Classroom Technology

School Administrators Seen to Embrace New Digital Devices

By Ian Quillen — June 05, 2012 4 min read
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Educational administrators, who are often criticized as lagging behind the public in integration of technology into their schools, are actually ahead of the curve in their own use of mobile technology, a recent report suggests.

Teachers, librarians, principals, and district-level administrators are all more likely than the general public to be users of smartphones or tablet computers, such as the iPad, it says, while principals and district administrators are even more likely than other educators to be mobile-technology users. And those habits influence decisionmaking about mobile-technology initiatives, the report contends.

“Many of our school administrators, … I think they’re actually a pretty innovative group,” said Julie Evans, the chief executive officer of Project Tomorrow, a nonprofit educational research organization based in Irvine, Calif., which since 2003 has conducted the annual Speak Up survey to gauge technology use by students, educators, and parents.

This most recent report, composed of data collected from the 2011 survey pertaining specifically to educators, was presented in Washington at a Capitol Hill hearing last month. The survey was completed by more than 400,000 K-12 students, educators, and parents.

“The days of the old stodgy administrators are in the past,” Ms. Evans said.

Going Mobile

A new report, based on data from the 2011 Speak Up survey by Project Tomorrow, found that educators were more likely than the general public to use technology tools such as smartphones and tablet computers.

Personal Access to Mobile Devices

Cellphone w/o Internet
Teachers: 49%
Librarians: 48
Principals: 34
District Administrators 31

Teachers: 54%
Librarians: 53
Principals: 64
District Administrators 70

Digital Reader
Teachers: 24%
Librarians: 38
Principals: 18
District Administrators: 23

Tablet Computer
Teachers: 26%
Librarians: 37
Principals: 47
District Administrators: 55

District Administrators’ Views on Bring-Your-Own-Technology (BYOT) and 1-to-1 Mobile-Computing Initiatives

Who Is Currently Evaluating a BYOT Approach?
District administrators who use smartphones or tablets: 41%
All district administrators: 19%

Who Is Currently Piloting a BYOT Approach?
District administrators who use smartphones or tablets: 13%
All district administrators: 7%

Who Is Currently Providing School-Owned Devices to Students?
District administrators who use smartphones or tablets: 13%
All district administrators: 7%

SOURCE: Project Tomorrow

Among the key findings of the survey:

• About 64 percent of principals and 70 percent of district-level administrators were found to be regular users of smartphones, compared with 40 percent of the general population. The latter figure comes from research released in March by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

• The gap between administrators and the general public widens with tablet computers, as nearly half of principals and district-level administrators report being users compared with just one in 10 Americans overall.

• District administrators who use smartphones or tablets are about twice as likely as all administrators to consider allowing students and teachers to bring their own technology devices to school or to work in a system where the district provides similar devices to some teachers and students.

‘Constantly on the Go’

Administrators from districts taking part in the survey say the overall findings generally reflect the realities on the ground. But they sometimes disagree over whether administrators’ embrace of mobile technologies is a pragmatic approach to keeping up with increasingly fragmented job demands, or a more conscious decision to push school culture in a new direction.

They also suggest that administrators are more likely than classroom teachers or librarians to have such access because they are likelier to have devices provided by their districts.

“It’s just an economy-of-scale sort of thing,” said Michael Grove, the executive director of curriculum and assessment for the 12,000-student San Dieguito Union High School District in San Diego, which took part in the Speak Up survey for the first time in 2011.

“A lot of it started with efficiency,” he said. “As a site administrator, you are constantly on the go, and you’re not wanting to lug a laptop around.”

Administrators in the San Dieguito district use smartphones and tablet computers for everything from recording observations during teacher evaluations to retrieving student emergency-contact information at school dances or athletic contests, Mr. Grove said.

Meanwhile, he said, he expects the gap in the level of use between administrators and teachers to narrow in coming years, in part because the district recently rewrote its acceptable-use policy for mobile devices to encourage teachers and students to utilize their personal smartphones and tablets for education.

“Teachers are finding ways to use [the devices], and they have already been doing that kind of surreptitiously because they felt like they were violating the rules,” said Mr. Grove, whose district serves students in grades 7-12 at a total of nine schools.

‘Setting an Example’

At the 6,600-student Lexington, Mass., school system outside Boston, the director of educational technology, Tom Plati, agreed with Mr. Grove’s assessment that many administrators’ shift to smartphone or tablet use has come more quickly than teachers’ because of the relative ease of supplying devices to a few dozen people, rather than several hundred.


But he also said that while the devices perhaps are a more natural fit for the hectic life of principals and other administrators, some administrators in his district definitely see their use of the devices as critical to eventually driving integration of such technology into the classroom.

“They look at them as a way of showing by example,” Mr. Plati said. “You have to walk the walk yourself.”

With the relatively rapid adoption of those technologies, Ms. Evans cautioned against using data from the 2011 survey to reach long-term conclusions. She said it’s possible habits may have already changed significantly since data were collected in the fall of last year.

But she did express confidence in the comparisons between Project Tomorrow’s data and data from the Pew Internet and American Life research on Americans’ overall habits in mobile-technology use.

“I tend to be fairly highly critical of other research,” Ms. Evans said, but “we often compare our numbers [with Pew’s], and in many, many cases, they’re pretty much in sync.”

A version of this article appeared in the June 06, 2012 edition of Education Week as Administrators Seen to Embrace New Digital Devices


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