Reports > Conceptual Framework
Conceptual Frameworks of the Exemplary Technology-Supported Schooling
Case Studies Project
Ronald E. Anderson, University of Minnesota and Sara Dexter, University
The theoretical underpinnings, which are described here as conceptual
frameworks, of the project emerged from several sources. The original
motivations for the project were tied to presumptions related to the information
(and knowledge) society. As the planning for the project got underway,
the most appealing conceptual foundation appeared to be an input-output
model. As we designed the methodology for the project, the contextual
circles model was the most compelling and implied the need for case studies.
Theories of innovation and educational reform were also of great interest.
The conceptual framework adopted for the project evolved out of these
theoretical orientations or conceptual starting points.
The Information Society (and Knowledge Society ) Paradigms
Theories of the information (and knowledge) society diverge in the nature
and magnitude of societal discontinuities arising from shifts toward a
greater role for information and knowledge (cf. Webster, 2002). However
they all accept the basic premise that information technology contributes
toward these shifts. With the rapid penetration of education by Internet-related
technologies, research to understand the nature of these impacts has become
more inherently compelling. Likewise research that seeks to understand
how best to design curricula and support structures to maximize the potential
benefit of these technologies also has increased in importance.
In fact, information technology appears to be pushing the boundaries of
education conceptually and methodologically. Technology pushes education
by expanding where and when learning can take place, by forcing changes
in priorities for the curriculum, by giving new ways for students and
teachers to communicate, and by repeatedly making teachers' "best
practices" obsolete. These challenges for education are given more
substance in Table 1, which shows the particular aspects of technology
that yield these consequences for society and for education in particular.
The societal implications of these new aspects of information technology
are listed in the table because in some instances it is the interaction
between the technology and society that produces the greatest impact on
education. For example, the need for more emphasis upon collaborative
projects results from a combination of trends toward knowledge as a collective
process and networking technologies that facilitate this trend. Likewise,
the need for policies that address inequities in access to technology
at home and school arise from both cultural factors and the high cost
of newer technologies and information infrastructures.
In addition to reducing dependence on geographically-based schools, information
technology, by offering new capacities for teaching and learning, implicitly
raises questions about appropriate teaching roles. Another anomaly that
generates issues is the incongruence that many students have more technology
knowledge and skill than their teachers and parents. Given the growing
importance of knowledge acquisition, its application, and information
handling in the global economy, decision-makers are reconsidering educational
goals and pedagogical priorities. Also disconcerting is the discriminatory
implications of the high cost of contemporary technology, making it nearly
impossible for lower income parents and schools to benefit as much as
those with higher income advantages.
How Information Technology Yields or Implies Changes for Society and the
|Technology & Technology Attributes
||Potentially improved access
to learning by all social groups
"schools without walls"
-Anytime, anywhere learning required
-Home schooling more feasible
||-Students need to learn knowledge management
-Just in time learning required
|Network-based communication technologies
||Knowledge becoming more collective
||-Both teachers and students can more
easily collaborate across geographical boundaries
-Project learning more important
|Productivity, creativity tools
||Knowledge as critical commodity
||-Rise in value of knowledge construction
-Inquiry skills essential
||Renewal, social change
||-Greater need for innovative teaching
-Professional development of teachers more critical
-Greater need for lifelong learning and relearning
||New job requirements, labor
||-Need to integrate IT subjects,
skills into curriculum
|High cost of newer technologies
||-Need for equity solutions
for both school and home
The "Exemplary Technology-Supported-Schooling Case Studies"
project exemplified the need to rethink the conceptual models as well
as methods for future research on the role of technology in education.
Through this project we sought to employ methods that would allow us to
learn more about the types of student outcomes resulting from technology-supported
learning activities, the changing roles of various actors---students,
parents, teachers, administrators, and others---in helping to make successful
reforms happen, and how districts and schools are addressing new challenges
such as bridging the digital divide.
The Input-Output Framework
Planning for this project began in 1998 and one of the first tasks of
project was to develop and refine conceptual models and an overall framework.
Our initial conceptual framework (Figure 1) was a model developed by Means
(1994 and 1998) for analyzing and evaluating the decisions in implementing
technology-supported reforms. This framework emphasizes the key inputs
and outputs in evaluating the likely success of a technology-related intervention
or reform. The model emphasizes that any educational technology initiative
has a variety of explicit or implicit non-technology inputs and that the
implementation depends upon a complex of school, classroom, teacher, and
student factors. Means (1998) applied this model to diverse types of educational
technology implementations. She evaluated diverse types of projects and
concluded that implementers need to help clarify the goals of any given
initiative, and that they needed to evaluate outcomes in order to assess
whether the implementation was adequate. She also concluded that an implementation
often fails because of inadequate time as it may take several years for
the development of teacher skills for a particular instructional innovation.
