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


Over the past two decades, modern technologies have transformed many aspects of American life, including how we communicate, how we spend our free time, and especially how we work. As American life and workplace demands have changed as a result of this "technological revolution," so have conceptions of the skills and knowledge children will need to become successful adults and the relevant educational experiences they should encounter while attending school. As a result, technology, specifically in the form of computers and the Internet, has become a major focus of education policy and reform in recent years. National, state, and local initiatives have provided schools with computer hardware and software, allowed schools and classrooms to connect to the Internet, and supported technology-focused professional opportunities for teachers (Coley, 1997; U.S. Department of Education, 1996).

To date, most research on this topic has focused on the availability of education technology (i.e., computer hardware, software, and equipment and Internet connections) in schools and classrooms. Over the past decade, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the U.S. Department of Education has collected such data and shown that availability has grown dramatically. For example, Internet access in public schools increased by 60 percentage points between 1994 and 1999, from 3 percent in 1994 to 63 percent in 1999 (Williams, 2000).

By 1999, 95 percent of public schools were connected to the Internet, with one instructional computer with an Internet connection for every 9 students (Williams, 2000). As the numbers of computers and access to the Internet in schools have grown, so have the number of questions being asked about the extent to which these technologies are being used in schools and classrooms and for what purposes. Using the Fast Response Survey System (FRSS), NCES administered a short survey of public school teachers in 1999 that included items on teachers" use of computers and the Internet. This report draws on that survey, along with additional data sources (e.g., National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP], Current Population Survey [CPS] ) 1, to describe teachers" use of education technology in their classrooms and schools, their training and preparation for that use, and the school and classroom contexts within which they do or do not use these technologies. This report also includes an examination of the relationships between teachers" use of technology and these contextual factors. As a preface to discussing these empirical results, the introductory chapter highlights literature on technology and instruction.

Technology and Instruction

The U.S. Department of Education, in its Getting America's students ready for the 21st Century: Meeting the technology literacy challenge, described computers as "the new basic" of American education, and the Internet as "the blackboard of the future" (U.S. Department of Education, 1996, p. 3). Over the past 20 years, education technology has been a major focus of reform and policy at the federal level, as well as at state and local levels. Such initiatives have been guided by the goals of increasing the availability of computers in classrooms and schools, assisting schools with Internet access, and providing resources and guidance for teacher training and the integration of technology into the curriculum. The availability of computers and the Internet has increased significantly in the nation's schools and classrooms (Williams, 2000). This increase has been coupled with initiatives aimed toward understanding how best to use technology to improve teaching and learning and training educators to use technology effectively.

Existing research on education technology includes a small number of national studies that describe teachers" use of technology, as well as their training to use these tools. Specifically, this research suggests that most current and past uses of education technology have typically supported traditional notions of teaching and learning. For example, in the early 1980s, students most often used computers for drill and practice (Becker, 1983). Typically, drill-and-practice software consists of sequences of worksheet-style questions that automatically adjust their difficulty to match individual students' responses. Also, in the early 1980s, teachers typically used computers to teach students programming skills (Becker, 1983). They rarely used computers for content-related instruction (Becker, 1985); students were more likely to learn about how to use computers at school than they were to use computers to learn about mathematics or social studies (Becker, 1983).

By the early 1990s, the practice of using computers for programming had declined considerably and an emphasis on using computers as a tool for learning content had emerged (Becker, 1994; Sutton, 1991). However, the primary use of computers remained drill and practice in elementary schools in the early 1990s. In high schools, it was classes on computer education, and middle schools provided a combination of drill and practice and computer education (Becker, 1994). Finally, as the decade of the 1990s progressed, school computer use had shifted to some degree to reflect a greater emphasis on problem solving and in-depth learning and less emphasis on drill and practice and basic skills. Fulton (1997) found that 25 percent of the 1996 high school graduates who participated in the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) program reported having used computers for solving math problems, processing data, or computer programming. Approximately 10 percent had used computers to solve problems in natural science. Using a nationally representative sample of teachers, the Teaching, Learning, and Computing Study found that CD-ROM reference and surfing the Internet were more likely to be assigned as classroom activities than games and traditional drill-and-practice applications (Becker, 1999).

