Teachers and Computer Use

For the past few years I have been teaching an Introduction to Educational Technology course for undergraduates in a teacher education program. With some regularity my students, upon returning from field experiences, reported that teachers either were not using the computers available in their classrooms or were
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For the past few years I have been teaching an Introduction to Educational Technology course for undergraduates in a teacher education program. With some regularity my students, upon returning from field experiences, reported that teachers either were not using the computers available in their classrooms or were using them for administrative rather than instructional tasks. Students went even so far as to indicate that some teachers observed had a “hands-off” policy, not allowing students to use the computer at all.

In an effort to determine if what the students were telling me was accurate, I asked them to survey an average of five teachers each, using an interview sheet I provided. During September, 2005 my students interviewed 127 Miami Dade County Public School (MDCPS) teachers (68 Elementary, 12 Middle School and 47 High School) about their computer use habits. Additionally they asked the teachers if and how their students used the computers in the classroom, the Media Center and/or Computer Lab. While these interviews preceded the CDW-G sponsored Teachers Talk Technology 2005 report, some of the questions sought the same answers, thus allowing me, where possible, to compare and contrast our results with those of the national study.

Public school teachers in Florida’s Miami Dade County have at least one computer in their classroom; many have more than one. Most of these computers are wired to a Local Area Network and many are wired to a Wide Area Network. In the national study, 74% of teachers responding report that they have only a few computers in the classroom on which students take turns using (Teachers Talk Technology 2005).

The specific objectives of the MDCPS interviews were to determine:

  • if and how the teachers use their computers
  • if teachers integrate computers in their daily lessons
  • if and how students use the computers
  • where the students used computers (classroom, Media center, Lab)
  • where teachers were trained in computer use
  • how comfortable they were using computers

Forty-five percent (45%) of Miami Dade County Public Schools teachers interviewed report that their classroom computers are for their use only. Fifty percent (50%) report they use it for a grade book program, as MDCPS is piloting an on-line grade book requiring teachers to input data weekly, thereby allowing parents to track their child’s progress. Fifty percent (50%) report they use it for Email and Forty-nine percent (49%) report they use it for Internet access. Twenty-six percent (26%) report that they also use it for other applications. Of the 1000 teachers interviewed for the national study 54.1% of teachers responding indicate they integrate computers in their daily curriculum (Teachers Talk Technology 2005).

On average, in those MDCPS classrooms where students are allowed to use the computers, elementary teachers report allowing students to use them for games, both educational and otherwise. This is three times as many as the number of high school or middle school teachers allowing such practice. Interestingly, they also report allowing their students to access the Internet twice as often as high school teachers. Less than 10% of teachers at all levels indicate they allow students to access Email (this is probably because most Email is blocked in the classroom). An average of 40% of teachers who allow students to use the computer report they allowed them to use it for test prep, and in particular for FCAT Explorer, a test prep program created to allow students to practice for the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test (the Florida high-stakes test).

MDCPS elementary and high school classrooms surveyed average 2.5 computers each while the middle school classrooms averaged 3.5 computers. Teachers estimate their computers to be from three to four years old.

While most classrooms did not have Internet access, the computers in the Media Center as a rule did have access. An average of 74% of the MDCPS teachers reported allowing students to search the Internet in the Media Center (from a low of 68% for Elementary teachers to a high of 92% for Middle School teachers). This is contrasted with the national study in which high school and middle school teachers were significantly more likely than elementary school teachers to use their school’s Internet/Intranet for almost all applications (Teachers Talk Technology 2005).

On a four-point scale, ranging from neophyte to expert, MDCPS teachers reported their computer competence. On average they reported they were “adequate , with the number of teachers reporting they were expert increasing with the grade level (Elementary: 15%, Middle: 22%, High: 27%). These data almost parallel the national data reported in the Teachers Talk Technology report.

While Elementary teachers had the least amount of teaching experience, the average number of years represented by this sample was over twelve years. Given the age of these teachers, the fact that most of them gained their computer skills from in-service workshops or were self-taught, is not surprising. Seventy percent (70%) of the teachers reported that they learned a great portion of their skills on their own.

Asked what they perceived to be both the greatest advantage and the greatest disadvantage of computers in the classroom, many of them answered: time. Some lamented that the computer required too much of their time while others lauded the computer as a time saver. Many reported that the computer was a great tool because it could get down to the student’s level while others complained that the computer was a distraction and had little value in their classroom. Again and again teachers reported that the computers were an excellent tool to reinforce student academic skills. In the national study 75.5% of teachers responding indicate that technology is an effective tool for the subjects they teach (Teachers Talk Technology 2005). MDCPS teachers felt that there was sufficient software available to address their needs. They both lamented and praised the computer as a tool for increased communication. In the elementary grades the computer is often seen as a motivator (“Finish your work and you can use the computer.”) while in the high school the teachers often reported that the computer was an excellent tool for student research.

Many teachers report that the computer has made record-keeping easier for them. They also enjoyed its potential for Internet research. Most complaints teachers had related to non-functioning computers and the lack of technical support in the building (although 50% of the teachers reported that there was a Technology person (not the Media Center person) dedicated to assisting them with technology matters.

Implications of the study

While the pessimist may see the ‘glass’ (read: teachers using technology) as half empty, optimistic educators should see the glass as half full. The fact that only half of the teachers interviewed use technology regularly for instructional purposes should serve as a challenge to increase that number. How can we assure that all teachers recognize the value of the technology? How can we make sure that teachers recognize that this tool can, and will, make their task easier? Certainly, with such mandates as maintaining an on-line grade book, initially the work load may seem to increase. But as teachers begin to get into a routine, and trust the technology, they can eliminate the little green grade book and have a wealth of statistical information at their fingertips that was not otherwise available when they simply entered grades into the little boxes.

Teachers need to learn how to manage the technology and the content. Using the computer as a reward for work completed, or well done, is a start but elementary teachers need to recognize that even the youngest student is able to navigate the Internet and conduct research. In visiting my grandchild some months ago I allowed him to “play” with my notebook and he changed my settings to suit his needs. This may not seem too astounding until you realize that he is only three years old!

The teacher education students in my classes, for the most part, grew up with computers. They were born after PC’s became part of the educational landscape. They know how to use the computer to access what they need and for communication – it is up to us to educate them on how to utilize this resource in their classrooms to facilitate learning. They are not shy about using the technology so we must capitalize on this and make sure they understand how to use this tool to maximize the potential learning of their students.

References:

  • Teachers Talk Tech 2005
  • Robert Vos (September, 2005) Unpublished data from 127 teacher interviews, Miami Dade County Public Schools.

Email:Robert Vos

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