Figure 1. An input-output model for evaluating decisions regarding technology.
(Source: Means, 1988)
While we may have wide consensus on the nature and scope of exemplary
educational practices using technology, there is less agreement on the
key underlying factors relevant to the initiation and success of such
innovative practices. Thus there is a need for a research portfolio containing
designs that simplify the construction of future research plans. It is
expected that the portfolio of research designs will encompass a diverse
variety of components including but not limited to options implied by
the following design choices. These design choices are grouped by the
Each of these components may to some degree contribute to the implementation
and continuity of an educational, technology-supported innovation. Thus
each could be the basis of a solicitation for the selection of exemplary
sites. And each could be serve as criteria for the collection of relevant
data. The proposed research planning will attempt to incorporate these
components into alternative designs that contain considerable detail including
estimates of costs and projected outcomes.
The Cultural Contexts Framework
Another model that had a large influence upon our conceptual development
was that of the cultural psychology of Cole (1996), especially his notions
of cultural context as a dynamic weaving of threads of activity, practice,
and artifact. Cole (1996; p 144) suggests a "culture as garden"
metaphor to emphasize that when investigating a "system of interactions
within a particular setting," there is always a critical "next
higher level of context." This paradigm is particularly apropos because
Cole has shown it to be useful for analyzing the sustainability of an
ongoing technology-based, group educational activity called the Fifth
[insert figure 2]
Figure 2. Cultural context circles model. (Adapted from Cole, 1996.)
A set of concentric circles (Figure 2) shows how these concepts can help
us plan research on technology-based exemplary practices. In the innermost
circle are the activities in which learners are engaged including the
computer-mediated events and the associated social interactions. These
are the foci of the main in-person observations and accompanying field
notes. At the next higher level are the norms and expectations for working,
playing, teaching, and learning that result from a particular implementation
of intended pedagogy. Indicators such as rituals, participation rates,
and assessments can be derived to capture the components that emerge as
essential. At the next higher level are the resources, including staff,
space, and all the remaining aspects of the technological context. Surrounding
that is the context of organization, including both the classroom and
school structure and leadership. It is at this level that policies that
sustain innovation may be set. The outermost circle encompasses all the
remaining institutions including the larger educational system, parent
groups, and other support networks. This system is indeed complex as each
circle contains elements that are woven together with elements in other
Static circles do not lend themselves to depicting dynamic change. To
highlight our intent to capture this dimension, time is depicted as a
wedge on the left side. This is particularly important to targeting aspects
of sustainability, which will be sought through both observation and retrospective
interviews. Additional considerations that cross cut the layers of the
paradigm can be mapped as additional dimensions as necessary. For instance,
teacher beliefs and practices, the curriculum, and other implementation
factors are depicted with smaller wedges in order to emphasize that these
elements impinge upon and will be evaluated at each level.
While the student is the primary learner of the system, the model can
be applied to some extent to the teacher as learner and to the school
organization as learner. In so far as professional teacher development
and change in pedagogical practice are relevant, any study of exemplary
practice must examine the process of teacher learning as well. While the
organization is not always viewed as a learning agent, Fullan (1993) portrays
the school as a learning unit and suggest mechanisms for institutionalizing
this role. It may be possible to refine some useful indicators of these
The concentric circle diagram emphasizes the complexity of the social,
organizational, and cultural contexts for exemplary teaching and learning
practices. This complexity, which borders upon the chaotic, has been emphasized
by Fullan (1993). In recognizing this context it is obvious why qualitative,
case study methods are most appropriate for the study of exemplary technology-supported
The collective case study method (Stake, 1995) seems to offer a useful
approach for the research at hand. This method utilizes multiple cases
to represent both prototypical cases and contrasts or differences across
cases. Thus the sites can be analyzed in terms of both specific and generic
properties. This type of research design follows replication logic rather
than sampling logic (Creswell, 1998; Yin, 1984). Perhaps the most unique
aspect of case study research over other approaches is that the boundaries
of the case figure into the reporting of the data (Miles and Huberman,
1994). Various documentation, archival records, physical artifacts interviews,
and direct observations, all allow for description of the sites and provide
the basis for analysis of themes and issues.
Adaptation of the IEA SITES M2 Conceptual Framework
The main conceptual framework for this study emerged primarily from the
framework of the IEA study but to some extent the OECD study as well.
