A survey of 2,462 Advanced Placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) teachers finds that digital technologies have helped them in teaching their middle school and high school students in many ways. At the same time, the internet, mobile phones, and social media have brought new challenges to teachers.
In addition, they report that there are striking differences in the role of technology in wealthier school districts compared with poorer school districts and that there are clear generational differences among teachers when it comes to their comfort with technology and its use in their classrooms.
Asked about the impact of the internet and digital tools in their role as middle and high school educators, these teachers say the following about the overall impact on their teaching and their classroom work:
- 92% of these teachers say the internet has a “major impact” on their ability to access content, resources, and materials for their teaching
- 69% say the internet has a “major impact” on their ability to share ideas with other teachers
- 67% say the internet has a “major impact” on their ability to interact with parents and 57% say it has had such an impact on enabling their interaction with students
At the same time, 75% of AP and NWP teachers say the internet and other digital tools have added new demands to their lives, agreeing with the statement that these tools have a “major impact” by increasing the range of content and skills about which they must be knowledgeable. And 41% report a “major impact” by requiring more work on their part to be an effective teacher.
AP and NWP teachers bring a wide variety of digital tools into the learning process, including mobile phones, tablets, and e-book readers
The survey reveals the degree to which the internet and digital technologies, particularly mobile phones, suffuse teaching activities. Laptops and desktops are central, but they note mobile technology use has also become commonplace in the learning process:
- 73% of AP and NWP teachers say that they and/or their students use their mobile phones in the classroom or to complete assignments
- 45% report they or their students use e-readers and 43% use tablet computers in the classroom or to complete assignments
Teachers most commonly use digital tools to have students conduct research online, which was the focus of an earlier report based on these data. It is also common for these teachers to have students access (79%) and submit (76%) assignments online. More interactive online learning activities, such as developing wikis, engaging in online discussions, and editing work using collaborative platforms such as GoogleDocs, are also employed by some of the teachers in the sample.
Overall, 62% of AP and NWP teachers feel their school does a “good job” supporting teachers’ efforts to bring digital tools into the learning process, and 68% say their school provides formal training in this area. Still, 85% of these teachers seek out their own opportunities to learn new ways to effectively incorporate these tools into their teaching.
Teachers worry about digital divides, though they are split about the impact of digital tools on their students
These teachers see disparities in access to digital tools having at least some impact on their students. More than half (54%) say all or almost all of their students have sufficient access to digital tools at school, but only a fifth of these teachers (18%) say all or almost all of their students have access to the digital tools they need at home.
Teachers of the lowest income students are the least likely to say their students have sufficient access to the digital tools they need, both in school and at home. In terms of community type, teachers in urban areas are the least likely to say their students have sufficient access to digital tools IN SCHOOL, while rural teachers are the least likely to say their students have sufficient access AT HOME.
Overall, while many AP and NWP teachers express concern about growing disparities across schools and school districts, they are divided as to whether access to digital tools is leading to greater disparities among their students. A large majority of these teachers (84%) agree to some extent with the statement that “Today’s digital technologies are leading to greater disparities between affluent and disadvantaged schools and school districts.” However, asked whether today’s digital technologies are narrowing or widening the gap between the most and least academically successful students, 44% say technology is narrowing the gap and 56% say it is widening the gap.
