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Scientifically-based Blog Post #1

[NOTE  #1: this was originally posted on February 7, 2008.  I am re-posting it here as part of the #edublogBT idea/meme about which I wrote yesterday.]

[NOTE #2: at the time, I had designs on posting a weekly blog post about educational research.  I think I got as far 4 or 5 entries before that idea faded. I’d like to, at some point, revisit the “scientifically-based blog post” idea. I think it’s a niche I can help fill.]

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Might as well start right at the top of my own pecking order. To me, one of the very best, if not the best, articles I have read is called, Factors Affecting Technology Uses In Schools: An Ecological Perspective, by Yong Zhao and Kenneth A. Frank from Michigan State University. This well-designed, mixed methods study examined teacher and student use of computers from an ecological perspective. The authors start by referencing the introduction of zebra mussels into Lake St. Clair. The mussels were first introduced in 1988, and by 1990, they could be found in all of the Great Lakes. In fact, in a very short period of time, the introduction of the zebra mussel has caused tremendous ecological change in the Great Lakes. While recognizing that computers and zebra mussels are very different, the authors imply that their goal is to understand why “computer uses” as an invading species have not caused disruption to the schooling organization.

Their first major finding confirms some of my own empirical conclusions; the vast majority of the variance in computer use exists WITHIN schools, not between schools. I think that’s a really important but rarely understood finding. One of the many implications is that we are much more likely to be able to identify high-end computer using teachers than high-end schools. Schools are not the right unit of analysis in examining differences in technology use. Other findings:

  • Teachers niche in the ecosystem – English teachers were much more likely to use computers than their peers.
  • Teacher / Ecosystem Interaction – teachers who reported feeling pressure and support from colleagues were more likely to use computers more. Also, where there were too many competing invading species (other “programs” or “innovations”), computer use suffered.
  • Teacher-Computer Predisposition for Compatibility – teachers who found computers to be more compatible with pedagogical beliefs and practices used computers more.
  • Opportunities for Mutual Adaptation – teachers that had more time to “play around” with computers used them more for teaching/learning.

Overall, the authors found great support for the ecological framework. I think the study is framed beautifully, carried out well and reported eloquently. Most importantly, the findings resonate with my own empirical understandings of technology integration. I’d love to hear your thoughts…


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