On March 30, the conversation focused on schools’ use of technology, as well as research findings in this area as reported in Technology Counts 2007: A Digital Decade, a joint publication of Education Week and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, released March 29. Carole Vinograd Bausell, the project director for Technology Counts 2007, and Andrew Trotter, Education Week‘s technology writer, answered participants’ questions. Below are excerpts from the discussion.
Question: What do you think is the biggest roadblock to the successful implementation of technology in schools? Is it the digital divide (lack of monetary resources), or the digital generation gap (lack of awareness of the value of technology on the part of administrators), or both?
Trotter: Both are roadblocks, but there are a lot of external forces that are reducing the digital divide, as prices drop and families are motivated to sacrifice to buy trendy and/or increasingly useful technologies.
The digital generation gap is the more severe obstacle, and not just by administrators—many teachers have barely awakened to the huge amount of time students spend online for entertainment and communication. If adults thought hard about students’ ways of relating to information, one another, and school, they would find some new ways of operating. For example, some teachers now direct students to math games online for skill practice, many post class assignments on Web sites for parents to see, and others are trying podcasts to help students review for tests. There are many, many ideas out there.
Teachers who are on top of this trend are finding some new needs, too, because, as we report in Technology Counts, students often have a surface ease with technology, but do not know how to judge the accuracy of online information.
Question: What does the research tell us about the degree to which school-based administrators use and model the integration of technology? What strategies are in place to support improving the technology skills of administrators?
Bausell: This is a really key question in an age when principals are expected to be instructional leaders. We found that 36 states have technology standards for administrators, but only nine require courses or a test for an initial administrator license. And just 13 states offer incentives for administrators to use technology.
You might be interested in looking at a program used in West Virginia. The state’s department of education sponsors a summer institute for nominated principals, who receive materials, resources, and equipment to support 21st-century learning in their schools.
Question: As we witness the exponential growth of virtual high schools and the continuation of their trend to reach younger and younger students in the elementary grades, how are researchers monitoring and reporting their growth and effectiveness, and what are postsecondary educational institutions doing to prepare teachers for conducting classes in the e-learning space?
Bausell: You bring up really important issues. Many states now require their teacher-preparation programs to train teachers to use technology in their classrooms. A smaller number of states (19) tie teacher-licensure requirements to technology coursework or a test. And professional development in technology for teachers is one of the goals of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, so it is widely offered in schools, although it may be optional.
The Metiri Group came out with a report on this topic in November, “Technology in Schools: What the Research Says.” One of its findings was that students’ performance in virtual classrooms was as good as or better than their performance in face-to-face classrooms. Last October, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced plans for a five-year study to research technology’s effect on students, so hopefully we will be learning more on how younger students fare with virtual education. You might also look at the article “Collecting Evidence” in Technology Counts.
Question: What partnership role could community organizations play with schools in providing technology supports to neighborhood youth?
Trotter: Libraries, civic groups, businesses, and even housing developments have for years helped establish technology centers—though the projects come and go with the often-spotty funding. Community groups have also provided volunteer staffing and given new and used equipment to assist local young people and their schools in gaining access to technology. Some projects, such as volunteer efforts to wire schools and donate old computers, have had mixed results, however, because they came with unanticipated costs and technical problems.
Grant-making organizations tend to favor flashy, cutting-edge projects that will spread lessons widely. But communities need old-fashioned community service to keep valuable efforts going.
A version of this article appeared in the April 11, 2007 edition of Education Week as Chat Wrap-Up: Technology Counts 2007