Light Offerings

Looking for evidence of digital value in education. Or just looking for Godot?

Posted by jturner56 on April 14, 2014

In response to Larry Cuban’s blogpost What’s The Evidence on School Devices and Software Improving Student Learning? I provided the following:


My first response to this post was whether there had been a Road to Damascus moment, or at least maybe a spotlight adjustment. If ‘scientifically-gathered evidence is imperfect’ and educational decision-making is more political than research based then at the very least we need to look deeper at the contentions on computer use in schools, be it in the interpretations attributed to you of failure, or on those who advocate that “ICT makes possible creation of learning environments that transcend, or are outside the classroom, including both formal and informal learning environments.”

This led me to re-visit your mid-80s and early 2000s insights into the shortcomings associated with the introduction of digital technologies into school. What I arrived at was was to me

(i) It’s a frame of reference issue. Hattie is a  good example of measuring within traditional school values. Even though his 2009 finding have also been used as a blanket support for ICT use in the classroom.

You have had some interesting things to say about Papert over the years, but when I revisit Ghost in the Machine: Seymour Papert on how computers fundamentally change the way kids learn (1999) I am taken by the attribution to Papert that “the computer’s true power as an educational medium lies — in the ability to facilitate and extend children’s awesome natural ability and drive to construct, hypothesize, explore, experiment, evaluate, draw conclusions  — in short to learn — all be themselves.” This is a frame of reference that I as a practicing educator have tried to add value to for many years. And occasionally would contend have experienced success.

(ii) so it’s about what learning is valued. 100% standardized, centralized, restrictive testing based systems convey a value that influence what teacher can and cannot do. External provisions are nothing new. Postman and Weingartner’s (1969) Teaching as a Subversive Activity is a worthwhile consideration to this.

(iii) Learning, as with life, is about finding the right balance. You have rightly promoted your view as being skeptical, which is needed. But hopefully not a restrictive upholder of outmoded systems. Finding balance between future sellers and their techno-capitalist bedfellows, and upholders of power structures content with past and present imperfections, is what teaching and education needs to constantly search for. Teachers may well tend towards the “familiar” rather than “imaginative””, but can be supported to create better futures through better leadership (or vice versa).

(iv) Digital with its hitherto unexperienced rates of change and possibilities to create is inherently disruptive. So we can expect to continue to have to think deeply about what we are trying to achieve (rather than just what we want our young to know). In this age of digital, social progress, future work and personal empowerment are all intertwined.

(v) Finally, education is about the journey. So I finish with Philip Jackson’s (2012) What is Education? which starts with a quote from John Dewey in 1938 “the fundamental issue is not of new versus old nor of progressive against traditional education but a question of what anything whatever must be to be worthy of the name education… we shall make surer and faster progress when we devote ourselves to finding out just what education is and what conditions have to be satisfied in order that education may be a reality.” This is prescient when considering any or all things digital.

Educational research should always be in support of this, not the other way around.

As always, appreciated the catalysts for thinking you have provided and continue to provide.


Larry’s response?


As always a classy act. Framing the issue remains as significant as it did when I start nearly 30 years ago. That is why examples at the practical level are as important as objectiveness at the philosophical level.


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