July/August 2000 // Commentary
Beyond Teacher Bashing: Practical, Philosophical, and Pedagogical Influences on Educators' Use of Educational Technologies
by Nancy Cooley and Michelle A. Johnston
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: Nancy Cooley and Michelle A. Johnston "Beyond Teacher Bashing: Practical, Philosophical, and Pedagogical Influences on Educators' Use of Educational Technologies" The Technology Source, July/August 2000. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

After reviewing the findings of a 1995 report on teacher educators' use of technology in the classroom, the CEO Forum on Education and Technology (2000) concluded that little progress has been made in the last five years. The 1995 report states that "most new teachers graduate from teacher preparation institutions with limited knowledge of the ways technology can be used in their professional practice" (Office of Technology Assessment, p. 2). Similarly, the CEO Forum declares that "children of the Digital Age are too often taught by teachers prepared with techniques more appropriate to the Industrial Age" (p. 2).

Additional reports published by government, education, and private sector organizations fault teachers for their inability to use technology to transform teaching and learning, and they blame teacher preparation institutions for not providing leadership for technology integration. Kent and McNergney (1999) summarize a pattern that Cuban (1986) calls the "exhilaration/scientific-credibility/disappointment/teacher-bashing cycle":

The cycle begins with a period of excitement in which reformers…tout new technologies as solutions for whatever ails the nation’s schools. Shortly after the new technologies gain some attention, academics produce studies describing the effectiveness of the new tools. As the technologies fail to gain widespread acceptance in schools, new surveys document the disappointingly infrequent use of the technologies by educators. During the final phase of the cycle, teachers are criticized for resisting change and subverting the improvements made possible by the new technologies (p. 22).

Encouragingly, recent books and reports by the American Council on Education (1999), the CEO Forum (2000), and Kent and McNergney (1999) move beyond teacher-bashing in an attempt to understand the lack of K-16 leadership for technology integration. In contrast to higher-status professional programs (such as law, medicine, business, and engineering) that prepare graduates who earn large salaries or work for employers with financial means, teacher preparation programs prepare graduates who earn modest incomes in publicly-funded institutions. Consequently, large gifts from donors and industry are much harder to obtain. The CEO Forum report contrasts teacher preparation programs' relatively poor alumni base with the programs' need for substantial and ongoing funding to support equipment purchases and maintenance, software, network connectivity, faculty training, and technical support. Similarly, Valdez et. al. (1999) contend that K-12 schools need funding to provide appropriate professional development for teachers and ensure the presence of sufficient high-quality technology and connectivity. These are challenges that must be overcome before teachers and teacher educators can assume a significant leadership role in the transformation of education.

Less obvious, but equally important, are the philosophical and pedagogical factors contributing to the historical resistance of teachers and teacher educators to the use of technology in their classrooms. In spite of predictions made during the exhilaration phase of the cycle (i.e., that new technologies would revolutionize education), the introduction of early technologies—such as educational filmstrips, radio, and instructional television—did not lead to any lasting reforms (Kent & McNergney, 1999). With the advent of computers, futurists such as Perelman (1993) predicted a world of highly individualized, "disintermediated education" in which students would take control of their own learning with the support of electronic learning resources and traditional teachers and classrooms would become obsolete. Perelman's prophecy clearly has not been realized.

Why didn't teachers buy into those visions? Early forms of educational technology pre-dating the Internet (e.g. instructional film, radio, and television) were often rejected by teachers because they were incompatible with their philosophy of teaching and the daily realities of the classroom. Those early educational technologies required teachers to give up control of the content and presentation while the technology was running. Teachers needed to stop teaching, and students were generally unable to ask questions or have information repeated during the instructional delivery. Because the materials were designed to be teacher-proof, teachers typically received no training or inappropriate training focused only on the technical aspects of using the technology. The futurists were typically non-teachers, largely unaware of factors that would limit the technologies' successful integration into the curriculum. These included the high cost of equipment purchase and maintenance, teachers’ time constraints, difficulties with access to equipment necessary for preview and lesson planning purposes, and the need to darken the classroom for viewing purposes, with the potential for behavior problems that might ensue (Kent & McNergney, 1999).

Kent and McNergney (1999) also cite the low quality of most products as a factor that led teachers to reject early educational technologies. The quality issue became confounded with K-16 educators' frustrated expectations for sound pedagogy, which plagued the later development of computer-related teaching and learning resources. Many of those resources available commercially (and those developed by faculty without a background in pedagogy) were electronic workbooks, programmed learning tutorials, or lecture notes recycled into PowerPoint presentations. When post-secondary faculty in non-education colleges began using technology in the classroom, it was primarily to deliver their content more efficiently or effectively. Perhaps because these faculty typically had no formal training in pedagogy, they were less critical of the "transmission model" inherent in the materials. However, many teachers and teacher educators rejected a vision of education that appeared to reduce teaching and learning to the transmission of content from an electronic repository to the minds of students.