However, many of these newer uses have been limited to a small proportion of teachers and students. Teachers are in fact using computers or the Internet generally more frequently to complete a number of instruction-related tasks than to augment instruction itself (Becker, 1999). For example, they may use these technologies to help prepare for classroom instruction (e.g., to access research on best practices, download information to present in class) or to complete administrative tasks (e.g., to record and calculate grades). The Teaching, Learning, and Computing Study also indicated that two-thirds of all teachers used the Internet in their effort to find information for use in their lessons, and about one-third reported doing so on at least a weekly basis (Becker, 1999). In addition, teachers may also use technology to communicate with parents or students about students' performance, assignments, or special events. They may also use technology to communicate with other members of their profession to share ideas or strategies for presenting content or helping students who are struggling with the content. Sixteen percent of teachers in the Teaching, Learning, and Computing Study communicated by e-mail with teachers from other schools as often as five times during the school year, and 18 percent of teachers said they posted information on the Internet, including suggestions, opinions, or student work (Becker, 1999).

Teacher Training and Preparation

As the brief history of technology use for learning suggests, the way educators teach and students learn has not changed dramatically over the past two decades. The research on teacher change and instructional reform in general indicates that such changes in teacher practice are often slow, minimal, or even nonexistent (Ball, 1990; Cohen, 1990; Peterson, 1990). A number of factors contribute to the success or failure of instructional reforms. One important factor the literature has identified is that teachers do not always have opportunities to learn about and practice instructional reforms. In the area of technology, teachers may have learned about how to use computers and adapt their teaching from a variety of sources-teacher preparation programs (for prospective teachers), professional development activities (for practicing teachers), and informal learning opportunities such as assistance from classmates, colleagues, or students.

Professional development research suggests that teachers" opportunities to learn about education technology during traditional professional development activities are often lacking. Often described as an important vehicle for school reform (Sprinthall, Reiman, & Theis-Sprinthall, 1996), professional development activities in general have been widely criticized for being relatively ineffective. Specifically, they have been described as short term, devoid of continuity due to inadequate follow-up and the lack of ongoing feedback from experts, isolated from the participants" classroom and school contexts, and characterized by too few opportunities to learn by doing and reflecting with colleagues (Fullan with Stiegelbauer, 1991). In fact, while a majority of teachers participate in such activities, a small percentage of teachers report feeling very well prepared to integrate technology into instruction (Lewis et al., 1999).

Teacher preparation programs have received similar criticisms. Traditional programs for prospective teachers have been described as fragmented, superficial, and unconnected to real classroom experiences (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future [NCTAF], 1996). With respect to education technology, some observers have claimed 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). For example, some researchers have reported that most students training to become teachers do not routinely use technology while in the field and do not work under supervising teachers who can advise them on using technology in the classroom (Moursund & Bielefeldt, 1999). Additionally, about half of the technology training that prospective teachers get in the classroom is delivered as part of other classes (i.e., methods and curriculum classes), and the other half is provided in the form of stand-alone technology classes (Moursund & Bielefeldt, 1999). Furthermore, most teacher-preparation programs provided by schools, colleges, and departments of education do not have written, funded, regularly updated technology plans (Moursund & Bielefeldt, 1999).

Informal learning opportunities, in addition to these formal learning opportunities, may also provide teachers with assistance using technology. Peer collaboration, in particular, has been heralded by many teachers, researchers, and policymakers as essential for teachers" continuous learning (Coley, 1997). Teachers may benefit when they learn about technology from one another and provide one another with motivation to continue working with this resource. Research supports this proposition; teachers who use computers benefit from interacting with a network of other teachers at their school who also use computers (Software and Information Industry Association [SIIA], 2000).

