Classroom Technology

Districts Often Out of Touch with Teachers’ Biggest Tech Needs, Survey Finds

By David Feller — April 26, 2019 3 min read
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Although they are convinced they know what technology is most effective for their students, many teachers say they’re not being given tools and platforms that meet classroom needs, a new, nationwide survey finds.

Despite educators rating presentation tools and assistive technology as the most effective types of digital technology, they often find themselves having to use other tools that they consider less helpful, according to Common Sense Media’s 2019 Educator Census Report.

The results reveal “a disconnect between what teachers want to use and what teachers actually use, versus what has been purchased by a [school] district,” said Liz Kline, vice president of education programs at Common Sense Media, in an interview.

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, rates the quality and appropriateness of technology and media, in addition to conducting research on educators’ and families’ experiences with tech.

The organization’s findings come from a survey of 1,208 K-12 teachers from across the country, conducted in May of 2018.

The survey also found about one-third of teachers said that “they did not, or practically never” use a technology product that is provided to them by their school or district.”

Among the reasons: Teachers found that some of the digital tools and systems given to them are not relevant to students’ needs, and neither engaging nor effective in developing students’ knowledge and skills.

When asked about assistive technology--defined by the report as a device or approach that a person can use to perform certain important activities--31 percent of educators responded that they were not able to use technology because of a lack of training in its use.

In addition, 63 percent of teachers in the Common Sense Media survey said district communication about the educational technology available for classroom use was moderate or non-existent.

How Teachers Are Using Technology

A wide variety of research has shown that technology’s impact on classroom teaching practices is more limited than many proponents of digital tools might like.

In Education Week’s new Technology Counts 2019 report, published this week, a survey of 700 U.S. K-12 teachers found that fewer than one-third believe that edtech innovations have changed their beliefs about what schools should look like. The survey also revealed that just 29 percent of teachers feel strongly that edtech supports innovation in their own classrooms.

Kline is convinced that teachers know best how to use technology to help students, and that districts need to do more to communicate with them about their needs.

Common Sense Media says the report’s findings also underscore the importance of teaching “digital citizenship” to K-12 students.

The term generally refers to teaching kids how to participate responsibly, engage ethically and think critically online, Kline said.

“In order to be successful in the 21st-century, you need not only the skills but also the disposition to be successful, and we believe digital citizenship offers [students] both of those things,” she said.

(Common Sense Media offers a digital citizenship curriculum for K-12 students that is designed to prepare students with new and emerging skills, support teachers, and engage families. Other organizations also offer their own lessons focused on digital citizenship.)

Of the teachers surveyed by Common Sense Media who reported using some type of digital citizenship curriculum in their classrooms, 91 percent described it as at least moderately effective in helping students better learn crucial modern skills such as media literacy.

The study also sheds light on some of educators’ biggest concerns about using technology in their classrooms.

The number one worry among educators is that “students lack skills to critically evaluate online information,” according to the survey.

In a statement, Common Sense Media CEO Jim Steyer said that although schools are putting an increasing emphasis on media literacy, “as fake news reverberates throughout the online world, they continue to worry about students’ ability to critically evaluate the growing landscape of questionable content.”

CORRECTION: This blog post was updated on Thursday, May 2 to reflect the accurate title for Liz Kline, which is Vice President of Education Programs.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.