Though a growing number of schools and classrooms have access to computers and the Internet, much of it has not resulted in significant changes in the way students are taught, concludes a new report conducted by the two national teachers’ unions.
Released in June by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, the report is based on a survey of nearly 2,000 K-12 public school educators from across the nation and examines technology use in schools throughout the country. The study found that despite long-term investments, significant disparities in school and student access to technology still exist, particularly in urban schools. And schools that do have a high level of access to the Internet and other instructional technologies such as laptops often are not using those technologies in ways that significantly improve student learning, the report says.
“There’s a technological highway, but for far too many it’s a one-way highway,” says Reg Weaver, the president of the 3.2 million-member NEA. And often, Weaver says, even when a classroom is connected to the Internet, it may have a limited number of computers, or equipment that is unreliable.
The survey found that 83 percent of educators reported having five or fewer computers in their classrooms, and that more than half reported having no more than two computers.
“In schools, we find that they’ll give kids old equipment, but still say they have a computer,” Weaver says. “But the outside world no longer deals with this kind of equipment.”
That is the case despite years of spending on efforts to connect classrooms to the Internet. Congress established the E-rate program in 1996 to connect schools and libraries to the online world, and the initiative has spent more than $19 billion to do so.
The report shows that many schools still have not figured out how to use technologies such as Internet search engines, educational software, and computers in innovative ways. In fact, most educators surveyed said they use computers regularly, but primarily for administrative tasks, such as electronic gradebooks or keeping attendance records.
More than three-quarters of educators surveyed said they use computers for administrative tasks daily, and about half said they use them to communicate with other educators daily. But only 40 percent reported using technology to monitor student progress, only 37 percent used it for research and information gathering, and only 32 percent used it to teach lessons. Fewer than a fifth said they used technology daily to post student and class information on the Internet or to communicate with parents via e-mail.
New Approaches Needed
Despite those figures, 89 percent of respondents said they considered technology—which was defined in the study to include a wide range of tools from computers and software to VCRs and audio recorders—essential to teaching and learning.
“Why aren’t we seeing technology transforming education?” says Keith R. Krueger, the chief executive officer of the Washington-based Consortium for School Networking. “While teachers are feeling more and more confident with the technology they have, they’re layering it on top of what they’re already doing, not doing things in new ways.”
Ken Kay, the president of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a Tucson, Ariz.-based advocacy group focused on infusing 21st-century skills, including media literacy, global awareness, critical thinking, and problem-solving, into education, says the report points out how critical it is for all students to have access to computers and other technology, both at school and in their homes.
While the unions’ study found that the number of computers available for student use in the classroom often did not differ significantly by location, the software, technical support, and condition of equipment were more likely to be inadequate in urban schools in comparison to rural and suburban schools.
Heidi Glidden, the assistant director for the educational issues department at the 1.3 million-member American Federation of Teachers, says that in urban areas, technology is often viewed more as an extra, not an integral part of teaching and learning.
“A lot of times in the urban areas, it’s viewed more as a perk,” she says. “It can’t be seen as an add-on.”
The report encourages use of laptops and other portable computers and technology for teachers and students, and it urges more creative methods to increase student access to computers both inside and outside school.
Technical support and professional development for educators is also key, the report says. While almost all educators in the study reported that their districts required technology training, much of it appeared to be geared to administrative, not instructional, uses. Only slightly more than half the respondents felt that they had adequate preparation for integrating technology into instruction.
“There’s not as much training on how to infuse this into everyday instruction,” Glidden says. “We need to figure out how to do this.”