Vermont now has more technology devices than students in schools – but will they be used effectively?
Last week, the Burlington Free Press reported that there are more technology devices than students in Vermont’s schools, based on findings from a Vermont Agency of Education technology survey. The state’s schools now own approximately 85,000 devices while there are only about 77,000 students in Kindergarten through 12th grade in the state – that’s up from 45,000 devices in the same survey just two years ago. These numbers highlight the trend in US classrooms towards giving teachers and students increasing access to technology – and while not every state boasts a statistic like Vermont’s, the push for more technology is happening across the country. The federal government is leading an effort to make affordable high-speed Internet and free online teaching resources available to all schools. The ed-tech sector is booming with schools spending 8 billion dollars a year on hardware and software. Cheaper computer options like Chromebooks are making computers for students increasingly affordable. Meanwhile, state standardized tests are increasingly being administered via technology rather than traditional paper and pencil pushing more schools to quickly get online access for students. All of this is leading to more technology in the classroom. Across the US, public schools now provide 1 computer for every 5 students.
But more technology doesn’t necessarily mean good use of technology. A popular vision of ed-tech proponents was that teachers would use technology to create hands-on, individualized, inquiry-based learning experiences for students. However, most schools continue to see challenges with teacher effectively implementing all of the new tools at their disposal – most teachers are using technology to supplement their usual instructional approaches rather than to re-envision how they teach – for example, teachers are more likely to use computer based programs to practice math facts or have students review for a test than to use technology for collaboration and creation of new content like blogs or websites. There are a few common reasons why efforts to fully embrace technology aren’t always succeeding:
- Teachers need significant time to adjust to new technologies. Completely overhauling how you do your job takes an enormous amount of time. Teachers need to be given adequate time to learn, collaborate, and plan to be able to transform how they use technology. A one-time training isn’t going to allow a teacher to radically change his or her practice.
- Teachers need strong professional development on new technologies. Training is essential, and the best training is embedded into the day-to-day work of teaching. An Education Week survey on technology use earlier this year revealed that teachers rated idea sharing, collaboration with other teachers, and job-embedded training or coaching as the best form of professional development – and trainings from their district or tech companies as the lowest.
- Teachers don’t always trust their administrators or outside experts when it comes to technology. Teachers trust other educators’ opinions on new technology much more than the opinions of an administrator or outside expert, so top-down approaches to technology implementation don’t work well. A better approach is to find teachers who are strong early-adopters of technology who can demonstrate the benefits of the new technology and have those teachers build trust and buy-in from other educators.
In Vermont, Peter Drescher, the Vermont Agency of Education’s technology coordinator, says that once all schools have adequate access to technology, the next priority is encouraging use in the classroom because at some schools only a few teachers are using the technologies. Let’s hope his plan for encouraging use is a strong one to make sure teachers and students can get the most out of all of these new devices.