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Will Technology Really Change Education: From Blackboard to Web
by Todd W Kent and Robert F McNergney
published in 1999 by Corwin Press (Sage Publications)
72pp ISBN 0 8039 6656 3 7.99

Will Technology Really Change Education: From Blackboard to Web

As you start to read this American publication (from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education) you get this picture of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton sitting in the same (small) audience at a presentation from some 'think-tank': almost every US reference could be replaced with a UK one. I was reminded of a 'Horizon' documentary where they were giving evidence that all human language had developed from a common source many tens of thousands of years ago.

Much of the first section makes considerable use of a special edition of Education Week: a particular edition that appears useful in its own right to those working in this area. This reviews the various statements made in the US over the last couple of years about the use of ICT in education. As a teacher-educator in HE I took particular note of a quotation on p14 -

The reasons for these deficiencies in teacher education programs are relatively easy to explain, if difficult to excuse. First of all, many teacher education programs lack the hardware and software essential to strong programs. Teacher education programs often are given low priority for special technology funding on their campuses and are therefore denied essential technology. Second, many teacher education faculty lack the knowledge and skill to incorporate technology into their own teaching.

- and empathised with the scenario.

The main thrust of the book is to compare ICT with previous technologies introduced into education, including radio, film and television, as well as the more simple tools of board and overhead projector. The authors argue that these split into high and low technologies and that the latter have been most effectively assimilated into the teaching repertoire. The failure of media such as radio and video to really become embedded is used to argue that high technologies will fail to become fully integrated. At this point I felt their argument got lost.

Is a computer an example of high technology? The authors appear to categorise it as such, but I feel that the context of use can move the technology into either camp. Consider word processing software running on a pc. This, I would argue, is low technology as it provides a direct analogy with all writing media (including pen and paper, chalk and board, pen and overhead projector) albeit potentially adding extras (which many won't use, certainly at first). However if you offer the example of a simulation of a field trip to the edge of a volcano then I might be persuaded to consider this as high technology. Is it to do with the amount of user control?

This book inspired me to debate and I must certainly recommend it for this but the case study material that concludes it doesn't live up to the challenge.

Neil Stanley
Reviews Editor