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Teachers' Tools for the 21st Century: A Report on Teachers' Use of Technology
NCES: 2000102
September 2000

Conclusions

Teacher Use of Technology

The research literature on education technology has typically focused on the availability of technology in the nation's public schools and classrooms and reported that the availability has grown substantially. However, there is much less research on whether, how frequently, and in what manner these technologies are being used. The research that does exist suggests that as availability has grown, so has the number of students and teachers using computers and the frequency with which they use them (Levin et al., 1998). According to the literature, however, the advent of computers and the Internet has not dramatically changed how teachers teach and how students learn. Computers have typically been used for traditional methods of teaching (e.g., drill and practice and computer education-Becker, 1983; Becker, 1984); although the more recent data suggest that some teachers are using technology in more innovative ways (e.g., solve problems, conduct research- Becker, 1999; Fulton, 1997).

The most recent data on teachers' technology use, provided by the 1999 FRSS teacher survey, indicate that approximately half of all public school teachers used computers or the Internet for classroom instruction in 1999. And teachers' use of technology can be characterized as reflecting a mixture of traditional and innovative teaching methods. For example, teachers using computers for instruction assigned students to use computers or the Internet for practicing drills and word processing or creating spreadsheets frequently in 1999. However, they also frequently assigned students to use computers and the Internet for research and solving problems and analyzing data.

In addition to classroom instruction, the 1999 survey indicates that teachers also used computers to prepare for instruction and to communicate with others. Specifically, many teachers used computers or the Internet to conduct a number of preparatory and administrative tasks (e.g., creating instructional materials, gathering information for planning lessons) and communicative (e.g., communication with colleagues) tasks. However, teachers used these technologies less frequently for such tasks as accessing research, best practices examples, and model lesson plans, as well as communicating with parents and students.

Teachers' use of computers or the Internet for instructional purposes was related to their training and preparation and work environments. As described in more detailed below, teachers were more likely to use these technologies when the technologies were available to them, available in their classrooms as opposed to computer labs, and available in greater numbers. Moreover, teachers who reported feeling better prepared were more likely to use these technologies than their less prepared colleagues. (Teachers who spent more time in professional development reported feeling better prepared than their colleagues.) Finally, teachers who perceived lacking computers and time for students to use computers as great barriers were less likely than their colleagues to assign students to use computers or the Internet for some instructional activities.

Teachers' Training and Preparation

Research on teacher training and preparation for technology use often focuses on professional development opportunities or pre-service training. Generally, traditional professional development activities have been criticized for lacking continuity and follow-up (Fullan with Stiegelbauer, 1991), and pre-service training has been criticized as being fragmented and unconnected to real classroom experiences (NCTAF, 1996). Despite these criticisms, 88 percent of teachers indicated that professional development activities prepared them to some extent to use technology, and 84 percent of teachers with 3 or fewer years of teaching experience indicated that college/graduate work prepared them to some extent to use technology. However, a relatively small proportion of teachers indicated that these sources prepared them to a "large extent."

Results presented in this report also indicate that professional development and teachers' feelings of preparation are related. Specifically, teachers who spent more time in professional development activities on technology use indicated that they felt better prepared to use technology for classroom instruction than those who spent less time in these activities. Furthermore, teachers who reported that they felt better prepared to use technology were more likely to use it than teachers who reported feeling less prepared. However, these findings are descriptive and not causal in nature. For example, results presented in this paragraph may suggest that if teachers spend more time in professional development activities, their feeling of preparedness will increase. On the other hand, these findings may also suggest that teachers who feel more prepared to use technology tend to seek out more opportunities to learn about this topic.

Teachers' Work Environment

As described in the introductory chapter, teachers' ability and willingness to use computers and the Internet may depend, to some extent, on the schools and classrooms in which they work. On the most basic level, for example, teachers may be more likely to integrate computers and the Internet into classroom instruction if they have access to adequate equipment and connections and if they have time to learn about these technologies and use them in their classrooms.

With respect to the availability of and access to technology, the findings presented in this report indicate that both have grown dramatically over the past decade. A majority of classrooms have at least one computer, many of these computers have Internet connections, and a large number of teachers and students have these technologies available at home as well. In addition, nearly all teachers with such technology available to them used the computers and the Internet connections in their schools, and most reported that their students used computers and the Internet in the school as well.

