Discussion, Debate, Writing, and Publishing:
The Case of Cuban and Pea
W. Patrick Dickson
Invited Participation
Proseminar in Learning, Technology and Culture
Michigan State University
September 16, 2002

Your comments and suggestions are welcome.  Patrick Dickson.
{Visit my homepage for link to these notes: http://www.msu.edu/user/pdickson]
(Note: I created this page in about four hours.)

[Pop quiz:  Where did Roy Pea earn his undergraduate degree?]

Introduction.  I would like to thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts with you.  Our convener, Jack Smith, has indicated

"We will be talking broadly about issues related to educational technology, grounded in the specific issues raised in 2 readings: (1) Larry Cuban's book Overbought and Underused (chapters 1 and 2) and (2) Jeremy Roschelle and Roy Pea (and others) chapter in Children and Computer Technology entitled, "Changing how and what children learn in school using computer-based technologies."  As you might guess, I chose the readings as a pair to bring to the table the promises and the common pifalls of technology that scholars have presented."
Readings Online.

Children and Computer Technology,  Future of Children, published by the Packard Foundation.

You can order a free hard copy of the publication, Children and Computer Technology, as well as
download a complete text of the issue or the assigned article by Roschelle and Pea:

Roschelle, J., Pea, R., Hoadley, C., Gordin, D., & Means, B. (2001). Changing how and what children learn in school with collaborative cognitive technologies. In M. Shields (Ed.), The Future of Children (Special issue on Children and Computer Technology, published by the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, Los Altos, CA), Volume 10, Issue 2, pp. 76-101.
Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom. Larry Cuban. Harvard University Press.

A complete copy of the book is free for downloading and reading (but you can't cut and paste).
Or you can spend $19.57 plus shipping and add it to your physical library.

On Talking, Listening, Classroom Discussion, Writing for Class, and Writing for the World.  Knowing how much I like to talk and knowing how hard it is for each of us to get our words in edgewise because time is inelastic, I decided to take time to publish some of my thoughts for today's session on the Web, thus enabling me to get my words in webwise if not edgewise.

(Modeling the use of placing my  thoughts on the Web. One of the best refutations of arguments against the use of technology in education is effective use of technology by the refuter.)

I also hope that I help you attend to, revisit, and remember my ideas by publishing my ideas on the Web.

(Professional hint: You may gain some slight advantage in the marketplace of ideas over those whose ideas disappear into the ether instead of endure in the Ethernet. Your future visibility and influence as a scholar will be amplified if you learn to use technology as a medium of research and publication.)

Today's Questions
We have been asked to think about three questions, listed below. I will try to give my short response to each of them.

1. What do you think are the most important barriers to the effective and powerful use of computer-based technologies in schools?

Answer: Time, money, and the universal resistance of organizations to change.

Time has several meanings in this regard. One is time for teachers to learn, another is the rapid change over time of technology, the third is the fixed quantity of time at 168 hours per week of which only 30 are spent in school.  One consistent failure on the part of technology advocates is inadequate attention to time and serious modeling of productivity functions for the allocation of time. Cuban observes that almost all the teachers and many students have and use computers extensively at  home but doesn't draw from this the implication that we may see greater effect on student learning via home computers than those in school, if our teachers and schools ever organized to capitalize upon the investments families have made in technology.

Money for technology, unlike time, can be increased, though as Cuban points out in chapter 6, schools believe they only have about 2% of their budget as discretionary spending. Some of this reflects an inability to think outside the box. Teachers could be offered the choice of teaching 25 students a year for five years or 30 students for one year plus $30,000 to buy 15 or more computers to use for the next 5 years.

Resistance to change. Change is astonishingly difficult in organizations and schools are institutions with 100 years of the model of classrooms with about 30 and days about 6 hours long five days a week. Some of us believe that absent technology to allow teachers to organize their work differently, and to amplify a teacher's effectiveness, schools are not likely to become more productive. After all, most reform efforts aimed at changing the way teachers teach or at improving the performance of low achieving students have not succeeded. Perhaps technology will also fail. But the improved productivity of many sectors of the economy are due more to providing workers with better tools than exhorting them to work harder.

2. What are one or two of the most powerful examples that you can generate (from your reading or experience) of computer-based technologies supporting learning that would be difficult, if not impossible without them?

