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Listen to Teachers: Thoughts on Digital Classroom Tools

April 24, 2014

There’s a lot of talk these days about technology in the classroom…what works, what doesn’t…is it good or bad? Amidst all the discussion and debate, we believe teachers and students are the most important voices.

The Gates Foundation recently released a study about teacher and student perceptions of the digital instructional tools they need. Teachers are at the heart of the shift to personalized learning in schools – creating classrooms where students’ experiences are tailored to their individual needs, skills, and interests. Digital content and tools that support blended instruction are an important resource to accomplish this. 

But we’ve heard from teachers that they often have a tough time finding digital instructional tools that meet their students’ needs. To learn more about this, we went straight to the source. We commissioned a survey of more than 3,100 K-12 teachers and over 1,250 students to find out what they think about the digital instructional tools currently available. A goal of the study was to help the people who develop the tools to better understand what teachers and students are looking for.

The findings were unveiled at the ASU+GSV 2014 Education Innovation Summit. The results are illuminating and have real-world implications for how the education technology sector can support teachers’ efforts to help all their students be successful. We released a report with the findings, which is full of rich information and insights. I’ll highlight a few here.

  • Teachers are looking for instructional resources that will help them teach college-ready standards, including the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards. This was a theme that came up again and again, and it’s no wonder – planning thoughtful and engaging lessons takes time and effort, and with the new standards, many teachers are now trying new approaches and rethinking what goes on in their classrooms.
  • The study also validated that teachers have a nuanced understanding of standards and the resources available to help teach them. The survey asked teachers to look at the standards for their grade and subject and indicate whether they had sufficient instructional resources available. The data shows that even within the same grade and subject, some standards have more instructional resources available than others. This provides great information about which concepts and skills teachers need more instructional resources – the data file we released along with the report has detailed information about this.
  • Overall, teachers say the instructional tools currently available on the market are not sufficient. Only 55 percent of teachers said the resources are sufficient and the figures are even lower for digital instructional tools: only 43 percent of teachers surveyed say these resources are available, sufficient, and present in digital form to teach to the standards. This means that many teachers who are looking to leverage technology have been forced to stay analog in a digital world.
  • Something else we found was optimism. Teachers and students are optimistic that digital tools can help support instruction, and they believe that technology can be a powerful enabler of learning. Overwhelmingly, teachers agreed that the use of technology in the classroom is incredibly important. Fewer than 2 percent of teachers in our survey reported that they “do not see the value of using technology for student learning” when asked about what is preventing them from using digital tools more often.
  • Students prioritize learning over fun when choosing digital tools – 61 percent said when choosing a digital learning tool, they are most concerned about whether they help them learn. Fun is a secondary factor, mentioned by only 37% of students. This is no surprise to me given my own experience with young people, and I’m sure teachers reading won’t be surprised either. But it does challenge some of the conventional wisdom about what students want from technology in and out of the classroom. This doesn’t mean that students don’t want to be engaged. One memorable student told us that the best tools are “hands-on and interactive,” and help students “learn from my other classmates as well as the teachers.”
  • Teachers identified six clear instructional purposes they use digital tools for: 1) help deliver instruction; 2) diagnose student learning; 3) vary the delivery method; 4) tailor the learning experience; 5) support student collaboration and interactivity; and 6) foster independent practice. The report has definitions and features related to each of these purposes, along with information about the different ways teachers in various grades and subjects prioritize them.

These are only a few of the highlights covered in the report, which is available for download on our website; it’s definitely worth a read.

Why do we believe this information is so important? Today’s students are the most diverse, connected generation in history. They deserve learning experiences that prepare them to reach the aspirations they have for themselves, their families, and their communities. This is what teachers around the country are working hard to do every day. It’s more important than ever to ask them what they need to create those experiences, listen hard to what they say, and provide them with the instructional resources to help them be successful.

 
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