Teacher Preparation

A Majority of New Teachers Aren’t Prepared to Teach With Technology. What’s the Fix?

By Alyson Klein — September 12, 2023 4 min read
A small group of diverse middle school students sit at their desks with personal laptops in front of each one as they work during a computer lab.
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Think all incoming teachers have a natural facility with technology just because most are digital natives? Think again.

Teacher preparation programs have a long way to go in preparing prospective educators to teach with technology, according to a report released September 12 by the International Society for Technology in Education, a nonprofit.

In fact, more than half of incoming teachers—56 percent—lack confidence in using learning technology prior to entering the classroom, according to survey data included with the report. That survey of 214 teachers in their first three years in the profession was conducted last year by Jenna Conan Simpson, the director of instructional technology at All Saints’ Episcopal School, a private school in Fort Worth, Texas. She found participants largely through social-media groups.

The majority of early-career educators—55 percent—described their training to teach with technology in teacher-preparation programs as lacking, Conan Simpson’s survey found. Just 21 percent thought it was “good”—and even those teachers wanted a better sense of how to manage a classroom in a technology-rich environment and more training on how to best select tools to support student learning.

Schools of education assume that many of their students are “digital natives” who instinctively understand technology, Conan Simpson said in an interview. “But just because you know how to use TikTok does not mean that you know how to integrate technology in a classroom.”

New teachers are still trying to figure out when it is and isn’t appropriate to use technology and even what kind of tool to use, she added.

That could be partly because few educator training programs appear to prioritize preparing teachers to use technology in the classroom. Only 9 percent of educator preparation programs reported that every faculty member embraces and models instructional technology, according to a separate survey of 43 faculty members from 36 educator preparation programs ISTE conducted last year that was also included in the report.

While 53 percent of the programs ISTE surveyed reported that “many” members of their faculty made technology integration part of their preparation courses, another 30 percent weren’t sure how often it was included. And 7 percent reported that none of their faculty model or teach technology integration.

In fact, the faculty members surveyed identified getting teachers ready to use technology in the classroom as a major area of needed growth, ISTE’s report found. Nearly two-thirds of the educator preparation programs surveyed reported that they are in the process of updating their curriculum, which could provide the opportunity to focus more on getting preservice teachers ready to use instructional technology.

Many university professors haven’t been classroom teachers for years, Conan Simpson said. While they may try to keep up their skills, they haven’t had firsthand experience with using the latest tech in the classroom. Teacher-preparation programs could get at that problem by hiring technology coaches, the same way school districts do, she suggested.

What’s more, many preparation programs used to offer at least one technology course but jettisoned it in favor of integrating tech into every class, Conan Simpson said. Often, that doesn’t end up happening, and programs may want to consider reinstating their stand-alone courses, she recommended.

They could also teach some of the most common tech tools—such as learning management systems—or at least have subscriptions to those products so that students can try them out.

School districts can backfill the deficit in new hires’ tech training, but that help can come at a difficult time, said Stefanie McKoy, a newly minted Ph.D. who studied preservice teacher preparation and technology in her doctoral program at the University of Arkansas.

“As a new teacher, it can also be very overwhelming because you’re [working on] classroom management. You’re trying to build connections with parents in the school community,” said McKoy, who teaches special education in Missouri. “And so, technology is just one more thing that they have to add.”

The dearth of adequate preparation to teach in schools increasingly dominated by technology isn’t a new issue for ISTE. Last year, the organization partnered with the U.S. Department of Education to encourage teacher-preparation programs to sign a pledge committing to improve tech training for pre-service educators. So far, more than 60 programs have signed on.

Conan Simpson is optimistic change is coming. The increase in virtual learning spurred by the pandemic—and now the need for students to better understand artificial intelligence—demands change.

“I feel like a lot of universities are starting to realize that they need to do more,” she said.

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