New Surveys Show Teachers Are More Tech-Savvy Than Many Think

March 07, 2013
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, CA
CATEGORIES In the Classroom, Professional Development, Technology Integration

The Pew Internet and American Life Project surveyed middle and high school teachers who say the Internet has had a “major impact” on their ability to access content, resources and materials for teaching.  In a new study released last week researchers found that mobile tools have become an important part of the learning process in many classrooms. Seventy-three percent of teachers surveyed said that cell phones are now either part of their classroom experience, or their students' classroom experience. Tablets and e-readers are being used by more than 40 percent of these teachers, who were primarily advanced placement high school teachers and those participating in the National Writing Project.

Writing at MashableCamille Bautista points out that educators are outpacing online adults when it comes to personal tech use. “Fifty-eight percent of teachers surveyed have a smartphone, compared to 48% of all American adults, and they're more likely to use social networking sites such as FacebookLinkedIn and Twitter,” she writes.

Common Sense Media’s co-founder, Linda Burch, told Bautista that the teaching profession has always been collaborative, which may account for their higher use of new technology:

"Teachers are really active sharers and connectors from time immemorial," Burch said. "They're people who like to gain knowledge from others and in digital literacy, teachers are the best evangelists. They want to understand how to improve their practice."

Teachers in the Pew Survey were also concerned about the digital divide and greater class disparities. Teachers with low-income students were less likely to use digital tools.

Last month, PBS LearningMedia released similar findings from a national survey of 503 pre-K-12 teachers. In this survey, conducted via web-based interviews in January 2013, three-quarters of respondents said technology enables teachers to reinforce lessons and expand on content covered in the classroom, to motivate students to learn, and to respond to a variety of learning styles. Almost as many said that using technology in the classroom allows them to “do much more than ever before” for their students.

The most common technology resources used by teachers in the PBS survey were:

  • Online lesson plans (48%)
  • Web-based interactive games and activities (45%)
  • Websites to deliver class information (44%)
  • Online video, images, and articles (43%)

More than two-thirds of teachers want more technology in the classroom.

It appears that PBS LearningMedia has not released a full report, but they have provided a helpful infographic [pdf] outlining its key findings.

These findings line up with the results from Common Sense Media’s May 2012 survey of 685 US teachers, which found that many teachers consider students’ media use to be beneficial to the development of certain skills. According to our findings, for example, 63 percent of teachers said students’ media usage has increased their ability to seek out information. “I think media has helped students gain knowledge, learn how to search for infor­mation, collaborate with others,” said one high school science teacher. “Students also communicate with their peers a lot through texting, plan events, and generally are more engaged with the world.”

It is important to consider, however, that our survey asked questions largely about entertainment media—including television, video games, social networking sites, apps, and more—rather than educational technology. Many of our survey results found that teachers are generally still a bit skeptical about the effects of entertainment media on students’ overall performance in the classroom, and are particularly concerned about the impact technology has had on students’ writing skills.

However, teachers clearly want more learning-focused technology in the classroom—and more help in learning how to use it in innovative ways. Educators in low-income classrooms are most in need of more classroom technology. In the PBS LearningMedia survey, for instance, 68 percent of teachers overall said they wanted more classroom technology, but 75 percent in low-income schools wanted more.

Ninety percent have access to at least one PC or laptop for their classrooms, and 59 percent have access to an interactive whiteboard. However, the question arises, is one laptop for an entire classroom of students really enough?

Findings also showed that tablets and e-readers saw the largest increase among technology platforms available for in-classroom use—35 percent of teachers said they now have access to a tablet or an e-reader, whereas only 20 percent had access a year ago. Teachers with access to tablets said apps (71 percent), websites (64 percent), and e-books or e-textbooks (60 percent) were the most beneficial for teaching.

Despite the growing access to technology, many teachers are still unsure how to use it innovatively. Nearly all teachers know how to use a whiteboard, but that’s not enough. Teachers want to know how to use technology to become “networked educators” who can inspire and better individualize learning in order to reach those kids who might be tuning out. As George Couros, a Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning in Edmonton, Canada, said on his blog about the potential of technology in the classroom,  “Sharing a video from a Bieber concert is not transformative learning”—but there is, he says, something about kids taking and sharing photos that teachers can build on to further learning.

If you’re looking for innovative ideas, check out Onalytica’s index of the most influential education blogs.

Collectively all of these findings help us better understand the issues US educators are dealing with every day, and also get an idea of their attitudes and comfort level toward technology. More surveys like this will get us closer to addressing and meeting the specific needs of US teachers.