CAUTION: Technology!

In the myriad debates surrounding implementation of Common Core and the concurrent tests, the sheer costs of this process tends to be ignored. Another issue related to both CC and the related costs is yet another series of commitments to technology as a part of the perpetual education reform process. Here is a reposting of a presentation [see Note below] I gave offering a stern caution about our repeated rush to embrace technology:

Author Kurt Vonnegut quipped, “Novels that leave out technology misrepresent life as badly as Victorians misrepresented life by leaving out sex.” As with novels, so with schools, I believe, but we must take one step beyond “whether schools should address technology” to “how.”

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau offered two warnings that should guide how we approach technology: “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate,” and, “We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us.”

It’s a Book, Lane Smith [VIDEO]

Shifting from seeking technology for technology’s sake to critical technological awareness

  • Caution: Inflated costs (market forces) in state-of-the-art technology
  • Caution: Pursuing state-of-the-art technology is self-defeating since “state-of-the-art” is a moving target; teaching students to use state-of-the-art technology fails to recognize that it will be “old” technology once students leave school. Also, state-of-the-art technology has a high risk/reward factor since many “new” gadgets fail and many “new” upgrades fizzle. Consider the storage facilities at schools filled with cables, software, out-dated hardware, and the LaserDisk players that never caught on.
  • Caution: New technology has inflated costs AND embedded costs related to repair and upgrades.
  • Caution: Adding new technology or upgrading existing technology requires added time spent for teachers (in-service) and students to learn the technology itself, draining time better served on teaching and learning themselves.
  • Caution: Research base, although sparse, does not support a positive role for technology in improving teaching/learning, and evidence we have shows teachers rarely use technology provided (EdWeek synthesis of research on technology):

That study found that most of the schools that have integrated laptops and other digital tools into learning are not maximizing the use of those devices in ways that best make use of their potential.

From “Who really benefits from putting high-tech gadgets in classrooms?” (Los Angeles Times, February 4, 2012):

Almost every generation has been subjected in its formative years to some “groundbreaking” pedagogical technology. In the ’60s and ’70s, “instructional TV was going to revolutionize everything,” recalls Thomas C. Reeves, an instructional technology expert at the University of Georgia. “But the notion that a good teacher would be just as effective on videotape is not the case.”

Many would-be educational innovators treat technology as an end-all and be-all, making no effort to figure out how to integrate it into the classroom. “Computers, in and of themselves, do very little to aid learning,” Gavriel Salomon of the University of Haifa and David Perkins of Harvard observed in 1996. Placing them in the classroom “does not automatically inspire teachers to rethink their teaching or students to adopt new modes of learning.”

…In 2009, the Education Department released a study of whether math and reading software helped student achievement in first, fourth, and sixth grades, based on testing in hundreds of classrooms. The study found that the difference in test scores between the software-using classes and the control group was “not statistically different from zero.“In sixth-grade math, students who used software got lower test scores — and the effect got significantly worse in the second year of use.

  • CautionSeeking to close GAPS (equity, achievement, technology) found in the lives of children (children in poverty, disadvantaged; children in affluence, privileged) through education presents a paradox: As Walt Gardner has succinctly explained: “Don’t forget that advantaged children are not standing still in the interim. They continue to benefit from travel and other enriching learning experiences. As a result, the gap will persist.”
  • Caution: Begin with educational (teaching/learning) NEEDS, not the allure of new technology.


Thomas, P. L. (2012, January 3). A misguided use of money. Room for Debate. The New York Times.

—–. (2011, December 2). No. At Issue in CQ Researcher, p. 1017. and

NOTE: This originally was a presentation, as below:

CEFPI/SC Annual Conference

March 8-9, 2012


CAUTION!: Technology

P. L. Thomas, EdD

Associate Professor of Education

Furman University


Larry Cuban, Answering the Big Question on New Technology in Schools: Does It Work? (Part 1) 

See related: Technology In Education: An Answer In Search Of A Problem?


6 thoughts on “CAUTION: Technology!”

  1. Re the sheet costs’ being ignored: Stephen Krashen, in his continuing daily barrage of letters to editors, stresses the ever-escalating cost of technology-related purchases that districts incur with the testing/standards/CC debacle.

  2. It would seem that this thinking only applies to teaching, as it clearly does not apply to your choice of cycling equipment (see today’s photo in the sidebar).

    I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on why new “technology” is acceptable in one aspect of your life… but, seemingly, not the other.

    1. In fact, you are wrong in your assumption. I use the same philosophy with cycling in that I do NOT buy first-generation cycling tech, and do wait until the “new” is “old” so I pay lower for it.

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