Classroom teachers are using technology more than ever before to improve teaching and learning. But even as their sophistication with computers and the internet grows, other barriers are keeping them from using technology to its full potential, according to a survey released June 22 at the National Educational Computing Conference in New Orleans.

Gone are the days when teachers claimed ignorance and blamed their inability to bridge the digital divide on a sheer lack of technology know-how. These days, a lack of time during the school day, too few school computers, and complex security measures–including school firewalls and filtering systems–are among the biggest impediments to effective technology integration, survey respondents said.

Following up on the success of its National Speak Up Day for Students, NetDay, a nonprofit supporter of educational technology in schools, released the results of its Speak Up Day for Teachers, an online survey of 11,132 teachers representing 885 schools across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. Department of Defense schools overseas.

The survey, which educators were invited to take on line, was intended to give U.S. teachers in all grades and disciplines an opportunity to speak their minds about technology in schools and at home.

“The results of the Speak Up Day for Teachers survey provide a rich snapshot of how teachers view the use of technology in the educational process,” said NetDay’s chief executive officer, Julie Evans. “We hope this effort will raise awareness about the importance of the teacher as a key stakeholder in technology decisions.”

Although 98 percent of survey respondents said they had at least one internet-connected computer in their classrooms for professional use, most respondents said there isn’t enough time in the day to take advantage of the technology and that a shortage of computers for students still retards achievement.

Lack of time in the school day ranked No. 1 among obstacles preventing teachers from using the internet for professional tasks, but computer filters and firewalls also were factors, respondents said, adding that these security measures too often keep teachers from accessing good educational content online. Complex computer security was a frustration also cited in a student portion of the survey, Evans said.

Curiously absent from the list of obstacles was any mention of inadequate technology skills. According to Evans, the idea that educators would even classify filters and firewalls as a bother is evidence that their familiarity with technology has advanced well beyond the scope of such basic functions as word processing and printing.

In schools, educators rely on hardware and software to assist with a wide array of critical functions, she said; here are some of the key tasks respondents assigned to technology:

  • Improving teaching and learning–49 percent

  • Communicating with others–24 percent

  • Managing the classroom–16 percent

  • Implementing professional development–4 percent

Survey respondents said the internet is a treasure trove of new learning materials. Twenty-two percent of educators said they “always” use the web to help refresh old lesson plans and construct new classroom activities, and 53 percent said they consult the internet at least “some of the time.” Only 3 percent said they “never” use the internet when devising new models for learning.

Technology is used to perform a myriad of administrative chores as well. Among teachers, the most popular uses cited included communicating with colleagues, creating tests and handouts, keeping records, and researching information for students.

Teachers also rely on technology to help them meet the demands of the No Child Left Behind Act, according to the survey, and 78 percent of respondents classified technology as essential to achieving state and federal targets.

But merely having the technology in place is only part of the solution, respondents agreed: Success also depends on how well administrators can articulate a vision of how technology can be used in their schools. Management support, respondents reported, generally is good.

Seventy-five percent of teachers who responded to the survey said their current school and working conditions mostly encourage the use of technology, compared with just 4 percent who said the use of technology is discouraged.

What’s more, 35 percent of respondents said their administrators consider technology their No. 1 priority. Fifty percent said it was of modest concern, and only 3 percent said technology was not a priority at all.

Regardless of how willing school and district leaders are to pursue technology initiatives, teachers who took the survey agreed that a decline in access to technology would make their jobs more difficult.

Despite criticisms that students sometimes abuse classroom technologies, using the internet to find easy answers to difficult questions and occasionally cheating on tests, for example, the benefits–at least, in the minds of those teachers responding–far exceed the potential drawbacks, the survey said.

Teachers said technology has enabled them to build stronger lesson plans, engage students more effectively, meet the needs of individual learners more fully, and communicate more clearly with parents, among other benefits.

Eighty-nine percent of educators reported that losing access to the internet would have some sort of impact on their teaching and professional responsibilities–with classroom access being especially important.

In fact, 63 percent of educators reported they are more likely to use classroom-based technology for professional purposes, such as designing new lesson plans or sending eMail messages to concerned parents. Only 19 percent prefer to perform such duties from their home computers.

Computers boost students’
test scores, teachers say

Nearly two-thirds of K-12 teachers say the availability of computers improves student performance on standardized tests, yet they do not believe they have enough computers for their students in their classrooms, according to the second annual Teachers Talk Tech survey released June 22 by CDW Government Inc. (CDW-G), a provider of technology solutions to federal, state, and local governments and educators.

