Transforming Schools with Technology: How Smart Use of Digital Tools Helps Achieve Six Key Educational Goals

reviewed by Suzanne Damarin - April 16, 2008

coverTitle: Transforming Schools with Technology: How Smart Use of Digital Tools Helps Achieve Six Key Educational Goals
Author(s): Andrew A. Zucker
Publisher: Harvard University Press, Cambridge
ISBN: 1891792822, Pages: 242, Year: 2008
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In Transforming Schools with Technology, Andrew Zucker identifies major concerns facing education today, frames related transformational goals, and discusses and provides examples of how today’s technologies can contribute to success in reaching the goal. The goals that frame this book are goals for the improvement of education per se, not the goals of education that drive much writing on the educational merits of technology. For example, Zucker’s second goal is making schools more engaging and relevant as opposed to the more common, narrower goal of using computers to engage students. Given the prevalence of technology throughout society, this is an important book for educational administrators and policy makers and for others concerned with the deployment of technology within schools.  

As the title suggests, the book takes a very positive outlook on the promises of technology for education.  Framing his stance in the first chapter, Zucker considers seriously the positions of well-known technology skeptics such as Larry Cuban while dismissing both the ungrounded critiques and the utopian claims that proliferate in relation to educational computing. He offers fifteen characteristics of digital technology that afford it the potential to help transform schools depending on whether and how it is used. For Zucker, the important features of digital technology that make it promising for education are that it is inexpensive and pervasive, scalable, flexible and all-purpose, interactive, customizable and able to keep records, democratizing, immediate, dynamic, insensitive to distance, community-friendly, less sensitive to time than other communications technologies, service-oriented, evolving, complementary, and extensible.  It is these features that he sees as transforming when, where, how, with whom, and what students learn.

Following the second chapter in which Zucker’s six goals for education are defined, the rest of the book discusses and provides examples of how these characteristics can be brought to bear on the transformation of education. Each of the six goals is the subject of a chapter that includes clarification of the goal, descriptions of readily available technologies and how they can be brought to bear on the goal, and discussion of the success of one or more school systems in using the technology. In discussing the first goal, increasing student achievement, Zucker elaborates the goal to include learning how to read and write, learning mathematics and science, and ultimately learning how to learn. In these contexts he discusses the use of word processing, online writing, online investigations and collaborations, and software for mathematics and reading. Given the wealth of potential opportunities for beneficial use of technology, he stresses the value of providing a laptop computer to each child. Zucker also addresses the characteristics of good virtual schools, the necessity and difficulties of evaluating innovations, and other topics. Several topics from this chapter become themes that run through the rest of the book.

Across the chapters devoted to the remaining goals, Zucker provides suggestions for use of many current and emergent technology applications. Addressing the second goal  (making school engaging and relevant), he suggests the use of blogs, wikis, and games as ways of making technology more engaging and describes how Cisco networking academies can make schooling more relevant, especially for students who are not college bound. In addressing the provision of high quality education for all students (goal 3), he discusses assistive technology, language translation systems, remedial software, universal design, and the need to address multiple issues related to the digital divide. The uses of technology for test administration, career and college information systems, online mentoring for teachers, and data-driven decision making can contribute to reaching the goal of maintaining a high quality teaching staff (goal 4). The use of online systems for tutoring and homework together with the use of technology to create better communications and relations with parents and other organizations can increase support for children outside school (goal 5). Addressing evaluation and requiring accountability (goal 6), Zucker provides brief descriptions of ways that technology is contributing to change in evaluation possibilities and methods. In the final chapters, Zucker identifies resources and discusses the implications of his discussions for transforming schools.

Throughout the book, Zucker is very upbeat, not only about technology, but also about education and educators. At the outset he argues that today’s schools are greatly improved over the past but are faced with challenges that increase more rapidly than the rate of improvement; one reason to use technology is to increase the rate of change. Another theme that pervades the book is that the importance of people is in no way diminished by the introduction of technology; indeed the ways in which technology is taken up and used by teachers, students, and others are of critical importance to its effectiveness in transforming education. Among the other themes that are salient across the chapters are the importance of laptop programs and Zucker’s beliefs that online education and even virtual schools are increasingly important ways to optimize education. These beliefs clearly reflect Zucker’s extensive history of work on related projects.

While Zucker’s intimate knowledge of the areas and products of his prior and current work strengthens the book, his reliance on them can sometimes be a weakness as well. Especially in chapter nine on educational technology innovation, the selection of non-profit organizations and technologies for discussion is limited; a more expansive look at innovative technologies and locations of emergent development would have served the readership better by indicating the variety and extent of creative work currently being done. Similarly, throughout the book the discussion of school implementations of technologies returns repeatedly to Henrico County, Michigan and the statewide program in Maine. While it is valuable to read of the same sites in relation to progress toward multiple goals, the inclusion of other sites of excellence (or even promising beginnings) would have been useful. A third shortcoming of the book is that there is very little reference to the extensive peer reviewed literature on educational goals and change as well as on effectiveness of educational technology. Almost all of Zucker’s many footnotes are to reports of state or federal studies and other non-academic sources.

In summary, Transforming Schools with Technology is a unique and valuable contribution to the libraries of administrators, educators, and policy makers concerned with educational technology. It would make a fine contribution to the readings for courses on technology for educational administrators or policy makers. It is interesting, well written, and carries much more important information and insightful observation than can be captured in a brief review.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 16, 2008 ID Number: 15212, Date Accessed: 10/17/2021 2:14:22 PM

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