Policy & Research

Closing Digital Divide Requires Focused PD to Support Teachers

Last year Digital Promise kicked off the Dynamic Learning Project, a program to see what impact there would be on closing the "digital divide" by placing technology coaches into 50 high-need schools in 20 districts and five states. Google for Education provided $6.5 million in funding to support the pilot, which placed a full-time instructional technology coach onsite for the year, outfitted with multiple forms of help.

Now the results of that first year are in, and they look "promising," according to Karen Cator, who leads Digital Promise. One signal of success is that 44 of the original 50 schools will be self-funding coaches in year two, which, she noted in an article for Google, "tells us that this program is already making a significant impact."

The idea for the project was that the instructional technology coaches would provide one-on-one support to teachers in four eight-week coaching cycles. Each cycle was dedicated to a specific classroom challenge selected by the individual teachers with the help of the coach. (The most common challenges were student engagement, taken up by 59 percent of teachers, and instructional strategies, picked by 56 percent.) The coaches received mentoring and professional development and participated in workshops. They also joined a professional learning network dedicated to the program.

After a year of working with the coaches, teachers in those schools were using technology "more frequently and in more powerful ways," stated a report on the results of the pilot year. By the end of the year, Digital Promise reported, the majority of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that they were able to use the technology more effectively in activities related to the four Cs — student collaboration (85 percent), creativity (83 percent), critical thinking (82 percent) and communication (77 percent) — as well as student agency (76 percent), and that students were better at selecting the appropriate technology for their activities. Also, 86 percent of teachers who participated in the experiment said their technology use was more frequent during the year than previously, compared to 76 percent of non-participating teachers.

The coaches themselves also felt more confident in their skills and abilities, crediting the on-going mentoring and peer learning they had. The principals too expressed confidence, encouraging them to "model risk-taking, experimentation and continuous learning."

"If there is one takeaway from the pilot year," the report asserted, "it is that district leaders, teachers, principals and coaches believe that instructional technology coaching provides an engaging and impactful [professional development] experience that helps close the digital use divide, and can ultimately increase student achievement."

The report is openly available on the Digital Promise website.

About the Author

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