Important Ed Tech Book Reviews

 From Now On
The Educational Technology Journal

 Vol 11|No 9|June|2002

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Teaching with Technology: Creating Student-Centered Classrooms

Judith Sandholtz, Cathy Ringstaff, David Dwyer

Reviewed by
Laura C. Lewis
About the Author

Teaching with Technology: Creating Student-centered Classrooms, reports on a 10-year research study of the Apple Classroom of Tomorrow (ACOT) school sites. The centerpiece of the study is the five-phase model of instructional evolution in technology-rich classrooms: entry, adoption, adaptation, appropriation, and invention. The model describes a shift in instructional style, from traditional to constructivist, that the authors believe takes place as teachers become expert technology users leading to new levels of confidence and willingness to experiment with instruction.

The authors believe in supporting the teacher first. Like Larry Cuban, author of Oversold and Underused (review), they see teachers as the "gateway" to technology use by students. The book devotes chapters to the following issues and how they are affected by technology: classroom management, student and teacher roles, student engagement and teachers' relationships with one another.

For anyone who has worked with teachers and technology or is a teacher who has been confronted with the challenge of integrating technology there will be much in this book that resonates and possibly inspires.

Despite a distance of almost 20 years from when this study began, the majority of teachers in the U.S. are still struggling to find ways to integrate technology meaningfully into what they do best - teach.

There may be more computers, peripherals, and software packages (not to mention the Internet) available to the average teacher than there were in 1985, but the same barriers to technology integration are still present - a mix of entrenched beliefs about what it means to instruct and a lack of flexibility on the part of school administrations to do what it takes to make innovation and change possible.

Description of study

The study began in 1985 to answer the question how routine use of technology by teachers and students would affect teaching and learning. Five classrooms in five schools located across the U.S. were chosen for the study. Each classroom was equipped with a personal computer for every student and teacher as well as a printer, laser disc, videotape player, modem, CD ROM drivers and various software packages. Students and teachers were also given a personal computer for home to insure constant access to technology. Teachers were trained in the basics of technology use. The grant provided an on site technology coordinator for continued support. In 1989, the study dropped two schools. In the remaining three schools, classrooms were added so that researchers could follow students through grades. These schools eventually became centers where other teachers could come and observe teaching with technology as part of ACOT's professional development model.

Teacher Beliefs

In the first years of the study, ACOT researchers noted few changes to classroom instruction. If anything, the technology increased the complex challenge of teaching. Veteran teachers felt like first year teachers all over again, negotiating issues of discipline and resource management. Startlingly, over time these classrooms became hybrids of traditional and constructivist teaching with teachers collaborating in the learning process with students and each other. The five-phase model is based on the collected data marking these changes.

Underlying this model is our view that such changes will occur only if there is a concomitant change in teachers' beliefs about their practice. However, instructional evolution is not simply a matter of abandoning beliefs but one of gradually replacing them with more relevant ones shaped by experiences in an altered context. Beliefs are a source of guidance in times of uncertainty; they are important in defining teaching tasks and organizing relevant information. They are an irreplaceable element in the process of imagining alternative futures. (p. 48)

The technology-rich environment imposed on teachers by the ACOT grant created the altered context.

[Technology] provides a distinct departure, a change in context that suggests alternative ways of operating. It can drive a shift from traditional instructional approach toward a more eclectic set of learning activities that include knowledge-building situations for student. (pp. 47-48)

While students were working at their own pace with different software, their teacher could observe them as learners helping each other navigate the program to complete the assignment.

"They saw their student's highly evolved skill with technology, their ability to learn on their own and their movement away from competitive work patterns towards collaborative ones." (p. 45)

The technology created time and space for teachers to observe students learning and to work with students one-on-one. The authors suggest it was this observation that gave project teachers the confidence to move away from traditional instruction - lecture-recitation seatwork - to a more dynamic, student-centered mode of instruction. There was a shift not only in teachers' beliefs about students as learners but "knowledge came to be viewed more as something children must construct for themselves and less as something that can be transferred intact."

Positive Outcomes

ACOT students absentee rate was 50% less, and they had no dropouts compared with school's 30% rate…half of the students who joined ACOT as freshmen had not planned to go to college. Ninety per cent of them graduate and went on to college compared with 15% of the non-ACOT graduates. This ACOT graduating class amassed 27 academic awards in addition to recognition for outstanding accomplishments in history, calculus, foreign language and writing. (p. 47)

The 5-phase Model

The ACOT model describes five common stages--entry, adoption, adaptation, appropriation, and invention-- that a teacher will progress through in a systematic and more or less linear way as they gain confidence using technology over time.

This we must question. Personal computers have now been around schools for the past two decades, yet national studies show teachers on average are not proceeding through these stages (Becker 1999; Cuban 2001).

Could it be there are not enough computers in classrooms to force a shift? Is this study support for laptop schools? Or were the gains ACOT teachers made due to the data collection model in which teachers were responsible for:

  • weekly recordings reflecting on progress
  • one-on-one with researchers to investigate specific issues
  • pressure to perform for the study heightened by periodic visitors to the classrooms

These different forms of feedback increased the teachers' reflection about their practice and reinforced experimentation with new methods.

The authors are well aware of this. They believe there are two essential conditions to foster values and attitudes that support innovations in schools. Both have to do with belief systems.

First, teachers must bring their beliefs to a conscious level where they can reflect on them, compare them to their actions, and be exposed to alternative beliefs/actions.

Second, administrators must be flexible, aware of teacher evolution and willing to implement structural or programmatic shifts in the working environment.

The authors acknowledge the role that the researchers played in helping teachers to reflect on their instruction and beliefs about instruction. The institutions that worked with the grants supported changes to the teachers' working environments.

"Release time for collaboration and team planning became routine… Teachers also had opportunities to attend or present at professional conferences and to participate in workshops on instructional issues in which they expressed interest." (p. 49)

Support Model

Looking at the list of suggested measures of support, I cannot imagine a district being able to consider some of them. In the "real" world how are schools going to begin to offer the kind of support ACOT teachers had in technology use and professional growth? Few schools have access to university researchers willing to work in tandem with K-12 teachers. Most schools have very limited budgets to spend on equipment and professional development for teachers.

In the same vein, this study's conclusions are very important for policy makers to hear. Change takes time and support. Saturating schools with computers may lower the computer to student ratio, but that saturation cannot presuppose instructional innovation on the part of the teacher.

Schools that really embrace technology as a way to "reform" education and deliver results for students must allow for creative change within administrative structures such as scheduling - allowing teachers time for professional development within school walls and outside of school. And it will require determined leadership that can inspire and support teacher collaboration.

Teachers need increased and varied opportunities to see other teachers, to confront their actions and examine their motives, and to reflect critically on the consequences of their choices, decisions, and actions. They need opportunities for ongoing dialogue about their experiences and for continuous development of their abilities to imagine and discover more powerful learning experiences for their students. Finally, both for teachers' own…write about and publish their experiences as innovators. (p. 51)


Becker, H. J. (1999). Internet Use by Teachers: Conditions of Professional Use and Teacher-Directed Student Use, Center for Research on Information Technology and Organizations The University of California, Irvine, AND The University of Minnesota: 35.

Cuban, L. (2001). Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.

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Credits: The photographs were shot by Jamie McKenzie.

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