Technology Use in Schools and Classrooms

In recent years, policymakers have recognized that teachers and administrators need resourcesand organizational capacity to implement instructional reforms (CEO Forum on Educationand Technology, 2000; Coley, 1997; Means, 1995; SIIA, 2000; Trotter, 1999; U.S. Departmentof Education, 1996; U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, 1995a). For example,teachers" ability and willingness to use computers and the Internet may depend, tosome extent, on the schools and classrooms in which they work. Specifically, certain characteristicsof classrooms and schools, such as equipment, time, technical assistance, and leadership,may act as either barriers to or facilitators of technology use.


On a most basic level, teachers may be more likely to integrate computers and the Internet intoclassroom instruction if they have access to adequate equipment and connections. Researchindicates that the number of computers in America's classrooms and schools has grown substantiallyin recent years. In 1983, there was one computer for every 125 students (Glennan &Melmed, 1996). By 1998, there was one computer for every 6 students (Rowand, 1999). As thenumber of computers in schools has grown, so has the availability of the Internet in schoolsand classrooms. Between 1994 and 1998, Internet availability among public schools increasedfrom 35 to 95 percent (Williams, 2000). In 1997, 27 percent of instructional rooms had Internetconnections, whereas 63 percent were connected in 1999 (Williams, 2000). By 1999, there wasone instructional computer with an Internet connection for every 9 students (Williams, 2000).

However, availability is not the same as use. Computers may be available, but are they beingused? Research suggests that the answer is yes, to some degree. As availability has grown, so hasthe number of students and teachers using computers and the frequency with which they usethem (Levin et al., 1998). For example, the percent of eleventh-grade students who had neverused computers in school dropped substantially between 1984 and 1996 (from 55 to 16 percent)and the frequency with which students used computers increased between 1984 and1996 (Snyder and Wirt, 1998). By 1996, 72 percent of fourth-graders, 47 percent of eighthgraders,and 50 percent of eleventh-graders reported using a computer in school at least once aweek (Snyder and Wirt, 1998).

Although the presence of computers and the Internet has grown sharply in recent years, muchof the technology equipment currently in schools and classrooms is from an earlier generationof technology-computers with less processing power, less storage capability, and limited capacityfor being linked together electronically (Anderson & Ronnkvist, 1999). Using data from1998, Anderson and Ronnkvist (1999) have concluded that although computing capacity forinstruction has improved substantially over the past several years, there are a number of "majordeficiencies" (p. 16). For example, they found that most of the computers in schools do nothave the capability to run a large variety of multimedia software and are also limited in howthey can access graphical information on the Internet.


The nation's schools have been increasingly challenged by policy initiatives "to do better, and todo differently" (McLaughlin & Oberman, 1996, p. iv), pushing teachers to change the waythey teach. At the same time, teachers face many other challenges, including rapidly increasingtechnological changes and a greater diversity in the classroom. With regard to technology, thereis often little time in teachers" schedules to become familiar with hardware and software or tolearn to integrate the new technology into their lesson plans (President's Committee of Advisorson Science and Technology, 1997). Lack of time to become acquainted with technologyand learn to use it has been identified as the greatest obstacle to the effective use of educationtechnology (Becker, 1990b; President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, 1997).

Technical Assistance

Another important resource for the development of teacher expertise in the use of educationtechnology is technical assistance. A full-time computer coordinator, for example, may assistteachers with using computer software and hardware or adapting their teaching practice toinclude computer or Internet use. However, according to one study, less than 5 percent of allschools have such a staff member. Furthermore, where they are present, computer coordinatorstypically spend a significant amount of time teaching students, and much less time assistingteachers (Becker, 1998).


