In Chapter 2 of Teachers and Machines, Larry Cuban reminds us of the cyclic nature of technology implementations in education. Instructional TV goes through its cycle… Early adopters are followed by varied degrees of adoption. Small pockets of best-practice appear and some poor usage is noted. Eventually the novelty wears off and there is a subsequent decline in utilization. All this leading finally to a measurement of a pitifully small impact on education on the large scale (p. 43).
What can be learned from these observations? I came up with four “truths” from this reading.
First truth: No technology (instructional television or otherwise) fits every teacher’s teaching style or students learning style. Ideally, teachers will select the technology that best suits their needs. Teachers need to be regarded as the content experts, and should be involved in the decisions as to what technologies are appropriate for their content areas.
Second truth: No technology is going to completely replace the teacher. The best practices seen in instructional television involved teachers planning activities for before and after television program. Students still need a hook to engage them and a task master to keep them engaged through the design of the activities the students will participate in. In Samoa, where televised instruction was used the most widely and students spent the most time watching programs, students were unhappy with this approach. When there is a shortage of teachers, technology may fill a short-term need. However, a television does not substitute for a teacher.
This made me think about what I have read and heard about high school education transitioning to online delivery formats. If history repeats itself, and the implementation of online learning is anything like the implementation of instructional television, it is more likely that we will see hybrid models of high school instead of completely virtual ones. There are some students whose needs will not be met in a completely online environment, and some subjects that are not well suited to the online environment.
Third Truth: Some technologies will be used as “filler” and not as true instructional tools. Cuban documented increased use of television programs in the afternoon, supposedly to give students a break after learning all the hard stuff in the morning (p. 44). Some teachers did not plan around the program and did not ensure student engagement with the content of the program (pp. 45-6). Surely this is not an effective use of this technology. I know I see similar ineffective implementations in classrooms today, where the computer is used as a game station or a fun extra thing to do, instead of using it to build student knowledge.
Fourth Truth: It has yet to be shown that the use of instructional television yielded increases in student learning compared to other methods of instruction (p. 38). This remains as a barrier to increased implementation by many teachers. If it aint’ broke, why fix it? Is this new tool better than what I am already using? Is it worth the effort to implement?
So in the end, Chapter 2 continues the theme of Chapter 1. Technology implementation cycles have come and gone for film, radio and TV. How can we learn from this in our modern day technology implementations? We need research-based solutions that are proven to improve student outcomes. We need to involve teachers in the development and implementation of educational technology applications instead of having business and government pushing technologies into schools.
Also interesting… Larry Cuban’s January 31, 2010 blog revisiting Teachers and Machines