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Survey reveals gaps in school technology perceptions

By Dennis Pierce, Editor
May 5th, 2010

While 67 percent of administrators said their ideal school of the future should include the use of online collaborative tools, just 27 percent of teachers agreed.

While 67 percent of administrators said their ideal school of the future should include online collaborative tools, just 27 percent of teachers agreed.

The results from a recent survey on education technology suggest that schools are making progress on integrating technology into the curriculum—but the survey also reveals key disparities in how students, educators, administrators, and even aspiring teachers think of various technology tools.

For instance, a majority of K-12 students, principals, and school district administrators agreed that technologies for communicating and collaborating online—such as blogs, wikis, and social-networking web sites—are important tools for 21st-century teaching and learning. But not as many teachers shared this view.

Most students and aspiring teachers, and 42 percent of current educators, recognized the value of online games and simulations in enhancing students’ understanding of key topics—but far fewer principals or district administrators (25 percent) agreed.

And while a large majority of aspiring teachers (82 percent) said collaborative tools such as blogs and wikis are important instructional tools, only one in four are learning how to use these technologies in their courses on teaching methods. Instead, the primary technologies being taught in these teacher-education classes are productivity tools such as word processing, spreadsheet, and database software, the survey revealed.

The information comes from the nonprofit group Project Tomorrow, which released the results from its annual Speak Up survey of teachers and administrators May 5. (The group released the results from its survey of students and parents earlier this year.)

The data include responses from online surveys administered in more than 5,700 schools and 71 schools of education last fall.

“Administrators and teachers are starting to buy in to the student vision [for using technology in education]—either prompted by their own personal use of the same technologies or because of financial pressures and national priorities that are making them rethink current practices,” said Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow. “We … have a long way to go, but [the survey] is encouraging.”

Still, the latest Speak Up survey reveals significant gaps in how education technology is perceived among various groups of users. One of the most surprising disparities was how respondents view the importance of online tools for communicating and collaborating in the classroom.

When asked to describe their vision for the ultimate “school of the future,” 67 percent of district administrators and 51 percent of school principals said it should include the use of collaborative tools. But only 27 percent of teachers agreed—and teachers still are much more likely to communicate online with their peers or with students’ parents (90 percent) than with students themselves (34 percent).

Evans said there are a few factors that might explain this difference.

For one thing, many teachers “are not familiar with how to incorporate these collaboration tools into [their] instruction, and thus … they don’t have the personal familiarity that you need before adoption can take place,” she said.

“Second, we continue to hear from students that their teachers are very concerned about the potential dangers of internet use in the classroom—the student safety and personal liability issues. So, in some ways, the ‘fear factor’ may be holding back their interest.”

She continued: “Teachers also are still not fully buying into the concept that social networking sites can have educational value for students. They see the social components, but not necessarily how to leverage the tools for academic reasons.”

But there’s a reason to think that could change soon, Evans said. In 2008, only 15 percent of teachers said they regularly update a personal social-networking web site. In the most recent survey, that figure jumped to 48 percent.

“I was stunned to see the increase in teachers using social networking from 2008 to 2009,” she said, noting that teachers’ personal use of technology typically precedes their use of these tools for instruction.

The survey also revealed a gap in how teachers and administrators view mobile devices such as laptops, smart phones, and iPods as educational tools.

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