Teachers reveal wide usage of digital tools — and wide disparities among lower and higher income schools

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Teachers widely use digital tools, but this survey shows technology integration is not consistent.

Teachers widely use digital tools, but this survey shows technology integration is not consistent.

A new report released by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project shows that though digital tools are widely used throughout U.S. schools, teachers who serve the lowest income students have more difficulty using digital tools effectively.

“Digital technologies have become essential instructional tools for the vast majority of teachers in this study,” says Kristen Purcell, Associate Director for Research at the Pew Internet Project, and an author of the report. “Yet, teachers whose students are from the lowest income households feel they are at a disadvantage when it comes to using the internet and other digital tools such as cell phones, tablet computers and e-readers to enhance the learning process.”

The survey finds that teachers and students actively use digital tools in class and as part of assignments, and a majority of these teachers are satisfied with the technology support they receive from their school. However, the report also reveals a concern about the existence of a “digital divide,” that is, a difference in access to technology between high-income and low-income students. Teachers of the lowest income students, this report concludes, face more challenges when bringing digital tools to their classrooms.

Among the teachers surveyed, some key findings include:

  • 82% agree with the notion that “Today’s digital technologies are leading to greater disparities between affluent and disadvantaged schools and school districts.”
  • 18% say their students have the access to the tech they need at home.
  • 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

More than 2000 teachers surveyed

These findings are part of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project in collaboration with the College Board and the National Writing Project.

This survey was offered online and is a non-probability sample of 2,462 middle and high school teachers currently teaching in the U.S. and its territories.  1,750 of the teachers are advanced placement (AP) high school teachers. 712 of the participating educators are National Writing Project teachers.The survey was conducted between March 7 and April 23, 2012.

Equal access is the key to moving forward

Judy Buchanan, the Deputy Director of the National Writing Project, and one of the report’s co-authors, commented on the importance of equal access to technology, resources, and professional development. “The internet is changing the very nature of how teachers engage in their profession and collaborate with one another,” said Buchanan, “The key moving forward is to ensure that all educators have equal access to the vast resources available online, and the encouragement and training to use them in groundbreaking ways.




2 thoughts on “Teachers reveal wide usage of digital tools — and wide disparities among lower and higher income schools

  1. Walter Petticrew


    Thank you for this post. From the information provided, for me, the Pew study raises more questions than it provides clarity. This comes from being on both sides of market research projects.

    I am very fascinated by technology in education. I have been developing high tech products, software and services for over 30 years, my value add is that I am a technology curmudgeon.

    Technology has a critical place in the lives of our children’s education, that said, there are many disciplines and learning experiences that should remain \analogue\ .

    Unfortunately I think that the right digital tools for education need to be designed for a specific function and one size does not fit all.

    I love the post and please keep presenting them. We as technology providers and publishers owe the next generation our best. But I for one will say this, the current tablets are not the tool that our education system and children need. Throwing money and technology at education is not necessarily the right answer. It may be one we can feel good about, say we did something, but that does not usually translate to moving the needle for student to learn more of disciplines that will make them successful in life.

    Please, do not take this as being a wet towel, it is not. It is because I can and have seen too many instances of heaping expensive solutions on schools that simply do not fix the foundational issue.


    Walter Petticrew

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