Dr. Barry J. Fishman
Professor of Educational Technology
University of Michigan


Interview Date


Current research areas

Key Quote

  • "It is strange to start off with a position that technology is either good or bad; my position is that technology is useful. Technology can help everyone. It's just not the same solution for everyone."

Key Points/Issues

"All things in moderation." This time-honored maxim captures well Dr. Barry Fishman's thoughts and feelings regarding technology, education, and children. While of the opinion that most current technology use in schools is not helpful, a premise with which he says he will soon be in print, he also argues that "that doesn't make technology bad, it makes those uses of it bad." To Dr. Fishman, the problem with information and communications technologies (ICTs) in schools is largely one of poor and problematic planning, design, training, and implementation. He also recognizes, however, that some potential negative effects need to be mitigated for effective use to take place.

To Dr. Fishman, a fundamental problem with technology in schools is planning. "Schools have had a funny way of thinking about technology: as a one-time expenditure, from grants. The worst idea is the bond issue, where you spend 30 years paying for a machine that's obsolete in five." He claims school districts have not spent much time figuring out how technology fits into their overall educational plan. As an example, he cites the federal E-rate program. The program, which facilitates access to discounted telecommunications services, required schools to have a technology plan, but not necessarily a sensible one. As Dr. Fishman has argued in a journal article entitled "Planning for Technology vs. Technology Planning", most schools developed plans for buying technology, not for using it. The problem has been exacerbated by a strong push by industry to get technology into the classroom.

Dr. Fishman does have faith, however, that technology can help manage the pedagogic process by offloading some of the tasks that teachers find too challenging to orchestrate without technology. He cites the "Model-It" software program as an example of this. The program allows students to do fairly sophisticated causal modeling. This involves differential calculus, but the program makes this transparent to the teachers and students. In this way, the technology can promote deep thinking in a way that is impossible to achieve without it.

While Dr. Fishman feels that it is impossible to come up with a canonical list of bad things to do with technology, he suggests many things are or should be fairly obvious, e.g. not letting young children chat online with adults unsupervised. Importantly, he notes that solutions to most of these sorts of problems are social, not directly technological. For these reasons, he advocates putting ICTs in public spaces, not places like bedrooms or the basement, to allow parents to supervise and monitor their children's activities for negative or problematic use.

Dr. Fishman feels that at least in his subdiscipline of the learning sciences, there is a consensus view about technology: that it is a tool, a part of a vital learning environment, but not the focus of it. Dr. Fishman is not for spending massive amounts on technology; to him, it is most important to figure out what you want to do instructionally, then figure out how technology can fit in and support that. Given a defined set of educational goals, he feels, you can then figure out how to best use your resources, technology or otherwise, to reach those goals.

Unfortunately, the educational system, from the federal level to individual schools, is trapped in its own inertia. And, as the pace of technology change increases, it is getting harder for schools to use technology appropriately. "Schools are always caught out of the cycle, working to implement the ‘next big thing' without ever fully implementing the current thing." It is clear that Dr. Fishman believes passionately in the potential for technology to enhance the educational process, but he plainly recognizes that there are major obstacles, mostly tied to issues of planning, training, and design, that inhibit making widespread, effective use of technology in America's classrooms.

Selected Bibliography

Best, S., Fishman, B. J., Marx, R., & Foster, J. "Comprehensive professional development reform efforts: Changing attitudes and practices about pedagogy and technology for science teachers with diverse needs." In D.A. Willis, J. D. Price & J. Willis (Eds.), Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education, 1839-1844, San Diego, CA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education, 2000.

Fishman, B., and Gomez, L. "New technologies and the challenge for school leadership" (White paper prepared for the Joyce Foundation Wingspread Conference on Technology's Role in Urban School Reform: Achieving Equity and Quality). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan, 2000.

Soloway, E., Norris, C., Blumenfeld, P., Fishman, B., Krajcik, J., and Marx, R. "K-12 and the Internet." Communications of the ACM, 43(1), 19-23, 2000.

Fishman, B., Pinkard, N., and Bruce, C. "Preparing schools for curricular reform: Planning for technology vs. technology planning." In A. Bruckman, M. Guzdial, J. Kolodner, & A. Ram (eds.), International Conference on the Learning Sciences, 98-104, Atlanta, GA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education, 1998.

Fishman, B., & Pea, R. D. "The Internetworked School: A Policy for the Future." Technos: Quarterly of Education and Technology, 3(1), 22-26, 1994.

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