Kleiman, G.M. (2004). Myths and realities about technology in k-12 schools: Five years later. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 4(2). Available: http://www.citejournal.org/vol4/iss2/seminal/article2.cfm
Myths and Realities about Technology in K-12 Schools: Five Years
Glenn M. Kleiman
Director, Center for Online Professional Education
Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC)
I wrote the "Myths and Realities About Technology in K-12 Schools"
article (Kleiman, 2000)
in 1999. Looking back at it 5 years later as it is appears as a “seminal
article” in Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education,
I find myself reflecting about what has changed and what has remained the same
with regard to technology in K-12 schools and the challenges faced by teachers
in realizing the full potential of technology in K-12 classrooms.
Meeting the Potential of New Technologies
One statement that caught my eye in reviewing the article
is the following:
The investment in technology for schools resembles the investments
being made in many “dot-com” Internet companies. In both cases,
the investments are based on the potential of new technologies, in the hope
that this potential will be fulfilled in the coming years. And in both cases,
the investments involve significant risks and may be a long way from yielding
adequate returns. (p. 7)
We now know the fate of those dot-com companies: A very small
number, such as ebay.com and Amazon.com, have prospered; some others have survived;
and a great many have vanished into bankruptcy as it became apparent that their
claimed potential would never be fulfilled. Looking back at the article provides
an opportunity to ask, “How have we fared with the investment made in
educational technology for K-12 schools?”
I would argue that educators have done far better, overall,
than the private sector dot-coms, although the story is also mixed on the education
side. We have certainly seen significant advances in the availability of Internet-enabled,
multimedia technology in schools across the country, as a result of the e-rate
program and many other forms of financial support for technology. In the five
years since I wrote the original article, the Internet and World Wide Web has
evolved from a new innovation primarily used by techies to a standard tool in
schools, libraries, community centers, and homes—one that many people
of all ages use for information, communications, shopping, learning, and playing.
We have also seen some advances in integrating technology into
curriculum standards and materials, the availability of curriculum-relevant
digital resources, the number of teachers who have participated in technology-related
professional development, and the use of assistive technologies for students
with special needs. National education technology standards have been developed
for students, teachers, and administrators (see, e.g., the standards established
by the International Society for Technology in Education at http://www.iste.org/standards/).
In some places, exciting educational technology innovations
have taken hold. These innovations include virtual courses for students (e.g.,
Virtual High School and Florida
Virtual School); ubiquitous technology programs in which every student and
teacher receives a laptop and every school has wireless access (e.g., in every
public grade 7 and 8 classroom in Maine); technology used to support inquiry-based
learning (e.g., the Missouri-based eMINTS
program), and online courses and workshops for preservice and in-service teachers
(e.g., the EDC EdTech Leaders Online
program). So in some ways—access to computers, digital resources, and
the Internet nationwide and the advent of innovative technology-enabled programs
in districts and states—we’ve made impressive national progress.
(Editor’s Note: See Resources
section at the end of this paper to find URLs for these projects and others
However, in many places, the myths persist, and progress has
been limited. A great deal of technology lies unused in schools. The computers
and wires may be there, but the plans to put them to good educational use, the
preparation necessary for the teachers to use them well, and the support needed
to ensure that they will work when needed are lacking.
We continue to see computers used in ways that are peripheral,
rather than central, to the curriculum and important learning goals. And we
continue to see technology plans and programs developed separate from school
improvement, curriculum reform, professional development, and special education
plans. Although progress has been made in equity of access to technology in
schools, serious inequities remain in terms of ways those computers are used
in classrooms and the level preparation for teachers to use them effectively.
Unfortunately, in much of the country little progress has been made toward fulfilling
the educational potential of information and communications technologies.
Another statement from the original article addressed necessary
steps to move forward:
The key determinant of our success will not be the number
of computers purchased or cables installed, but rather how we define educational
visions, prepare and support teachers, design curriculum, address issues of
equity, and respond to the rapidly changing world (p.14)
This statement certainly remains true. Each item—educational
vision, teacher preparation, curriculum, equity, and change—presents challenges
to teachers and, therefore, also to teacher educators in preparing teachers
to address them. Some comments follow about each in turn.
The first item on the list of factors that will determine
success is education visions. As I described in the original article under Myth
2, there are a number of different visions of the major goals for incorporating
technology into K-12 schools, ranging from improving standardized test scores
to providing more project-based learning to updating education with new approaches
to teaching and learning. My own work, and that of my colleagues in the research,
policy, and practitioner communities, has focused on technology to expand opportunities
for students, broaden the information they have available, better connect them
with real-world issues and activities, provide them with opportunities for creativity,
extend how they communicate and collaborate, and in general, better prepare
them for the lives they will lead in the technology-rich 21st century.
