Classroom Technology 'Woefully Inadequate,' Study Finds

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Educators are, in large part, bullish on the role technology can play in improving student outcomes. But too large a percentage of them aren't receiving adequate training in the areas that matter most: instructional software, technology integration, learning outcomes management, and designing individual lesson plans. This according to a study released last week by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which also described access to classroom technology as "woefully inadequate" in most schools.

The study, Access, Adequacy, and Equity in Education Technology (PDF), surveyed 1,934 public school educators, 90.4 percent of whom were classroom teachers, with the remaining 9.6 percent identifying themselves as instructional assistants. (The margin of error on results was ±3 percent.) What it found was that a large portion of them--in fact, a near-unanimous majority--believed that technology was valuable in education. Some stats:

  • 95 percent said that technology improved student learning, when used properly;
  • 88.9 percent said technology is "essential to teaching and learning"; and
  • 89.1 percent said that technology helped their students enjoy learning more.

Note the qualifier "when used properly," above. Despite teachers' enthusiasm for technology, they reported some significant hindrances to the fulfillment of technology's promise, notably in the areas of training and access.

 

Nearly half (49 percent) said the number of computers in their classrooms was inadequate, although they reported that their schools' computer labs were well stocked. Almost 18 percent said their labs housed more than 50 computers. Only 14.7 percent reported their labs as having 15 or fewer computers. In terms of computers in the classroom, the majority (54.7 percent) said there were zero to two classroom computers for students to use. Only 9.2 percent reported there were 10 or more available for students. (About 72 percent of participants had classroom sizes of 16 or more students, most--50.5 percent--reporting 21 to 30 students.)

"Despite the progress schools have made in bringing computers and the Internet to students and staff," researchers reported, "these groups need still greater access if technology is to become a reliable tool for teaching and learning. The findings from the present study and other recent studies show that technology is woefully inadequate in most classrooms."

Significant numbers of educators reported inadequate resources in the area of education technology support, including inadequate professional development/training and IT support (i.e., keeping computers in working condition, troubleshooting technical problems, etc.).

Interesting--and somewhat troubling--is that a large minority of educators (34.8 percent on the whole) reported that teachers and affiliated staff were not involved in decisions about software purchases. Coupled with the fact that significant percentages of teachers reported inadequate training and support, this begs a fundamental question that the survey did not address: If in many cases no input is being sought from the professionals who interact with students every day, what are the bases for software purchasing decisions in the nation's schools? Are these decisions being made in the IT vacuum and then left to teachers to sort out for themselves?

This was less of an issue in rural schools, where 70.3 percent of teachers reported being involved in software decision making. But in urban districts, 40.9 percent reported being uninvolved. Teachers in urban districts were also the least likely to have reported receiving adequate training in five out of seven technology categories, ranging from using instructional software and designing individual lessons to using administrative software.

For the most part, educators did report that they'd received "adequate" training in the technologies they use for teaching and other aspects of their work. Again, however, a large minority said they did not have at least adequate training in using technology equipment (31.7 percent reporting inadequate training), using administrative software (also 31.7 percent), using instructional software (38.7 percent), using technology to evaluate student progress (42.4 percent), integrating technology into instruction (44.3 percent), and using technology to design individualized lesson plans (54.4 percent). The category of using the Internet for research was the only area in the study in which dissatisfaction dipped below 30 percent, with 71.1 percent of respondents saying they were happy with their training, rating it as "adequate" or "more than adequate."

 

Satisfaction with the type of support provided by technology personnel was considerably higher, although the percentage of dissatisfied teachers was still significant. Almost 33 percent rated support for troubleshooting problems as less than adequate; 29.3 percent rated assistance with computer setup and use as less than adequate; and 26.6 percent rated the working condition of their computers as less than adequate.

So what to do about the situation?

NEA/AFT researchers made a number of recommendations for rectifying some of the problems. These include:

  • Increasing access to technology in the classroom, including the additional of portable and wireless technologies that are not bound to a school's wired infrastructure and not restricted solely to school use;
  • Increasing access to planning software for teachers;
  • Involving more teachers in software purchase decisions;
  • Involving teacher unions to support technology initiatives through the active pursuit of more funding, lobbying legislatures, and helping to develop technology plans; and
  • Improving professional development/technology training for teachers, particularly in the area of instructional software, and tying in technology training to licensure.

"Schools should capitalize on the enthusiasm that educators and students show toward using technology, particularly in urban and rural/small town schools, by seeking more ways to use technology for the greatest gain in student achievement," the report said. "State and district leaders should encourage schools to use technology in more creative ways by permitting more flexibility in instruction and by providing incentives that support technology-enriched programs. More ways should be found to motivate the most experienced educators to use technology through better training and more curriculum-related opportunities."

The complete NEA/AFT report, including methodology, demographics, discussions, and additional data broken down by geography and grade level, can be downloaded in PDF form here.

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About the author: David Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's online education technology publications, including THE Journal and Campus Technology. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com.

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

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