Oct 31 2006

Teachers Agree Technology Can Have A Greater Effect In The Classroom

Teachers across the country believe technology plays a valuable role in education. However, they feel its potential has yet to be fully tapped.

We've all heard the horror stories on the news, during political debates or at social gatherings: The teacher who refuses to learn how to turn on a computer. The city that votes to build a new sports stadium while a whole classroom huddles around a single 10-year-old desktop PC. The elementary school with a closet full of broken computers that no one has the time or resources to fix.

But whenever I open Ed Tech, I’m always heartened to read about teachers all around the country who’ve brought the power of technology into their classrooms to enhance student learning.

There are the sixth-graders in Grand Rapids, Mich., who study the Civil War by creating and manipulating spreadsheets of the battles between the North and South. Or the fourth- and fifth-graders in Chicago who learn the laws of gravity by recording various-sized balls being dropped from the school roof, then playing it back on the computer in slow motion so they can study acceleration patterns.

Forget about the horror stories. If you talk to teachers, you’ll get the real truth, which, like life itself, doesn’t fit neatly into a 10-second sound bite. For Ed Tech’s third annual Teachers Talk Tech survey, we had research firm Quality Education Data call 1,000 K-12 teachers around the country in February and March to find out what they think about technology’s role in education. We learned that technology is becoming an increasingly valuable tool for teachers, but that they’re still not getting the resources or support they need to truly integrate it into their classrooms.

Good News—Bad News Scenario

The good news is that three-quarters of the teachers surveyed cite computers as effective teaching tools and say they engage students in the learning process, and 68 percent believe they actually improve academic performance. More than half (56 percent) say that technology has changed how they teach “a great deal”—up from 40 percent last year. Another 30 percent say technology has had some impact on their teaching.

That’s not just among the young tech-savvy teachers. Those with 10-plus years teaching experience were much more likely to state that technology has had an impact on the way they teach.

But there’s also some bad news. While a large majority of teachers see the value of technology in schools, only 54 percent say they integrate computers into their daily curriculum. That void is likely due to the fact that many teachers aren’t given adequate equipment or training and curriculum guides that utilize technology tools.

Nearly two-thirds of the respondents think there aren’t enough computers in their classrooms. Almost one-third of teachers say they didn’t receive any technology training from their schools during the year, and 42 percent say they received eight hours or less of training.

Teachers say what little training they do receive focuses heavily on e-mail, word processing and Internet search engines, but nearly 34 percent say they don’t get enough training in using assessment software or student information systems. More than 27 percent say they get little to no training in integrating computers into lessons.

Three-quarters of teachers—almost the same as last year—say their schools have just a few computers that all students share, and 61 percent think there aren’t enough computers available. More than half feel that the ideal ratio of students to computers is one to one, while 33 percent say one computer for every five students is ideal.

Teaching Themselves

That said, teachers are doing what they do best; they’re teaching—themselves. Despite the scarcity of training in schools, 44 percent of teachers consider themselves to have somewhat advanced computer skills sets, compared with 47 percent last year, and another 17 percent of this year’s respondents label themselves as advanced/experts, up from 6 percent last year. Thirty-five percent say they have intermediate computer skills.

As teachers continue to improve their computer skills, technology is playing an increasingly ubiquitous role in schools. In addition to using computers to teach classes and take grades and attendance, teachers say they use technology to send e-mails to parents and students and post information about classes, grades and assignments.

Virtually all teachers have access to the Internet or an intranet for students in their classrooms (less than 7 percent don’t), and 40 percent say their classrooms are connected to a wireless network. Half of respondents rank their schools’ Internet/intranet as somewhat or very effective at communicating with parents, and 38 percent say the same about communicating with students.

More than one-fifth of respondents say they use students as IT technicians in the classroom. Of those who do, 68 percent say student technology volunteers are part of a formal program.

Looking at the findings, it’s clear that the true power of technology in the classroom has yet to be fully tapped, but there’s a lot of hope for the future. Three-quarters of teachers say there is state-level support for IT in schools, and 93 percent say their school administration supports technology.

It’s time for society to listen to more than just the horror stories on the news. Today’s teachers know what’s going on and what tools they need to do their jobs. They’re the ones we should turn to for insights.

Taking Care of Business

Teachers are increasingly using technology for administrative functions, and 86 percent of respondents say computers play an important role in tasks such as attendance and grading, up from 76 percent last year.

Overall, teachers rate taking attendance, posting grades online and sending e-mails to parents as the most effective ways to improve communications with students and/or parents. Teachers say they use technology in the following ways:

Administrative functions

2004 — 76%

2005 — 86%

Communicating with other teachers, administrators, parents and students

2004 — 71%

2005 — 83%

Researching information for lesson plans

2004 — 73%

2005 — 79%

As a teaching tool for students

2004 — 65%

2005 — 77%

One-to-One Ratio

Across the country, 10 percent of respondents say their schools have a one-to-one student-to-computer ratio. In the Northeast, that figure climbs to 15 percent, but drops to 8 percent in the Midwest.

Chris Rother is vice president of education sales for Vernon Hills, Ill.-based CDWG, a leading technology provider to government and education. She is a passionate advocate for enhancing the educational experience with technology.