Teaching teachers

As schools equip students with technology, teacher training lags

Lindsay James
8 June 2014

6 min read

School systems from Australia to Uruguay are investing heavily to make new technology available to students. But education experts agree such programs often overlook a vital component to successful deployment: training teachers how to use the technology and integrate it into their lessons.

As an increasing number of schools across the globe invest millions of dollars in tablets, laptops and other technologies, educational observers note that they often forget one fundamental prerequisite: instructing teachers how to use the technology and incorporate it into their classes.

“In many places, there’s a mad rush to buy new technologies,” said Andy Dickenson, a former teacher and creative director at LearnNewStuff, an educational consultancy based in the UK that has been involved in writing the IT curriculums in the UK, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Spain. “It’s only once it’s in schools that staff ask: ‘What are we going to do with all this new stuff?’ Deploying lots of technology is expensive. When new tech is introduced in the classroom and staff are expected to adapt – without support – then it won’t get used.”

Bob Tate, a senior policy analyst for the Education Policy and Practice department at the National Education Association, the largest US teachers’ union, agrees: “Too often a well-conceived approach to professional development for the educators who will be expected to use new technologies – one that fully involves educators themselves in its development – receives less attention than the purchases, or is unfortunately an afterthought,” he said.


Schools across the globe are making major investments to get students equipped for the Internet Age. “We have states like Maine and countries like Uruguay where every student has their own digital device,” said Mary Burns, a former teacher and senior technology specialist at Education Development Center (EDC), an international nonprofit organization based in Boston.

However, a number of studies show that relatively few teachers use technology as part of their day-to-day teaching. A 2013 survey by Harris Interactive, a market research company based in Rochester, New York, found that 86% of US teachers surveyed think it’s “important” or ”absolutely essential” to use apps, computer games, websites, digital planning tools or digitally delivered curricula designed to help students or teachers. But only 19% of teachers use subject-specific content tools, just 14% use digital curricula, and fewer than 10% are implementing bring-your-own-device programs, the study found.

A similar picture can be seen across Europe. The European Union’s “2013 Survey of Schools: IT in Education,” found that around half of European students are taught by teachers with positive attitudes on the use of IT in the classroom. However, the percentage of teachers using IT in more than 25% of lessons has not increased since 2006.

Teachers in Africa are also failing to use technology, despite national strategy plans. “The mission of the Kenyan National Strategy is ‘to integrate technology in education and training to improve access, learning and administration,’” explains Niall Winters, who has conducted research in Sub-Saharan Africa in his role as deputy head of the Department of Culture, Communication and Media at University of London. “However, the majority of teachers in Africa still feel unprepared to use technology for teaching and learning in their classrooms.”



And in Asia it’s the same story. “Research shows that technology enhances teaching and learning practices at schools,” said Jonghwi Park, program specialist for information and communications technology (ICT) in Education at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Bangkok. “However, teachers who are using technology to transform their pedagogical activities are still more the exception than the norm. And this has been seen not just in schools in Asia but all across the world.”

To close the gap between intent and practice, educational experts advocate more training for teachers in how to integrate computers into established lesson plans. “To really help integrate technology to support all components of the learning process – content, instruction and assessment – professional development needs to be hands-on, focused on problem solving, conveying higher-order thinking skills, modeling effective practices and helping teachers work with different populations,” Burns said.


Dickenson agreed that every teacher needs support, advice and training on how to implement new approaches. “Schools need to realize that a budget needs to be created for proper training,” he said. “A few one-off sessions won’t help; continuous, progressive, professional development is key. Teaching universities need to establish appropriate teaching and a suitable up-to-date kit. If they also offered subject-leader specialties, then new teachers would be ready to lead.”

A 2013 survey of 2,462 teachers in the US by social science analyst Pew Research Center found that 85% of the teachers surveyed have had to seek out new ways to effectively incorporate digital tools into their teaching. Three of four teachers say the Internet and other digital tools have created new demands on their time, increasing the range of content and skills they must know.

