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Teachers Report Educational Benefits of Frequent Technology Use

Teachers who use technology frequently in their classrooms perceive greater benefits to student learning--particularly learning 21st century skills--than teachers who are less frequent users. That's one of the major findings from a K-12 technology study released Monday by researchers out of the Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership at Minnesota's Walden University.

The report, titled "Educators, Technology and 21st Century Skills: Dispelling Five Myths," was based on a survey of more than 1,000 K-12 educators and school administrators in the United States, specifically 783 teachers and 274 principals or assistant principals. It was designed to gauge the use of technology in the classroom and perceptions of technology in education. Researchers released the report at the ISTE 2010 convention happening this week in Denver.

What it found was a great disparity between teachers in terms of their uses of technology, although, contrary to expectations, the frequency of technology use wasn't predicted by teacher experience. New and experienced teachers were about as likely to be "frequent" users of technology in the classroom as they were to be "moderate," "sporadic," or "infrequent" users.

Use and Perceptions of Technology
About 22 percent of those surveyed were considered frequent users of technology, spending 31 percent or more of class time using technology to support learning. Seventeen percent were defined as moderate users, those who spend 21 percent to 30 percent of class time using technology; 26 percent sporadic users, spending 11 percent to 20 percent of class time using technology; and 34 percent infrequent users, who reported spending 10 percent or less of class time supporting learning with technology.

Secondary teachers tended to be more heavy users than elementary teachers. Teachers of certain subjects were also more frequent users on the whole, especially science and social studies teachers, 33 percent of whom reported being frequent users, and math teachers, 31 percent of whom reported frequent classroom technology use.

Those who reported being frequent users cited distinct benefits to student learning as a result of technology use.

According to the report's authors, "Frequent technology users place considerably more emphasis on developing students' 21st century skills--specifically, skills in accountability, collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, ethics, global awareness, innovation, leadership, problem solving, productivity and self-direction. Frequent users also have more positive perceptions about technology's effects on student learning of these skills--and on student behaviors associated with these skills."

On the whole, teachers and administrators reported benefits of technology use for all types of students, from high achievers to students with behavioral and emotional issues.

Preparation and Support
But teachers also reported unsatisfactory levels of support and preparation for the use of technology in the classroom.

"In reality, teachers who have completed their initial certification or licensure since 2000 do not believe that their pre-service programs taught them how to teach 21st century skills or how to effectively incorporate technology into instruction,..." according to the report.

Of those who completed their initial certification or licensure since 2000, more than half reported that their initial teacher preparation programs failed them in these respects. But of those who completed advanced training and certification since 2000, 60 percent or more thought their advanced programs prepared them for teaching 21st century skills and incorporating technology into instruction.

But there is a disconnect between teachers and administrators in their perceptions of the quality of support for technology in their schools. A massive 92 percent of administrators reported they are "supportive" or "enthusiastically supportive" of new technologies. But only 66 percent of teachers agreed that their administrators support new technology use.

Further, administrators seemed more optimistic about how well new technologies are received by teachers. Sixty-nine percent reported that they believe teachers are supportive or enthusiastically supportive of the use of new technologies, but a smaller majority of teachers themselves--57 percent--reported being so.

The report's authors suggested that the perceived shortcomings in preparation and support are keeping students from receiving some of the benefits of technology-enhanced learning and offered several recommendations for K-12 teachers, administrators, and those who prepare teachers for service.

For teachers, the authors suggested committing themselves to learning technologies and using them in their daily lives; collaborating with peers; communicating with parents; and evaluating continuing education options. For administrators, suggestions included spending more time in classrooms; providing teachers with sustained professional development; and involving parents. The authors also urged post-secondary educators to instruct future teachers in how to integrate technology into the classroom and to collaborate with K-12 schools to assess the impact of technology on education.

"Teachers have a vital role to play at the intersection of technology and 21st century skills," the report said, "modeling their confidence with technology, guiding young minds toward constructive educational purposes, and teaching students the tried and new skills for a competitive world."

Further information about the findings and a downloadable version of the complete report can be found here.

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at .