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CHALLENGES AND GROUNDS FOR OPTIMISM
With the many innovations and applications of information technologies developed for supporting learning and teaching in the past decade, these technologies may finally be able to play transformational roles in enabling learning to higher standards (e.g., Means et al., 1993; President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), 1997; President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC), 1999, 2001; Pea et al., 1999; Roschelle et al., 2001; Web-Based Education Commission, 2000), in individualizing instruction to all learners (National Research Council, 2001b), and in fostering continual teacher professional development (e.g., National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, 2000; Goldman, 2001). These innovations and applications of IT include web-based, hyperlinked, multimedia, interactive 2-D and 3-D graphics and animations, modeling, data visualization, geolocation, and community-oriented features. Currently, the United States possesses an infrastructure in which over three-quarters of all classrooms have Internet access and multiple computers for student use (Cattagni and Farris, 2001). This change is due to the billions of dollars that American schools have expended in the past five years on the costs of information technology and telecommunications, with funding enabled by the E-Rate (discounted telecommunications services for schools and libraries) and other federal programs, as well as state and local initiatives.
The expectations are not to “replace” teachers with technologies that students use entirely on their own, as earlier critics of computer-assisted instruction and integrated learning systems feared, nor to naively assume that uses of computers will translate automatically into cost efficiencies and gains in achievement test scores. Umbrage is rightly directed at such “silver bullet” thinking, because education systems, like business systems, are far too complex for adoptions of specific interventions to translate into predictable outcomes. After a decade of sustained research on what has come to be called “systemic reform” (Smith and O’Day, 1991), it is obvious that there are tremendous variations in how any specific educational intervention is implemented. Such differences are not surprising, given the enormous amount of variability in local education systems and how their components interact.
Success in implementing educational interventions is especially dependent on the capacities of teachers to provide high-quality instruction with these new approaches (e.g., Boesel, 2001; Darling-Hammond and Sykes, 1999; Education Week, 2000; Haycock, 1998; National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future [NCTAF], 1996). Theory and research that examine systemic reform recognize the intricate interplay among these education system components—including student characteristics and classroom groupings, curriculum, classroom tasks and assessments, teacher proficiencies and