As Congress continued 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 and 12 in Arlington, Va. During the conference, officials showcased promising practices 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 funding for high-poverty schools was more than twice the national average and nearly 10 times that of the wealthiest schools.

Despite the fact that the program targets the poorest schools, however, the most impoverished schools submitted the fewest applications. Larger districts and schools were more likely to apply than smaller ones, the study found.

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 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 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, Vt., 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 like 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 13-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 his fingertips.

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 on group projects, and are more involved in their schoolwork.

The study also suggests that teachers who use laptops show greater confidence in using technology tools. But critics of the study point out that it was commissioned and funded by Microsoft and that it lacks hard figures to quantify its results.

Better evaluation needed

Though conference speakers and attendees shared anecdotal evidence of technology’s impact on learning, officials 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 in younger grades until there is further proof of technology’s impact (see story, page 1).

Several speakers discussed tools they are developing to help measure the success of their technology programs.

Elliot Soloway, a professor of education at the University of Michigan, described a tool he and some colleagues are developing, called the Online Snapshot Survey, which allows schools 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 that once the web site is running, educators could choose from approximately 80 existing surveys or could make up their own.

Jim Nazworthy, of the High Plains Regional Technology in Education Consortium, 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 who can help them learn the skills they don’t know.

The Secretary’s Conference on Education Technology

http://www.ed.gov/Technology/techconf/2000

The eRate and the Digital Divide

http://www.ed.gov/offices/OUS/eval/erate_fr.pdf

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

http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2000102

The Online Snapshot Survey

http://snapshotsurvey.org

Profiler

http://profiler.scrtec.org