Thursday, January 13, 2011

Novelty, Huh?

by Shelly Blake-Plock

A reader writes:
There was an interesting article in the New York Times regarding the use of iPads in schools. Larry Cuban, a professor emeritus of education at Stanford University is quoted: “IPads are marvelous tools to engage kids, but then the novelty wears off and you get into hard-core issues of teaching and learning.” Cuban also believes that rather than spending money on new technology it should be used to train, keep, and find the best teachers available (Hu, 2011). Would you agree with Cuban’s statement that the novelty of technology will wear out sooner or later? 
 I would somewhat agree with Prof. Cuban. If we were living in 1983.

In those heady early days of educational technology and computers-in-schools, it was all about hardware and software. Technology was a matter of spending enormous amounts of money to create a relatively weak digital facsimile of the analog/physical world.

And so kids like me who were fortunate enough to have a small computer lab in our school learned quickly that a math game that was lame on paper was just as lame on the computer. Especially when we could go home and play Atari.

As for the specific case of the iPad, it's hardly an ideal device if you are looking for a catch-all. I'm especially concerned about the closed nature of the system and the emphasis on sales at the app store and on iBooks. But it is a device that speaks to several of the important features of our time, most importantly: mobile and accessible instant Internet connectivity. And I would argue that to see the iPad as a fad is to miss the bigger picture: the iPad only exists within the context of a mobile-connected world. That mobile-connected world is not a novelty; that's a paradigm and a reality.

Furthermore, the paradigm and reality of a mobile-connected world has nothing to do with the institution of education, per se. The mobile-connected world isn't a new ed tech gimmick. It's a cross-cultural societal shift. And I'm not blind to the fact that that shift itself has got a lot of money riding on it; but our personal feelings about how culture is changed don't change the fact that culture is changed. Too often we try to raise a barrier between the classroom and the world; I think that defeats the potential of either to grow.

Now, I certainly think Larry Cuban realizes that the world has changed with the coming of the Internet, smartphones, and myriad social technologies. I think his point was that it's silly to think of the iPad as a singular tool which will change education. Instead, he wants us to focus on teacher training and retention. And I completely agree with him. Furthermore, Larry Cuban obviously realizes that there are differing values derived from differing technologies and there are also going to be many tech dollars wasted on schools that don't have teachers trained and qualified in the use of those technologies for learning purposes.

In fact, I see the whole issue of teacher preparation tied to a bigger reality of creating a new educational paradigm to meet the needs of a new societal and global paradigm. In other words, we've got to up-end the way we prepare and support teachers if we ever want to change the results in our schools.

I don't want to spend money "training" teachers how to do the things that educational institutions are currently doing. Rather, I want to develop teachers who are comfortable and savvy moving education forward into a future where the physical and the digital are augmented in a variety of ways; where schools themselves are mobile and hybridized environments merging the digital and the f2f in teaching things relevant to the lives and futures of their students' potential and authentic experience in a globalized world; and where the point of education is not simply to pass a test or get a job, but to empower individuals and community in celebrating creativity, innovation, beauty, and human capacity.

All of us want our students to succeed. And we should learn from and develop our pedagogy based  on the experiences and research of the past. But we should not do so with a blind eye to the realities of the present. Barring catastrophe, the new connections are not going away; even given a catastrophe, the seed of instant global connection has already been planted in the human psyche. It is now part of us. And it won't be long [IT WON'T BE LONG] before every student -- regardless of the neighborhood they live in or the employment status of their parents -- will be connected. We have to live up to that reality as educators. That means that we need teachers to engage in a relevant way with the digital reality -- to bring their humor and compassion and expertise to it; we need to support teachers in making this move -- above all they need time and they need to feel like they can explore and experiment without fear of being 'wrong'; and we may have to look with a keener eye at just what it is that we call 'novelty' -- because in every innovation (and every failure) there lies a deeper context.


  1. You're right that part of the concern of novelty comes with the close tying of content to the platform (this is something that worries me as a librarian).

    I'd suggest checking out some snarkmarket on some good thoughts that could be brought to bear in designing a connected pedagogy:

    Dig on the addendums at the bottom.

  2. Cuban's name sparked a reminder of a scholarly article you may be interested in (if you haven't read it already) at

    The article specifically names him many times as a critic of 1:1 computing in schools.

    Worth a read.

  3. Disclaimer: I am a tech enthusiast. More so than others. But, I also understand that there are some things that tech cannot change. Cuban's ideas come from decades upon decades of research that have shown that technology by itself does not change the nature of education, regardless of how "transformational" the technology may be for society. Your argument against that is based on your perceptions of how the world and education are changing. Granted, I don't doubt that *you* will probably be able to use the technology in amazing ways that get students excited. I do that too... i love doing it and my students love it too... But, most teachers will subvert innovations to fit their teaching ways. I don't see tests going away for example... and if those are in place, then where does the technology fall?


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