How technology is used may be the most important question of all, a growing body of research suggests.
In a study commissioned by Education Week, Harold Wenglinsky of the Educational Testing Service found that the way teachers used computers had a larger effect on math score8---either positive or negative-than how often students used computers or whether teachers were trained in using them. (See story, Page 10.)
Nevertheless, information about how teachers and students use technology is rarely collected on a state-by-state basis.
Part of the problem is that surveying teachers scientifically is difficult and expensive. Schools and districts are easier to survey, but they don’t always keep track of how technology is used.
Data reported from 21 states in a survey conducted by the Milken Exchange on Education Technology show that the percentage of districts keeping formal records on how teachers use technology ranged from 21 percent in Maryland to 62 percent in Pennsylvania.
To provide data on the use of technology in schools, we rely heavily on data from the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the only recent state-by-state survey to ask teachers themselves how they use technology in their classrooms.
The data are for math and science only because those subjects were the most recent in which NAEP tests were given.
Nationally, nearly half of 8th graders and threequarters of 4th graders had teachers who used computers to teach math.
Among those students, about one-third of 8th graders had math teachers who used computers primarily for drill-and-practice. Using computers for math/learning games and for simulations and applications followed closely, at 29 percent and 27 percent, respectively. Only 9 percent of 8th graders had math teachers who used computers mainly for demonstrating new topics.
In 4th grade classrooms where teachers used computers in math, students were most likely to have teachers who used computers primarily for math/learning games, at 54 percent, with drill-and-practice coming in a distant second, at 36 percent. Only 8 percent of 4th graders had teachers who used computers mainly for math simulations and applications, and only 2 percent had teachers who used them mainly for demonstrating new topics.
Wenglinsky’s research shows that for 8th graders, higher NAEP scores in math were related to teachers who used computers primarily for simulations and applications; lower scores were related to drill-and-practice. Higher 4th grade scores were related to teachers who used computers primarily for math/learning games.
In science, more than half of the nation’s 8th graders had teachers who used computers in their classes in 1996. Students were most likely to have teachers who used computers for simulations and scientific modeling, with word processing, learning games, and data analysis not far behind.
The following table also includes two columns provided by Market Data Retrieval, a private company in Shelton, Conn., which asked schools for the first time this year to estimate the percentage of teachers who use certain kinds of technology.
Nationally, MDR found that 47 percent of schools report that at least half their teachers use a computer every day for planning or teaching, and 33 percent of schools report that at least half their teachers use the Internet for instructional purposes.
Teachers are much more likely to report using the Internet as a source of information than as a tool for communications, a 1998 MCI poll on the Internet found.
MCI found that nearly 80 percent of teachers say they use the Internet to find information or conduct research, while only 13 percent say they use it to get ideas from other teachers or to send and receive e-mail. Only 4 percent use it to communicate with experts, and only 2 percent to communicate with parents.
Cheryl Lemke, the executive director of the Milken Exchange on Education Technology, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based nonprofit organization that is underwriting Technology Counts ’98, says she’s not surprised by the findings.
She points out that many parents lack access to email. Also, she says, teachers are traditionally isolated from each other and seldom communicate about teaching.
“In the future, as more people become wired, there will be a cultural shift in communicating electronically,” Lemke says. “A whole behavioral and attitudinal shift will have to take place before teachers recognize and use the power of the Internet.”
A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 1998 edition of Education Week