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date: 24 April 2024

Critical Perspectives on Evaluative Research on Educational Technology Policies in Latin Americafree

Critical Perspectives on Evaluative Research on Educational Technology Policies in Latin Americafree

  • Inés DusselInés DusselCentro de Investigacion y de Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politecnico Nacional

Summary

In the past decade, ambitious plans for digital inclusion have been developed in Latin America. These plans included a strategy of massive and universal distribution of equipment at a 1:1 ratio to students at different levels of the education system (i.e., a computer for each student). The programs were accompanied by both policy analyses and independent studies hoping to account for the program’s successes and achievements. These studies can facilitate analysis of the orientations and dimensions of these investigations, considering them as practices of knowledge production that imply the construction of a perspective, as well as indicators and problems that make visible certain some aspects of policy and mask others. They constitute forms of problematizing the social, that is to say, the construction of themes or topics that return to a problem that requires attention, which many times are taken as a reflection of reality and not as the product of an predetermined evaluative perspective. It is also significant that among these evaluative studies, a number were conducted through qualitative perspectives, which facilitate more complex and plural approaches to the processes of technological integration and digital inclusion within the classroom. In these qualitative studies, the construction of categories was part of the research and covered a multiplicity of meanings that the policies took for the actors involved, thus opening a richer and potentially more democratic perspective on the construction of knowledge about educational policy in the region.

Subjects

  • Curriculum and Pedagogy
  • Education, Change, and Development

A version of this article in its original language

Introduction

Latin America has begun an intensive effort to incorporate technology into the classroom. These plans include distribution of computers at a 1:1 ratio, that is, one computer per student.. Additionally, these plans promised to overcome the digital divide by not only distributing equipment but also through educational training and reform. Due to these efforts, Latin America has become the geopolitical region with the most experiences under this model (Severin & Capota, 2011). Among these programs a few stand out, such as the Plan Ceibal in Uruguay, with more than 600,000 computers given out since 2007; Connect Equality in Argentina, with more than 5 million computers distributed since 2010; One Laptop Per Child in Perú, which distributed 600,000 computers between 2008 and 2012; and One Computer Per Student, a pilot project developed by the Ministry of Education in Brazil between 2009 and 2010, which distributed 150,000 devices. Although the projections of some international organizations that by 2015 30 million (Severin & Capota, 2011) or 50 million (Red Latinoamericana de Portales Educativos [RELPE], 2012) computers did not come to fruition, in several of the countries involved the initiatives did produce a substantive advance in computational resources and, more generally, in the inclusion of digital technology as part of “baseline” educational rights that states should cover (Fullan, Watson, & Anderson, 2013; Steinberg & Tófalo, 2015).

The implementation of 1:1 programs was accompanied by evaluative studies that worked to document the successes and achievements of the initiatives. First and foremost, these evaluative studies developed out of the agencies or departments who first conceived of and financed the initiatives and worked to justify their investments. On the other hand, the breadth of the intervention and the boldness of its political/technological framework centered in the importance of computers attracted the interest of a number of researchers who saw these policies as potential laboratory to observe the effects of massive technological adoption within schools. In this article, we take a critical approach to some of the orientations and dimensions analyzed by researchers, both internal and external to the agencies that carried them out. We pay particular attention to the contributions of qualitative methodologies and their potential to enrich and complicate evaluative research on educational policy.

To this end, I adopt a qualitative perspective when reviewing the evaluative studies that have been carried out, inquiring about their languages, orientations, and indicators. This was begun by approaching evaluative research as a form of knowledge production that takes place in a specific space or sphere of social discourse, with its own rules of production and circulation (Yates, 2004). Evaluative research is a practice that constitutes a “distinct cultural artifact” (Strathern, 2000, p. 2), which combines personnel, resources, and even morality (e.g., in the identification of transparency and accountability as unequivocal signs of moral integrity) with its own rituals and hierarchical principles. The research on digital 1:1 inclusion programs, in some cases proposed an evaluation of a certain program and in other cases conducted as an independent study, were not just, and perhaps not even primarily, a reflection of what happened. Rather, the research shows that the construction of a perspective of signs and problems made certain aspects of the policy visible and masked others. These studies also involved, as Foucault (1984) notes, ways of problematizing the social, in other words, ways of framing themes or topics as a problem that requires attention.1 These problems were articulated as “digital inclusion,” understood as access to and funding for technology, and the “educational transformation” that should follow.

