Just in Time Technology


 From Now On
The Educational Technology Journal

 Vol 12|No 2|October|2002
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Market Penetration is
Not Curriculum Integration

by Jamie McKenzie
(about author)

© 2002, Jamie McKenzie
all rights reserved.

More evidence is accumulating to prove the folly of putting the cart before the horse - drop shipping computers on classrooms without first investing in program and professional development.

Technology in Education, 2002
The latest evidence comes to us from highly respected MDR (Market Data Retrieval), probably the pre-eminent source of market data with regard to the educational market. MDR is especially strong when it comes to estimating and reporting how many products have been bought and placed in schools.

MDR's recently released report, "Technology in Education, 2002" provides vivid evidence that actual use of new technologies in U.S. classrooms lags far behind expectations and that spending for professional development is weak.

Key Findings from MDR

"Yet despite rapid improvements in ratios of students to computers, networks, high-speed Internet access, and classroom access, teachers still have difficulty integrating technology into classroom instruction."

Quoting from an October 11, 2002 MDR press release.


Note: The MDR staff behind the creation of this report was extremely cooperative, open and helpful when called in preparation for this article.

No Big Surprise

These data from MDR should come as no surprise to those who have read the research on change in schools published by Michael Fullan and Larry Cuban. Schools and teachers have a long history of resisting rapidly implemented, top-down change efforts heavily laced with new technologies.

  • Cuban, L. (2002) Oversold and Underused - Computers in the Classroom. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2002. (order from FNO Press)
  • Fullan, Michael G. (1991) The New Meaning of Educational Change. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Fullan, Michael G. (1996) What’s Worth Fighting for in your School. New York: Teachers College Press.

Furthermore, recent research by Hank Becker showed that teachers respond differently to new technologies based on their levels of readiness and their teaching styles.

Becker conclusively demonstrated that mere possession of computers in a classroom (market penetration) would not automatically translate into frequent daily usage. He showed that constructivist teachers would let students use classroom computers three times more often than their traditional counterparts even when both teacher types had five networked computers in their classrooms.

(click here to go to "Internet Use by Teachers" Web site at University of California Irvine http://www.crito.uci.edu/TLC/FINDINGS/internet-use/startpage.htm)

The End of a Marketing Myth - Penetration = Curriculum Integration

Despite decades of research that would argue otherwise, profit-motivated groups selling new technologies actually drew a connection between the number of computers per classroom and the level of curriculum integration. See the April, 1999 article in FNO - "Beware of CEOs Bearing Gifts!"

To this day, the Star Chart still places a premium on the number of computers.

The Star Chart identifies and defines four school profiles ranging from the "Early Tech" school with little or no technology to the "Target Tech" school that provides a model for the integration and innovative use of education technology.

How many students per instructional computer?

a) More than 10
b) 10 or less
c) 5 or less
d) 1 student per instructional computer connected to the Internet

While we have no reliable evidence that one-to-one computing translates into improved student learning results, the Star Chart lists the following benefits claimed for a "Target Tech" school that has one computer per student:

  • Improve student achievement
  • Develop and support the full range of 21st century skills that students will need to thrive in today’s educational environment and tomorrow’s workplace
  • Promote student-centered authentic project-based learning
  • All students/teachers able to communicate with parents, experts, community members and teachers outside the school
  • Learning at home and at school occurs seamlessly

Source: The CEO Forum on Education & Technology

While this fallacy (penetration = integration) was clear to some educators back in 1999, the nation was swept up in a technology bandwagon that suggested almost anything was possible. These are more sober times, as we have paid the price of speculation and wishful thinking in our own pension funds and investments, seeing equity disappear when the false accounting and inflated prospects of the 1990s were suddenly uncovered.

The actual wording of the MDR press release is curious, given the disappointing level of teacher usage.

K-12 public schools across the nation are embracing the latest technologies, according to Market Data Retrieval's newly released Technology in Education, 2002 report.
The use of the word "embracing" is curious, since their data show lots of buying but very little usage. Perhaps their definition of "embrace" differs from mine, but an embrace signifies, acceptance, love, adoption and daily use. Mere installation is not an embrace.

Teacher Proficiency Stalls

MDR reports that the U.S. has been spending some $5 billion annually to equip classrooms while teacher ability and usage remains a serious problem:

Yet despite significant spending on technology (estimated at $5.6 billion in 2001-2002), teachers' skills in integrating technology into classroom instruction languishes.

This does not sound like an embrace to me!

Though more than half of schools (53%) reported that 90% or more of their teachers use computers daily for instructional purposes, ability has not improved much. The number of schools reporting that the majority (over 50%) of their teachers are at the intermediate level, meaning that they can use a number of applications, inched up only slightly to 53% from 51% last year. The number of teachers with advanced/innovative skills, meaning that they can effectively integrate technology use into the curriculum, did not change at all, holding at only 11%.

Quoting from an October 11, 2002 MDR press release.

It Might be even Worse

When I looked more carefully at the methodology behind the MDR report, it seemed likely that the true state of affairs in U.S. schools may be even worse than these data indicate. To the credit of MDR, there is a whole chapter in the full report devoted to methodology, and the authors of the report are actually named.

MDR's comments about technology use and the skill levels of teachers are based upon a survey sent to each of 4000 schools. One person is asked to estimate how often teachers use technology and what percentage of the teachers fall into each skill category. MDR telephones in order to figure out the most knowledgable person to answer their questions. They do not automatically send the survey to the principal.

Survey experts always warn about the "socially desirable response" as a problem. If the survey is filled out by the leader of the school or a program, there is a tendency to provide a rosy picture of what is happening in the building. Just how would someone determine technology usage and skill levels in a building without data from surveys and other assessment instruments?

There is some possibility that the MDR data, damning as it is, is actually more positive than the true situation.

Suggested Changes in Methodology

We need more reports and more data to help us plan how to implement these new technologies wisely. MDR's reports make a major contribution to the field.

The value and validity of their annual report might be enhanced by considering several of the following changes:

1) Create a representative national sample of 200-400 schools from which good samples of classroom teachers are asked a range of questions about types of use.

2) Ask more pointed questions about types of learning activities. It is too crude a measure to ask if teachers use the technologies for instruction daily. There are many wasteful uses of technologies like powerpointlessness that should not be counted as achievements. Nor is it meaningful to ask if teachers use the Internet or ask students to use the Internet, as there are many poor uses of the Internet. Mere usage proves nothing. We need to know if the usage is standards-based, valuable and effective.

3) Don't rely on a single respondent. We will not learn what is happening in schools by e-mailing surveys to a single leader and asking that person to describe technology patterns in a school unless we require that descriptive judgments be anchored in data. "How do you know?" should follow each question. Hunch? Guess? Survey data? Personal observations?

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Credits: The photographs were shot by Jamie McKenzie.
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