#edtech Access isn’t Sufficient

In 1993, Seymour Papert imagined two time-traveling professionals from 100 years earlier; he speculated the physician would be flummoxed by the technology as well as the work of doctors and nurses in the 20th century clinic, but the teacher would find the technology and the work in a 20th century classroom very familiar. Papert based his speculations on the degree to which the medical practitioners had adopted and adapted to technological innovations compared to the educational practitioners. In the decades since, we who work in educational technology have made some progress in creating schools that would flummox the teacher in Papert’s tale. I qualify my observation of our progress with the adjective “some” because we have done much to install computers; servers, switches, routers, and other network devices; and sophisticated software to manage networks, store and protect data, and provide access to information. That infrastructure has not, however, transformed teaching and learning in a manner that would confuse a time-traveling teacher or even in a manner predicted by educational technology advocates.

     Our incomplete progress should be concerning to those whose interest in education is grounded in the assumption that schools should prepare youngsters for their future in an information-rich society. This concern arises from the growing collection of research, much of which was excellently summarized in a report from the Scottish Government released in 2015 (ICF International Ltd, Scotland, Scottish Government, Scotland, Social Research, & APS Group Scotland, 2015), that indicates access to and use of information and computer technology (ICT) is positively associated with learning. There is evidence that use of ICT can facilitate instruction through which students learn the declarative and procedural knowledge that is easy to measure, and there is also evidence that access to ICT can facilitate project-based learning and other authentic activities through which learners develop tacit knowledge that is difficult to measure but which is most-needed by today’s students.

Simple access to ICT in the school is not a sufficient condition for teachers and students to use it, however. We know that teachers, like all technology users, are more likely to use the ICT they perceive to be supported (Becker, 1999) and easy to use (Davis, 1998). Early in the history of desktop computers in schools, we also learned, teachers need support to ensure they are comfortable using the available technology. Further, they need time, resources, and guidance to create learning environments in which the technology is effectively used (Sandholtz, Ringstaff, & Dwyer, 1997; Schofield, 1995). We also know the technologists who are responsible for installing and maintaining ICT in schools need sufficient support, including financial resources, personnel resources, and access to expertise (especially when undertaking large upgrade projects and when supporting professional learning) if they are to provide and sustain ICT system that are functional, secure, and reliable. Given all of this, we can safely conclude if ICT is to be viable option for students, we need teachers and technologist to be effectively planning and implementing technology-rich environments.

When listening to students and teachers, as well as administrators and staff who comprise the users of ICT systems in schools, I hear complaints about the technology (they tell me it is unreliably and insufficient) and I hear complaints about the people charged with managing ICT (they tell me technologists are unresponsive to and dismissive of users’ requests and concerns). When listening to the technologists (technicians, system administrators, and technology coordinators) who are charged with managing ICT in schools I hear complaints about insufficient budgets, too few technicians, and unrealistic timelines and expectations, as well as complaints about the faculty and students who misuse (or fail to follow directions for using) ICT. I also hear complaints about school leaders who “dump” computers (or netbooks or tablets or any other device) on teachers (who are unprepared to teach with them) and on technologists (who are unprepared to support them).

It is not unusual for the complaints in the preceding paragraph to be expressed with a tone of frustration; complainers can be vehement and they often use hyperbole. In general, however, each group is absolutely accurate, justified, and reasonable in the blame they assign to the other group for problems with school technology.


Becker, H. J. (1999). Internet Use by Teachers: Conditions of Professional Use and Teacher-Directed Student Use. Teaching, Learning, and Computing: 1998 National Survey. Report# 1. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED429564

Davis, F. (1989). Perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use, and user acceptance of information technology. MIS Quarterly 13(3): 319-340.Davis, F. (1989). Perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use, and user acceptance of information technology. MIS Quarterly 13(3): 319-340.

ICF International (Firm), Scotland, Scottish Government, Scotland, Social Research, & APS Group Scotland. (2015). Literature review on the impact of digital technology on learning and teaching. Retrieved from http://www.nls.uk/scotgov/2015/9781785448195.pdf

Papert., S. (1993). The children’s machine. New York: Basic Books.

Sandholtz, J. H., Ringstaff, C., & Dwyer, D. C. (1997). Teaching with technology: Creating student-centered classrooms. New York: Teachers College Press.

Schofield, J. (1995). Computers and classroom culture. New York: Cambridge University Press.