No Magic Pill: Missing Pieces in Education Technology Innovation

School districts in the U.S. have more access to technology than ever before. They have made major investments in education technology to engage, motivate, and personalize learning for students.

The educators recently equipped with technology are forging new paths in teaching and learning. Their toolbox includes resources like games and mobile apps, which have potential to transform learning in ways unreachable with pencil and paper. In our previous research, teachers at innovative schools shared benefits they’ve realized using education technology. And, when used appropriately, these tools can help educators create learning environments that incorporate key research-backed principles shown to underlie effective learning. But, incorporating technology isn’t easy or simple.

Pearson, in collaboration with Digital Promise, are studying how teachers currently use technology in the classroom. We asked teachers about their technology use as well as their beliefs, attitudes, support, and technology-related professional development. The goal is to mark progress made, and help provide inputs for future investments.

Who is the author of the report? Meet Dr. Liane Wardlow from Pearson’s Research & Innovation Network.

This research seeks to answer how increased access and use of technology has affected instruction.

Levels of Education Technology Use

The SAMR Model — which stands for Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition — is a way to classify how technology impacts teaching and learning. The SAMR model gives teachers the opportunity to evaluate the why behind a specific technology use, design tasks that enable higher-order thinking skills, and engage students in rich, meaningful learning experiences.

There are 4 levels of use:

Teachers often begin using technology at the substitution level, where teachers and students replace tasks with technology. For example, students are using ebooks and instead of textbooks as learning materials. Even at this first level benefits can be seen, such as increased access to a diversity of learning resources.

The promised transformation of technology comes at the highest levels of the model — modification and redefinition. These activities promote active, student-centered learning. For example, when students not just access new resources online, but synthesize their research and create a work product to demonstrate their learning, such as a multimedia presentation. Not all practice has to be in the highest level, but the goal is to reach for the higher levels as needed.


Reaching out to educators

We wanted to get input from teachers whose leadership has made technology a priority. We talked to about 100 seventh and tenth grade English language arts and math teachers who are members of Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools in the US. The League is “a coalition of schools dedicated to innovation in learning technologies and significant improvements in educational outcomes”. Districts represent a range of demographics and technology implementation approaches including one device per student, bring your own device and computer labs. This research took place during the 2013–2014 school year.

The insights were gathered two ways:

  1. Teacher Survey. Teachers were asked to complete a 93-question online survey that asked questions related to their use of technology for instruction.
  2. Teacher Daily Log. Teachers completed daily logs of instructional practice using an online logging tool.

What did teachers tell us about how they used technology? Explore the survey results >>

Teacher Survey >> Condition of Technology

Teachers in these schools said that the condition of technology does not stop them from being able to use it. Teachers said that:

  1. They usually have the materials they need and their computers are generally kept in good working condition.
  2. They mostly agreed that their “….request[s] for technical assistance are addressed in a timely manner”.
  3. Teachers ranked “Internet connections in my class are often too slow or not working” because it’s mostly not true.

Teacher Survey >> Lesson Planning

Overall, surprisingly, teachers’ responses indicate a relatively low level of technology integration in lesson planning. Teachers report using technology for basic skill level practice and higher-order skills practice such as problem solving and critical thinking, but less often to provide practice on computer skills solve authentic problems and establish individual goals.

Scores below 2.0 indicate that the description is mostly not true of teachers’ technology use. Nine of the 14 statements in this category received average responses below 2.0.
What would transformational use in learning plans looks like? The Utica Community Schools in Michigan implemented a blending learning model starting in the early grades.

Teacher Survey >> Professional Development Insights

Teachers suggest that there are many areas for improvement in their professional development. They report that:

  1. Professional development was not closely related to professional goals or school’s plan to change practice.
  2. Professional development was not often followed up with related activities or mentoring.
On average, teachers responded that they had 14.69 hours of technology-related professional development in the last year.