Unfortunately, the No Child Left Behind legislation and the
economic situation of the past few years have been slowing, and in some places
reversing, progress in these types of uses of educational technology. The focus
on standardized testing as the sole measure of success by students, teachers,
and schools has caused many educators to focus on how technology can be used
to increase test scores, rather than how they can best prepare children for
their lives in the 21st century.
I certainly believe that these two objectives often diverge. Twenty-first century
skills, such as information literacy, communication skills, global awareness,
creativity, and collaboration (see, e.g., North
Central Regional Educational Laboratory and the Metiri Group, 2003, and
The Partnership for 21st Skills
website), can all be fostered by educational uses of technology that are significantly
different from those for test preparation. However, as more of the time in schools
is focused on preparing for and taking standardized tests, these more powerful
uses of technology are in some places being neglected.
In addition, this testing wave has occurred during a difficult economic period
that has resulted in a significant drop in the funding available for technology
resources and innovations. The Market Data Retrieval technology survey reports
that from the 2001-2002 to the 2002-2003 school year, technology spending for
schools dropped almost 25% (Technology
counts, 2004). The combination of the emphasis on standardized tests and
the funding limitations have resulted in a decrease in innovative uses of technology
in many schools. One resulting challenge for teacher education is to prepare
teachers to bring powerful uses of technology into the classroom—uses
that will engage students; expand their thinking, communicating, and learning;
connect to their lives outside of school; and prepare them for the future.
Teacher Preparation and Support
The second item on the list of factors that will determine success is preparing
and supporting teachers. We have seen some advances incorporated into many professional
development programs, including online courses and online professional development
workshops, as well as the addition of online discussions and resources to extend
college courses and onsite workshops.
Online courses and workshops can have many advantages, such as providing scheduling
flexibility, minimizing travel, broadening the courses available to teachers
(especially important in rural communities), and extending the resources and
expertise available to participants. Online learning also provides opportunities
for preservice and in-service teachers to experience using digital resources
and engaging in online interactions—that is, to experience using the technology
first as learners as they prepare to use it well with students.
Online courses are becoming common in many schools of education and one, Western
Governors University Teachers College, was designed to offer flexible, online,
competency-based teacher education programs. Current research shows that online
courses can be as successful as in-class courses, but that teaching and learning
online has some significant differences from teaching and learning face-to-face
(see Kleiman, 2004, for more specifics). The challenge for teacher education
faculty is effectively integrating online courses—and online enhancements
of face-to-face courses—into their own programs.
In addition, online courses are now extending the opportunities available to
high school students and, in some cases, middle school students, with good success
(e.g., Virtual High School and Florida
Virtual School). These opportunities present another challenge for teacher
educators: preparing teachers to make effective use of the online medium in
their own instructional practice. Teachers must learn to develop good online
curriculum, gain expertise in online communications, and understand when and
how to best employ online learning with their students.
The third item on the list of factors that will determine success is curriculum
design. In most places, we have seen a sprinkling of technology into the curriculum—a
program that provides drill and practice within a game here, use of a spreadsheet
there, a webquest as a special event, and so on. They represent a first step
toward integrating technology into the curriculum, but only a first step.
When technology leads to rethinking the curriculum to fully incorporate new
tools, the impact can be profound. For example, technology does not merely replace
pencil-and-paper and typewriters in a writing program, but can extend the program
to communicating with multimedia tools in addition to static text—that
is, producing the types of communications now common in many occupations. Effectively
incorporating technology into the writing curriculum can also teach students
new levels of editing, revising, and collaborating, as well as provide opportunities
to share their products with real audiences via the Web.
Similar examples can be found across the content areas: The availability of
abundant primary resources can change the nature of history class. The use of
real-time data collection and analysis tools can change the nature of science
labs. The use of interactive, visual programs designed to enable explorations
of mathematics concepts can provide new ways of teaching and learning mathematics.
Speech analysis, understanding, and synthesis software can have a major impact
on language learning. The use of instruments linked to computers with musical
instrument digital interfaces (MIDI) can provide new ways for students to learn
to play and to compose music—and so on through each content area.
In each case, preparing teachers to develop and teach curricula that fully
integrate these types of technology tools requires major revisions in methods
courses and the uses of technology in teacher education. So far, only a few
teacher education institutions have demonstrated that they are ready to meet
Another set of challenges for teachers and teacher educators centers around
issues of equity. Technology can play a major role in addressing the needs of
different students. For students with physical and sensory disabilities, assistive
technologies can provide life-changing aids. For example, text-to-speech devices
make all books available to visually impaired students; speech-to-text devices
enable students who cannot physically use a pen and keyboard to express themselves
in writing. Specialized software can provide “scaffolds” to help
students with learning, language, or attention disabilities to succeed in learning
tasks that would be impossible for them without these supports.