Next, I analyze the contributions of qualitative research evaluating these policies of 1:1 incorporation of technologies, which allows for a more complex understanding of digital inclusion. These studies were selected using a method presented in the following section. The analysis shows that these studies demonstrate the construction of categories as part of the research and the many meanings that these policies adopted for the involved parties, opening the door to richer and potentially more democratic perspectives on the construction of knowledge regrading educational policy within the region. This aspect was of particular interest to the evaluative research agency, especially in its capacity to amplify and deepen its contributions to policymaking and public debate over educational reform. Dewey (1927/1954) had already signaled the importance of involving social sciences in the construction of public opinion in order to resist antidemocratic manipulation. I believe that the conversation raised by qualitative educational research regarding the construction of problems and diagnostics is a relevant contribution to encourage public participation and democratic debate over educational policy.

A Qualitative Look at Evaluative Research Into 1:1 Policies

The qualitative literature on evaluative research of 1:1 programs in Latin America allows us to study their formation with questions that look into the contexts of these inquiries, their conditions of production, the indicators and diagnostics they construct, and their effects in developing problems and solutions regarding the incorporation of technologies in classrooms. This article builds on previous studies (Benítez, Larghi, Fontecoba, & Lemus, 2014; Benítez Larghi, & Winocur, 2016; Dussel, 2014), which analyze the conceptual and methodological logics that form the evaluative criteria of these programs.

We carried out our survey of available research on the implementation of 1:1 policies in Latin America using search engines such as Google and the websites of international organizations (e.g., InterAmerican Development Bank, PREAL), ministries of education in Latin American countries, and the projects studied (Plan Ceibal, Programa Conectar Igualdad, Um Computador por Aluno, Micompu.mx).2 The work of RELPE (Latin American Network of Educational Portals), coordinated by Laura Marés Serra between 2011 and 2015, and the development of SITEAL (System of Information on Latin American Educational Trends, maintained by UNESCO and the Organización de Estados Iberoamericanos [OEI]) in 2014, allowed us to use open digital platforms with evaluative regional and country-specific studies. This survey was enriched through participation in international congresses and conferences held between 2011 and 2015, among them VirtualEduca and meetings of IberTic organized by the OEI (Organization of Iberian-American States) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which provided access to different research products (papers, posters, preliminary findings). The time period considered incorporates publications from 2010 to 2017, but it is important to note that after 2016, with a shift in power of political parties within several governments throughout the region, large programs of technological adoption in schools tended to decline with the exception of the Plan Ceibal in Uruguay, which has now been active for more than 10 years.3

From this group of studies, I selected 28 studies addressing the experiences of Uruguay, Argentina, and Mexico, together with some regional studies. The criteria for selection was the study’s significance and potential for analyzing trends in the construction of language, diagnostics, and problematization within the inclusion of digital technologies in schools. I took into account both the studies’ institutional affiliation (either in organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank or PREAL or in national government agencies) as well as their value as independent evaluative studies commissioned by these agencies or produced by the scientific-academic system of each country.4 These 28 studies were analyzed considering, among other criteria, their scope, their methodologies, and the arrangement of diagnostics and problems they formulated, through an analysis of their languages and implicit epistemology (Popkewitz, 1991), as well as the pedagogical discourses that sustained them (Rochex & Crinon, 2011).

Among these 28 evaluative publications, I first identify a series of international studies and reports (Cristiá, Ibarraran, Cueto, Santiago, & Severín, 2012; Fullan et al., 2013; Lagos Céspedes & Silva Quiróz, 2011; RELPE, 2012; Severin & Capota, 2011; Warschauer & Ames, 2010) that contribute to our definition of the indicators and orientations of evaluative policy research on the 1:1 adoption of technology. These works were at their peak in the early years of the initiatives, between 2010 and 2012, and were central to the construction of analytical and diagnostic criteria addressing the massive adoption of technologies within schools. Among the variables were the ratio of personal computers to students, the degree of connectivity within the school, the amount of time devices were used in the classroom, information and communication technologies (ICT) training for teachers, and their impact on learning. These studies also sought to document the attitude of educators toward computers and their perception of student motivation. These variables had to be quantified; thus, for example, training was measured by self-reports from each teacher who was surveyed about whether or not he or she took ICT training courses and about the number of hours or the number of times a week that computers were used in the classroom for lessons. At the same time, the impact of computers in the classroom on learning was measured by the results from standardized tests.

Generally, this first series of international studies suggested a less optimistic or celebratory panorama in comparison with the initial expectations and made it clear that the high expectations and promises of the initiative had not come to fruition. These first evaluative studies produced an ambivalent assessment, and an explicitly negative assessment in some cases, about the cost-benefit ratio of the programs, even when they regarded the distribution of computers favorably. They indicated difficulties and challenges in the technological variables, above all of the networks of maintenance and repair of the equipment and in the range of connectivity. From this set of variables, the studies concluded that the pedagogical impact of 1:1 programs could be observed principally through two basic lenses: the assessment of learning through standardized tests and the frequency of computer use within classrooms according to the educators’ reports. Attitude changes regarding learning and toward education in general (e.g., the report of improved motivation on the part of students to attend school) were considered significant although not equally relevant for improvements in learning (Cristiá et al., 2012).

