We need more studies like this one – an honest look at what really happens when Internet computers come to class. What works? What doesn’t? What are the obstacles and barriers? How can we best overcome them?
Schofield and Davidson bring a scholarly ethic to this report. While enthusiastic about the potentials of new technologies, they are looking past the promises to what actually happened in one large urban district.
They report in a balanced manner a blend of accomplishments and disappointments. Most importantly, they identify the key factors that blocked use, discouraged use or facilitated use.
Unlike many technology promoters and vendors who associate change with the number of computers per classroom, Schofield and Davidson look for evidence that the new technologies are used frequently and meaningfully. They examine the technology efforts of this district with a focus on changes to classroom practice and climate.
The project began with high hopes, grant money and support from higher education. Without sufficient funds to equip all classrooms or schools, the project asked for proposals and volunteers. The study reports what happened in these project schools and classrooms over a three-to-five year time period until the grant came to a close.
Unlike many technology initiatives, there was no attempt to spread computers across all classrooms regardless of readiness or inclination. Participant teachers were eager. They wanted in. It was a source of pride to be recognized as a participant.
Given this volunteering, Schofield and Davidson’s report of limited use of the networked computers is all the more telling and worrisome. Hank Becker’s research prepared us to expect a large percentage of “traditional” teachers to make little use of networked computers, but here we have volunteers who find it difficult to blend use of the equipment into the daily life of the classroom.
While Schofield and Davidson report some impressive projects and some teachers and schools that made more frequent use of the tools, the majority of teachers and schools failed to achieve the dramatic kinds of learning effects hoped for by the project’s founding planners.
. . . many factors came together to limit Networking for Education Testbed (NET) teachers’ and students’ use of the Internet in the classroom. In most cases, it was not the effectiveness or value of Internet resources in support of the curriculum that was at issue. The issue was overcoming a series of barriers that stood between teachers and students and those resources. Indeed, until such barriers are reduced, the value of the Internet resources cannot be well explored.
It is Schofield and Davidson’s discussion of these barriers that makes this book so important.
Chapter Three – “School Versus Internet Culture” – offers an illuminating exploration of conflicts between prevailing school norms and the norms accompanying the new technologies. Schofield and Davidson explore four “mismatches” they felt influenced Internet use in the project schools:
1. Individuation vs. Batch Processing
2. Continual Change vs. Constancy
3. Open Expression vs. Control Over Content
4. Technology as Plaything vs. Tool