My nominee for a most powerful example (my portfolio advocacy):

Authentic writing saved and published to an authentic audience.
Before the arrival of the Web, it was not possible to create schools in which every student was a published writer, photographer, artist, and poet, and whose work was shared with an audience that could include peers, parents, grandparents, and others anywhere on earth.

My most fundamental critique of efforts in school to teach writing is that so little of the writing is ever read by anyone other than the teacher and almost nothing is retained longer than one semester. From the beginning of school through beginning graduate school the implicit message is that writing is done to receive a grade on writing.

Free Web editors that work on even older computers puts the goal of authentic writing for significant audiences within reach.  And unlike more specialized software (simulations, Covis, Jasper, ThinkerTools, etc., which are potentially powerful for learning in a specific domain at a specific grade level), the skills and software for publishing to the Web can be used at any grade level and beyond school. The return on investment from developing a learning community around publishing one's work seems to me to be potentially large, much broader and more enduring than many other applications that fascinate me as a researcher.

3. If computer-based technologies have great potential for learning in schools, what are the consequences of richer schools having these technologies and poorer schools not having them? If the "rich get richer" via technology, should we address this inequity and if so, how?

Witty aside: A poignantly contradictory position one hears from people skeptical of technology runs like this:  "There's no evidence computer literacy is important or that computers improve learning, and society should be terribly concerned because poor children do not have access to these useless things."
Believing as I do that technology can improve learning and that people who learn to learn to use technology will have better prospects for employment and productivity, I think the "digital divide" is a serious problem.  Interestingly, however, the rate of ownership of computers in schools and homes is steadily increasing, even among the poorer (but not the poorest) sectors of society. Extrapolating those trendlines, one can see that in a decade or so most students will have some access at home and  school.  The challenge is in finding the social capital (teachers, parents) to help students learn to use the technology for more than chatroooms and downloading music.

Group differences versus individual differences. I would add that the individual variability in learning to use technology productively is huge, within family, with any classroom, and among doctoral students in PhD programs.

There are doctoral students who will spend the next four years surrounded by access to and support for learning  to use technologies well (SPSS, Excel, Web publishing, Blackboard, PowerPoint, EndNotes, HyperQual, etc.) and finish their PhD's with only minimal word processing skill, little or no Web design skills, and limited facility with statistical software. How to explain these differences? Lack of access to hardware and software being controlled for in the MSU graduate student environment, then one must look at such things as culture, faculty demands and role models, prior learning, aptitudes, motivations, learning community, etc.

Research is urgently needed to shed light on the origins of the large individual differences in enthusiasm and aptitude for learning to use technology.  Access is only a small part. Gender and SAT scores are only partially predictive. If you believe, as I do, that more and more learning will be done from instruction delivered via the Web and that learning how to learn, especially learning how to continually learn new technologies, will increasingly differentiate the successful from the unsuccessful learners, then research on the contextual, cultural, and individual influences on learning and technology is needed.

Some of My Further Thoughts

Hope in the face of experience. Cuban has done the field of education a service by observing carefully and quantifying what is. His approach, however, seems to me to discourage hope in the belief that schooling can be changed by any reforms, while thinking he is merely criticizing technology in schools.

Your perspective on technology in school needs to be informed by the reality that schooling and teaching are extraordinarily robust against any change (including every other curricular reform advocated over the past fifty years).

Cuban, chapter 3, p. 95, "When we shadowed teachers and students, however, we saw what classroom researchers have seen for decades. All but a few of the 35 different teachers (in both schools) used a familiar repertoire of instructional approaches."
Focus on variance, not means. The general tendency (the grand mean) is generally a poor guide for action, by individuals or organizations. Evolution proceeds by variation and interveners in evolution select those variations with characteristics they wish to propogate.
Cuban, chapter 3, p. 91, "There was as much variation within a department as there was between department. In the English Department, one or two teachers were especially heavy users of computers, a few were occasional to rare users, and the rest were largely nonusers. This pattern was similar across departments."
To his credit, Cuban describes some rather nice examples of teachers making good use of technology. One wonders whether his book would have praised technology, given the number of computers in schools, were all the teachers he observed making the "best" uses that he found among something like one out of ten teachers and schools.