In this respect, we can say that, from these research perspectives, open and unpredictable phenomena such as the incorporation of technologies within specific institutional environments such as schools and educational systems become measurable through criteria that worked to indicate individual variables and facilitate a cost-benefit or “value for money” analysis (Strathern, 2000, p. 287). According to Strathern, in this kind of evaluative research, conceived of as an auditing process, “only certain operations count” (p. 2). The most obvious example of this was reducing the pedagogical impact to the amount of time the computers were used in class and how much test results improved, but without asking how the computers were used or if the tests measured the competencies being developed with the use of digital technologies. Although one could argue that the risk of reductionism and simplification are present in any evaluative research process that must approach reality through specific questions or axes, it is important to note that the studies analyzed failed to reflect on or scrutinize their methodological frameworks, which they presented as clear and self-evident, nor did they reflect on their own criteria, which they regarded as devoid of bias.5

In addition to the studies developed by international agencies, another group of studies was produced within the different countries. These studies were in some cases associated with the 1:1 programs, and in others were done by independent agencies or actors. In particular, it is necessary to analyze what the programs themselves investigated about the impact of the devices, either as part of their own research directives or as research commissioned externally but which, in either case, must be approved by government agencies and programs. To this end I offer a survey of the evaluative research on programs in Uruguay and Argentina, the projects with the widest reach in that region.

In the case of Plan Ceibal in Uruguay, probably the strongest program of its kind in Latin America for its duration and scope, reaching all levels and educational systems, there were periodic follow-ups conducted by research teams, above all addressing the frequency and type of use of computers in school and in the home (Pérez Burger, 2009; Pittaluga & Rivoir, 2012; Plan Ceibal, 2011; Rivoir & Pittaluga, 2010). Some studies were particularly oriented toward measuring the impact of the technologies on learning (Pérez Gomar & Ravela, 2012). The Ceibal project also commissioned Michael Fullan to conduct an evaluative study of the plan in 2013, which focused on systemic dimensions: school governance, school environments, teachers’ autonomy, working hours and working conditions, available support/resources, and levels of teacher and community support. This research resulted in a report that was critical of the achievements of the plan but included recommendations for improvement (Fullan et al., 2013). Together, these evaluations, although they demonstrate difficulties and tensions, did not undermine the massive support the Plan Ceibal had and appears to continue to have among the Uruguayan population.6

Connect Equality in Argentina worked to establish its own evaluative infrastructure capable of accounting for social inclusion and the integration of low-income families (Ponce de León & Welschinger Lazcano, 2016). On one hand, this unique evaluative framework was associated with the Argentine government’s withdrawal of financing and educational policy lines from international organizations and also from international evaluations such as PISA from 2003 to 2015. On the other hand, this framework sought to evaluate a priority for educational policy: social and cultural inclusion. In this sense, it is important to emphasize that evaluative studies always deploy analytical frameworks that highlight “local indices of evaluation,” that is to say, structures and hierarchies of value that societies use to evaluate and distinguish the actions of schools but that are not always the same and are not necessarily shared by all (Lamont & Thévenot, 2002).7

These local orientations were visible in the initial baseline design for tracking schools in different socioeducational scenarios from 2011 onward. The study by the Ministerio de Educación de la Nación Argentina (2014) laid out complex and multidimensional scenarios of inequality and established the foundations for measuring effects of the program in later years but that, unfortunately, was discontinued. Another line of research emerged parallel to this one with the opening of 15 national universities that produced different studies between 2011 and 2013, revealing, through structured interviews, the attitudes and perceptions of educational and community stakeholders (Kisilevsky, 2015; Ministerio de Educación de la Nación Argentina, 2011). During a second period of inquiry, a study with a unified design was carried out and included four primary areas of inquiry: the institutional dimension (through interviews with administrators and teachers), pedagogical training and practice (surveys, interviews, and observations), student perceptions and use of the technologies (surveys, interviews, and observations), and use within the family and community, an area that was ultimately not included within the final report (Kisilevsky, 2015). This study identified changes in the four dimensions, although they each took on a different tenor: while the institutional dimension saw distinct levels of technological adoption (from the most lukewarm to the most transformative), there was less nuance within levels of student enthusiasm, highlighting the high rate of support for the program. In contrast to the aforementioned international studies, this research was based on a breadth of variables addressing the practices and perceptions of the different stakeholders and did not take into account test results to measure learning. It is also significant that this research employed qualitative perspective on these processes and paid attention to the significance of the stakeholders; however, this study had important limitations within its findings, both in terms of sample size (168 schools studied by 15 different research teams) and for its close ties with the Ministry of Education, which developed the program.

