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Digital Teaching Platforms: Customizing Classroom Learning for Each Student

reviewed by Mark Baildon - July 05, 2012

coverTitle: Digital Teaching Platforms: Customizing Classroom Learning for Each Student
Author(s): Chris Dede & John Richards
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807753165, Pages: 224, Year: 2012
Search for book at Amazon.com

The structures of schooling have proven to be remarkably resistant to the transformative possibilities of new technologies. While new technologies have been used for record keeping and reporting, content delivery, and school management processes, their promise in terms of widespread changes in classroom practice has been unfulfilled. Instead, technology use in classrooms often reinforces traditional pedagogies. Research, too, has been limited in terms of fully demonstrating the efficacy of new technologies to improve teaching and learning.

The authors of this new book, edited by Chris Dede and John Richards, provide a research-based examination of the potential of Digital Teaching Platforms (DTPs) to transform classroom practice. As Richards and Dede note in the introductory chapter, DTPs provide networked and interactive digital environments with a comprehensive integrated suite of administrative, pedagogical, and assessment tools combined with digital content and interactive elements to support anywhere, anytime learning. The book’s authors make a convincing case that productive use of this holistic teaching and learning environment requires the concerted efforts of policy makers, school leaders, and teachers to create conditions necessary for second-order change (Cuban, 1988) - the broader, systemic change to support school change and more constructivist approaches to teaching and learning.

The book’s authors are cautiously optimistic that DTPs as a comprehensive learning system can provide the impetus for significant educational change. In their introductory chapter, Richards and Dede argue that DTPs are a “disruptive technology” rather than a “sustaining technology” because they spur on the print-to-digital transition, one-to-one computing, and the use of interactive display technologies (e.g., whiteboards) that can fundamentally alter classroom practice. The strength of this book is that it offers a blended approach that calls not only for greater technology use in classrooms but the integration of technology with good practice in school leadership, curriculum design, pedagogy, assessment, and student learning. The book provides useful frameworks for developing and implementing DTPs with classroom vignettes that demonstrate how DTPs have been or might be used in science, mathematics, and language arts classrooms.

Part 1 of the book frames DTP as an educational innovation. In the first chapter, Richards and Walters provide a comparative view of DTP with other learning management systems and then examine DTP as a potential change agent in classrooms. They find features that are preservationist in supporting prevailing practices, such as administrative functions, while other features may support gradual and steady change. Richards and Walters argue that DTP tools that support constructivist pedagogy and cooperative group work nudge teachers toward seeing classrooms as knowledge-building learning communities. In Chapter 2, Greaves examines DTP in historical contexts and identifies key implementation factors as well as challenges to implementation. Change leadership from policy makers and school leaders is especially crucial to create the policy and organizational conditions necessary for second-order change.   

In Part 2 of the book on content and pedagogy, Linn’s chapter on the Web-based Inquiry Science Environment (WISE) as a DTP offers a compelling research-based framework for knowledge integration that focuses on eliciting students’ ideas, introducing new ideas, helping students distinguish ideas, and then having them sort and consolidate ideas. Focusing learning on “desirable difficulties,” disciplinary ideas, and the use of visualizations in an interactive learning environment provides a model for instruction using DTPs. Graesser and McNamera’s chapter on technology-based supports for reading instruction also provides a model for considering different levels of language and discourse that can be scaffolded in DTPs. The authors examine different computer tools for analyzing text, a diagnostic and remediation framework for reading instruction, and the ways a DTP, such as iStart, can help students develop reading strategies. Hegedus and Roschelle highlight the role of DTPs in providing digital and representational infrastructures to sustain student expression and argumentation skills. These infrastructures create possibilities for multiple representations of content and forms of participation focused on reasoning. They emphasize the need for curricular activity systems that are flexible and generative to support adaptive, interactive instruction within a DTP. Dede examines multiuser virtual environments (MUVE) and augmented reality (AR) interfaces as models of customized immersive learning experiences that can be leveraged by DTPs. These learning environments personalize learning in powerful ways, offer opportunities for modeling, mentoring, and scaffolding, and allow students to perform simulated virtual tasks for assessment purposes.

Three chapters focus on assessment in DTPs. Heffernan, Heffernan, Bennet Decoteau, and Militello offer the case of ASSISTments that combine assessment and instructional assistance in an online platform that collects student data, provides diagnostic results, and determines levels of scaffolding as problem-solving aids. Confrey and Maloney make a case for design features necessary to support formative assessment in DTPs. These include a database for assessment resources, capabilities for peer-to-peer and mentor-to-peer feedback, gallery functionality to display student work, and next-step tools that help teachers consider instructional responses. They call for focusing on learning trajectories and instructional customization to make DTPs responsive, adaptive feedback systems. They offer a Diagnostic E-Learning Trajectories Approach (DELTA) as a methodology to build diagnostic assessments in DTPs based on learning trajectories. Russell similarly offers approaches for developing cognitive diagnostic assessments and interactive items that provide opportunities to gather data as students solve problems. He also provides examples of how technology can help teachers manage and analyze student data.

In the section on implementation of DTPs, Weiss and Bordelon feature the Time to Know (T2K) teaching and learning environment that several others in the book also refer to as a model of DTP. T2K consists of five components: a One-to-one networked laptop infrastructure, interactive curriculum for 4th and 5th grade language arts and math that teachers can customize, digital teaching tools, ongoing professional development to provide pedagogical support, and technical support. T2K includes a gallery for public sharing where students can post and review their work, receive multimodal forms of feedback, and make use of adaptive scaffolding. Rockman and Scott, in their chapter evaluating T2K, found that T2K teachers spent more time systematically observing students and utilized the program in multiple and varied ways. Rockman and Scott argue that this variation of implementation is a significant indicator of success because teachers were empowered to use technology in ways most meaningful to their classroom practice.

This book should be of value to school leaders, policy makers, and educational researchers interested in effective implementation of technology in schools. DTPs offer promise because of their holistic approach to technology implementation rather than the piecemeal efforts that too often characterize technology implementation in schools. As Dede and Richards note in their concluding chapter, DTPs are closely aligned to the recommendations issued by the National Education Technology Plan (NETP) issued by the U.S. Department of Education. DTP classrooms support the design principles in the NETP that call for learning experiences that provide multiple and varied representations of knowledge, forms of student engagement, and means of expression for students to demonstrate their learning.

This is a strong book that identifies how DTP can effectively harness educational technologies in one platform. It also identifies several factors necessary for effective technology implementation in schools. One element of second-order change that may be necessary, however, is the need to critically question the underlying premises of the educational enterprise in the 21st century. There is a need for more transformative educational goals to fully move schools toward new paradigms of educational practice.


Cuban, L. (1988). The managerial imperative and the practice of leadership in schools. New York: SUNY Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 05, 2012
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16817, Date Accessed: 5/24/2022 5:56:41 PM

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About the Author
  • Mark Baildon
    The National Institute of Education, Singapore
    E-mail Author
    MARK BAILDON is Associate Professor and Deputy Head Humanities and Social Studies Education at the National Institute of Education, Singapore. Mark and James Damico wrote Social Studies as New Literacies in a Global Society: Relational Cosmopolitanism in the Classroom and created the Critical Web Reader, an online set of tools that guide students to carefully and critically read any source of information on the Internet. Mark's areas of interest include inquiry-based social studies education, social studies education in global contexts, and 21st century skills.
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