The amount of professional development a teacher has, a school’s wealth, and the grade level being taught all have an impact on how teachers use computers and the internet in the classroom, according to a study released April 24 by the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics.

The study, called “Teacher Use of Computers and the Internet in Public Schools,” surveyed full-time public school teachers in spring 1999.

Two-thirds of respondents (66 percent) said they use computers or the internet for instruction during class time, but only a third (33 percent) reported feeling at least “well prepared”—and only 10 percent said they feel “very well prepared”—to do so.

“Until all teachers have the … adequate training that their counterparts in business and other professions have, our nation’s students will be short-changed,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley.

Teachers with fewer years’ experience and those with more hours of professional development felt better prepared to use computers and the internet for classroom instruction than their colleagues. According to the study:

• Teachers with three or fewer years of experience were more likely to feel “well prepared” to use technology than teachers with 20 or more years of experience (31 percent vs. 19 percent).

• Teachers with more than 32 hours of professional development within the last three years were more likely to feel “very well prepared” to use technology than teachers with zero to 32 hours (29 percent vs. from six percent to 10 percent).

“As this survey shows, teachers who’ve received training in technology are most likely and more inclined to use it in the classroom,” Riley said. “This provides further support for the president’s request to double funding to help prepare tomorrow’s teachers to use technology to $150 million in 2001.”

“There is a tremendous difference between teachers who have more training and those who have minimal training,” said Linda Roberts, White House adviser on educational technology. “It takes time to learn how to use technology.”

Roberts said she was encouraged by the figures from this latest NCES study. A similar one released in January 1999 found that only 20 percent of teachers felt “well prepared” to use technology.

“There are school districts that are taking this need for [training] very seriously,” Roberts said. But more districts need to follow suit, by offering incentives and making more time for technology training, she said.

“The most important thing is professional development,” she said. “It has to be hands-on for it to be effective.”

Other findings

The study also found that a school’s poverty level affects a teacher’s use of computers and the internet.

At poorer schools, teachers were less likely to use computers for creating instructional materials, keeping records, and communicating with colleagues. They also had students do less research on the computer than did teachers from more affluent schools.

But teachers at poorer schools were more likely to use computers for practice drills than were teachers from more affluent schools.

The kind of assignments that computers are used for varies among teachers of different grade levels, too. The study found that elementary school teachers assign practice drills and problem-solving using computers more frequently than high school teachers. Secondary school teachers, on the other hand, are more likely to assign internet research than elementary teachers.

About a third of teachers surveyed said they use computers or the internet “a lot” for creating instructional materials and keeping administrative records. But less than 10 percent of teachers said they use the internet to access model lesson plans or best practices, suggesting that better dissemination of these resources is necessary.

The Department of Education said it plans to use this study to support decisions regarding technology in schools and teacher training. A more extensive discussion of the survey’s results will be available this summer, it said.

U.S. Department of Education

http://www.ed.gov

“Teacher Use of Computers and the Internet in Public Schools”

http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2000090