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Rapid Rise Seen in Educators' Use of Digital Tools for PD

Teachers and principals are becoming increasingly comfortable using online tools to hone their professional skills, and are turning to options from social networking to Web-based classes to do so, a new nationwide survey reveals.

The findings, which cover a lot of ground, were included in the Speak up 2012 survey, "From Chalkboards to Tablets: The Digital Conversion of the K-12 Classroom." Speak Up is an effort led by Project Tomorrow, a nonprofit group based in Irvine, Calif., that seeks to improve students' academic preparation through technology and other means.

The survey found that the number of principals who said they support professional growth through some form of social networking more than tripled, from 8 percent in 2008 to 25 percent today. The portion of teachers who reported using social-networking tools also jumped, from 22 percent to 39 percent, during that time period. (See the table below.) The percentages of teachers and principals participating in online classes and virtual professional learning communities also rose signficantly, the survey found.

With some specific technologies, the evolution in usage is particularly striking. In 2008, just 26 percent of principals used webinars for professional growth. The number is 63 percent today.

At the same time, the opinions of teachers, principals, and others were, perhasps not surprisingly, divided on whether educators' job evaluations should include a measure of how adept they are in using technology to boost instruction and student achievement. While substantial percentages of parents, principals, and district administrators support including that information in evaluations, just 43 percent of teachers backed that idea, compared with 47 percent opposed.

The survey also appears to reflect parents' growing ease with some forms of technology as tools for communicating with schools. Thirty-seven percent of parents said they would like their children's schools to communicate with them via text message, compared with just 5 percent two years ago. But just 23 percent of teachers reported that texting with teachers is a common practice.

The results are based on responses from 364,240 K-12 students, 39,713 parents, 53,947 teachers, 2,399 librarians, 1,564 district administrators, 3,947 school administrators, and 500 technology leaders, from 8,020 public and private schools. The survey was conducted online using a customized data-collection tool that is unique to the Speak Up project, according to Project Tomorrow.

The results also underscore school officials' mounting worries about ensuring teachers' and students' access to the Web, as demand for online capacity increases. In survey results from five years ago, just 12 percent of school-site administrators regarded concerns about digital equity as a primary challenge; now 41 percent say that is so. And while only 10 percent of technology leaders in the survey identified Web capacity and bandwidth issues as a critical issue in 2010, 34 percent say it is their most challenging tech issue today.


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