As Chris Lehmann closed the recent International Society for Technology in Education’s annual conference, he implored the audience at his keynote address here to redraw the educational technology battle lines.
“No one is arguing we shouldn’t use technology in education anymore,” said Mr. Lehmann, the founding principal of Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy, a public high school devoted to inquiry-based, project-driven learning. “The question is how.”
The call for redefining debate echoed throughout the formal sessions at the conference last month and at informal events at nearby hotels, restaurants, and bars, and even in casual conversations among the more than 20,000 estimated attendees. And, perhaps more important, it was expressed in data released by Project Tomorrow, the Software and Information Industry Association, and technology company CDW-G.
The latest research by Project Tomorrow, an Irvine, Calif.-based nonprofit group, came in the annual online-learning-trends report as part of its Speak Up ed-tech study, which surveys nearly 400,000 students, educators, and parents. It suggests school districts are becoming more sophisticated in their approach to implementing online education but are still struggling to meet the increasing need and desire of students to learn online.
Among its findings, the “Learning in the 21st Century: 2011 Trends Update” says that two in five students believe online classes are an essential component of education and that administrators’ concerns about funding online courses are fading, while concerns about course quality are rising.
But while the proportion of high school students who had taken an online course as of last fall tripled from fall 2008, from 10 percent to 30 percent, only about 26 percent of teachers surveyed expressed interest in diving into online teaching if they hadn’t already done so.
“From the Speak Up data, what we’re seeing is a disconnect” between students and educators, said Julie Evans, the president of Project Tomorrow. “We’ve got a challenge here in terms of meeting those expectations.”
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There also appear to be different perceptions about online learning within subgroups of students and educators, especially administrators. For example, district-level administrators were found to be more supportive of online learning than on-campus principals were.
“The district-level superintendents or administrators are much more visionary thinking [about] what the long-term implications are,” Ms. Evans said. “Principals are more narrowly focused on living right now, today, and dealing with today’s issues.”
Meanwhile, data released by the Washington-based Software and Information Industry Association, and the Vernon Hills, Ill.-based CDW-G showed that the bar for educational technology goals appears to be always moving.
According to Karen Billings, the vice president of the SIIA’s education division, the release of preliminary findings from the 2011 edition of its SIIA’sshow that educators don’t feel as if they are keeping up with technology, even if their actions would appear to show otherwise.
“What [the findings] tell me is that because this is such a dynamic world out there, the end point keeps moving out on them,” Ms. Billings said at a press briefing. “The more they do, the more they’re aware of how much more they should be doing.”
After analyzing the self-evaluation by the first 273 respondents—all but seven of whom were from K-12 schools or districts—the composite-score rating that samples technology integration on a scale of 1 to 100 was 60, 2 points below last year’s final score. Participants answered 20 multiple-choice questions indicating a school’s or district’s progress toward the SIIA’s seven Vision K-20 goals, and five measures of progress. Ms. Billings predicted that the final overall score, to be released July 26 with the final report, would edge up slightly as more results were evaluated.
Meanwhile, CDW-G’s report shed some light on just how and where that bar appears to be moving by examining how students, teachers, and information technology administrators define the concept of a “21st-century classroom.”
According to this year’s report, wireless Internet, an interactive whiteboard, and digital content are all part of that concept, a leap in technology and specificity from the 2010 study. That version defined any Internet connection, teacher computing device, and LCD projector as characteristics of a modern classroom.
The survey also pointed to a gap in perceptions between the school and district levels. While 64 percent of it administrators rated their districts’ technology as “cutting edge,” only 45 percent of faculty members and 39 percent of students reported being satisfied with their classroom technology.
A version of this article appeared in the July 13, 2011 edition of Education Week as Educators Cite Research to Shift Ed-Tech Focus From ‘Why’ to ‘How’