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O.T.A. Decries Lack of Focus On Teachers

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The billions of dollars schools spend each year on computers, software, and other technologies have brought few benefits to classroom instruction because little effort has been made to help teachers use such tools effectively, according to a federal report released last week.

"In the process of acquiring hardware and software for student use, teachers--perhaps the most valuable part of the education equation--often have been overlooked," the report says.

The U.S. Office of Technology Assessment, a bipartisan research agency of Congress, prepared the report, "Teachers and Technology: Making the Connection." It was released at a budget hearing on Capitol Hill.

While many of the agency's findings are well known to advocates of education technology, the report provides evidence of just how little the information revolution has affected the nation's teaching profession.

"What we're saying is not surprising for people who know teachers and schools and how they work," said Kathleen Fulton, who directed the study.

"But for the general public," she said, "it should be surprising."

"I think people assume that teachers are given the technical support that we give to other professionals," Ms. Fulton added. "And because of that, they wonder why teachers don't make better use of technology."

The findings also call into question the feasibility--and even the desirability--of achieving the Clinton Administration's goal of connecting every classroom to the "information highway" by the turn of the century. (See Education Week, 1/11/95.)

The report notes, for example, that only one in eight teachers nationwide has a telephone in the classroom that can be used for outside calls.

That severely limits the use of telecommunications, and it puts voice mail, a common technology that parents could use to leave messages with teachers, off limits to most of the nation's educators.

Not Ready for the 'Highway'

"Telecommunications is the area that offers the most potential to allow teachers to break the isolation of the classroom and share ideas, techniques, and to learn from colleagues collaboratively," Ms. Fulton said.

"That's a whole different model from what we've done in the past," she added.

The O.T.A. found that although public schools spent more than $2.13 billion on computers, videocassette recorders, and other hardware and software in 1993, less than 15 percent of that money was used to provide training or technical support for teachers.

A result of those spending priorities, the agency argues, is that the nation's schools have made very little headway in incorporating technology into the curriculum--a recommendation common, for example, to national standards for science and mathematics teaching.

And despite efforts to help teachers become more familiar with such technological tools as word processing and database manipulation, the report says, most educators continue to feel inadequately trained to use computers.

"Although many teachers see the value of students learning about computers and other technologies, some are not aware of the resources technology can offer them as professionals," it notes.

Broad Base, Little Training

Unlike some other reports on technology use in schools, the O.T.A. study says there is a relatively broad base of equipment, from vcr's to calculators, available for student use in the nation's schools.

But, the study says, those tools essentially are useless if teachers are unprepared or unwilling to use them.

It notes, for example, that while there are now roughly 5.8 million computers in use in classrooms across the nation--an average of one for every nine students--a substantial number of teachers still report little or no use of computers in instruction.

"Given the nation's interest in improving education for students, the lack of attention to teachers and technologies is ironic," the report says. "For at the center of effective use of instructional technologies by students are those who oversee the daily activities of the classrooms--the teachers."

And although the report argues that schools spend too little on helping teachers use technology effectively, it also notes that there are almost no teacher education programs that demonstrate the effective use of technology.

Technology "is not central to the teacher-preparation experience in most U.S. colleges of education," the report says.

As a result, "most new teachers graduate...with little knowledge of the ways technology can be used in their professional practice," it says.

The University of North Carolina system recently decided to require all teacher education faculty members to use computers in instruction.

Observers say the university's plan is one of the most wide-reaching efforts in the nation to train teachers in computer use. (See Education Week, 4/5/95.)

The Federal Role

The O.T.A., which is chartered to study a range of technological issues, earlier produced benchmark studies on effective technology in education and the use of distance learning to help achieve educational equity.

Linda G. Roberts, who headed those studies at the O.T.A., is now the technology adviser to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley.

The latest report, released at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., discusses what federal policies could best foster more use of technology.

The report argues, for example, that in addition to providing federal money for technology programs, the Administration and Congress should provide "leadership, a commitment to research, development, and dissemination, and attention focused on issues of school access to...telecommunications."

The study recommends that Congress continue to support the Education Department's office of educational technology, for example, as well as the technology provisions in the Administration's education-reform program, both of which have been targeted for deep cuts by the Republican majority in Congress. (See related story .)

But the report also suggests that "the executive branch has the opportunity to provide the much-needed spotlight on technology, to coordinate programs, and to take the lead in disseminating research results."

Ms. Fulton also suggested that federal grant programs that support teacher training should include requirements to use appropriate technology.

To encourage greater support for technology programs, the report says, Congress could direct the(See ducation Department to investigate whether using technology actually changes teaching, and if so, under what conditions.

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