The central focus of the OECD study was organizational innovation while
the central point of the IEA study was pedagogical innovation. From the
standpoint of our study, which was the U. S. component of each of these
two international studies, this difference was addressed partly by limiting
our selection of school sites to those where organizational changes had
included or produced innovations in classroom practices. We addressed
it also by writing three separate case reports: one for the OECD study,
one for the IEA study, and one for the audience of researchers and educators
in the United States. Conceptually the divergences were addressed by attempting
to give equal priority to both the organizational aspects and the classroom
level processes. A single conceptual model, taken from the IEA project,
integrated these different attributes, and this model is depicted in Figure
At the core of our conceptual model is the innovative pedagogical practice,
which is embedded in a concentric set of contextual levels that affect
and mediate change (Cole, 1996). These levels for present purposes are
(1) the classroom (micro), (2) the school organization and the local community
(meso), and (3) the state, national, and international (macro) level.
The accompanying diagram (Figure 3) depicts these three levels and gives
some specific examples of relevant factors at each of these contextual
The diagram also shows an inner constellation of four interacting components
critical to the learning process. These four elements: the teacher, the
student, the curriculum content and goals, and the instructional materials
and infrastructure, together have the most immediate impact on outcomes
(Plomp, Brummelhuis, and Rapmund, 1996). These four contextual elements
are given special attention in this study because of the central role
they play in facilitating or hindering learning, especially during a process
of pedagogical innovation or change.
[insert figure 3]
Figure 3. The IEA SITES Innovative Pedagogical Practices Model.
The micro level includes teacher and student characteristics and experiences,
especially with innovation and technology. It also encompasses interaction
patterns, classroom norms, patterns of technology utilization, assessments,
and the curriculum as it is practiced. The research literature (Means
& Olson, 1997) documents a strong association between new technology-based
practices and changes in curriculum and pedagogy. For example in many
countries, the use of educational technology is part of an instructional
shift toward project-based learning within a context of school improvement
or reform. Instead of focusing solely on increasing the acquisition of
facts related to specific subject areas, teams of students are engaged
in solving complex, authentic problems that cross disciplinary boundaries.
This moves education beyond the notion of a place where knowledge is imparted,
to one of classrooms, organizations, and societies as knowledge building
communities (Bereiter, 1999; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1994; Brown &
The meso contextual level includes school administrators, support staff,
and school policies and practices. In our framework it also includes parents,
community characteristics, and local partnerships. Particularly critical
at this level are the programs for organizational learning and those for
professional development. It is well known (Fullan, 1991, 1993; Van Den
Akker, Keursten, & Plomp, 1992) that innovation benefits from a supportive
school environment. Innovative practices are likely to be sustained when
the school management supports the practice by adjusting the curriculum
as necessary, provides professional development and offers other incentives,
resources, and services for the teachers (Louis & Miles, 1991). School
improvement studies emphasize the central role of school culture in mediating
change (Fullan, 1991, 1993; Dalin, 1973, 1978, 1994; Huberman, 1992; McLaughlin,
1993; Fuller & Clarke, 1994; Stoll & Fink, 1996).
The macro level encompasses a variety of cultural and policy characteristics
at regional, national, or even international levels. Curriculum standards
and assessment requirements are examples of such factors, as are professional
development trends and telecommunication infrastructures. Current theories
of comparative education (Arnove & Torres, 1999) identify a fundamental
tension that affects contemporary educational change. This is a dialectical
tension between massive global forces that affect social relations and
institutions across national boundaries and the accommodation of these
forces based on local cultural, political, and historical factors.
Each level suggests a set of research questions that were explored in
our study. For example, questions at the micro level included: What new
teacher and student roles were emerging and how was the educational innovation
changing what teachers and students did in the classroom? Questions at
the meso level included: Who directed the change? What leadership role
did the teachers play? How important was the role of staff development?
In addition to these contextual questions, there were some additional
research questions on the nature of outcomes from the educational innovation,
such as: What evidence was available, pro and con, regarding the effectiveness
of the innovation for all participants? What sets of standards were being
used in conjunction with the program? How equitably distributed were the
benefits of the program? Finally, there were research questions that cross-cut
the levels because they apply to multiple levels, especially the meso
and micro levels. These cross-level questions include: What special resources,
if any, were required to sustain the innovation? What might be required
to scale up the innovation to a much larger population of teachers and/or
schools? All of these research questions have been used to guide the development
of data collection instruments and protocols. Key factors implicit in
each question have been used to develop one or more items in interview
Because of the pioneering character of the study, we worked from several
different models or frameworks during the life course of the project.
While the information society paradigm was the starting point of the project,
an input-output framework, a contextual circles model, and an innovative
practices model with embedded contexts were the most helpful in setting
priorities and guiding the project conceptually. While this latter framework
was effectively the working theoretical model for the project, during
the course of analyzing the data and writing up the findings, it was sometimes
necessary to elaborate specific pieces of this framework. For instance,
it was necessary to map out the relationships among various contexts and
issues when analyzing the role of leadership. Thus in the end we will
have a stronger conceptual framework than when we started the analysis.
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