Despite the massive investments school districts have made in digital content, computers, and other devices, education technology has not transformed most teachers’ instruction, according to the latest technology report from Education Week. While the majority of teachers use digital tools to simplify their own responsibilities and supplement traditional instructional approaches, few use technology to enable students to direct their own learning.
“The student-centered, hands-on, personalized instruction envisioned by the ed-tech proponents remains the exception to the rule,” writes Benjamin Herold, staff writer for Education Week and contributor to Technology Counts 2015: Learning the Digital Way.
Public schools spend more than $3 billion each year on digital content and most provide at least one computer for every five students, according to Technology Counts. Although many teachers use digital devices to communicate with colleagues, access information online, and plan lessons, the addition of technology has not fundamentally altered how they teach, Herold writes.
Access to devices and high-speed networks used to present the primary obstacle to incorporating technology into instruction, Herold notes. But today’s challenges generally concern teachers’ expertise and comfort using technology, as well as their beliefs about its perceived value, he adds. Many teachers do not understand how educational technology works or remain unfamiliar with instructional strategies that leverage technology in meaningful ways. Other educators, meanwhile, avoid technology for philosophical reasons or pedagogical beliefs that favor more traditional instructional methods, Herold explains.
Part of the problem stems from inadequate professional development for teachers, according to Technology Counts. Districts that have stumbled when introducing new devices and digital learning plans often did not prepare teachers fully for the transition or provide sufficient ongoing support and opportunities for teachers to collaborate, writes Malia Herman, contributing writer for Technology Counts. Teacher training cannot focus solely on how devices and software operate, she notes. Instead, districts must develop a clear vision that explains how technology will support student learning and then help teachers develop the necessary instructional strategies to achieve those goals, Herman writes. Additionally, professional development should occur throughout the workday, rather than in stand-alone sessions, and connect directly to the specific classroom issues teachers encounter, Herold adds.
Districts implementing digital learning plans also encounter problems when they focus solely on devices instead of prioritizing the curriculum and instructional content those devices will support, Herman writes. Too often, districts simply load digital versions of textbooks onto tablets and computers and expect instruction to change, Herman notes. Successful districts evaluate and curate content and digital lessons from multiple sources and then support teachers as they introduce the new material, she adds. School districts hit roadblocks when they move too quickly as well, purchasing and distributing devices without outlining student learning goals, Herman writes. Herman advises districts to start small when putting new educational technologies in place, introducing devices and digital learning plans initially in a single subject or grade, for instance, and also to build widespread community support for the changes.
As Technology Counts points out, implementing meaningful digital learning requires more than just purchasing devices for a school district. It requires thoughtful planning, preparation, and analyses of student outcomes, teacher development, school culture, and leadership. The Alliance for Excellent Education developed the Future Ready Interactive Planning Dashboard to help school district leaders plan for using technology effectively to engage students, empower teachers, and improve learning outcomes.
This free online tool guides school district leaders through each step of a systemic planning process to create a comprehensive approach for implementing digital learning before they purchase a single device. The dashboard allows school leaders to both assess their overall readiness for transitioning to digital learning and evaluate specific needs in seven core areas, including curriculum, instruction, and professional learning. The dashboard also offers strategies and resources districts can use to address their individual needs.
Technology Counts 2015: Learning the Digital Way is available at