The CDW-G survey validates the results of NetDay’s Speak Up Day for Teachers study, released one day earlier.

Sixty-two percent of respondents to the Teachers Talk Tech survey–an increase of 8 percent over last year–said the use of computers improved student performance on standardized tests. Teachers also made it clear that to achieve the advantages afforded by technology, they need additional training and adequate equipment for their students.

While teachers as a whole believe computers aid student performance, 77 percent report they only have a few computers in the classroom, which students have to share. Teachers at schools with more than 2,000 students are more likely to say they need “a lot more” computers in the classroom.

“Technology has become ingrained in the educational process. It increases teacher productivity on a daily basis, enhances student performance on key subjects, and improves student results on standardized tests,” said Chris Rother, vice president of education at CDW-G, who released the findings of the company’s second annual Teachers Talk Tech survey at the National Education Computing Conference in New Orleans. “Teachers recognize the many benefits of technology, yet they are telling us they don’t have enough computers or good enough software to realize technology’s full potential.”

Mixed grades were given by teachers to the quality of the hardware and software available at their schools. Only 54 percent of teachers rank their hardware as good or excellent, and just 45 percent gave high marks to the software. As for making the most of technology’s capabilities, 79 percent of teachers say they need more training.

Links:
More on the survey.

Educators are even less likely to use technology in a community setting. Just 4 percent of respondents said they preferred to use technology to perform professional duties in a teacher-designated work area. Only 3 percent said they prefer to work in school computer labs, and the same percentage reported they prefer to work in public libraries.

But teachers’ use of technology isn’t limited to professional pursuits alone. Much like the nation’s students, those teachers surveyed said technology plays an integral role in their personal lives as well.

Ninety-three percent of respondents access the internet from their homes, the survey said. Many reported they still are using only dial-up connections, but smaller groups said they have graduated to high-speed cable (24 percent) and DSL (20 percent) hook-ups.

Nearly all of the educators (93 percent) said they use technology at home for personal use, but only 50 percent reported spending between one and five hours a week on school-related activities.

Contrary to popular opinion, younger educators aren’t the only ones embracing the use of technology. According to the survey, older teachers are just as enthusiastic as their younger counterparts.

Given that 55 percent of respondents to the online survey were 40 or older, and more than a third had at least 16 years of classroom experience, the survey would seem to indicate that veteran educators feel strongly about the use of technology in schools, Evans said. Having already found a comfort zone in their classrooms and with their students, she added, some veteran educators probably would be more inclined to test out new solutions than their younger colleagues, who might still be learning the ropes.

Considering the way the survey was administered, it’s fair to ask whether the results are representative of all teachers. Evans concedes the findings probably lean in favor of ed-tech proponents, but a number of school districts required all teachers to participate, regardless of their orientation to technology–thus ensuring at least a somewhat representative sample.

Where teachers reported receiving their technology training also was revealing. According to the survey, 37 percent of educators contend that preservice training did nothing at all to prepare them to use technology effectively in the classroom. Forty-four percent said they were “somewhat prepared,” but only 18 percent said the training they received in college left them “fully prepared” to use technology in their lessons.

Professional development provided by the school district was somewhat more effective, respondents reported. Thirty-five percent said the training they’ve received since becoming a teacher has them “fully prepared” to use technology. Fifty-six percent classified themselves as “somewhat prepared,” and just 7 percent said in-service training has been no help at all.

NetDay plans to break the survey responses out anonymously by school system, so administrators can use the results to help them achieve district goals, Evans said. District technology leaders hope the findings will provide a clearer picture of educators’ needs, she said, so administrators can plan for the coming school year.

“I am really trying to get an idea of the sense teachers have for what is useful to them in the classroom,” said Thomas Nemmer, director of technology for the Hamburg Central School District in New York. “Like many other school districts, we have a base of technology in place that is aging, and we are struggling to find the dollars to replace the old while we anticipate the new. I will try to use this feedback with my board of education to make a case for technology as an appropriate tool in this new world of No Child Left Behind.”

Jim Hirsch, associate superintendent for technology at the Plano Independent School District in Texas, said his district “needed good information on how teachers are using technology resources at work and at home, so we can provide even better support for their use.”

Added Hirsch: “I plan to provide an overview of the results to our school board and cabinet and use the information to inform our district technology steering committee as it begins the process of planning and budgeting for professional development and other technology initiatives.”

Speak Up Day for Teachers is supported through a grant and in-kind support from BellSouth Corp. and through the outreach support of Apple Computer Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc., and Google Inc.

Links:

NetDay