December 1, 1996
School districts all over the country have been grappling with the difficult problems of integrating technologies for teaching and learning. While there is considerable anecdotal advice, the experience of districts who have successfully met these challenges has not yet been systematically analyzed. We therefore undertook national 'study tour' to examine eleven carefully selected sites around the country that have developed a range of models for integrating and using technologies well. This report summarizes the results of this national inquiry. We also provide short summaries of four of the most successful sites in an appendix. Full analyses of the factors that are key to effective use of the technologies, and experiences of the eleven individual sites are available in the complete project report.
Over the last fifteen years new technologies have been explored with enthusiasm for their contribution to innovation in education. Research has generally focused on large scale surveys about hardware and its uses, or on in-depth examination of small numbers of classrooms or schools. This work has examined the consequences of technologies for learning and factors that affect successful implementation. It has also documented problems encountered, and policies and procedures invented on the road to using technologies well.
A key conclusion from this collection of work has been that technologies almost never of themselves caused substantial change in schools. Rather, where there has been success, complex sets of factors change along with the introduction of technologies.
For example, commitment to changing curriculum overall, or school scheduling, or the organization of work in classrooms have accompanied the arrival of technologies. Technologies are thus best viewed as playing key roles in solving problems to which they are well suited. Considerable time and attention needs to be given to supporting their introduction and use (e.g. coordinated and sustained staff development, and finance policies that enable long term planning and programs).
The effective use of technologies now require coordination at higher levels than single schools. The kinds of support services that are needed are often too costly for individual schools, and the design and organization of such resources is largely beyond their control (e.g. staff development, finance policies, regulations about time, curriculum, access to federal or private funding, union policies, assessment - except where schools are skilled at obtaining waivers). Information about how to address these challenges at the level of districts, and states, is now of value to many.
Technologies are a substantial part of education, yet their roles and effects continue to be defined. Two separate developments have heightened interest in recent years: the gathering commitment to substantial education reform; and, the evolution of communications technologies. First, since we believe the best route to making successful use of technologies for change is in coordination with education reform, innovation, or renewal initiatives, we were alert to this aspect of the work at sites we visited.
Second, communication technologies are now being adapted to education with the same sort of fanfare that greeted microcomputers some years earlier: the national "information superhighway". The notion of linking schools with each other, with libraries, museums, universities and other cultural resources, and with homes and community institutions has been greeted with great enthusiasm by many. Considerable effort has thus far been devoted to solving problems of access to new communications technologies by all schools, including text, audio, and visual resources. People have been experimenting with models of using these technologies within schools, within regions, nationally, and globally. The communications technologies require far greater coordination within and outside single schools than did the earlier education technologies, and they place greater demands on technical support services. But they also are showing great promise.