Why isn’t technology used more in schools? Many researchers have been searching for solutions to this persistent puzzle. In this paper, we extend existing research on technology integration and diffusion of innovations by investigating relationships among the long list of actors that have already been identified to be related to school technology uses. In particular, we use the metaphor of an ecosystem to theoretically integrate and organize sets of factors that affect implementation of computer technology. We also hope that this metaphor will help us better understand other educational innovations. We conducted a study of technology uses in 19 schools in four districts. Findings of this study suggest that the ecological perspective can be a powerful analytical framework for understanding technology uses in schools. This perspective points out new directions for research and has significant policy and practical implications for implementing innovations to schools.
Zebra mussels were first sighted in the Canadian waters of Lake St. Clair in June
1988. By September 1990 they were found in all of the Great Lakes. After 1992,
populations of zebra mussels spread rapidly throughout the eastern United States and Canada. The Zebra mussel has caused and continues to cause tremendous ecological changes in the Great Lakes(Vanderploeg et al., 2002). It has not only threatened native species but also led to the wide spread of other alien species. Inthe last 15 years, the zebra mussel has greatly disrupted the fish communities inthe Great Lakes(Shuter & Mason, 2001).Whilescientists, policy makers, environmentalists, and the public have beenconcerned about the ecological and economical consequences of the very rapid dispersalof the zebra mussel in the Great Lakes, educational researchers and practitioners, policymakers, and the public have been equally concerned about the frustratingly slow adoptionof computers and other modern technologies in schools. Like many educational reformefforts, the introduction of technology in schools has been less than successful. Over thelast century there were several waves of massive investment in technology to improveeducation, but none has had significant lasting impact on education(Cuban, 1986). Themost recent movement to put computers in schools has so far met the same fate asprevious attempts. Despite the generous investment in, and increased presence of,computers in schools(Anderson & Ronnkvist, 1999; Becker, 2000a; Cattagni & Farris,2001), computers have been found to be unused or underused in most schools(Becker,2001; Cuban, 1999, 2001; Loveless, 1996; Zhao, Pugh, Sheldon, & Byers, 2002). Thetypes of uses envisioned by techno-enthusiasts to revolutionize teaching and learning are
rarely observed in the nation’s schools(Becker, 2001; Cuban, 1999, 2001; Schofield,
The dispersal of Zebra mussels in the Great Lakes and computer uses in schools
are of course quite different but they have one important thing in common: they were
both outsiders, alien species, foreign objects to the environment they entered. The
introduction, survival, and dispersal of an alien species in a new environment is a very
complex process. To understand this process requires a comprehensive and systemic
approach that takes into consideration the nature of the species, the environment, other
facilitative forces, and the interactions among these components.
The ecological approach seems to have yielded fruitful results in understanding
the successful invasion of the zebra mussels in the Great Lakes. Thus, in this article, we
draw on ecological research on the invasion of exotic species such as the zebra mussel to
develop a framework for understanding computer uses in schools. In the remainder of this
article, we first discuss the need for a unifying theoretical framework in the context of
existing research about computer uses in schools. We then propose a theoretical
framework based upon the ecosystem metaphor. After that, we report an empirical study
that applies the metaphor. Finally, we discuss the implications of the framework and the
study for future research, policy, and practice.
The Need for a Unifying Framework
Concerns over the slow adoption of technology by teachers are not new. Many
researchers have, from various angles, studied the phenomenon using different
approaches, from case studies(Cuban, 2001; Schofield, 1995; Zhao, Pugh, Sheldon, &
Byers, 2002), historical analysis(Cuban, 1986), to large surveys(Becker, 2000, 2001).
These studies offer different accounts for why teachers do not frequently use technology
to its full potential and in revolutionary ways that can truly lead to qualitatively different
teaching and learning experiences.