Despite high levels of availability and use, however, many teachers reported facing a number of barriers to the use of technology in their schools. The barriers to the use of computer and the Internet for instruction most frequently reported by public school teachers were insufficient numbers of computers, lack of release time for teachers to learn how to use computers or the Internet, and lack of time in schedule for students to use computers in class. In fact, while it is true that most schools now have computers and the Internet available somewhere in their schools, this availability is still somewhat limited in the classroom; among teachers who reported having any computers in their classrooms, it was most common to have one computer. With one classroom computer, teachers may have the technology they need to prepare for lessons and use computers for demonstrative purposes during classroom instruction; however, it may be difficult to have students use computers under these conditions. Indeed, teachers who did not use computers or the Internet were more likely to report insufficient numbers of computers and lack of time as great barriers than teachers who used these technologies. Additionally, teachers with more computers in their classrooms generally used technology for instructional purposes more frequently. These findings are descriptive and not causal. For example, teachers may be more inclined to use computers once they are placed in their classrooms. On the other hand, teachers who are more inclined to use computers may actively seek to acquire them for their classrooms.

Teacher and School Characteristics

Years of Teaching Experience As discussed in the introductory chapter of this report, there are a number of factors that contribute to the success or failure of instructional reforms, including the use of technology for classroom instruction. One important factor is that teachers do not always have opportunities to learn about and practice instructional reforms. One way prospective teachers learn how to use computers is through their teacher preparation programs. And although some observers have argued that prospective teachers are not getting the training they need to successfully integrate technology into classroom instruction (President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, 1997), recent graduates of teacher preparation programs are more likely to have received some instruction in technology use than teachers who graduated one or two decades ago. In fact, teachers with fewer years of teaching experience were more likely than their more experienced colleagues to indicate that college/graduate work prepared them to use computers and the Internet. Indeed, less experienced teachers used technology (e.g., e-mail, the Internet, computers) more frequently than their more experienced colleagues for a variety of purposes (e.g., to gather information for planning lessons, create instructional materials, access research, best practices examples, model lesson plans).

On the other hand, practicing teachers often learn from professional development activities, and may be more likely to learn about technology from such activities. As findings presented in this report indicate, more experienced teachers were more likely than their less experienced colleagues to take advantage of the professional development activities on technology use that were available to them. Despite their higher participation in professional development, however, more experienced teachers were less likely than less experienced teachers to indicate that they felt "well prepared" or "very well prepared" to use technology for classroom instruction.

Minority Enrollment and Poverty Concentration

Among teachers with technology available in their schools, teachers in low minority schools (less than 6 percent) and lower poverty schools (less than 11 percent) were generally more likely than teachers in higher minority schools (50 percent or more minority enrollments) and higher poverty schools (50 to 70 percent or 71 percent or more students eligible for free or reduced price lunch) to use computers or the Internet at school for a wide range of activities, including creating instructional materials, communicating with colleagues, and instructing students. Features of these schools may provide a context for understanding these findings. For example, teachers in high minority schools were less likely than those in some lower minority schools to have computers (77 percent of teachers in schools with minority enrollments of 50 percent or more compared with 89 percent of teachers in schools with minority enrollments of 21 to 49 percent) or the Internet (69 percent of teachers in schools with minority enrollments of less than 6 percent and 71 percent of teachers in schools with minority enrollments of 6 to 20 percent compared with 51 percent of teachers in schools with minority enrollments of 50 percent or more) in their classrooms.

Furthermore, teachers in high minority schools were generally more likely than teachers in low minority schools to cite a number of barriers to technology use, including outdated, incompatible, or unreliable computers, easy Internet access, and the lack of support regarding ways to integrate telecommunications. In addition, teachers in high poverty schools generally had fewer computers with Internet connections available in their classrooms or elsewhere in the school than teachers in lower poverty schools. Moreover, teachers in high poverty and high minority schools generally were less likely to report that training in Internet use was available to them.