In addition to the evaluative research efforts carried out by the Argentine Ministry of Education, the Connect Equality program, whose administration had a certain degree of independence from the actions of the ministry, also carried out research. For example, we can see in the work carried out by two recognized social policy researchers between 2013 and 2014 (Kliksberg & Novacovsky, 2015), which documented through an urban-national study of beneficiaries of the program including 1,755 homes, the perceptions and frequency of use of the netbooks in and out of schools, addressing both adolescents and other members of the family. The study showed a positive impact of the program in providing access to technologies for families of lower incomes, as well as a high level of use within schools. Notably, the study included some indicators regarding the patterns of use within schools (not just frequency but also the most commonly used materials and the whether it was mandatory to bring the device to school) and the perceptions of the value of the devices as a motivating factor in school attendance and job placement, all from the perspective of the families, which contributed interesting elements to the effects of the program on society. However, from a methodological standpoint, it is worth asking whether household interviews are the best method for analyzing the use of school materials and drawing conclusions about the scope of the adoption of digital technologies in pedagogical practices.

Despite this limitation, the data from this report corroborates other studies carried out with different methodologies. For example, contrary to what would be expected from the association between science and technology, the digital equipment was used more in humanistic subject areas than in science or math classrooms (see also Steinberg & Tófalo, 2015, who included adolescents among their interview subjects). However, the manner of questioning, inquiring if these subjects used specific software or programs, lends itself to confusion, leaving room for doubt about what the informants would consider to be “specific software” in the case of the humanities (perhaps archives, electronic books, or Internet searches?). While by no means intending to invalidate a study of such grand scale, we also recognize that it is important for researchers to account for the conditions of production of their criteria, from what they include to what they assume to be shared knowledge between researchers and subjects, and for them to adopt a more critical and reflexive perspective on their own positionality as a “cultural artifact” of knowledge production about reality.

In relation to this research produced by agencies charged with the implementation of 1:1 programs, there is another aspect worth taking the time to address, and that has to do with the confluence between evaluative research and the legitimation of policy. In this respect, there is an important difference between the Uruguayan and Argentine studies. In Uruguay, critical reports, such as the one conducted by Fullan et al. (2013), were received by Plan Ceibal as feedback and used to adjust policies. But, in the Argentine case, the program of digital inclusion, which emerged in a moment of significant political conflict, was always submitted to a high level of public scrutiny and enjoyed less consensus. In this sense we can see that the evaluations, especially those carried out by governmental agencies, felt pressure to build legitimacy for the program, which is evident both in the research design of the studies as well as in the dissemination of their results.

In this respect, some elements of the production history of these evaluative studies in Argentina, which are significant in thinking through the limitations of the results, point to the need in all cases to consider how the modes of production influence what can be stated and shown. Next we briefly present three cases. The study carried out in 2011 by the national universities was completed in three months and focused, almost exclusively, on the attitude changes of educators and students in response to the arrival of the equipment at the schools. Its publication coincided with the presidential election of October 2011. The second study, carried out during a two-year time period, had a broader scope and included an analysis of classroom practices, institutional management, and the home life of students, although its analyses were not published until the final days of the administration, once again on the eve of an election, when the “overwhelming achievements” of the program were emphasized. This celebratory tone is present in the report, which identifies shifts, if only emerging ones, in all of the areas studied and makes little mention of problems or challenges to the adoption of technology in the classrooms. Technological adoption is characterized as a gradual advance that becomes consistently better. A third example is the measurement of increased connectivity in schools, one of the first promises of the Connect Equality program. The study carried out by Kliksberg and Novacovsky (2015) references the impact of the program on school Internet accessibility as a positive fact (52.8% of surveys reporting) but does not offer data about Internet connectivity. An independent study carried out by UNICEF in 2013, based on interviews with administrators, educators, and students, demonstrated that only 45% of the secondary public schools studies had connectivity for pedagogical purposes, and an even lower percentage (37%) considered it to be good or very good (Steinberg & Tófalo, 2015).

I see in these examples the burden of political pressure to show positive results and progress from the programs, to the detriment of our ability to understand the true effects of the arrival of these 1:1 models in schools and classrooms. In the following section, I review another group of studies that used qualitative methods with more independence from political agencies and that were able to demonstrate other, richer, more complex findings about the effects of these programs on educational systems.

