Technology is changing the way classrooms operate and students learn at an incredible rate. As President Obama highlighted in his announcement of the White House’s ConnectED initiative, technology can make a substantial impact on student achievement. The initiative therefore aims to make the best technology accessible to students across the country, no matter their background.
As emphasis on digital classrooms grows, district administrators are eager to find and implement tools that will help transform the learning experience. While the potential value of educational technology tools is high, the way in which tools are implemented can drastically impact the actual value provided to the classroom.
The benefits of educational technology are clear. Technology can provide students with individualized learning platforms and instant feedback and assessment. It also allows teachers to more easily identify and address particular student needs.
However, in order for technology to achieve its maximum potential, it must be harnessed and implemented properly. This requires that the facilitator, the teacher, possess a certain set of knowledge and skills to understand how and when various tools best support their curricula. Unfortunately, many teachers aren’t provided which the proper training before being handed new tools.
Technology alone isn’t enough. According to Pew Research, only 50 percent of Advanced Placement and National Writing Project teachers working in the lowest income areas consider their schools to be doing a “good job” providing resources and supporting teachers’ need to utilize digital tools in the classroom. Moreover, in a new nationwide survey of K-12 teachers conducted by digedu, 50 percent of teachers reported inadequate assistance when using technology in the classroom.
“The results of this survey indicate that a startling number of teachers frequently use technology without the training and ongoing support they need,” said digedu co-founder and president, Matt Tullman.
Levels of technological support correlate to teacher confidence in the benefits of educational technology. Or so a survey by CDW-Government, Inc. found. In fact, 76 percent of surveyed K-12 teachers responded that training is the key to increased technology use.
Addressing the lack of resources and support for teachers is a major component of effectively executing the ConnectED initiative. It is integral that school administrators ensure teachers feel comfortable utilizing the chosen technology in their classrooms. Many educational technology platforms come with some level of professional development, but this content needs to be taken advantage of in order for the tools to truly be effective.
On November 19, 2014, Director of the Office of Educational Technology Richard Culatta wrote a letter to educators about federal funds that can be used for educational technology purposes. “Technology can help improve learning and educational outcomes for students only when teachers are well supported with appropriate resources and have an opportunity to integrate technology with high quality instruction,” Culatta wrote. Technology, like any tool, is not a solution unless it is used properly. Having the potential to improve student learning experiences is very different from actually improving them.
The White House ConnectED and Future Ready initiatives place strong emphasis on encouraging more “connected educators,” individuals who skillfully utilize social media and other online tools in order to enhance their professional growth as well as to improve their ability to integrate tools and resources into their classrooms.
It is safe to assume that connected educators have at least a baseline digital literacy comprehension. But a number of teachers are not as immersed or up-to-speed on online platforms and computer literacy. These teachers should not be left to fend for themselves when it comes to developing digital skills. Rather, schools need to recognize that this is a form of professional development that needs to be continually enforced.
A number of schools are pushing technology into the classroom without equipping them with the proper guidance. “The big picture is that teachers aren’t trained well enough in how to integrate technology effectively into their classroom,” argued Caleb Clark, director of the educational technology program at Marlboro College Graduate school.
Clark is not alone in this view. Educators across the country recognize that teacher training is preventing educational technology from being as effective a tool as it can be. Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent S. Dallas Dance noted that “If [school systems think of [educational technology] as a device, things will get dicey. It is what you are trying to do through the device that counts.”
If we want ConnectED, Future Ready, and other educational technology programs to be successful, we need to keep these facts in mind. The technology is only half of the story, and we need to make sure training and professional development are considered important, too.
Cara Wilner is the programs manager at EveryoneOn.