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Book Review: 'Learning in the Cloud' by Mark Warschauer

By Clark Quinn / October 2011

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Learning in the Cloud: How (and Why) to Transform Schools with Digital Media
Mark Warschauer
Teacher College Press, New York, 2011

It's no secret that American schools are in trouble. From the idiocy of No Child Left Untested, er, Behind to naive calls that online schooling will solve our problems, we're looking for solutions. Now, I don't have to try to push what I think are the right ideas, because there's a book that does it and, frankly, more thoroughly and definitively than I could have.

Over a number of instances, Mark Warschauer has investigated efforts to improve education through the use of technology, and he distills those lessons for us in his new book. As the subtitle "How (and Why) to Transform Schools with Digital Technology" indicates he's not only justifying the effort, but providing a roadmap. And he's not above calling out flawed thinking.

This is not, however, a personal journey, but instead a well-presented, concise, and documented presentation of just what is needed to make a working classroom, and how technology helps.

Warschauer's goals are robust: He wants sound academic achievement that will transfer beyond schooling, 21st century skills that will lead to continual self-improvement, and equity across socio-economic strata. He ties research to illustrative examples, presenting a case that's at once comprehensible and comprehensive. And Warschauer makes it very clear that it is not about just putting computers into the classroom, or even drill-and-practice. His argument is deeper and richer. His target of an individual capable of adapting expertise to the problem is as enlightening as it is empowering.

The book is thorough: The author covers curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment. In curriculum, he advocates focusing on meaningful skills, not just knowledge. In pedagogy he advocates for meaningful tasks augmented by reflection. For assessment, he wants performance, not just recitation. For technology, he wants it used as tools, not as a topic. He points to the well-regarded Understanding by Design movement as an exemplary framework for thinking about how to tie together the three. And more importantly he highlights the research that justifies his position, and makes it compelling by using examples told as engaging stories.

Warschauer pulls together the points that many champion on principle, but makes the case on the basis of sound empirical evidence, compiled into a coherent plan. He elegantly proceeds through the elements, tying them together into a cohesive whole. As he says, "Computers and the Internet help amplify good teaching." And he documents just what that means.

The book is not without flaws. First, the title is misleading: He's not really talking just about the cloud. Not that he should, the cloud is only a channel and the important point is the way in which learning is structured and how technology facilitates, not how the technology is hosted. And the language, while eloquent, is not quite as accessible as it might be. This book, with its important message, cries for accessibility not elegance. Still, it is better that the message is out rather than worry about whether it's in the most accessible form, but it might be a barrier to penetration of the message. And, unfortunately, the book is a trifle dear. Fortunately, it is in paperback (though not in ebook form, an irony).

The ultimate message, however, is that this book is important, even crucial reading. This is a book that every player with a stake in the game needs to read: teachers, administrators, parents, and politicians. And not to put too delicate a point on it, this is what I think should be our next "man in the moon" project; implementing these ideas comprehensively, as a nation. He's given us the vision, now it is up to us to execute.

About the Author

Clark Quinn leads learning system design through Quinnovation, providing strategic solutions to Fortune 500, education, government, and not-for-profit organizations. He earned his Ph.D. in applied cognitive science from the University of California, San Diego, and has led the design of mobile, performance support, serious games, online learning, and adaptive learning systems. He's an internationally known speaker and author, with a book and numerous articles and chapters. He has held management positions at Knowledge Universe Interactive Studio, Open Net, and Access CMC, and academic positions at the University of New South Wales, the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center, and San Diego State University's Center for Research in Mathematics and Science Education.


  • Sat, 03 Dec 2011
    Post by Mark Warschauer

    Thank you for the thoughtful review. I just wanted to add that the book is finally available in eBook format via Google eBooks (