Surveys Synthesized: What Are Teachers' Attitudes About Classroom Technology?

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The Joan Ganz Cooney Center reviewed five national surveys that polled K-12 classroom teachers about their practices and uses of technology. The report includes findings from PBS LearningMedia’s Teacher Technology Usage Survey (January 2012); The Gates Foundation’s Technology and Effective Teaching in the U.S. (February 2012); The Joan Ganz Cooney Center’s National Survey of Teacher Attitudes & Beliefs on Digital Games & Learning (May 2012); Common Sense Media’s Children, Teens, and Entertainment Media (Fall 2012); and Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project Online Survey of Teachers (February 2013).

The review highlights some of the benefits and obstacles of using different kinds of technology in the classroom, but it also raises some great questions that have yet to be explored with thorough surveys.

Be sure to download the entire report [PDF]. Here's the main summary of the findings.

Teachers Need More Proof

In the national surveys (with the exception of the Common Sense Media Survey), teachers seem to be leaning toward the idea that technology is a helpful tool in their classrooms. They are open to using technology, currently use technology, and many desire to use more technology. Teachers are especially enthusiastic about technology when it comes to professional development, putting together classroom lesson plans, and collaborating with other teachers.

However, across the five surveys, when asked how technology is beneficial to the students’ learning, there was an emphasis on learning processes and higher-level skills rather than on academic achievement. For example, teachers cite opportunities for more personalized learning, increased motivation, collaboration and pro-social behavior, and student efficiency and productivity (see Section “Benefits of Technology for Student Learning”). While all of these reported benefits would likely lead to an increase in the academic success of students, there is skepticism that technology can actually benefit test scores and achievement (see Section “Barriers to Classroom Implementation”): “For many teachers, technology must add demonstrable value to justify incorporation into the learning process” (Pew, p. 49).

While the surveys revealed that teachers find technology to be helpful with academic and collaborative skill development, it is difficult to tell if teachers believe that technology use in the classroom directly impacts performance in an academic subject. A future survey could ask teachers to make a direct connection between the skills they believe students develop through use of technology and the academic subject that they believe it will impact.

While the teachers in the Common Sense Media survey portray a less enthusiastic view of (entertainment) technology, it provides a very interesting model for exploring the ways in which technology can impact academic performance (p. 27).

Alignment with Common Core and Assessment

Teachers cite time constraints and an overemphasis on testing and reform as significant barriers to incorporating technology into the classroom (see Section “Barriers to Classroom Implementation”). However, with the exception of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center survey instrument (Q19), there is not much detail about the ways in which the Common Core Standards affect the incorporation of technology into the classroom.

In addition, the teachers in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation survey indicate that they believe “technology tools that are created to support effective teaching should [...] provide practical ways to incorporate instruction tied to accepted teaching standards, such as the Common Core State Standards...” (p. 3). Therefore, a future survey could explore the topic of Common Core Standards in greater depth.

Teachers in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation survey also desire technology tools that will “provide a strong student assessment component that gives both students and teachers better insight into student learning, in real time” (p. 3). The Joan Ganz Cooney Center 2012 survey questions if and in what ways technology is valuable for assessment and testing content knowledge (Q17, Q19). However in general, there is not much detail about if and how teachers use technology to track the learning of their students. This could also contribute to the lingering skepticism that teachers face in terms of technology impacting academic achievement. A future survey could ask teachers more specific questions about whether and how technology is helpful

for assessment, which technologies they are using, and what kinds of evidence these assessments would need to provide to demonstrate that technology can positively affect academic performance.

Technology’s Diverse Roles in Different School Subjects

The Pew Research Center report highlights not only differing comfort levels with technology among teachers depending on the subjects that they teach, but also different device and digital content utilization (see Section “Technology Use by Teacher Characteristic”).

The Pew Research Center poses the question: “Do some subjects lend themselves more easily to the use of interactive and collaborative online tools?” (p. 38). More generally, how does the subject taught affect the teachers’ ability to seek out and effectively incorporate the most appropriate technologies for their classrooms? Conversely, how do the capabilities of certain digital tools and the corresponding content available affect the likelihood of successful incorporation into the classroom?

The latter question may be especially important, as district leaders may be inclined to purchase technologies that will be useful across a range of grade levels and subject areas. This top-level decision-making will only allow for so much attention to detail in terms of which technologies are best for which subject areas.

In order to better inform the purchasing or utilization decisions of district leaders, technology experts, and teachers, a future survey could delve more deeply into the opinions of teachers of varying subject areas, especially in terms of their specific media use in the classroom, the practicality and worth of certain devices, the effectiveness of digital content as it directly relates to their subject matter, and best overall practices for using media and technology.

What Is the Child’s Role in Incorporating Technology?

These surveys appropriately address the ways in which adults (district and school leaders, teachers, parents) and issues (time constraints, school environment, access to technology) affect the incorporation of educational technology into the classroom. What roles do students play?

While many teachers do feel comfortable with technology, several of them feel that their students are much more aware of technology than they are (Pew, p. 29). Are we overlooking students’ roles as key integrators/facilitators of technology in the classroom?

A future survey could ask teachers how much of a role the students’ opinions of and reactions to technology affect their decision to continue using it. Was there ever a time that students suggested a specific game or website to a teacher? If so, was the implementation of this game in the classroom more successful than one that the teacher suggested?