Investments in education technology will fail to provide a return if schools lack the capacity to use it well.
That capacity must be built into all levels of the education system. States and districts must take aggressive steps to plan for technology and evaluate its use. For their part, schools should have the technical support to make sure the technology functions as intended. And teachers must be given sufficient and rich opportunities to learn to use it in productive ways.
New research confirms the positive link between teacher training and the use of technology. In a study for Education Week, Harold Wenglinsky of the Educational Testing Service found that training in technology is linked to more effective uses of computers in 4th and 8th grade math classes. (See story, Page 10.)
Nationwide, the vast majority of teachers have had some training in education technology.
In 1996,81 percent of 4th graders had teachers who had participated in technology training during the previous five years, according to data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Nearly 90 percent of teachers who had access to instructional computers in 1997 reported having had training in using computers for instruction at some time in their careers, a survey by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting found.
But fewer teachers feel prepared to “teach computers,” even in math and science courses, according to the 1996 NAEP survey. While 76 percent of 8th graders had math teachers who reported participating in some technology training during the previous five years, only 54 percent of 8th graders had math teachers who felt “moderately well prepared” or “very well prepared” to teach computers in their classes.
When it comes to perceptions about whether teachers are prepared to use the Internet, strong differences of opinion surface.
A 1997 survey by Cable in the Classroom revealed that teachers are four times as likely as principals and district administrators to believe teachers are “well prepared” to use the Internet for instruction.
Several studies show that fewer teachers have had training in more sophisticated uses of technology.
According to NAEP data, while 79 percent of 8th graders in 1996 had science teachers who received training in using “technology such as computers” over the previous five years, only 53 percent had teachers with multimedia training. And CPB data show that teachers are only half as likely to report having had training in on-line activities as to report having had training in instructional uses of computers in general.
A district-level survey conducted this year by the Milken Exchange on Education Technology suggests that teacher training in technology has become a priority_ In about half the 21 states for which data were reported, the majority of districts reported offering incentives for teachers to become fluent in technology and to use it in their teaching.
According to research conducted by Market Data Retrieval, a private company based in Shelton, Conn., schools reported an average of 21 hours of technology training offered to teachers by schools and other sources in the 1997-98 school year.
Not surprisingly, schools with more technology report more training available to teachers, according to the MDR survey.
When it comes to planning and evaluation, data from the pilot survey conducted by the Milken Exchange suggest that many districts are beginning to monitor some aspects of technology in their schools.
However, in most of the 21 states from the survey, districts were more likely to report keeping track of the presence and location of technology than to report monitoring how teachers and students use it.
And when it comes to supporting the use of technology, fewer than three in 10 schools reported having a full-time technology coordinator in 1996. Schools with the fewest poor students were 50 percent more likely than those with the highest percentages of poor students to have a full-time coordinator, data tabulated by the National Center for Education Statistics for Technology Counts ’98 show.
Doug Levin, a senior analyst with the American Institutes for Research, a private research firm based in Washington, believes that funding for technical support is often overlooked. “We’re talking about a new era of schooling,” Levin says, “where it will be an ongoing and a new expense to keep machines maintained and updated, purchase new software, and provide technical support for the users.”