing technology into the classroom. There is also a similar attitude from some of those trying to get the change to happen today as back then – some folks think that the answer to all educational challenges is through technology and that one size will fit all. Technology can enhance what is happening in education, but must be approached with thought and planning. It struck me that radio learning would have been difficult for me. I am a visual learner and struggle with focusing on content provided through auditory means only. We have to consider the strengths and needs of each learner when we select the technology tools will be most effective in the classroom.

  3. I completely agree with these comments. Additionally, just utilizing technology tools because they are innovative and different and/or just “there” without proper testing/planning/follow-up assessment is a mistake. I see some of this behavior at the higher Ed level. Professors who use Power Points or Blackboard for example, because they believe students today expect it. I held a brown bag last year where I invited a group of students to give us their feedback regarding use of technology in the classroom.
    The participants and I were surprised by some of their comments. Some stated that they want to see technology being used in the classroom ONLY when used effectively and not as just a tool to replace the blackboard or as a place to “dump” documents. Others expressed a desire to be selective with the adoption of instructional technologies. A few said that they would not welcome an online oriented course curriculum. They let us know that some of the social media tools which are social in nature do not belong in the classroom. Twitter, Facebook and the such they added – belong to us. They also made it clear that they want to listen to their own music and podcasts on an iPod and they did not see the need to add academic podcast while exercising or walking around campus.
    Granted, we have a very traditional student body at William & Mary. Commuting/older/working students may provide a different story! In my humble opinion…there is where the difference lies! We need to know who our target population is and what types of learners we are teaching. Being in touch with who our students are should be one of the essential components in our decision making process regarding adoption of new (and old) technologies.
    It would seem to me that the combination of TEARS + An accurate awareness of our target group = Effective technology implementation.

  4. I agree that TEARS are the larger issue. How do we structure professional learning for teachers that helps them implement ANY new technology or strategy without the real tears and failed efforts. I loved that the iearn program designed their professional learning so that the teachers taught other teachers how to use certain tools and technologies. In terms of structures for effective professional development, research has shown that teachers need to have an awareness of the information, a conceptual understanding from modeling, an opportunity to practice those skills with coaching and then apply them. Applying the skills leads to a integration into their practice, while so often in schools, professional development stops at modeling.

Leave a Reply