The Contributions of Qualitative Methodologies for Evaluating 1:1 Programs

As mentioned previously, research into programs of mass technological adoption were abundant, primarily motivated by the financing of governmental and intergovernmental agencies that sought to evaluate the successes of policies for technological incorporation, although they were also supplemented by research from the academic sphere, which was able to offer a narrower focus, closer to the stakeholders who were developing the programs (Benítez Larghi & Winocur, 2016).

Although the financing and the conditions of production appear to have been important factors in determining what findings researchers could report, two studies stand out, one financed by the InterAmerican Development Bank and the other by the Argentine government. Both contribute richer interpretations of the effects of the programs.

The first study is a work of social anthropology by Winocur and Sánchez Vilela (2016), who analyzed the social impact of the ceibalitas (the laptops distributed by the Plan Ceibal) among poor families and communities in Uruguay. The study worked to reveal what happened with the arrival of the computers in the poorest homes, what uses and perceptions they inspired, how the devices interacted with the unequal cultural and material conditions in the home, and what opportunities they created for social and communal participation. Rather than embracing a dichotomous perspective, the authors were interested in highlighting the grey areas, nuances, and contradictions inspired by the integration of ceibalitas into poor families. Between access and exclusion, between celebration and rejection, there are many intermediary and ambivalent positions they sought to describe and understand. Wincour and Sánchez traced the link between these families with computers within a larger web of ties to technologies, state politics, and the educational system as a cultural-political institution. They reported that the Uruguayan educational system and the office of the president conferred significant legitimacy on these programs, but they also noted that the programs required knowledge about literacy and about the unequal opportunity for participation within society. The researchers were concerned with studying technological adoption within these areas, and specifically how their subjects used these technologies. They found that poorer families saw computers as a resource that would bring their children scholastic success (and consequently social mobility) and that they could use to look for information about their own health, manage small business transactions, keep family memories safe within digital archives, and reinforce emotional bonds with family members and friends who lived far away. Throughout the study the researchers encountered some complicating elements, for example, the impact of technology on the organization of time and the moral economy within the home, which drew criticism for the time and values lost with the introduction of computers. But they also encountered cooperation between adults and children within the families, which arose within moments of happiness and shared games, the communal construction of family albums, or support with schoolwork.

The second study was carried out in 2013 and 2014 through the Instituto Nacional de Formación Docente (INFD; National Institute for Teacher Training in Argentina) and researched the adoption of the netbooks from the Connect Equality program at this level, following five teacher training institutes in different locations. In each location the researchers studied the teaching practice of four professors and their groups of students (Ros, 2014). This evaluative study is one of the few that, at the governmental level, considered teaching practices. Perhaps because the research was situated within an institute with greater autonomy in its central management such as the INFD, or because of its micro-level approach, the project was better able to navigate the tension between evaluating and legitimizing policies. The researchers constructed a more open-ended “official” perspective, which acknowledged ambivalences and inconsistencies in the findings documenting the effects of the program. More generally, the research adopted a pedagogical perspective to analyze the transformations of classroom practices within teacher training institutions, chosen by district authorities as institutions with interesting practices (“flagship institutions”). One novel aspect of this study is that it included members from the teacher education institutions themselves in the research teams, and followed the work of teachers and students throughout a whole school year.

This research presents several opportunities to analyze the complexity of the changes the netbooks introduced to teacher training practices. More than indicating clear ruptures or continuities within teacher training at these flagship institutions, the research demonstrated that new technologies produced new, but not wholly transformative, classroom configurations. For example, the research did not document a transition from a frontal method centered on one instructor to a networked, multicentered, and horizontal organization catalyzed by the whiteboards and personal devices (flipped classrooms). Instead, the research indicated that exchanges were still primarily focused on the teacher, and the proposed pedagogy was fundamentally based on small groups, a legacy of the Argentine New School Movement of the 1930s. The teacher training classrooms, according to the research teams, were “on” (i.e., equipped with functioning computers) but not connected. The researchers observed that the interactions between teachers and students involved the netbooks, but that this was often carried out outside of school hours or spaces and that files and information were often circulated through email or Facebook. Schoolwork was often done after class hours, including searches for information or audiovisual productions. This sporadic use of the netbooks in classrooms was not solely caused by the lack of Internet connectivity (which is not supplanted by the intranet, as suggested by Kliksberg & Novacovsky, 2015). It was also the result of difficulties with depending on having all of the devices working in the classroom on any given day (sometimes the netbooks were being repaired or blocked, or students simply forgot them) and for the time the technical management of the devices involved (e.g., file loading and software incompatibility, among other factors). The adoption of the ICT seems to have occurred less through 1:1 programs than through the forms of communication and knowledge production facilitated by Web 2.0 and digital technologies, that is to say, less with the presence of numerous devices in the classroom and more through interactions mediated by digital technologies that were used before, during, and after class (Ros, 2014).8

