Digital content doesn’t always meet teachers’ needs, report finds
As states and educators implement the Common Core State Standards or revamp their own standards to be more rigorous and to prepare students for college and the workforce, teachers are leveraging digital tools to aid in those efforts.
Support for digital resources is growing, and a new report from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation  reveals that while teachers and students think classroom technology use is beneficial, “standards gaps” exist when digital resources are not available or are not adequate to meet educators’ needs.
The study focused on what teachers want and need from digital instructional tools; how product developers can use this information to more effectively serve students, teachers, and schools; what is known about how teachers and districts select and purchase digital instructional tools; and what is known about the overall market for digital instructional tools.
(Next page: The six ways digital content should help, according to teachers)
The 3,100 educators surveyed identified six instructional areas in which they said they expected digital tools to help.
1. Deliver instruction by facilitating delivery of the lesson plan and content. Teachers said they wanted the digital tools to align with lesson plans and/or Common Core State Standards, and said the tools should enable a high degree of teacher control.
2. Diagnose student learning, evaluate class learning progress, and adjust lessons accordingly. The digital tool should help teachers identify gaps in student understanding and offer a high degree of teacher control.
3. Vary delivery method and increase class-wide engagement through multi-modal instruction. Digital tools used in this capacity should make it easy for students to understand the content and should capture greater student attention and engagement.
4. Tailor learning experiences and adapt lessons to the needs of individual students. Teachers said they want digital tools to help them adapt pace, content, and/or style to students’ personalized needs, and also should let students practice independently.
5. Support student collaboration and interactivity by empowering students to collaborate and to take charge of their own learning. Digital tools used for this purpose should enable collaboration and offer a high degree of interactivity.
6. Foster independent practice and let students take ownership of their learning. These tools, according to teachers, should support that independent practice and offer additional modes of learning for students.
Most teachers said they don’t find instructional resources sufficient when it comes to helping them teach new college- and career-ready standards. Fewer than half of teachers surveyed said that resources available are both adequate and available in digital form.
Four areas emerged as those most lacking access to available and adequate digital resources: K-5 English/language arts, grades 9-12 math, grades 6-8 social studies, and K-12 science.
Teachers surveyed said that they use their own money to purchase only 4 percent of the digital products they use, and they are just as likely to find the free products effective as they are the products purchased by their school or district.
When it comes to choosing products, 59 percent of teachers said they rely on administrators’ recommendations; 53 percent search online, and the top-cited sources include Google, Pinterest, and Amazon; and 47 percent of teachers said they depend on other teachers’ recommendations.
As more districts are implementing pilot projects and initiatives around digital content, the instructional technology market should expand accordingly, the report notes.