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Author: Susan L. Collins
Title: Larry Cuban's Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
September 2002

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Source: Larry Cuban's Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom
Susan L. Collins

vol. 5, no. 3, September 2002
Article Type: Book Review

Oversold & Underused: Computers in the Classroom

Susan L. Collins

Carnegie Mellon University

Larry Cuban. Oversold & Underused: Computers in the Classroom (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001). $27.95. ISBN 0-674-00602-X 250 p.

In his newest book, Larry Cuban investigates how new technologies are used in schools. Cuban, an emeritus professor of education at Stanford University, past president of the American Educational Research Association, and author of numerous books and articles on education, visited a variety of schools in the Silicon Valley area to see firsthand how teachers are integrating computers in the classroom experience. As the title indicates, he was not impressed.

Written in a popular style, the introduction gives a brief history of education, particularly how our beliefs, assumptions, and public policies have shaped school reform. This has become particularly evident with technology. Since the 1980's Cuban sees that there has been a reform agenda to increase technology in the classroom not only to transform teaching and learning into "an engaging and active process," and to make schools more efficient and productive, but also to prepare students for the future workplace. His research investigates these issues by first seeing how teachers, with ready access to computers, use them for classroom instruction. Next, with the infusion of computers and other technologies in the classroom, he examines if teaching and learning have changed, as well as the reasons for the change, or lack thereof. Finally, he determines if the investment in computers and other technologies has been worth the cost.

Chapter One, "The Setting," gives a brief history of California and its school system, as well as some demographic information and the rationale for selecting Silicon Valley for such a study. Cuban believes that the high-tech area provides an excellent testing ground for reformers' assumptions about technology, namely that "increasing access to computers in schools will lead to more classroom use which, in turn, will transform teaching and learning to produce the desired outcomes in graduates and the economy."

The next three chapters provide details of Cuban's observations on the use of computers in 11 preschools and kindergartens, 2 high schools, and 1 university. Surveys, interviews, and direct observation of classroom practices provide the data for the study, which is often used against the backdrop of national educational survey data. Based on his observations, Cuban gives a few case studies that demonstrate how computers are used effectively to enhance the educational experience as well as how they are "misused" or not used at all. What we learn is that across educational levels, most teachers, regardless of the availability of equipment in their classrooms, or their home use of computers, do not use this technology to enhance the educational experience of their students.

In Chapter 5, "Making Sense of Unexpected Outcomes," the author explains why there has been so little use of this technology in classrooms, and why so little changes in teaching practices. To do this, Cuban looks at the historical introduction of technology in the classroom as well as the introduction of technology in other professions. He found that the pattern of use of computers in education is similar to earlier teachers' reactions to the introduction of new technology, such as radios, projectors, etc. Likewise, it parallels the introduction of technology into other professions, such as engineering and family medical practitioners. Cuban's explanation for his observations, therefore, is a combination of historical legacies and "contextually constrained choices," i. e., decisions made by teachers influenced by their particular institutional situation and experience.

The last Chapter, "Are Computers Worth the Investment?" answers this question with a firm "no." As Cuban sees it, no major transformation of teaching and learning will occur without questioning the assumptions of "techno-promoters" who see schools not as continuing their historic civic and social mission, but as vehicles for increasing economic productivity and meeting workplace demands. Policymakers, public officials, corporate heads, and parents need to work with teachers to reset the educational agenda, which must include a broad vision of the role of the schools, rather than the "excessive focus on technology" that is currently in place. This broad vision must include the social and civic role of our educational system, or else run the risk of "trivializing our nation's core ideals." While Cuban sees that the monetary investment so far has not been worth the outcome, he encourages decision makers to work with teachers towards a common educational goal, viewing technology not as a panacea, but as a tool with which to reach that goal.

The book is easy reading, and the reports of computers and classroom teaching made me want to see that type of study pursued on a larger scale. Cuban's book will generate discussion among policy makers, teachers, and parents. That, however, is what he believes is needed. Good policies and valid assumptions can withstand the examination and questioning Cuban has started.