Academic Trends | Research

73% of AP, NWP Teachers Say Their Students Use Mobile Phones for Learning

New research released today by the Pew Internet Project found that technology has made significant inroads among Advanced Placement and National Writing Project teachers. But it also revealed significant disparities in technology access between upper and lower income schools.

Mobile devices have been accepted overwhelmingly by Advanced Placement teachers and teachers who participate in the National Writing Project. Nearly three-quarters of those teachers surveyed reported that cell phones are in use in assignments in class and outside of class, and almost half reported their students are using tablets and e-readers in and out of class as well, according to a new report issued by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, in cooperation with the National Writing Project and the College Board.

Ahead of the Tech Curve
The report, "How Teachers Are Using Technology at Home and in Their Classrooms," polled 2,462 middle school and high school teachers in the United States, including 1,750 high school AP teachers and 712 teachers from the National writing project. It found that these teachers tend to be more tech-proficient than the average American adult and tend to integrate technology into their classrooms. However, the research also revealed disparities between older and younger teachers and between teachers who work in schools situated in more or less affluent communities.

"As a group, these teachers are well ahead of other adults in their tech use, and they feel they are working hard to bring these tools into their classrooms in creative and valuable ways," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project, in a statement released to coincide with the report. "Teachers are trying to capitalize on the fact that their students are immersed in these technologies and are comfortable using them. Yet they feel structural barriers make it more difficult for teachers in low income areas to be part of this trend, and all teachers worry about a widening gap between wealthy and poor schools and districts."

According to the report, a full 73 percent of AP and NWP teachers surveyed said their students use mobile phones inside and outside the classroom to complete assignments. Another 45 percent said their students use e-readers in or out of class; and 43 percent said they use tablets in or out of class. Sixty-eight percent said their schools provide formal training for teachers on the use of digital tools, and 62 percent said their schools do a "good job" of supporting them.

On a personal level, 93 percent of these teachers own a laptop, compared with 61 percent of all adults in the United States; 39 percent have tablets, compared with 24 percent of all U.S. adults; 47 percent have e-readers, compared with just 19 percent of the overall adult population; and 58 percent have a smart phone, compared with 45 percent overall.

These teachers are also more active in social networks, with 78 percent using Facebook or LinkedIn (compared with 69 percent of the Internet-using adult population) and 26 percent using Twitter (compared with 16 percent overall).

Other findings included:

  • 80 percent of those surveyed said they use the Internet (and "other digital tools") at least once a week to keep up with developments in their profession;
  • Another 80 percent use it to collect materials for use in lesson plans;
  • 84 percent use it to "find content that will engage their students";
  • 75 percent said the Internet has increased "the range of content and skills about which they must be knowledgeable"; and
  • 41 percent indicated the Internet has had a major impact on their workload.

Digital Divides: Youth and Affluence
Significant disparities arise, however, when the results are broken down by age of the teacher and economic status of the community the school serves.

  • Among those from more affluent communities, 52 percent said their students use mobile phones in class for educational purposes versus 35 percent in the lowest bracket.
  • 56 percent of respondents teaching in more affluent communities said their students use tablets in and out of the classroom for educational purposes versus 37 percent of those in low-income schools.
  • 55 percent of teachers in the affluent category said their students use e-readers versus 41 percent of those in the lower-income category.
  • In terms of school support, 15 percent of teachers in upper-income communities said their schools were behind the curve on technology versus 39 percent in low-income communities.
  • 70 percent of those in affluent communities said their schools do a good job of "providing the resources needed to bring digital tools into the classroom," compared with just 50 percent of teachers in lower-income communities.
  • Finally, 56 teachers in low-income communities cited "lack of access to digital technologies [as] a 'major challenge' to incorporating more digital tools into their teaching," according to Pew.

"Digital technologies have become essential instructional tools for the vast majority of teachers in this study," said Kristen Purcell, associate director for Research at the Pew Internet Project, also in a prepared statement. "Yet, not all teachers feel that they and their students have the access they need to these tools or the resources necessary to use them effectively. Teachers whose students are from the lowest income households feel they are at a disadvantage when it comes to using the Internet and other digital tools such as cell phones, tablet computers and e-readers to enhance the learning process."

But economy was not the only dividing factor among the participants in the study. According to the report, only 44 percent of teachers aged 55 or older indicated they felt "very confident" about their technology skills, compared with 64 percent of those younger than 35. And 59 percent of older teachers said their students were more proficient with technology than they were, compared with 23 percent of younger teachers.

The students of younger teachers are also more likely to be assigned certain types of technology-based assignments. For example, 45 percent of younger teachers have their students participate in online discussions versus 32 percent of older teachers; and 45 percent of younger teachers have their students post in wikis or blogs, compared with 34 percent of older teachers.

The complete 104-page report is available for public viewing. Additional details can be found at

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 .