As Congress continues to deliberate next year’s spending, Education Secretary Richard Riley repeated the Clinton administration’s call for an increase in federal funding to prepare teachers to use technology.

Although most teachers and students now have access to computers, Riley said, teachers still are not fully prepared to use them.

“We are asking Congress to double the funding—to $150 million—to help prepare [tomorrow’s] teachers to use technology,” he said. “Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t fully agreed to this increase. But it isn’t too late. In the next few weeks, they have another opportunity to fully fund this initiative.”

Riley’s comments came at the U.S. Department of Education’s annual Conference on Educational Technology, held Sept. 11-12 in Arlington, Va. During the conference, officials showcased promising school technology initiatives and called for more research into what works and what doesn’t.

Riley, Federal Communications Commission Chairman William Kennard, and keynote speaker Eric Benhamou, president and chief executive of 3Com Corp., released a study that shows how instrumental the eRate has been in helping connect most public schools—especially those in high-poverty areas—to the internet.

“eRate and the Digital Divide,” written by the Urban Institute, shows that the eRate has provided more than $3 billion for America’s public schools, three out of four public schools and districts applied for the program in its first two years, and per-pupil eRate funding for high-poverty schools was more than twice the national average and nearly 10 times that of the wealthiest schools.

But despite the fact that the program targets the poorest schools, the most impoverished schools submitted the fewest applications. Also, larger districts and schools were more likely to apply than smaller ones, the study found.

Although this was only a preliminary study, the writers pointed out that future reports could be obtained easily and quickly because of the detailed information submitted by each school or district on its eRate application forms.

Riley also announced the results of a second study, called “Teachers’ Tools for the 21st Century: A Report on Teachers’ Use of Technology,” which found that although most teachers have access to computers, only half use them for classroom instruction.

Based on information gathered from surveys conducted in 1999, this National Center for Education Statistics report found that teachers use computers mostly for word processing or creating spreadsheets, followed by internet research and practice drills.

Teachers were more likely to use a computer if it was located in their classroom, while students were most likely to use computers outside of the classroom. Although 84 percent of teachers said they had at least one computer in their classroom, only 10 percent reported having more than five computers in their room.

According to the report, the two biggest barriers to using computers and the internet for instruction are lack of release time for teachers to learn how to integrate computers into the curriculum (82 percent) and lack of time in the schedule for students to use computers in class (80 percent).

Promising practices

Despite these challenges, pockets of innovation do exist in schools around the country, Riley said. At the conference, students and educators from select schools demonstrated how they have learned to use technology to enhance classroom instruction.

Students from a Virginia-based organization called Kidz Online broadcast the entire two-day conference over the internet while nearly 600 participants listened and dined.

High school students from South Burlington, Vermont, showed off digital graphics and animation they created in a course designed by English teacher Tim Comolli. In the course, students learn to use industry-standard graphic software such as Adobe Photoshop.

Conference attendees gave two students from Mott Hall School in New York City a standing ovation after their speech about how technology has transformed the learning experience since every student and teacher at the school received a laptop computer.

“I became the [technology] expert in the family,” said thirteeen-year-old Anthony Reyes in an interview. “My mom uses it. My whole family uses it. It’s cool.”

Besides helping him to be more organized and creative, Reyes said his laptop brings information and resources right to him, which makes the trip to the library almost unnecessary.

Mott Hall School commissioned a study of its laptop program by Metis Associates Inc. to see how it affects student achievement.

“Our research has proven significant improvement in writing, critical thinking, and research skills,” said Principal Mirian Acost-Sing.

At the conference, Microsoft Corp. also released a study of its Anytime Anywhere Learning program, in which all students in a school own laptops that use Microsoft software. After three years of the program, research done by Rockman et al suggests that students become better writers, collaborate more in group projects, and are more involved in their schoolwork.

The study also suggests that teachers who use laptops also show greater confidence in using technology tools.

A need for more evaluation

Though conference speakers and attendees shared anecdotal evidence of technology’s impact on learning, officials also called for more extensive research on the topic. The need for more studies was underscored by a Sept. 12 press conference in nearby Washington, D.C., in which participants called for a moratorium on technology spending until there is further proof of technology’s impact. (See “Group says computers offer much glitz, little substance for schools.”)

Several speakers discussed tools and strategies they are developing to help them measure and evaluate the success of their educational technology programs.

“The challenge we’ve had as a school district is, what impact is [educational technology] having on student behavior, achievement, and learning,” said Liz Glowa, director of technology at Montgomery County (Md.) Public Schools. Glowa is working with Hofstra University Professor Charol Shakeshaft to determine how student achievement is affected by educational technology.

Elliot Soloway, a professor at the University of Michigan, described a tool he and some colleagues are developing, called the Online Snapshot Survey, that allows schools and districts to gather input from teachers and administrators by conducting an online survey so officials can make more informed decisions about technology.

“If you do a survey, you can get a sense of distribution in your district and where you should buy,” Soloway said. He said once the web site is running, educators could choose from approximately 80 existing surveys or they could make their own.

Sarah Skerker, a technology specialist at Mantua Elementary School in Fairfax, Va., discussed a program developed by her school, called Comprehensive Interdisciplinary Performance Assessment (CIPA), that measures a culmination of students’ skills—including the ability to use technology as a research, analysis, and communication tool.

Groups of sixth-grade students are given a real-world problem they have two weeks to solve. Skerker said this test encourages them to use whatever skills they have acquired during their time at Mantua Elementary, which is a technology-rich school. All students at the school are assigned their own Alphasmart computer in the primary grades and eMate in the higher grades. Teachers record the students’ decision-making and progress with a digital camera along the way.

Because the results from these projects are so complicated, researchers from the University of Virginia are analyzing the data and helping to improve CIPA so officials can determine scientifically what impact the technology-rich education has on students’ progress.

Jim Nazworthy of the High Plains Regional Technology in Education Consortium (R*TEC) discussed Profiler, a tool that surveys teachers to assess their professional development needs. It’s essentially a knowledge audit, he said.

By taking the survey, teachers can assess their technology abilities, and Profiler helps them find someone at their school or district who can help them learn the skills they don’t know.


The Secretary’s Conference on Education Technology

The eRate and the Digital Divide

Teachers’ Tools for the 21st Century: A Report on Teachers’ Use of Technology

Kidz Online

South Burlington High School Imaging Lab

Mott Hall Elementary School

Montgomery County Public Schools

The Online Snapshot Survey

Mantua Elementary School