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Taking a Closer Look at Teachers' Technology Shortcomings

One of the biggest concerns about how technology is being used in the classroom today focuses on what some see as a fundamental breakdown in the system: many teachers aren't comfortable with technology, and are unsure how to weave it into their instruction.

The National Association of State Boards of Education probed this issue in a recent report, as part of a larger examination of how schools can keep up with students' tech knowledge and expectations.

I wrote about the release of that report, "Born in Another Time: Ensuring Educational Technology Meets the Needs of Students Today—and Tomorrow," but I'm turning back to it because it offers some revealing details on what state board officials, as well as faculty at teacher colleges and educators themselves, see as shortcomings in preparing teachers to use technology. The authors argue that many teacher-preparation programs fail to give teachers the tech skills they need, partly because they instead choose to focus heavily on things like pedagogical theory—in general, different philosophies about how teachers convey knowledge to students.

How much catching up on technology do teachers, and the system that produces them, have to do? The report's authors cite the following examples:

• The vast majority of faculty members and students in teacher preparation programs say that their programs require one stand-alone technology course, as opposed to integrating technology and pedagogy through the program and clinical experiences (the authors see integration as the preferred way to go);

• Teacher-prep programs tend to emphasize using technology to boost educators' "personal productivity," through the use of tools such as word processing and spreadsheets, and for use in presenting information, as opposed to giving aspiring educators the tech skills needed to collect, analyze, and utilize data in their instruction;

• Less than a quarter of educational technology faculty said they had taught their students how to use technology to analyze student achievement data, a skill that the authors say is crucial to tailor instruction to individual students' needs; and

• New teachers are no more likely to blend technology into their practice than their veteran peers—which is surprising, the authors say, "given that the vast majority of those entering the profession are digital natives."

Those findings come from a number of sources, including an analysis conducted by researchers at Indiana University, which included a survey of teacher-college faculty and their students; and a separate survey of teachers and administrators released by Walden University, an online university, and Grunwald Associates, a Bethesda, Md.-based research and consulting company.

How can policymakers help educators become more sophisticated users of technology? State officials, in cooperation with licensing boards and others, should revamp standards for new teachers to make sure they receive more preparation in technology and online instruction, including through clinical, or hands-on classroom work and observation, the report says. It adds that states should revamp professional development to include a greater focus on technology, provide sufficient funding for school technology coaches, and do more to weave virtual instruction into existing teacher mentoring and induction programs.

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