This research suggested another methodological tension, offering reflections that were not present in the studies summarized in previous sections. One of the conflicts that arose from the very beginning was the difficulty with scaling the methodologies (both time and personnel intensive) with the findings and conclusions that addressed particular situations, even more so when they were considered flagship institutions with good practices according to the authorities directing teacher training within each province. The research team considered different strategies for communicating the impact of their results, including debates within the teacher training institutes through seminars and presentations addressing the findings, developing recommendations for managing the level of teacher training, and participation in the design of a virtual pedagogy specialization, which critically integrated the research findings. An example is the importance of not separating the incorporation of digital technologies from reassessments of pedagogies and teaching strategies. Perhaps this is one of its central contributions: helping to understand that the search for transformation within education is not achieved by the introduction of technologies as a discrete initiative, and that for the desired transformation to be achieved, it is necessary to mobilize multiple support systems that promote and evolve with changes in the classroom.

A number of studies were carried out by academic institutions and focused on the incorporation of digital technologies in the classroom. An example is the valuable work of Danieli (2017), at the National University of Córdoba (Argentina), on the importance of investigating how educational expertise is mobilized by incorporating new technologies into the learning process. Analyzing the practices and representations of educators who began teaching in high schools, Danieli discusses the validity of the TPACK (technological-pedagogical-content knowledge) perspective for analyzing the different ways teachers can use technologies. He points out that technological knowledge is diffuse, unstructured, and still has a high degree of instability, shaped by the formative trajectory of teachers themselves rather than by knowledge about technology. Distancing his work from the determinists’ perspectives that hold that it is enough to equip classrooms with new technologies for teachers to change their practices, Danieli highlights the importance of carrying out qualitative inquiries into the teaching practices of educators, which allows for researchers to consider their trajectories and look closely at the ever-evolving processes of developing knowledge about technologies in the classroom.

Other examples of research on changes within teaching practices can be found in the work of Mexican researcher Judith Kalman and her team (Kalman, 2013; Kalman & Rendón, 2014) about educators working in situations with a high availability of digital equipment. Through a qualitative lens, and with detailed attention to the processes of educational planning and development for some teachers, Kalman focuses on the knowledge that educators can mobilize through their teaching with computers, such as ideas and materials they can find on the Internet and use to create activities oriented toward their students. Kalman also analyzes the importance of institutional and technical challenges, such as technological obsolescence, insufficient connectivity, and power relations within the school, which often hinder access to the equipment or downplay educational initiatives. Like Danieli (2017), Kalman concludes that researchers cannot assume a singular, unique effect as a result of the introduction of computers in the classroom and that educators employ technology in very different ways within classrooms, and with extremely diverse trajectories.

Along the same lines, the research carried out by Dussel, Ferrante, González, and Montero (2015, 2017) in schools in Buenos Aires province through the Teaching University of Argentina shows that the inclusion of technologies in teaching and learning practices is mediated by multiple dynamics that transcend the prescriptions and orientations of policies and technologies and follow trajectories that, in line with Kalman’s (2013) conclusions, can be seen as extremely diverse. Like Ros (2014), they found that the classrooms in the schools included in the 1:1 programs were not necessarily overcrowded with computers. For different reasons (blockages, technological obsolescence, student negligence or sporadic use on the part of educators), the presence of netbooks was not what had been expected in the program blueprints. However, analyzing classrooms in secondary schools, conducting interviews with teachers and students, and considering school projects carried out using digital technologies, the authors observed that teaching practices incorporated, to varying degrees, digital platforms as spaces of production and circulation of knowledge and resources. One important axis was the presence of pedagogical and didactic discourses, among educators, about the kinds of activities they should carry out in their classrooms, for example, about the need to catch the attention of their students or to allow them to express their opinions and perspectives on the themes of the curriculum. Pedagogies are, for these authors, important mediators of the use of technologies in the classroom, and they determine what students can achieve through their appropriation technologies for curricular uses.