Teachers of the lowest income students experience the impact of digital tools in the learning environment differently than teachers whose students are from more affluent households
AP and NWP teachers’ experiences with using digital tools in their teaching vary in some notable ways depending on the socioeconomic status of the students they teach. Among these findings:
- 70% of teachers working in the highest income areas say their school does a “good job” providing teachers the resources and support they need to incorporate digital tools in the classroom, compared with 50% of teachers working in the lowest income areas
- 73% of teachers of high income students receive formal training in this area, compared with 60% of teachers of low income students
- 56% of teachers of students from higher income households say they or their students use tablet computers in the learning process, compared with 37% of teachers of the lowest income students
- 55% of teachers of higher income students say they or their students use e-readers in the classroom, compared with 41% teaching in low income areas
- 52% of teachers of upper and upper-middle income students say their students use cell phones to look up information in class, compared with 35% of teachers of the lowest income students
- 39% of AP and NWP teachers of low income students say their school is “behind the curve” when it comes to effectively using digital tools in the learning process; just 15% of teachers of higher income students rate their schools poorly in this area
- 56% of teachers of the lowest income students say that a lack of resources among students to access digital technologies is a “major challenge” to incorporating more digital tools into their teaching; 21% of teachers of the highest income students report that problem
- 49% of teachers of students living in low income households say their school’s use of internet filters has a major impact on their teaching, compared with 24% of those who teach better off students who say that
- 33% of teachers of lower income students say their school’s rules about classroom cell phone use by students have a major impact on their teaching, compared with 15% of those who teach students from the highest income households
There are notable generational differences in how teachers experience the impact of digital technologies in their professional lives
As is the case among the full adult population, differences in technology use emerge between older and younger teachers. Specifically:
- Teachers under age 35 are more likely than teachers age 55 and older to describe themselves as “very confident” when it comes to using new digital technologies (64% vs. 44%)
- Conversely, the oldest teachers (age 55 and older) are more than twice as likely as their colleagues under age 35 to say their students know more than they do about using the newest digital tools (59% vs. 23%)
- 45% of teachers under age 35 have their students develop or share work on a website, wiki or blog, compared with 34% of teachers ages 55 and older
- Younger teachers are also more likely than the oldest teachers to have students participate in online discussions (45% v. 32%) and use collaborative web-based tools such as GoogleDocs to edit their work (41% v. 34%)
- Younger teachers are more likely to “very often” draw on colleagues for ideas about how to use new technologies in the classroom (22% of teachers under age 35 do this), when compared with teachers age 35-54 (16%) and teachers age 55 and older (13%)
At times, teachers’ own use of digital tools can run counter to their concerns about and perceptions of student use
In an earlier report on these data, we found that teachers expressed some concerns about what they saw as students’ overreliance on search engines to find information and complete research projects. In their words, their students increasingly “equate research with Googling,” and use search engines in lieu of more traditional sources without sufficient ability to judge the quality of information they find online. Regarding students’ use of search engines, the survey found:
- 76% of AP and NWP teachers “strongly agree that “search engines have conditioned students to expect to be able to find information quickly and easily”
- 83% agree that “the amount of information available online today is overwhelming for most students”
- 71% agree that “today’s digital technologies discourage students from finding and using a wide range of sources for their research”
- 60% agree with the notion that “today’s digital technologies make it harder for students to find and use credible sources of information”
Yet, the survey also confirms that search engines, and Google in particular, are key resources for AP and NWP teachers. Specifically:
- 99% of AP and NWP teachers use search engines to find information online
- 90% name Google as the search tool they use most often
- Virtually all AP and NWP teachers (99%) use the internet “to do work or research for their job”
- Almost three-quarters (73%) of AP and NWP teachers are “very confident” in their online search abilities
These results indicate that while these teachers are concerned about how their students use the internet in general—and search engines in particular—to find information, they are confident in their own ability to use these tools effectively.
In a similar vein, AP and NWP teachers use the online encyclopedia tool Wikipedia at much higher rates than U.S. adult internet users as a whole (87% vs. 53%). Wikipedia relies on user-generated, crowd-sourced content, a process that sometimes calls into question the accuracy of its information. In focus groups with teachers and students prior to the survey, Wikipedia was often noted as a tool teachers discourage or bar students from using because of concerns about the reliability of its content.
The internet and digital tools also play a key role in classroom preparation and professional networking
Digital tools are critical to AP and NWP teachers’ lesson preparation, networking and professionalization. Among the key findings in this area:
- 80% of AP and NWP teachers report getting email alerts or updates at least weekly that allow them to follow developments in their field
- 84% report using the internet at least weekly to find content that will engage students
- 80% report using the internet at least weekly to help them create lesson plans
AP and NWP teachers outpace the general adult population in almost all measures of personal tech use, yet 42% feel their students know more than they do when it comes to using digital tools
AP and NWP teachers are well ahead of national benchmarks in almost all measures of personal technology use:
- 94% of AP and NWP teachers own a cell phone, slightly higher than the national figure of 88% for all U.S. adults
- 58% of these teachers (68% of teachers under age 35) have a smartphone, compared with 45% of all adults
- 93% of teachers own a laptop computer vs. 61% of all adults
- 87% own a desktop computer vs. 58% of all adults
- 39% own a tablet vs. 24% of all adults
- 47% own an e-book reader vs. 19% of all adults
- 78% use social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+, compared with 69% of adult internet users and 59% of all adults
- 26% use Twitter vs. 16% of adult internet users and 14% of all adults
Despite their heavy tech use, 42% of AP and NWP teachers say their students usually know more than they do when it comes to using new digital technologies. Just 18% feel they know more than their students. This is despite the fact that over half of AP and NWP teachers (56%) are “very confident” when it comes to learning how to use the latest digital tools, and another 39% say they are “somewhat confident.”