The EU-commissioned study found that only 25%-30% of students in Europe are taught by teachers for whom IT training is compulsory. Yet around 70% of students at all grades are taught by teachers who have engaged in personal learning about IT in their own time.


Only 25%-30% of students in Europe are taught by teachers for whom IT training is compulsory.,EU STUDY: I.T. IN EDUCATION


Latin America also suffers from a serious lack of teachers properly trained in the use and monitoring of technology in the classroom; just 10% of primary and secondary teachers in 14 out of 27 countries are qualified to teach basic computer skills, according to a 2013 study by UNESCO titled “ICT in Education in Latin America and the Caribbean: A regional analysis of ICT integration and e-readiness.”

Training also is an issue in Asia. At Ban San Kong school in Mae Chan, Thailand, for example, 90 children received a tablet computer in 2013 as part of the government’s ‘One Tablet Per Child’ initiative. But, according to The Japan Times, teachers have been given no specific training. “I have some knowledge,” Siriporn Wichaipanid, a teacher at the school, told the newspaper. “At home, I use an iPad. But if I don’t understand, I don’t know how to teach the children.”

The EU study recommends that increasing professional development opportunities for teachers will help boost IT use in teaching and learning by helping to build highly confident and positive teachers. The study advises that all countries should consider making IT a compulsory component of teacher education programs, and should seek to improve the quality and consistency of IT training across institutions.

Tate agrees. “We need both smart investment in technology in schools and a robust, supportive school environment for teacher professional development on how to integrate technology effectively into their instruction,” he said.


Online professional collaboration also can help. The EU report says that although online resources and networks are widely available, only a minority of teachers exploits their benefits. Therefore, the report advises educational administrators to further promote online platforms and the opportunities they can afford.

“An online community of practice could make a massive difference,” said Nicholas Smith, chief learning officer at HotChalk, a global education network based in Campbell, California (USA). “If we make it easy for teachers to find out what other teachers are doing – what’s working, what’s not – and do it in a way in which the best ideas bubble to the top of the list, I think that will be really helpful in improving teacher effectiveness with technology.”

Eric Williams, superintendent of York County School Division in Yorktown, Virginia (USA), is ahead of the online learning curve. Williams (@ewilliams65) uses Twitter to reach out to teachers in his district who have demonstrated new and impressive methods of classroom instruction, and to learn from the network of educators who populate his feed. “Principals and superintendents need to work collaboratively with teachers to develop a shared vision of teaching and learning,” he said. “Once you have a shared vision, great teachers will model the effective use of technology, and momentum will help you scale effective use of technology across your school and district.”




With a better support system in place, teachers will be able to take advantage of the endless opportunities technology has to offer, experts agree. ”Support is absolutely fundamental to success,” Smith said. “There is a reason that the best athletes in the world have a coach. The same can be said for students and teachers alike. I believe that technology will help us to be more effective at creating more great teachers, but only with the appropriate training and support in place.” ◆


Bucknall Primary School in Lincolnshire (UK) is a shining example of how technology can transform a classroom. In 2012, the school gave every one of its students an iPad. Today, the tablets are a fundamental part of lessons and homework. “Of course there were challenges at the beginning,” said Garry Cassey, a key stage 2 teacher at the school. “Staff had mixed levels of confidence when it came to using technology, so we had to ensure they were all singing from the same hymn sheet.”

Doing this, he said, required training and support. “Our head teacher at the time attended several of Apple’s education conferences and gave a great deal of support and feedback to staff,” he said. “Communication and collaboration on this project has been absolutely key.”

The school also brings an external consultant into classes on a regular basis. “The consultant will help us plan lessons, create educational games and answer any questions,” Cassey said.

Overall, Cassey believes that technology has transformed his school. “We’re a small school with mixed-year groups,” he said. “Technology helps us meet every child’s individual learning need. It helps us assess better and – perhaps most importantly – it makes learning fun for our students.”

Teachers learning to integrate technology into the classroom: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwEBWkA1TDA

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