National survey of literacy teachers examines obstacles to bringing more technology into classrooms

iStock_000022973452XSmallWhen they leave the school building every day, students cross a deep divide between the literacy that they practice in their classrooms and the literacy they practice the rest of the day on their computers, cell phones and tablets.

A new national survey of literacy teachers examines why this divide continues to exist and what teachers see as the main obstacles to bringing information communication technologies (ICT) into their classrooms.

The results of the survey of 1,441 literacy teachers across the United States finds cause for both optimism and concern, write the researchers in a recent issue of Reading Research Quarterly.

The good news (according to the researchers): Most literacy teachers (86%) believe there are large (46%) or moderate (40%) benefits to using technology in instruction. Most reported having internet access in their schools (98%) and in their classrooms (86%).

The bad news: Only 29% see technology as central to instruction. Most (67%) see it as supplemental to instruction. When asked, “What do you think it looks like to integrate technology into literacy instruction?,” about 38% of teachers described uses of the computer as presentation tools.

Teachers rated many digital activities consistent with curricular integration as important yet they did not use them very frequently in their classrooms. Examples of these activities include collaborating online with students from other classes, evaluating information online, formulating questions to research online and synthesizing information online.

“These results suggest that many literacy teachers conceptualize integration primarily as technological rather than curricular,” the researchers write. “That is, they see integration more often as enhancing conventional instructional goals or using technology for its own sake as opposed to adopting new instructional goals involving new activities.”

The researchers found that when teachers view technology as important to literacy instruction, they are more likely to (a) have a positive attitude toward it and their access to it, (b) be confident in their abilities to use technology in the classroom, and (c) see fewer obstacles to integration. In turn, as competency, attitude and sense of access improve, the more teachers report integrating ICTs into their literacy instruction.

“Put simply, the more that teachers believed that each of several possible ways of integrating technology into instruction was important, the higher their reported level of integration. That finding suggests that teachers’ beliefs about the importance of ICTs in instruction are critical to increasing levels of integration,” the researchers write.

From a list of 21 potential obstacles to technological integration, the following 8 were the most statistically significant, the researchers write:

  • Not enough time within a class period
  • Lack of access to technology
  • Lack of technical support
  • Not enough time to plan for integrating ICTs into instruction
  • Insufficient time to teach basic computing skills
  • Lack of incentives to integrate technology
  • Inadequate professional development for integrating technology
  • Time demands of high stakes testing

While the majority of teachers acknowledge the importance of digital forms of reading and writing, these activities are not used very frequently in class.

“They are also not likely to consider new forms of digital reading and writing as central to their conception of integrating ICTs into instruction, and perhaps rightfully so as some researchers have questioned whether certain ICTs have a place in the classroom,” the researchers write.

Below are some recommendations from the survey results for encouraging teachers to integrate technology into their classrooms:

Give teachers access to a digital projector

One-third of teachers report they do not have access to a digital projector. This is a an important tool for integrating ICTs into large-group or whole class instruction. If possible, make laptops available to every student in the literacy teacher’s class. Fewer than 1 in 8 teachers report that laptops were available for each student to use during instruction. Although internet access is ubiquitous, many literacy teachers report that they lack these two important tools.

Make sure technical support doesn’t have an attitude

In answer to an open-ended question, one teacher wrote, “Our technology person is not nice and hard to ask questions to. If I have a problem with my technology, I would rather not use it than seek help from the cranky, self-righteous, condescending tech.”

If you’re an administrator, take a more active role

Teachers cannot be expected to bear the sole responsibility for increasing integration of ICTs into literacy instruction. Administrators can support teachers by providing more professional development opportunities on integrating ICTs into their classrooms. These professional development activities should be aimed at increasing curricular integration instead of just using new technologies as isolated tools.

Reconsider your email policy

Less than 12% of teachers surveyed reported that their students have access to email at school. This low penetration is no doubt due to concerns about students engaging in inappropriate content. Given the importance of email for collaborative work, it’s important to look for other workable solutions.

The 88-item surveys were distributed to members of the International Reading Association via leaders of state councils.

“Teachers’ Perceptions of Integrating Information and Vommunication Technologies Into Literacy Instruction: A National Survey in the United States,” by Amy Hutchison and David Reinking, Reading Research Quarterly, Volume 46, Number 4, 2011, pp. 312-333.

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