Report: Teachers Better at Using Tech than Digital Native Students

It's time to give up the notion that "digital natives" are more tech savvy than their teachers. According to a recent study of middle school science students and teachers, the teachers tended to have greater technology use.

According to lead investigator Shiang-Kwei Wang, an associate professor in instructional technology at the New York Institute of Technology, the purpose of the study was simply to investigate technology experiences inside and outside of school for both groups and to uncover barriers preventing them from using technology in school. The primary questions were threefold: Do school-age students fit the digital native profile? Do school-age students surpass their teachers in terms of technology use? What roles do teachers play in shaping students' technology experiences inside the classroom?

The research involved surveying 24 middle-school teachers from New York and Utah aged 23 to 56. Student participation came from 774 eighth graders in Utah and 305 students in grades 6-8 in New York. The surveys were followed by classroom observations and teacher focus group interviews.

Science teachers specifically were chosen for their overall pioneering spirits. "They are usually the early adopters to integrate technology in labs and physical experiments, hands-on activities, field trips and data collection," the report stated. "Compared with other subject area teachers, they are more likely to engage in technology-integrated practices."

The report's conclusion: "Today's school-age learners are no more technology savvy than their teachers. The previous assumption used to profile students as digital natives did not apply to the students in this study. In fact, teachers' technology use experiences surpassed students whether it [was] inside or outside of school."

The researchers found that "students used technology outside of school for working on school projects, maintaining social networks and entertainment" — but mostly for playing games and listening to music. Teachers showed similar patterns of usage but with greater frequency. Teachers also tended to depend "much more on using technology to solve daily problems, to improve productivity, and as learning aids."

Wang noted that teacher age had no impact on the kinds of technology skills they have. The gap between them and their students lies with how little opportunity students get to practice technology beyond pursuing their personal interests.

"In many ways," the researchers wrote, "it is determined by the requirements teachers place on their students to make use of new technologies and the ways teachers integrate new technologies in their teaching."

The report recommends that "high-quality training" be provided to teachers to help them learn how to integrate content-specific technology into their lessons and how to teach their students how to use technology more effectively.

"School-age students may be fluent in using entertainment or communication technologies, but they need guidance to learn how to use these technologies to solve sophisticated thinking problems," Wang noted. "The school setting is the only institution that might create the needs to shape and facilitate students' technology experience. Once teachers introduce students to a new technology to support learning, they quickly learn how to use it."

The findings appeared in the journal Educational Technology Research & Development.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.