For their part, from FLACSO/Argentina, the work of Odetti, Casablancas, and Berlin (2017) put forth an inquiry into the student use of technologies within the schools included in the Argentine Connect Equality program. Their inquiry conceptualizes constructions of citizenship 2.0 and shifts in relationships between peers by soliciting micro-histories from Twitter and Instagram about their uses of technology. The analysis of the changes that computers introduce to social practice between students, including both scholastic and extracurricular knowledges, is a relevant and little-studied focus within evaluative studies of 1:1 programs. As the authors indicate, the incorporation of netbooks occurred within the framework of a media ecology and network of technologies that configure sociopolitical relationships with students and society. The study is valuable because it illuminates the different ways digital technologies are incorporated within the context of broader social relationships. In contrast to other evaluative studies, it contributes knowledge about how learning that transcends the scholastic curriculum is produced, including new forms of knowledge regarding the social participation of adolescents.

These works, just a few of a broader body of literature, demonstrate the plurality and richness of the qualitative approaches to 1:1 policies. The foci of the research, participation and consideration of the subjects, and inclusion of more complex perspectives and documentation regarding the learning achieved by teachers and students, as well as addressing the frequency and quality of use within classrooms, has generated a greater depth of knowledge about these programs, thereby producing new insight into how and where to orient policy and technology initiatives, teacher training, and material production, and even how to approach evaluative studies themselves.

Final Reflections

As noted by de Laet and Mol (2000), “Everything that shines ends up as a rusty battery of useless technology” (p. 251). As we noted at the beginning, within the massive initiatives to integrate computational technologies in the classroom, educational technologies have occupied a privileged place to guarantee digital inclusion and improve education. These technologies appeared as the new “silver bullet” in education, as well as a “shining object,” that took on many of the promises and aspirations of the society (Dussel, 2012). As the science historians de Laet and Mol caution, it is important not to forget that the “brilliant technologies” eventually end up rusted in useless piles. Thus, we should approach social and technological change with more humility. In fact, for various reasons, the current movement in the educational policies of the region is moving away from 1:1 programs. This is a result of the advance of digitization within society itself that renders state investment in digital technologies unnecessary, the difficulties encountered in maintaining equipment as well as the technological and pedagogical support networks, and fiscal policies working to reduce state budgets. But this shift does not negate what was learned during the era of 1:1 policies.

First, one must address the assumptions made by the 1:1 programs, above all, their belief in digital technologies as a kind of silver bullet that would transform education and learning, an argument that was used as a justification of 1:1 programs and the large investments they demanded. This assumption was also shared by a large number of the studies carried out by international organizations that affirmed the fact that the 1:1 programs did not live up to their promises but never questioned the viability of the promises themselves. In this regard, it is without question that these technologies have the power to transform. As a recently published work puts it: “ [to affirm] that the things we say and do on the Internet have permeated our lives in unprecedented ways is a cliché that bears no repeating” (Isin & Ruppert, 2015, p. 1). But despite being a central actor within these current changes, perhaps it is important to take some time to consider the character of this silver bullet. We continue to believe in the potential of digital technologies to disseminate culture to everyone easily and affordably, to engage adolescents and adults alike, to decentralize the circulation of information, and to incorporate other languages and more accessible references. The promise of immediacy and accessibility lends seduction and power to these celebratory discourses regarding new technologies, which emerge from many different sectors. Interestingly, it is through these programs of massive technological inclusion that schools organized new, mobile, and unstable alliances, de signo abierto, between “pro-equality” governments, named as such by CEPAL, international organizations such as IADB or World Bank, and technological corporations—whose best spokespeople were often the users themselves, who claimed for more social media or digital platforms in classrooms (van Dijck, 2013).

A second element, in light of what we have learned through these evaluative studies, is the problematization of digital inclusion in terms of access and frequency of use. The metric for measuring frequency of use is based on the implicit assumption that the presence of technologies within the classroom will, in and of itself, generate specific interactions (collaborative work, autonomous learning, user-measured learning). But, as the studies summarized here show, teaching strategies are changing even if devices are not brought to class, at the same time that important continuities between the interactions and forms of work that are decided on in the classroom continue, above all in connection with knowledge.

This kind of problematization of digital inclusion reduced to access to equipment has another limitation: it stops at access. It focuses on the act of bringing technologies into the classroom where they are used many times throughout the day and week, but it does not concern itself sufficiently with what happens once the equipment is there, both in terms of pedagogical interaction and the material presence of the artifacts in the classroom. These qualitative studies demonstrate that the technical maintenance of technologies within the classroom generate numerous complications and take up a significant part of class time, a reason that many teachers prefer not to promote them (as reported by Ames [2015] in a study of One Laptop Per Child in Perú). On the other hand, technical management shines a different light on technological obsolescence and digital waste, problems that impact society as a whole and not just schools, and about which there is insufficient guidance, both at the public policy level and with private business development of recyclable and sustainable technologies. The ecological dimension of these policies is a little-studied axis within Latin America, where this particular focus is viewed as a luxury of wealthier nations. Additionally, what was missing here was a qualitative look at the established indicators of success of these policies, along with those that were ignored.

