Purchase Oversold and Underused - Computers in the Classroom

 From Now On
The Educational Technology Journal

 Vol 11|No 5|February|2002

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Review: Oversold and Underused - Computers in the Classroom

Larry Cuban
250 pages

Harvard University Press

ISBN 0-674-00602-X

Reviewed by Jamie McKenzie
About the Author

Larry Cuban takes a close look at how new technologies are being used in schools and considers whether the investment in hardware has paid off in improved classroom learning.

© 2002, J. McKenzie

Larry Cuban has spent much of his career studying how teachers do (or do not) employ new technologies of various kinds to change how they work with students.

In this book, he provides evidence from well equipped classrooms in the Silicon Valley that outfitting schools with networked computers does not work the kind of miracles school reformers and vendors claim.

Along with other researchers from Stanford University, Cuban follows students through their schedules, interviews them along with their teachers and builds what amounts to a disappointing portrait of school use.

He looks at three age segments: pre-school and kindergarten, high school and higher ed (Stanford).

Findings are disappointing across all three levels despite what amount to impressive expenditures.

© 2001, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved.

What makes Cuban's findings especially noteworthy is the fact that the two high schools and the university being studied have taken special efforts to support the use of new technologies.

These are not poorly equipped laggards. The schools are leaders in the amount of equipment purchased, the computer to student ratios and the quality of networks made available.

Cuban reports that teachers tend to transform the new technologies to conform with existing traditions of classroom practice.

"I find compelling the combined explanations of historical legacies and the contextually constrained choice of teachers in accounting for the patterns of teacher and student use in different levels of schooling."

Page 175

This is not the first technology Cuban has studied that failed to deliver the goods promised by vendors and cheerleaders. He has traced the failures of earlier efforts such as instructional TV.

This historical perspective is a particular strength of Oversold and Underused - Computers in the Classroom. Cuban offers insight regarding the pressures and the traditions that block many teachers from making more powerful use of these new tools.

This book is important reading for those who wish to promote significant use of new technologies because it dispels the notion that penetration (the installation of many computers) automatically translates into a transformation of classroom activities - what is usually called curriculum integration.

While Cuban does not offer a plan to translate these technology investments into impressive learning gains, his discussion of the roots of disappointment should help technology planners improve their efforts.

In his final chapter, Cuban asks, "Are computers in school worth the investment?" I will leave the reading of his findings for you to discover.

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Credits: The photographs were shot by Jamie McKenzie.

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