Review of Digital Habitats

Between 2008 and 2011, I wrote several brief reviews of books which appeared on the Education Review web site. Since then, the editors ceased publication of that type of review and removed the previously published brief reviews from the site. I am making the original drafts of my reviews available here.

Smith, J. D., Wenger, E., & White, N. (2009). Digital Habitats: Stewarding technology for communities. Portland, OR: Cpsquare.

ISBN: 9780982503607

Regardless of individual educators’ attitude towards information and computer technology (ICT), schools are becoming increasingly ICT-rich environments. Despite the expectation that ICT be used to create meaningful learning environments (Gilbert, 2007; Wan, Fang, & Neufield, 2007), there is evidence that educators continue to struggle to use ICT effectively (Halverson & Smith, 2009). In this book, Smith, Wenger, and White propose organizations identify technology stewards; these individuals are charged with ensuring technology decisions serve the needs of community members and support community goals. Individuals in this role will support educational communities that seek to end the struggles and transform themselves through the use of ICT. Although not specifically for education audiences, the book outlines the rationale for technology stewardship, recommends practices for technology stewards, and considers the future of technology stewardship.

In the first section, technology stewards are defined as those individuals who function as a mediator between a community and the ICT it uses to facilitate communication and interaction. One of the authors (Wenger) is well-known for promoting the concept of communities of practice (CoP) as a model for practitioners within a domain to form a mutually-supportive group of learners. That work is briefly reviewed and interpreted in light of the ICT that can support CoP. This section also makes clear the purpose of technology stewardship is to support the learners in the CoP, not necessarily to install and maintain the hardware and software, but to understand the CoP and the ICT at a sufficient level to ensure the goals and purposes of the group are fulfilled through ICT-mediated interaction.

In the second section (which is comprised of seven chapters collected in two parts), the theoretical frameworks useful for guiding technology stewardship and the practices of effective technology stewards are described. Both the frameworks and the practices are explicated in graphics and illustrated with examples that are presented as vignettes. The authors explicitly state the book is not designed to be a recipe, and that is accurate. Implicitly the authors suggest the ICT needed by any CoP depends on (a) the available technology landscape, (b) the orientation of the organization, and (c) effective technology stewardship that is created for the needs and idiosyncrasies of each community. With the ideas in this book, technology stewards can initiate effective planning for and implementation of ICT to support community goals and begin to assess the effectiveness of their stewardship.

In the final section, Smith, Wenger, and White identify general ICT trends and conclude new ICT will continue to emerge and affect how technology stewards support the members of their organizations. Also, the authors describe the effects that good technology stewardship can have on increasing and expanding the support any community can provide to its members.

As ICT becomes a stronger influence in society, the expectation that educators will meet the challenge of using it to support all aspects of teaching, learning, and schooling will grow stronger as well. Despite decades of effort to provide access to ICT, curriculum materials for ICT-rich instruction, and professional development; many educators ignore ICT in their classrooms. For school and technology leaders who seek to increase and expand the use of ICT in their communities, this book provides both the theoretical framework and the practical advice that will support and sustain their efforts.


Gilbert, J. (2007). Knowledge, the disciplines, and learning in the Digital Age. Educational Research for Policy and Practice 6(2), 115-22.

Halverson, R., & Smith, A. (2009). How new technologies have (and have not) changed teaching and learning in schools. Journal of Computing in Teacher Education, 26, (2), 49-55.

Wan, Z., Fang, Y., & Neufeld, D. (2007). The role of information technology in technology-mediated learning: A review of the past for the future. Journal of Information Systems Education 18(2), 183-92.