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Teachers' Knowledge of Technology Undersold, Study Says

By guest blogger Sam Atkeson

Contrary to conventional wisdom, teachers use technology more frequently than their students, according to a recent study that compares the use of digital tools by middle school science educators with youths in their classrooms.

The report—which investigated the technology habits of 1,079 students and 24 teachers across 18 schools in Utah and New York— found that teachers' experiences with technology outside the classroom were relatively extensive, but that educators' skill in integrating digital resources in their classrooms was limited. 

"Rarely do teachers provide opportunities to allow students to use technology to solve problems, enhance productivity, or develop creativity," the researchers wrote in a report that was published last month in the Association for Educational Communications & Technology's bi-monthly publication.

For instance, the study found that the most commonly used technologies in schools were simple tools like word processing Web search engines, rather than digitial resources designed to enhance learning.

The researchers acknowledged that the study's findings are limited by a small sample size of 24 teachers, noting that "caution is needed when making generalization or inferring from these results."

However, they added that the findings—which challenge the notion that poor integration of technology in schools stems from teachers' inexperience with digital tools—are consistent with the findings of similar research studies. 

Using technology for learning purposes requires different skills than the use of technology for such purposes as communication or entertainment, lead researcher Shiang-Kwei Wang said in an interview with Education Week.

Wang identified training as a major issue, and argued that teachers—despite using technology for personal purposes—don't know the best way to use it to improve classroom instruction.

Students also need guidance in understanding how to use technology to improve learning, the study found.

"School-age students may be fluent in using entertainment or communication technologies, but there is evidence that the guidance is needed to support their learning how to use these technologies to solve sophisticated cognitive problems."

A number of recent Education Week pieces have touched on this very argument—that using technology for educational purposes is not innate or intuitive, but rather a learned skill. 

A few months ago I spoke about this issue with Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking. He said that younger teachers with greater exposure to technology in their personal lives are not always more skilled at using digital tools to enhance classroom lessons. 

Similarly, Brianna Crowley wrote a piece for Education Week Teacher last month describing the importance of teaching so-called "digital natives" how to use digital tools effectively.

In addition to the lack of training, the study identified time constraints, lack of resources, and lack of support in schools' policies as barriers preventing better integration of technology into teaching and learning.


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