Students who cannot attend school for health or other reasons can connect via
online courses and communications. English language learners can use automated
translation programs to support their transition to English. The field of Universal
Design for Learning (http://www.cast.org)
provides important principles about the design of curriculum, instruction, and
assessment to provide learning opportunities for all students, and technology
plays a critical role in the implementation of these principles in classrooms.
All of which, of course, presents another challenge to teacher educators: preparing
new and practicing teachers to use technology to differentiate instruction,
to support students with special needs, and, in general, implement the principles
of Universal Design for Learning in their classrooms.
Responding to the Rapidly Changing World
The last item on the list of factors that will determine success is respond
to the rapidly changing world. Over the last 5 years, several studies have documented
a key area of change that is critical for educators—the students themselves.
The generation of students born toward the end of the 20th century have been
labeled the Millennial Generation (http://www.millennialsrising.com/).
Having grown up in a technology-rich world in which the Internet, email, instant
messaging, cell phones, DVDs, and digital music are part of their experience
from childhood, these students view information, communication, and community
very differently from prior generations. In their experience, information on
any topic is easily available and free, communication via instant messaging,
email, and cell phone is embedded throughout their days, and community does
not depend upon physical proximity—they find it natural to participate
in online communities formed by people with common interests who they have never
met in person. They are interested the world around them, view the world as
far smaller than prior generations did, and are optimistic about their futures.
Unfortunately, over the past 20 years, there has been a significant decline
in the percentage of high school students who find school to be meaningful and
interesting and in the percentage who view school learning as important to their
future lives. Many find that schools do not provide the real-world connections
and uses of technology to learn, communicate, and create that they have at home.
In addition, we know that the demographics of the students in many schools
have changed and continue to change, with in many places a wider range of language
and cultures being represented in the school community. To complicate matters,
all of the these changes are taking place in conjunction with the globalization
of communications and economies, changes in employment opportunities and the
skills needed to succeed in the workplace, and advances in technology that raise
new society, legal, and ethical issues. (For more information, see the Pew Internet
Project reports, including Lenhart,
Rainie, & Lewis, 2001, and Levin
& Arafeh, 2002, as well as a presentation by Susan Patrick, Director
of Educational Technology for the U.S. Department of Education, at http://www.nclbtechsummits.org/summit2/presentations/p_Patrick.pdf
The experiences of our students—their ways of learning, communicating,
and engaging in the communities and world in which they live—are dramatically
different from those of prior generations. The resulting challenges are easy
to state but hard to meet: How can we prepare teachers to teach these Millennial
Generation students and the Post-Millennial Generation students born in the
21st century who will soon enter our schools? How do we prepare teachers to
go beyond the current educational standards, assessments, and practices to consider
how education needs to be updated to prepare students for the lives they will
lead in the 21st century?
Those were significant issues when I wrote the original article in 1999, and
the changes since then have made it even more urgent that educators at all levels
begin seriously to address these critical challenges.
Kleiman, G. M. (2000). Myths and realities about technology in K-12 schools.
In the Harvard Education Letter report, The digital classroom: How technology
is changing the way we teach and learn. Retrieved July 30, 2004 from http://www.edletter.org/dc/kleiman.htm
Kleiman, G. M. (2004). Meeting the need for high quality teachers: e-Learning
solutions [White paper written for the U.S. Department of Education Secretary’s
No Child Left Behind Leadership Summit.] Retrieved July 30, 2004, from http://www.nclbtechsummits.org/summit2/presentations/Kleiman-MeetingtheNeed.pdf
Lenhart, A., Rainie, L., & Lewis, O. (2001). Teenage life online: The
rise of the instant-message generation and the Internet’s impact on friendships
and family relationships. Retrieved July 30, 2004, from http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Teens_Report.pdf
Levin, D., & Arafeh, S. (2002.). The Digital Disconnect: The widening
gap between Internet-savvy students and their schools. Retrieved July 30,
2004, from http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Schools_Internet_Report.pdf
North Central Regional Educational Laboratory and the Metiri Group. (2003).
enGauge 21st century skills: Literacy in the Digital Age. Retrieved
July 29, 2004, from http://www.ncrel.org/engauge/skills/skills.htm/
Technology counts 2004. (2004). Education Week on the Web, 25(35),
3. Retrieved July 30, 2004, from http://www.edweek.org/sreports/tc04
EDC EdTech Leaders Online - http://www.edtechleaders.org
eMINTS - http://www.emints.org
Florida Virtual School - http://www.flvs.net
Maine’s laptops in middle schools initiative - http://www.mainelearns.org/
The Partnership for 21st Skills - http://www.21stcenturyskills.org/
Western Governors University Teachers College - http://www.wgu.edu/
Virtual High School - http://www.govhs.org