From Now On

The Educational Technology Journal

 Vol 12|No 9|May|2003
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Focus on the Locus

by Jamie McKenzie

(about author)

© 2003, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved.

Maybe schools should focus on the locus - put computers, dollars and emphasis where they are most likely to do the most good?

Radical notion. Heresy or common sense?

Techno-Saturation - An Idea Whose Time has Come (and Gone)

We just spent half a decade trying to spread new technologies hither and yon regardless of readiness, inclination or fit. The dotcom decade was one of rampant speculation and experimentation that spread the creed that installation of equipment in classrooms would lead to dramatic improvement in learning. Take a look at the claims of the Star Report - a vendor saturated document that was actually adopted as policy by many states.

Where is the evidence that techno-saturation is healthy for schools?

There is no credible evidence that student learning improves when we pressure all teachers in all disciplines to make frequent use of new technologies.

There is surprisingly little data substantiating the value of loading classrooms with computers.

Take a look at the findings of a very large government study in the United Kingdom. Becta Report: Primary Schools - ICT and Standards at

The summary page makes some weak claims . . .

Schools with good ICT resources tended to have better achievement than schools with unsatisfactory ICT.

But a review of the actual data shows that most of these weak claims are based on the thinnest of correlations and small margins.

Figs 1.1 - 1.3 KS2 results and ICT resources
Correlation with 7.18 Adequacy of ICT resources
Year 1999 2000 2001
KS2 English .045 .069 .027
KS2 mathematics .057 .078 .064
KS2 science .055 .084 .070

A strong correlation giving evidence of a strong association between two factors would be in the .6 to 1.0 range. To determine the weight of a relationship, one squares the correlation. The resulting number provides the percentage of variance explained by the relationship. Thus a correlation of .6 would explain 36% of the variance. A correlation of .9 would explain 81% of the variance, etc.

The correlations found in the UK study are so small as to explain almost nothing. Square .045 and you get 0.002025 or .2%! Square the largest correlation above (.084) and you get 0.007056 or .7%. These correlations are so small as to justify no summary statement like the one quoted above.

The study goes on to examine the effects of other factors such as good teaching with good equipment and finds, not surprisingly, that the correlations grow when you load up the most favorable of factors. But even then, the correlations are weak, never surpassing .26.

One could easily report that the study found no evidence that huge expenditures in technology had translated into sizable and important gains in learning.

The attempt to measure the impacts of technology investments on student learning of curriculum is admirable, but the reporting of skimpy correlations as established and important relationships is stretching things a bit.

Focus on the Locus

Instead of saturating schools, we should act strategically. It is time for precision-guided programs. We conserve energy and resources. We put equipment where it will do the most good.

We dismiss the “Any Time Any Where” strategy as marketing hype. We shrug off the pressures for one-on-one computing and just-in-case computing. We embrace just-in-time computing. We move equipment. We share. We bring it into a room when we need it. We move it out when we do not need it.

We look more carefully at our school's culture and readiness.

Instead of spreading computers thinly across a building so that all teachers have the same number of computers (and none have critical mass), why not build the program around the most enthusiastic and competent teachers and put the resources where they will be used?

If a student moves through K-12 education and encounters one technologically savvy teacher out of every four and if those teachers do an appropriate job of using new technologies in their classes, will that student emerge with strong technology skills?

Why did we decide that all teachers regardless of discipline must be both tech savvy and committed to full integration?

Some teachers are more inclined to let students use new technologies.

Some teachers are better prepared to develop good lessons with new technologies.

Why not let them take the lead?

Changing the Daily Practice of Teachers

What do we know about changing the daily practice of teachers?

It is not easy.

At a recent conference, I asked the audience to complete the following sentence:

Teachers are most likely to change daily practice when they . . .

There were several dozen responses such as the following:

  • See value in the change
  • Get lots of support to learn the new thing
  • Notice others having success
  • Can understand what they must do
  • Are sheltered from turbulence
  • Can count on their leaders being there
  • Believe student results will improve
  • Have time to build lessons and units
  • Have time to develop new skills and strategies
  • Have a support network, partner or coach

Some Change Strategies Worth Considering

1. Could we focus?

Might learning goals be achieved with more quality and depth by focusing our efforts and our resources on those teachers, subjects and units where new technologies are likely to have the highest payoffs and the most natural fit?

2. Could we pilot?

Why not try out variations of the new program in a number of contrasting settings to compare the results and build theories to support best practice?

3. Could we phase?

What would be the benefits of introducing the innovation gradually, in stages over time, starting with the most promising locations and volunteers before extending the change system wide?

4. Could we excuse?

Are some departments and programs less fertile prospects for intensive use of new technologies? What would be the result of letting them "stick to their knitting" while others carry the technology torch?

Could some individuals do alternative service?

5. Could we inspire?

When the right folks pioneer some new approach to learning might it give others hope?

If the wrong folks pioneer some new learning approach, can they kill its prospects?

Is it reasonable to expect inspiration from our leaders?

6. Could we encourage?

Instead of presuming that folks will take risks and suffer through innovations, what if we took the time to listen to their concerns and address their needs?

What if we offered shelter, support and comrades?

For more on these strategies, consider "Avoiding Haphazardous Change: Trusting (Foolishly) to Chance and Happenstance," in the December, 2002 issue of FNO.

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Credits: The photographs were shot by Jamie McKenzie .

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