Instructional Level

There were a number of differences between elementary and secondary teachers in their use of technology. For example, elementary teachers were more likely than secondary teachers to use technology for classroom instruction and to communicate with parents. In addition, elementary teachers were more likely than secondary teachers to assign students to use computers or the Internet to practice drills and to solve problems and analyze data. On the other hand, secondary< teachers were more likely than elementary teachers to use computers or the Internet for administrativerecord keeping, to communicate with students, and to assign students to use these technologies to conduct Internet research. Furthermore, elementary teachers were more likely than secondary teachers to assign projects using the computer inside the classroom, whereas, secondary teachers were more likely than elementary teachers to assign projects using the computer outside of the classroom. Elementary teachers were also more likely than secondary teachers to report that their students used computers at school; however, secondary teachers were more likely than elementary teachers to report that their students used the Internet at school.

Features of elementary and secondary teachers' schools may provide a context for these differences. For example, secondary teachers may have reported that their students used computers inside the classroom less often than elementary teachers because secondary teachers were less likely to have computers in their classrooms and had fewer classroom computers than elementary teachers. In fact, secondary teachers were more likely than elementary teachers to indicate that insufficient numbers of computers was a great barrier to use of computers or the Internet for instruction. On the other hand, secondary teachers may have reported that their students used the Internet more often than elementary teachers because secondary teachers were more likely than elementary teachers to have the Internet available on the computers that they did have in their classrooms, and they were also more likely to have Internet availability elsewhere in the school. In fact, elementary teachers cited not having easy Internet access as a barrier more frequently than secondary teachers.

New Directions

Although the findings presented in this report provide important information about a topic- teachers' use of advanced education technology-that has not been well documented previously, they do not address many emerging policy issues, including the following policy questions:

  • How does the use of computers, the Internet and other applications by teachers and studentsaffect student performance, knowledge, and skills?
  • What is the impact of computer and Internet use on the way teachers teach and studentslearn, and what is the impact, more broadly, on educational reform?
  • How does the investment in technology compare with other educational innovations, suchas smaller classes or individualized instruction, in terms of costs and benefits?

In addition to the questions listed above, fruitful topics for future research include thefollowing:

  • updated information on the types of technologies that are available in schools (e.g., quality/speed, types of Internet connections, software applications);
  • organizational changes to schools that will enable the increased use of technology (e.g., administrative efficiency, home-school connections, collegial communication) or the sustainability of technology implementation and use;
  • fiscal expenditures on educational technology at the school, district, state, and especiallynational levels;
  • professional development and technical support strategies for enhancing teachers' effectiveuse of technology;
  • in-depth understanding of the duration and types of technology uses for teaching andlearning both inside and outside of the school (e.g., subject specific uses);
  • the effects of different types of technology applications on particular types of students (e.g.,limited English proficient, special education, gifted and talented).

New NCES Data Sources for Education Technology Issues

Throughout 1999 and 2000, a number of NCES surveys were collecting a wide range of information on the use of education technology. These data may fill in some of the gaps in the educational technology literature and may provide more detail on topics addressed in the 1999 FRSS teacher survey. For example, the 2000 FRSS school technology survey will provide the most recent data on the availability of computers and the Internet in public schools. Furthermore, the 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), an extensive survey with a large sample of public, private, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and charter schools and detailed information on teachers' characteristics and practices, includes a number of questions about technology. For example, SASS collected data in areas such as expenditures on computer hardware, the types of technology available in media centers, and school staffing for both technical support and the integration of technology into the classroom for teaching and learning in 1999-2000.

The 2001 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) will be collecting detailed data in a number of new areas: the age and quality of school computers, schools" participation in community programs and grant programs such as the E-rate, details of schools" technology plans, and student perceptions of their own technology skills. NAEP 2001 items also cover subject-specific student uses of technology, student attitudes about technology, and teacher ratings of availability of technology, quality of technical support, and usefulness of computers in the classroom.

Finally, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS) collected data on technology at the kindergarten level. ECLS 1998-99 items inquired about the number of computers in schools, the perceived adequacy and physical condition of computer labs, the presence of technology in classrooms, and kindergarten students" use of technology. The ECLS will collect longitudinal data on student achievement and teacher practices, which may be used to link these measures to various items related to technology.

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