Technology in the Classroom: A Local Survey in New York

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This paper explores a localsurvey of "technology in the classroom" that was completed byadministrators representing seven school districts in Nassau County,New York. I became interested in technology in the local schooldistrict when I volunteered to serve on its technology committee. Iam a parent of two school-aged children and have earned anundergraduate minor degree in information science. The Parent TeacherAssociation (PTA) asked me to attend the district's technologycommittee meetings, then convey the relevant information back to thePTA.

The technology committee --composed of teachers, librarians, department heads, principals and afew parents -- met once a month and I attended meetings regularly.After attending one meeting, I volunteered to participate on a newsub-committee focusing on the World Wide Web. Approximately 10 to 20people attended each of the committee and sub-committee meetings. Thegoal of the technology committee was to review and discuss thedistrict's plans for technology growth and for surplus equipment. Thesub-committee's goal was to discuss and create the district's Webpage.

As I attended thesemeetings, I began to think that it would be helpful to know whatother school districts were doing in the area of technology.Specifically, I wanted to learn how we compared to neighboringdistricts in the use and integration of technology in K-6 classrooms.I decided independently that I would prepare a list of questions inthe form of an open-ended survey and send it with a cover letter to anumber of school districts. I sent the survey (see Figure One) andinformed the recipients that they would receive a call to set up anappointment for an interview based on their responses. To encourageparticipation, I noted in the cover letter that the interview wouldtake only 30 minutes of their time. The interviews were conducted inthe educators' offices.

SomeBackground

My interest in the uses oftechnology led me to explore multiple sources. One source was theNassau County Technology Survey Exploratory Data Analysis, preparedby BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services).[1] TheNassau BOCES Department of Planning, Research and Quality Assurancewas asked by the Nassau County Superintendents' Technology Committeeto develop and conduct a survey regarding technology employed in 56public school districts across the county. The committee receivedresponses from 37 school districts, 136 elementary buildings, and 73middle school and high school buildings. The survey was extremelylengthy and detailed. Some of the responses were not completed withthe level of detail requested. The following are some of the majorfindings:

  • Total budget expenditure (hardware, software, technology staff development and other technology) on average for the 37 districts reporting was $250,000 annually. The size of the district correlated with its per pupil technology spending.
  • More than half of the reporting districts stated that the source of technology spending came from the general budget.
  • In-house district personnel and outside providers, including BOCES, were evenly split as the suppliers of support for administrative networks.
  • Membership in district technology committees ranged from three to 91, with an average membership of 18 persons.
  • Higher grade levels used computers slightly more than the lower grades. Students in elementary schools used computers primarily for reading and writing.
  • Apple and Macintosh computers outnumbered IBM-compatibles in elementary computer labs by a margin of almost two to one. However, recent BOCES installations in elementary classrooms have been mostly on the Windows platform.
  • Twenty-eight percent of elementary libraries were networked, while networks existed in 25 percent of primary classrooms and 33 percent of intermediate classrooms.

Designingthe Survey

My next step was to createthe survey. Our district's computer coordinator assisted me indeveloping questions such that the answers would most benefit thevarious school districts. I then finalized the survey and coverletter. I prepared another survey with the same questions but withmore details to guide me through the interviews. I randomly chose 14local school districts in Nassau County and addressed the letters totheir superintendents.

The response was excellent.Even though the letter stated that I would call them, seven of the 14school districts actually contacted me. I followed up with alldistricts that did not respond. The cover letter stated that if theyagreed to participate in the survey, I would share the results withthem. It seemed quite apparent that they were interested and anxiousto participate. After the interviews, I sent each respondent athank-you letter. I anticipated that there were many benefits toproceeding with this survey. The results, once disseminated to theschool districts, would provide them with much needed information onthe use of technology in their neighbors' school districts. Theresults could assist the various communities in appealing totaxpayers for bond issues for technology funds.

InterviewResponses

The interviews took placeduring April and May 1997. Therefore, it should be noted that changesin technology within the school districts made subsequent to thisperiod are not included in this survey.