Teacher Survey >> Leadership & Support

Overall there is a high level of support and encouragement from leadership in these schools. Most teachers agreed with the statement: “The principal encourages teachers to be innovative and try new methods”. It is not surprising that these districts had innovative leaders. Digital Promise asked leaders from around their League of Innovative Schools how to build a culture that supports innovation.

There is a gap between teacher expectations and needs and what they receive from leadership. Teacher responses suggest that they are more likely to be encouraged by their principals to use technology in innovative and new ways than they are to receive the resource support from leadership. However, this many not be a leadership problem, but the result of other roadblocks such economic issues.

Teacher Survey >> Students

Teachers report that student technology use is not frequent. Only one student use of technology — Internet search — was ranked as occurring “sometimes”. The rest of the statements were ranked as rare or never.

Read more about how students across the U.S. are using mobile devices in Pearson’s 2015 Survey of Mobile Device Use.

Teacher Survey >> Administrative

Not surprisingly, teachers make regular use of technology for administrative reasons.

  1. Teachers use technology on a daily basis to keep administrative records, communicate with colleagues and manage student assessment data (grade books).
  2. Teachers use technology to create instructional materials, do work at home, as well as gather information from the Internet about once or twice a week.

Kent School District in Washington is an example of using technology at a high level to connect the district with the community. Families speak 130 different languages, but kiosks installed in strategic locations keep them informed about what’s going on in their child’s school.


How did teachers log their time in the classroom? Explore their daily logs >>

How much do you think education technology has changed classrooms? We wanted to understand what type of instruction educators with access to technology employed. We asked them to log six different aspects of their instruction.

Teacher Daily Logs >> Cognitive Processes

We asked teachers to track what types of cognitive processes they expected students based on the instruction on five levels:

Best practices would suggest that more time should be spent at the higher levels of this scale particularly in the “create” category, which has its focus on actively generating, hypothesizing, planning, designing and/or producing products and is most closely associated with the redefinition stage of the SAMR model.

Of the five cognitive process types, the greatest number of minutes was logged for the type “understand”. Higher on the scale and second most frequently used was “apply”. The last three categories were logged similar amounts of time.

Teacher Daily Logs >> Instructional Strategies

Teachers’ logs indicated that they asked students questions, provided guided feedback or reinforcement and elicited think-alouds at much lower rates than the most frequently used strategies such as independent practice.

Teacher Daily Logs >> Grouping Strategies

Most class time was spent in whole class instruction.

Teacher Daily Logs >> Digital Instructional Strategies

The most common strategies employed by teachers were not technology focused — they were either no digital instruction or direct instruction. Focus on higher order skills such as collaboration or research were low.

Here is a more detailed look into each type of instructional strategy:

What Insights Can We Take Away?

This research marks one step in the challenging and complex journey to integrating technology into classrooms. By doing a survey of how technology is used and far technology it has come, the goal is to provide this information to help teachers, schools, and districts see where improvements may be found.

According to our research, technology holds the potential to be used more, and more often in transformative ways.
  1. Technology, though used frequently, continues to be used predominantly for whole class, direct instruction of content. Most use would fall the substitution level of the SAMR model.
  2. Survey results suggest that increased investments towards professional development that is targeted at supporting teachers’ use of technology in more student-centered ways would be a fruitful way to affect more rapid change in instructional uses of technology.
  3. Focusing on integrating technology through lesson planning, noted as an area of improvement in the survey, can help support teachers.
  4. Leadership support is a necessary to make the most of education technology, but it isn’t the last step.

The potential of education technology is to transform the way students learn and improve learning outcomes. By focusing on reaching the highest levels of the SAMR model, teachers can engage learners with technology and encourage higher-order cognitive skills. This is a shift from teacher-centered, traditional instructional practices that are common.

Take the next step. Measure your own technology use and discuss with other educators here.

If you want more resources from the Research & Innovation Network, sign up here.

And you can find the rest of our work at ResearchNetwork.Pearson.com