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Interview with Larry Cuban, Author of “Overso ld and Underused: Computers in the Classroom”

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  • Steve Hargadon
    http://educationbridges.net/k12opensource/wp-content/uploads/LarryCuban.mp3 The link above is to my EdTechLive.com interview with Larry Cuban, Emeritus
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 9, 2006

      The link above is to my EdTechLive.com interview with Larry Cuban,
      Emeritus Professor of Education at Stanford University, and the author
      of the 2001 book "Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom."
      (This interview could not be "skypecast" because of some problem at
      Skype at the time.)

      Maybe this was not a natural interview for someone who sells computers
      for a living, but let's chalk it up to the the quest for "truth" and a
      desire--as a computer lover--to understand why the efforts to put
      computers in the classroom have not had broader success in improving
      teaching and learning. And while there was a natural tendency in the
      interview to focus on the "oversold" part of Dr. Cuban's message, the
      opportunity seems to lie in understanding the "underused" part.

      Professor Cuban provides a very balanced and thoughtful perspective on
      the use of computers in schools–or rather, the non-use thereof. First,
      to counter the perception that it is the fault of the teachers that
      computers aren't being more broadly adopted in the classroom, he shows
      that most teachers are actually active computer users themselves as
      they prepare for their classes and organize their work. We therefore,
      he says, need to look deeper than a perceived "resistance" by teachers
      to explain the lack of technology integration in the classroom.

      Dr. Cuban gives us a glimpse of the incredible challenges teachers
      face in trying to accomplish all that is asked of them, and asks us to
      consider that teachers would more likely embrace computer technology
      in the classroom if it actually helped them do their jobs better or
      more easily. He gives the example of the video-cassette player and the
      overhead projector--both technologies that became quickly and easily
      integrated into teaching. Can we really expect, if there are
      relatively few computers available to students, if they are available
      only for limited periods of time, and if they are often unreliable,
      that it would really make sense for a teachers to change the way they
      teach because of computers?

      While pointing out that there are ways in which computers have been
      clearly shown to improve academic performance, he says that by and
      large there is a surprising lack of significant studies or real data
      to show where those benefits exist and where they don't. Instead, he
      is concerned, the factors which really seems to drive the purchase and
      implementation of computer technology are not usually the teachers'
      needs or requests, but a push from those outside of the classroom:
      politicians, parents, and administrators. Well before the publication
      of The World Is Flat, and across political lines, there has been a
      concern that we are "a nation at risk," and that we need to make sure
      our children are computer "savvy." He made a fascinating point in the
      interview: if you go to a college campus, you will see computers in
      active use by faculty and students--so the absense of computer use in
      high schools doesn't seem to impede their use in college. (I didn't
      mention it, but my brother, who is a professor of business, has
      actually banned the use of computers in his classes because the
      constant instant messaging and other non-class-focused uses of the
      computer were distracting from his ability to teach.)

      What occurred to me is that when the pressures to use computers are
      external, then the more detailed understandings of how they can be
      used successfully get lost. In one of the articles I read to prepare
      for the interview, Dr. Cuban separates computer use in education into
      three categories: computer-assisted instruction, computer-managed
      instruction, and computer-enhanced instruction. (Noticeably missing,
      but probably intentional, is vocational technical training.) While the
      first two, according to the article, have been pretty-well documented
      to improve academic performance, it is the third--the use of computers
      in such a way that transforms the educational process--that is less
      understood. What I think I notice from my interactions with proactive
      and engaged teachers who are excited about certain technologies (like
      blogs and wikis, or Moodle) is that they are experiencing this
      transformational change; and I would imagine that they are likely to
      have have been able to do this because they were so proactive and
      engaged. And if his theories hold true, it will be these kind of
      technologies that really capture teachers' imaginations and desires
      that can ultimately lead to more ubiquitous use of the computer in the

      I did ask Dr. Cuban specifically about blogs and wikis, but got the
      sense that these are technologies that are not yet fully on his radar
      as educational tools. I meant to ask about Moodle, and forgot. Based
      on his perspective, I am particularly encouraged by the fact that
      these technologies don't require buying new computers (or even having
      "current" technology), since they really only require a web browser to

      We also talked about the role of commercial companies play in
      "selling" technology to schools. In a free-market economy, it is hard
      to see an alternative, but Dr. Cuban recommends being a "skeptical"
      consumer of those commercial offerings. I've been thinking long and
      hard about this, since I sell computer hardware to schools. The
      conclusion that I have come to is that, as a vendor of technology, I
      need to be exploring ways to understand how to make the computer a
      better and more reliable tool for teachers. K12Computers is way too
      small to effect broad change, but if I ask the right questions and
      start to find the right answers, maybe we can make a difference.
      He also pointed out that if the end-goal is truly academic
      achievement, it may sometimes be measurably better for a school to
      reduce class size or hire more aids than to buy computers. Most of
      those involved in our educational system need to get paid for their
      work, but are actually involved in the work because of a personal
      commitment to the cause of education. It seems, as a vendor to
      schools, we should hold ourselves to the same standard. I'm not quite
      sure how to do this, but it does seem important.

      It also seems that Linux and Open Source Software hold the potential
      to reduce acquisition and maintenance costs for providing a computing
      environment. The work in Indiana, in particular, should be very
      instructive. If the cost of having one-to-one computing can be
      significantly reduced, there should be a great opportunity to study
      the transformative effects of this kind of program. And I can't stop
      thinking about the concept of a "web appliance:" a no-maintenance
      computer that provides access to the web. If every classroom in a
      school had some number of "webstations" that the teachers knew were
      always available and would always work, would they begin to integrate
      web reasearch and other web tools into their classwork as easily as
      they have the overhead projector? This is something I would like
      specific feedback on, and would like to try some testing if anyone is

      Steve Hargadon
      916-899-1400 direct

      www.SteveHargadon.com - (Blog on Educational Technology)
      www.K12Computers.com - (Refurbished Dell Optiplexes for Schools)
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      www.PublicWebStations.com - (Disaster & Shelter WebStation Software)
      www.K12OpenSource.com (Public Wiki)
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