Principal leadership has been described as one of the most important factors affecting theeffective use of technology in classrooms (Byrom, 1998). Principals who exhibit leadership areinstrumental in modeling the use of technology in classrooms. They understand how it cansupport best practices in instruction and assessment and provide teachers with guidance for itsuse. Principals may also participate actively in professional development activities related toeducation technology and provide teachers with opportunities to learn how to use these resources.In our nation's schools, however, teachers often receive little administrative and pedagogicalguidance (President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, 1997). Forsome teachers, lack of principal leadership may prove to be a barrier to their effective use oftechnology.

General Framework

The previous discussion described three general topics of high importance in current studies ofeducation technology. First, the growing interest in how technology is being used in schoolsand classrooms and the limited research on this topic illustrate the importance of examiningwhether and how teachers use education technology. Second, because teachers may be morelikely to use education technology and to use it more effectively if they have opportunities tolearn about its use, it is valuable to understand how prepared teachers feel to use technologyand their learning experiences. Finally, it is important to understand the extent to which teachers"school and classroom environments (e.g., the availability of and access to technology, supportsfor and barriers to technology use) are related to their technology use. These generaltopics suggest that a useful model for studying education technology would begin with examiningwhether and how teachers use it and then explore the teacher preparation and training,and the school and classroom contexts, that characterize where technology is used and where itis not used.

Study Methodology

Three sources of data are presented in this report-the Fast Response Survey System [FRSS],the Current Population Survey [CPS], and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). These data sources share a number of differences that preclude comparisons amongthem. For example, the CPS findings that are presented include both public and private schoolteachers. The FRSS and NAEP findings presented in this report include only public schoolteachers. Additionally, for the NAEP, students were sampled and their teachers surveyed. Thus,unlike the FRSS teacher survey, the NAEP data are not nationally representative of teachers.

All comparative statements in this report have been tested for statistical significance using chisquaretests or t-tests adjusted for multiple comparisons using the Bonferroni adjustment andare significant at the 0.05 level. Appendix B provides a detailed discussion of the sample andsurvey methodology. The primary teacher characteristic used as an analysis variable in thisreport is total years of teaching experience (3 or fewer years, 4 to 9 years, 10 to 19 years, 20 ormore years). In addition to work experience, this variable may also, though not necessarily,represent for many teachers their age or cohort (e.g., teachers with fewer years of experiencemay be young and newly-trained). The school characteristics used as analysis variables in thisreport are school instructional level, school enrollment size, locale (city, urban fringe, town,rural), percent minority enrollment, and percent of students in school eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch (which indicates the concentration of poverty in the school). Thesevariables are defined in appendix B.

It is important to note that many of the school characteristics used for independent analysesmay also be related to each other. For example, enrollment size and instructional level ofschools are related, with secondary schools typically being larger than elementary schools. Similarly,poverty concentration and minority enrollment are related, with schools with a highminority enrollment also more likely to have a high concentration of poverty. Other relationshipsbetween analysis variables may exist. Because of the relatively small sample size used inthe FRSS, it is difficult to separate the independent effects of these variables. Their existence,however, should be considered in the interpretation of the data presented in this report.

Organization of This Report

The remaining chapters of the report are organized around the following themes: (1) technologyand instruction, (2) availability, (3) frequency of use, (4) teacher training and preparation,and (5) barriers to technology use. Each chapter presents results from the NCES Fast ResponseSurvey System 1999 teacher survey of education technology. In addition, findings from othersurveys will be referenced throughout this report to provide context for the FRSS data. Computerand Internet usage supplements to the CPS, a monthly survey of the U.S. populationconducted by the Census Bureau, will provide a backdrop for American students' and teachers"computer and Internet usage. NCES's NAEP will assist in providing a more detailed portrait ofimplementation of technology in U.S. schools. Conclusions are provided in the final chapter ofthe report. Technical information, including a detailed study methodology (appendix B) andtables of standard errors for all data presented in this report (appendix A), are included as technicalappendices to the report. The questionnaire is included in appendix C.

1All data presented in this report are for public school students, with the exception of CPS data.