All together, the circumstances determining policies for technological inclusion are complicated and constantly evolving. For evaluative studies, it is important to observe changes in the management, teaching, and learning processes in institutions with their own histories, while also considering the highly complex technological, political, and institutional configurations that demand equally multidimensional approaches.

In this context, one has to look at what the evaluations of these programs contribute, not in terms of diagnostics that reduce the achievements of the initiatives to the frequency of technology use in classrooms or improvements in learning but rather as studies that help us to understand the modalities of the actual functions of digital technologies in the classrooms and the multiple dimensions they involve and that transcend computers in and of themselves. This kind of analysis is better achieved through the “illuminative” tradition of evaluative research—that is, research that points out problematics and develops dense descriptions of situations—rather than from the lines of traditional evaluation that measure the distance between proposed objectives and achieved outcomes through simplistic and reductionist indices. In this illuminating tradition, the evaluation should not work to become a “measuring instrument,” purely countable and administrative, but rather a social and political question about its functions and effects, maintaining a self-reflexive position with regard to its methods and scope (Readings, 1996). In this reflection, the issues of counting and administration are not unimportant, but rather they resonate in different ways: to whom, for what, with whom, how much, and how are fundamental aspects of justice and the effectiveness of actions that should be addressed.

Finally, it must also be acknowledged that there are no unambiguous or transparent answers to any of these issues. In this sense, it is clear that evaluation transcends the logic of counting, but it must include counting if it wants to account for the fairness or the validity of public policy and public spending. And it also has to include the reflection about its own functioning as a “distinctive cultural artifact,” analyzing what languages and indicators are involved and how these privilege certain operations and marginalize others. Evaluation is not a moment before or after policy. It is, more and more, a form in which society organizes itself, for example through the ethics of transparency and the demand for accountability (Strathern, 2000). Thus, the evaluation of the 1:1 programs says as much about the programs themselves as it does about the evaluative framework and its potentials and limitations to account for policy decisions. Struggling for more complex and plural views about what intensive technology programs in schools and classrooms produce is a way to have more significant conversations about recent educational policies and to reclaim the validity and importance of research to improve what is taught and learned within our educational systems and in sociotechnical environments permeated by a multiplicity of digital devices.

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Notes

  • 1. Foucault (1984) indicates that “problematization is not the representation of a pre-existing object, or the creation through discourse of an object that does not exist. It is the totality of discursive and non-discursive practices that situates something between the true and the false, and transforms it into an object for the mind (whether in the form of moral reflection, scientific knowledge or political analysis)” (p. 18; see also Castel, 1994). In this sense, problematization, as a method, begins with a problem situated within the present day and tracks genealogy.

  • 2. They used search terms such as “evaluation of 1:1 policies,” “1:1 policies + evaluation,” “educational technology programs + evaluation + Latin America.”

  • 3. One work (Pérez Burger et al., 2009) was published before the period under consideration, but it was considered to be important because it was one of the first projects to posit a way to evaluate the impact of 1:1 policies between teachers. It is important to note that there is always a (variable) gap between the research process and publication, most notoriously in the case of academic publishing. Most of the evaluative studies analyzed here correspond to the period between 2010 and 2015.

  • 4. These 28 studies are indicated with an asterisk (*) in the Reference list.

  • 5. Among many others, see the contributions of Biesta (2015) to discuss the tools for assessing learning and the impact of tools such as PISA in reducing what counts as knowledge or knowledge acquisition.

  • 6. One example of this can be found in a newspaper report that summarizes the findings of a study that was critical of the effects of the plan but still highlighted the “great future potential” of the project as well as the “great challenges” it faced (“Plan Ceibal: Según investigación no mejoró lectura ni matemática [Plan Ceibal: According to Research Did Not Improve Reading or Math Skills]”) 2013.

  • 7. “Local indices of evaluation” refer to the combination of assumptions and perspectives employed to evaluate an event or social process in any given society. In a comparative study of France and the United States, Lamont and Thévenot (2002) demonstrated that North Americans tended to judge efficiency of institutions, including educational institutions, by their “market performance” (that is to say if they procure clients, if they are profitable, and if they are sustainable, among other factors), while in France the evaluative criteria are based on contribution to a public citizenry, the idea of the public good, and republican ideals and norms.

  • 8. Rosalía Winocur (2015) makes a similar observation in her work on the literacy practices of university students with digital methods. Wincour highlights the persistent presence of digital technologies in classrooms but warns that this presence manifests more in the form of assumptions and practices outside of the classroom than in the form of visible and explicit interactions with these technologies in the classrooms.