Oct 29 2014

Study: Middle School Teachers as Savvy as Students with Tech

Teachers need not be afraid of technology endeavors with students: Experience is on their side, according to a new report.

Researchers found that science teachers inside and outside the classroom aren't lagging behind the "digital natives" they teach when it comes to using technology.

The study comes from the work of five researchers, hailing from the New York Institute of Technology, University of Connecticut and Utah State University. The result of their research, posted on the academic research website Springer in October, should bolster the confidence of teachers who feel intimidated about using technology in the classroom.

The team surveyed 1,079 middle school students, 774 from Utah and 305 New York, as well as 24 middle school science teachers from those states, ages 23–56, to discover how they compare in terms of tech experience.

“Our results indicated that 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,” the research team wrote. “In fact, teachers’ technology use experiences surpassed students whether it’s inside or outside of school.”

The report flies in the face of a long-standing belief that so-called digital natives, younger students who have grown up using communication and information technologies, possess a more sophisticated knowledge of them than others do. Teachers, according to the report, are on at least equal footing with these students, in terms of technological know-how, and often they have more experience with the technology. Teachers are often using the same technologies as students outside the classroom — and they use technologies more frequently both inside and outside the classroom, particularly for productivity tools like word processing and presentation. Teachers also more frequently use web search engines both inside and outside of class.

What separated teachers and students in the study was how they interacted with technology and how often. Students regularly play video games, send text messages and use social media. Teachers engage in these activities too, while also using technology to solve daily problems. As a result, teachers tend to have a more complete grasp of technology than their students. However, students can quickly be brought up to speed on how to use new technologies for practical purposes.

"They may use technology more frequently for maintaining social connections or pursuing personal interests ... , but teachers’ age and or outside-school technology experiences were not identified as key factors affecting teachers’ technology integration. ... Therefore, we cannot take for granted that the gap in technology integration will be narrowed simply because more and more digital natives will be joining the teaching profession into the future."

Researchers concluded that the study yielded three major findings. A teacher's age and technology skill were ruled out as a stumbling block for students' use of technology. Teachers generally depend on technology more compared to students, whether inside or outside the school. And there is a problem with students not being given enough opportunities to utilize technology beyond pursuing their personal interests.

Some teachers reported their experiences trying new applications in the classrooms, such as Google Earth or Google Drive. But for the most part, they expressed a view that many students do not know how to use these technologies.

The report identified five key factors that teachers said restrict them from further integrating technology in the classroom and lessons:

  • lack of technology resources
  • lack of time
  • lack of technology integration skills and strategies
  • lack of support and resources of school policy

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