Special Report
Classroom Technology

Teachers Still Struggling to Use Tech to Transform Instruction, Survey Finds

By Anthony Rebora — June 06, 2016 4 min read

A majority of K-12 educators responding to a new survey see themselves as risk takers or early adopters in using technology.

But the exclusive survey, conducted by the Education Week Research Center for this year’s edition of Technology Counts, found that teachers, on the whole, still face systemic challenges in adapting their instruction to new technologies in transformative ways.

The survey was conducted online in April, with participation from about 700 classroom teachers and school-based instructional specialists who are registered users of edweek.org. While the sample is not statistically representative of the nation’s teachers, the results capture the views of a diverse group of educators whose schools vary in grade ranges, poverty level, and location.

The results also illustrate the complexity of creating meaningful technological change in American classrooms, the subject of this year’s report. (See charts at the bottom of this page.)

For example, the survey suggests that most teachers are enthusiastic about trying out new technologies. Twenty-four percent of the respondents indicated that they are “risk takers” who are willing to try new technologies even if they may not succeed, while an additional 47 percent said they like working with new digital tools not yet commonly used.

However, when asked to gauge how prepared their students are to use educational technology for particular activities, the teachers gave higher ratings to routine practices like drills, practice exercises, and reading assignments than to more ground-shifting projects, such as creating original content and using social media to collaborate on assignments.

Likewise, the educators were far more likely to say students in their classes use technology daily for drills and review than for project-based or collaborative assignments, though greater numbers said their students use digital tools for such “active” assignments “a few times a week, month, or year.”

These findings echo previous research showing that, despite an influx of technology in schools, many teachers still mainly rely on digital programs to supplement traditional instructional strategies rather than to support more creative, inquiry-based learning. But the results also suggest that digital learning in some form is ingrained in many classrooms, and that there is momentum toward new practices.

If the pace of digitally driven instructional change has generally been slower than ed-tech proponents would prefer, even with many teachers’ apparent embrace of new technologies, the survey findings also provide some clues to why that might be.

The teacher respondents indicated that having too few digital-learning devices in their schools and a lack of tech-oriented professional development remain barriers to more regular use of classroom technology. In addition, wireless-connectivity problems and computer breakdowns are still far from infrequent, according to the responses.

The results also offer some cautionary data on efforts to put instructional-technology plans in place without significant involvement and buy-in from teachers themselves. On the importance of teacher voice in technology decisions, the respondents were loud and clear.

For example, they said the individuals or groups who are most influential in their classroom-technology decisions are they themselves and other teachers in their building. Likewise, they said that they were far more likely to learn about new ed-tech tools from teachers in their school than from any other source, and that they tend to put greater faith in other educators’ statements about technology than they do in the opinions of administrators or outside experts. (Fully 40 percent said they distrusted information from ed-tech companies.)

When it comes to the kind of PD they say they need to better integrate technology into their instruction, the teachers gave the highest ratings to idea-sharing with other teachers, collaborative planning time with colleagues, and job-embedded training or coaching. Training sponsored by their district or ed-tech companies received the lowest ratings, although most teachers agreed that such offerings can be useful.

The implication of such findings is that top-down or outsider-driven instructional-tech programs are not likely to be wholly embraced by teachers and may even impede more organic experimentation with digital-learning tools in schools.

To better inform decisionmaking and implementation efforts, the survey also introduces the Education Week Tech Confidence Index. The index uses a scale of 0 to 100 to gauge educators’ perceptions of the course of education technology.

According to the index, teachers are more confident overall in the performance of ed tech in schools than they are in the related funding levels and policymaking environment.

Still, teachers expressed more confidence in the future outlook for educational technology than in its current status.

And some educators and stakeholders, as you’ll see in this report, are doing their best to ensure that future.

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Coverage of trends in K-12 innovation and efforts to put these new ideas and approaches into practice in schools, districts, and classrooms is supported in part by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York at www.carnegie.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.

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