Survey reveals educators’ must-have technologies

Laptops remain the most valuable mobile technology, according to teachers.

Interactive whiteboards are the classroom technology that teachers say they most value, and though tablet-style eReader devices such as Apple’s iPad haven’t been around for long, they’re already considered the second most useful mobile classroom technology behind laptops, according to a national survey of teachers’ digital media use.

Educators are incorporating more internet-dependent technologies into their instruction, the survey also reveals—but shrinking school budgets are prompting many educators to look for free resources.

Deepening Commitment: Teachers Increasingly Rely on Media and Technology,”  a national research report on teacher’s media usage from PBS and Grunwald Associates LLC, found that more than half of K-12 teachers surveyed reported continued cuts to school media budgets, which has led to increased reliance on free instructional content.

Teachers also reported spending 60 percent of their time using educational resources in the classroom that are either free or paid for by the teachers themselves. More than half of K-12 teachers (62 percent) say they frequently use digital media in classroom instruction. Forty-six percent of teachers cited cost as the main barrier to using fee-based digital resources, and 33 percent cited time constraints.

Declining school budgets have contributed to the number of teachers who either find free resources (35 percent) or purchase resources with their own money (25 percent). More than half of teachers (54 percent) said their school budgets have decreased over the past year.

“In many ways, nothing was completely shocking–it’s an ongoing progression,” said Rob Lippincott, senior vice president for PBS Education. “Digital media is a core learning support; it’s a core part of a teacher’s job.”

Teachers are using digital tools more than ever, but “they’re under the constraint of fewer resources and support from districts,” he added, noting one interesting finding indicating that teachers are using more of their own money and time to find effective digital resources.

Mobile technology

When asked to rank mobile technologies with the greatest educational potential, teachers rated different technologies on a 10-point scale. Eighty-one percent of teachers rated laptops as an 8 or above, followed by 53 percent who gave tablets or electronic readers a score of 8, 9, or 10. Cell phones appeared at the bottom of the list, at 11 percent.

“As much as teachers perceive the educational value of digital resources and recognize some potential in smart, mobile devices, students’ ability to use these devices at school is severely limited,” the report notes. Most personal mobile technology is off-limits and must be turned off during school.

“Simply put, when teachers are asked about cell phones, right now there’s a bit of a mixed reaction, at least in the U.S., because cell phones are seen by some as a potential cause of disruption as much as a tool for instruction,” said Peter Grunwald, founder and president of Grunwald Associates, a market research and consulting firm. “We think that’s going to change, and probably fairly quickly.”

Grunwald likened the hesitation to the early years of the internet’s first forays into classrooms, when it was initially met with concerns about student safety. While some of those concerns remain, it is on a smaller scale, and most educators recognize that the internet has “striking educational potential,” he said.

Interactive whiteboards

Teachers reported that interactive whiteboards are the most valuable digital resource in the classroom.

Sixty-eight percent of K-12 teachers said they value interactive whiteboards, 67 percent said they value online images, 63 percent value online video content, and 62 percent said they value web-based interactive games or activities.

“Not surprisingly, use of interactive whiteboards seems to be tied to classroom availability,” the report notes. Forty percent of K-12 teachers reported using interactive whiteboards to supplement or support teaching, with 59 percent saying the technology is available in their school and 36 percent saying it is available in their classroom.

The technology also appears at the top of teachers’ “must-have” list—17 percent of all teachers report that interactive whiteboards are a resource they do not have but want.

“In some ways, part of the appeal of whiteboards is that teachers can understand pretty quickly the potential value there,” Grunwald said. “[The devices] can help do some of the same things they’re already doing, but also at the same time, with the right kind of training, allow them to do some things they aren’t doing.”

Educators are probably more comfortable using interactive whiteboard technology, and the technology offers “a way to keep a pretty strong hand on the flow of activity in the classroom,” he added.

Ninety-three percent of teachers who use interactive whiteboards say the technology helps them be more effective, 83 percent say it increases student motivation, 78 percent say it stimulates student discussions, 75 percent says it stimulates student creativity, and 70 percent say it is directly related to student achievement.

“The popularity of interactive whiteboards could be another indication of the internet’s importance as a platform for technology-based instruction, since whiteboards can be a vehicle to access online instructional and professional development resources,” the report says.

Video in classrooms

Seventy-six percent of responding teachers said they stream or download TV and video content, up from 55 percent in 2007’s survey. Teacher access to video content is changing, and 24 percent of teachers access content stored on a local server, while only 11 percent reported doing so in 2007. Twenty-nine percent said they use short video segments (three to five minutes in length) during class time.

Eighty-two percent of teachers said video is more effective in the classroom when integrated with other instructional resources or content. Two-thirds of teachers (67 percent) believe digital resources help them differentiate learning for individual students, and 68 percent believe TV and video content stimulates classroom discussion.

Three in four teachers (76 percent) stream or download TV and video content, up from 55 percent in 2007. These teachers are also accessing video content in completely new ways, with 24 percent reporting that they access content stored on a local server, up from 11 percent in 2007. Their use of short video segments of three to five minutes in length increased this year, with 29 percent reporting this is the average length of video segments used.

Pre-K technology use

Pre-kindergarten teachers use and value digital media as well, but to a lesser extent and less frequently than K-12 teachers. Half of responding pre-K teachers said fee-based content is not age-appropriate for their students.

Grunwald said this is likely owing to pre-K students’ age and the need for more personalized interaction among a young group of students, along with younger students’ skill levels.

Eighty-two percent of pre-K teachers surveyed use digital content, compared to 97 percent of K-12 teachers, and 28 percent of pre-K teachers are “frequent users” of digital content, compared to 62 percent of K-12 teachers.

The majority of pre-K teachers (54 percent) rate digital resources as highly valuable for information for professional development, and 50 percent said image collections are highly valuable.

Conducted in August 2010, the “Deepening Commitment: Teachers Increasingly Rely on Media and Technology” survey reflects the views of a representative sample of 1,401 full-time classroom teachers (1,204 K-12 public school teachers and 197 pre-K teachers in public and private schools).

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Laura Ascione
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