Educators have been taking a hit in the press lately about their level of comfort with technology. But a recent survey of eSchool News readers–the leaders most likely to purchase or manage technology in their schools–suggests they are very familiar with its use.

Led by Prof. Jane McDonald of the Department of Educational Leadership at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development, the study revealed that 83 percent of readers felt “very comfortable” with a computer, and 77 percent felt “very comfortable” with the internet. Less than one percent felt “uncomfortable” with either technology.

School district technology coordinators (27 percent), information technology directors (17 percent), and building-level technology directors (18 percent) made up the bulk of responses. Superintendents (6 percent), assistant superintendents (9 percent), library and media specialists (11 percent), and principals (2 percent) also responded.

Though it’s often said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, familiarity with technology clearly isn’t limited to a younger generation of educators. More than 55 percent of readers said they’ve spent 21 years or more in education.

Nor is technology strictly the province of men. Despite fears of a “technology gender gap” in our schools, no significant difference existed between the genders of respondents–51 percent were male, 49 percent female.

The study revealed that technology directors and coordinators wield the most responsibility for school district technology purchases: When asked to cite the single person most responsible for school technology purchases, 66 percent of respondents indicated technology directors. Superintendents were next at 12 percent, followed by assistant superintendents at 10 percent and principals at 7 percent.

The buying power of eSchool News readers is impressive as well: 66 percent of readers make the final purchasing decisions, while 72 percent recommend what brands to buy and 67 percent recommend expenditures.

While survey respondents were knowledgeable about technology, their knowledge for the most part didn’t come from formal schooling. Only 28 percent said they had a degree in technology, while 78 percent said they had learned through “on the job” training and 52 percent through independent study.

Reader interests

Despite the many administrative applications of technology, student learning remains the primary focus of school technology decision makers: According to the survey, desktop computers and curriculum software drew the most interest among readers.

Every survey respondent indicated some level of interest in desktop computers, and 98 percent expressed interest in curriculum software. Seventy-two percent of respondents indicated “great interest” in desktop computers, while 65 percent expressed “great interest” in curriculum software.

Somewhat surprisingly–and maybe indicative of a trend–laptop computers were the third-most popular items of interest. Ninety-seven percent of readers expressed interest in laptops, and 58 percent indicated “great interest” in laptops.

Network file servers and internet access also proved popular among readers. Ninety-five percent of readers expressed interest–and 65 percent expressed “great interest”–in internet access. Nearly 80 percent of respondents said they use the internet at least 5 hours per week, and 68 percent use it mostly at school.

Educators also seem to be aware–and concerned–of the seedier side of the internet, if the study is any indication: Fully 91 percent of respondents expressed some interest in content filters, and 52 percent expressed “great interest” in filters.

Emerging technologies also sparked interest among readers. More than 87 percent of respondents expressed interest in fiber optics, 82 percent showed interest in wireless technologies, and 62 percent in satellite broadcasting and receiving.

One application of technology that sharply divided readers was surveillance. While 48 percent of respondents expressed interest in surveillance and 39 percent said use of surveillance devices has increased in their schools, 40 percent said they were concerned with how surveillance poses a threat to civil liberties or privacy.

eRate discounts and connectivity

While readers are overwhelmingly (93 percent) familiar with the eRate–the controversial federal program that gives telecommunications discounts to schools and libraries–they are somewhat less sure about applying. Only 76 percent said they applied in 1998, and 74 percent said they planned to apply in 1999.

The survey was taken before last year’s discounts were issued, which could explain why more than one-quarter of respondents harbored doubts about the program. Skepticism of the eRate ran high last fall as funding was first cut back, then delayed through a series of congressionally-mandated audits.

According to the survey, requests for discounts on plain old telephone service (POTS) were most common (72 percent) among readers who applied for the eRate last year. Requests for T1 or T3 lines were next, at 53 percent, then frame relay at 21 percent and dial-up access at 19 percent.

Source: George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development

http://www.gwu.edu