Focus on the trendlines and extrapolate to when you will finish your PhD in about 4 years (5 or 6, if you are not careful).  Cuban describes changes in technology over the past 15 or 5 years and tends to express the contradictory views that we have bought too many computers but also that the number of computers per student have not grown very fast.  A good exercise would be to simply take each of the assertions about change in Cuban's book, put the data (percentages and year) in Excel and ask what is likely to be 5 years from now. I see nothing on the horizon to suggest that technology will be scarcer in schools or play a smaller role in learning 5 and 10 years from now.

Consider where the author is coming from (a postmodernest, deconstructionist, Bakhtinian suggestion).
Cuban was a school superintendent who became a professor and recently retired from Stanford.  Pea was a Rhodes scholar, professor in the Learning Sciences PhD program at Northwestern, left academia to work at SRI in Palo Alto, and has now joined the faculty at Stanford to lead a new doctoral program and center focusing on technology. Thus, Stanford moves from having an articulate skeptic to having an articulate advocate of technology.  Again, look at the trendlines as you consider possible roles of technology in your professional career.

Problems with Pea.

Scholars, unlike Cuban whose experience grounds him in schools, tend to be interested in and rewarded for focusing on cutting edge technology being studied or developed in other scholars' laboratories. As such, they glimpse the future but perhaps ten years out, but they tend to write and speak as if these new technologies were ready for use in schools.  Consider Thinker Tools, developed at Berkeley and much admired by academic researchers for attempting to embody powerful ideas from cognitive and constructivist perspectives. I thought it would be useful  to have last year's doctoral students  in the technology proseminar actually work with Thinker Tools instead of just reading about the software.  I inquired and received an email to the effect that the software was no longer being developed but that the research team had moved on to the next new thing. (*Link for talk, not for public access).

Reflections and Further Readings.
Reflection questions:

How many of you have met or heard Cuban, Roschelle, or Pea?
Would you like to hear them speak?
Would you like to hear them debate their positions in these two papers?
How old are they?  How did they come to hold their current positions?
Would you like to follow their career paths?
What do they look like?

Which is Cuban and which is Pea and which is Roschelle?:


Read their C.V.'s (and begin thinking how you want your C.V. to look):

Larry CubanMore.
Roy PeaMore.  What Institute does he direct and what is it named?
    See and hear Roy Pea speak about his vision for educational technology. (Example of streaming video.)
Jeremy Roschelle.  Where does he work?  What is it? Do you aspire to work in a university or a research institute?

Discussing  and Debating.
The Pros and Cons of Technology in the Classroom.  We've discussed their ideas. Now read them debating each other.The debate over the value and role of computing technology inK-12 classrooms rages on. Nationally recognized experts on thesubject, Dr. Roy Pea and Dr. Larry Cuban, offer their insightsin this transcript of speeches each gave to a gathering of organizations that fund school reform projects.
More Cuban:  What Does the Research Say About Technology's Impact on Education?
What audience is he addressing here?  Does his 'voice' change with audience?

How does the U.S. Department of State present this research?
Amazon: Other books by Cuban.
Amazon  is a great place to see what other books a scholar has written and what related books Amazon recommends.
"How Scholars Trumped Teachers". Cuban on how universities undervalue teaching.
Larry Cuban Explores "Good Schools" in The Sachs Lectures. What is Cuban's perspective on 'good schools'?

What Professional Organizations Do They Belong To?
Reflection: What organizations will you join as you create your professional identity?

Journal of the Learning Sciences.
Read Editorial Board to see who's who in research.

Reflection questions:
Which of the three scholars discussed here are on the editorial board?
Are you collecting paper or electronic copies of readings for your research collection?
Do you enjoy reading articles online or do you prefer paper?
Archives of articles save you the need to subscribe and shelve them.
Notice the journal articles are online and free.

My Prediction: Most journals will become completely electronic in the next ten years.
Your Skills: How familiar are you with the MSU Library Electronic Resources?

Notice on the website for the Journal of the Learning Sciences the link to the conference on collaborative learning. This conference will attract some of the most important scholars in the field.
If you are interested in collaborative learning: Go to the conference in Bergen, Norway next summer.

What conferences do you plan to attend in the next year or so?
What is the role of attending and presenting at conferences in your professional development and PhD program?

Thank you for your attention.  Your comments and suggestions are welcome.  Patrick Dickson.