Each district had at leastone computer per classroom. The following chart highlights the numberof computers in each classroom in each of the surveyeddistricts.

Most of the computers wereolder models, such as Apple 2e's, GS's, LC II's and LC III's. Some ofthese computers were up to ten years old. The following tablehighlights the number of newer computers (3 years old or less) usedin the schools.

Four districts had schoolswith a disproportionately higher number of computers in the uppergrade classrooms compared to the lower grade classrooms. Theremaining three districts distributed computers equally in all gradelevels. Five of the seven schools had separate computerlabs.

When asked about thesoftware used, one school district noted that students usedproductivity tools such as word processing, drawing and spreadsheetapplications only. Six districts were consistent in their use ofinteractive software that supports the curriculum. Interactivesignified that the teacher interacted with the students on thecomputer, who in turn interacted with the software. These sixdistricts also employed software for word processing, database andreference purposes.

Five of the seven districtswere opposed to computer-assisted instruction. Computer-assistedinstruction connotes the students learning from the computer withoutthe teacher's involvement. One district used "playing stations,"portable computers that can be taken home with students.

Regarding hardware/softwarepurchases, four districts relied on the bid process and New YorkState contract. Two districts were obligated under contract topurchase from Educational Technology Associates (ETA). One districtwas looking into using a sole-source provider -- a company thatprovides everything to the district, from sales to installation andmaintenance.

Both computer coordinatorsand outside consultants were used by all districts for training. Mostcomputer coordinators are teachers who have technology training. Inaddition, most districts were beginning to go in the direction ofusing full-time computer coordinators. Training schedules varied fromdistrict to district; many schools did not have a formal trainingschedule.

Four of the districts heldweekly or semiweekly classes in the lab where keyboarding and othersoftware applications were taught. Three of the districts did nothave separate computer classes; they only used the computers in theclassroom to be infused with the curriculum. All seven districts werein complete agreement that technology should enhance teaching andlearning, and that it should be integrated with the curriculum in aseamless fashion.

InternetAccess and Future Plans

Five districts had at leasta single computer with Internet access in each of their schools'libraries. Overall, Internet use was limited. All districts surveyedused the Internet for both education links and curriculum aids. Thatis, the students used the Internet as part of their curriculum andthe teachers used it to assist them in their planning.

Six districts had e-mailaccess. One district planned to have e-mail access soon. Only onedistrict had a Web page at the time. The others planned to have Webpages in the near future. In the district with a dedicated Web page,the page was maintained by the superintendent and his secretary. Thatdistrict reported that it did not change its Web pageoften.

All seven districts hadformal technology expansion plans, with many components already inprogress. Most plans called for major transitions in technology. Allspoke of purchasing newer computers to replace the older ones andincreasing the number of computers in each classroom. All districtshad plans to network as soon as possible and some had started wiring.At least five schools were financing their expansion through bondissues.

I was pleased to discoverthat every district surveyed had tremendous technological expansionanticipated. I found it interesting that one particular school, in aneffort to level the playing field, provided children who lacked thecomputers at home with playing stations and educational software.Technology was not viewed as a threat or nuisance but instead as atool that would allow educators and students alike to availthemselves of a rich source of knowledge.

As can be seen in thisstudy, there are a myriad of variables, both tangible and intangible,impacting the development of technology in schools. As educators wemust constantly assess what we need, for whom we needit, when we need it and why we need it if we are tobring meaningful integration of technology into the curriculum. If weproceed haphazardly in our plans we will achieve the physicalaccumulation of hardware and software without the warranted benefits.Constant assessment and intelligent analysis of what works and whatd'es not, based on criteria set up by the schools, are essential inmaximizing the benefits of technology in the classroom.

 

Rachelle Wolosoff is agraduate student in elementary education at Hofstra University inHempstead, N.Y. E-mail: Shell4444@aol.com

References:
1. Preston, Brian (1997), Nassau County Technology Survey ExploratoryData Analysis, Nassau County, NY: Department of Research, Planningand Quality Assurance.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.

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