More recently, the convergence of computing and communications technologies has led to the development of e-mail and the World Wide Web, and increasing numbers of K-16 educators have been captivated by their potential to support a "social interaction model" of teaching and learning. The new technologies allow students to connect online to other learners, teachers, community members, and experts around the world to promote the students' active engagement with content in authentic collaborative projects. The authors of How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School (Committee on Developments, 1999) devote one chapter to a discussion of how interactive technologies make it easier to create pedagogically-sound environments in which students can learn by doing, receive feedback, and continually refine their understanding and build new knowledge. They explore how the technologies bring exciting curricula based on real-world problems into the classroom; provide scaffolds and tools to enhance learning; give students and teachers more opportunities for feedback, reflection, and revision; build local and global communities; and expand opportunities for teacher learning. Because this new vision addresses the practical, philosophical, and pedagogical issues of concern to teachers and teacher educators, educational technology is at last finding a welcome mat at the door to the classroom.

A recent North Central Regional Educational Laboratory research report (Valdez et al, 1999), sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, presents conclusions about the most beneficial approaches to technology use in K-12 educational settings of the 21st century. The document details three phases of computer-based technology and learning. Included in the material on Phase III—Data-Driven Virtual Learning—is a chart that summarizes twelve variables that, taken together, suggest the following scenario of engaged learning, interaction, and collaboration:

Teachers guide and engage students in self-directed learning activities. Specifically, students use technology to explore diverse information resources inside and outside of school and produce information for real-world tasks. Technology use is aligned with standards to enhance application of content learning to real-life situations. The learning process is enhanced as students work with others inside and outside the classroom, and students have greater opportunities to access up-to-date, real-world resources and experts, especially through the Internet and other telecommunication resources. Global telecommunications networks enable on-line collaboration. Professional development is aligned with research and best practices where teachers participate in just-in-time study groups, online seminars, action research, and collaboration with colleagues. Web sites and interactive electronic systems are used to provide multi-tiered collaborations among educators, students, parents, and community members. (Valdez et al, 1999, pp. 3-4)

In contrast to that engaging vision, there are still those who would replace teachers with CD-ROMs or computers connected to the Internet. They believe that student achievement can be improved solely through a computer-mediated process of content delivery and mastery learning. They would have each student working in solitude with an individualized program of materials residing on the Internet and accessed from his or her personal homepage. The teacher’s role, if any, would be to assess each student’s achievement level and preferred learning style and point the student toward appropriate learning resources on the Internet. This approach does not address the obstacles that doomed previous technologies to failure. Like film, radio, and television (but even more so), computers and communication networks are costly to purchase and maintain; moreover, access is inequitable, and quality is uneven. Classroom discipline in the absence of teacher control remains a vexing problem, and teachers now grapple with issues of student access to online pornography, bomb-building instructions, and Internet child predators.

In the final analysis, teaching and learning are social acts driven by human needs for connection, communication, and interaction. Until recently, a compelling vision for the integration of technology into teaching and learning had not been articulated, and many K-16 educators rejected technology. Now that educators have begun to embrace Web-based teaching and learning, we must move beyond the teacher-bashing cycle and provide them with appropriate infrastructure, professional development, and technical support. We are now poised to realize the long-awaited transformation of education through the effective integration of technology into teaching and learning.


American Council on Education. (1999). To touch the future: Transforming the way teachers are taught. An action agenda for college and university presidents. Washington, D.C.: Author.

CEO Forum on Education and Technology. (2000). Teacher preparation StaR chart: A self assessment tool for colleges of education. Washington, D.C.: Author.

Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning. (1999). Technology to support learning. In J. Bransford, A. Brown, & R. Cocking (Eds.), How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Research Council. Retrieved 30 May 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://books.nap.edu/html/howpeople1/ch9.html.

Cuban, L. (1986). Teacher and machines: The classroom use of technology since 1920. New York: Teachers College Press.

Kent, T., & McNergney, R. (1999). Will technology really change education? From blackboard to web. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Office of Technology Assessment. (1995). Teachers and technology: Making the connection. Washington, D.C.: Author.

Perelman, L. J. (1993). School’s out: A radical new formula for the revitalization of America’s educational system. New York: Avon.

Valdez, G., McNabb, M., Foertsch, M., Anderson, M., Hawkes, M., & Raack, L. (1999). Computer-based technology and learning: Evolving uses and expectations. Oak Brook, IL: North Central Regional Educational Lab. Retrieved 30 May 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.ncrel.org/tplan/cbtl/toc.htm

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