Voices in Education

Transforming Schools with Technology
I wrote Transforming Schools with Technology because I felt there were too many skeptics and too many zealots writing about technology in schools. It was time for a new book that would be realistic and optimistic without being utopian. Realistic means understanding that forty four states support online schools; that Pennsylvania and Maine initiated laptop programs for students; and that the vast majority of teachers believe using technology in schools is important.

I’ve been pleased with people’s reactions. Reviews have been positive, and it has been good to be invited to speak about the book. A vice president at Learning.com asked me to speak at a 7 a.m. (!) breakfast meeting at the National Educational Computing Conference in July and 200 people showed up, ranging from state technology directors to teachers. The New York City Public Schools asked me to be keynote speaker at a software exposition held in the Brooklyn Museum in October. I’ve also spoken at national conferences, including the National School Boards Association’s T+L conference in Seattle. I find the speaking experience particularly gratifying on occasions when a superintendent or a school board member comes up afterwards to say that he or she is one of the skeptics I wrote about, and that I am helping to change their mind.

Partly because of the book, the journal Science asked me to write an article about laptop programs for students around the world. Several Latin American nations, for example, recently ordered millions of computers for schoolchildren. And since 2002, every middle school student in Maine has been loaned a laptop, the way they are given textbooks. A colleague in New York, Daniel Light, will be a co-author especially because of his long experience studying laptop programs in developing nations. Making an article on this topic brief is the challenge!

Since writing my book, one shock has been the attention given to a new book called Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Christensen, Horn, and Johnson. Some of the flavor of their view is provided by this quote: “the way schools have employed computers has been perfectly predictable, perfectly logical—and perfectly wrong” (p.73). Their book provides the “perfect” illustration of why I felt that a better-informed perspective about educational technology was needed. So why have I been shocked, you might ask? As the above quote suggests, the authors make a particularly blatant and strong indictment of schools that, unfortunately, appeals to many people these days. Online learning will save the day, they believe. A detailed review of Disrupting Class can be found here: http://www.concord.org/publications/detail/2008_DisruptingClass_WhitePaper.pdf

There is clearly a hunger for more information about how technology can help schools improve. Unfortunately, most people know so little about the subject that they can be led astray by zealots of one opinion or another, either pro or con. A thoughtful middle-ground position is needed—one that fully accounts for the promise of technology but that avoids portraying it as a panacea for all educational ills. Amid today’s chaotic and heated debates, the middle way is the soundest and most promising.

About the Author: For the past 20 years, Andy Zucker has worked in independent nonprofit organizations as an education researcher, strategic planner, and evaluator, and he is now a senior research scientist at the Concord Consortium.