Teachers’ Readiness and Willingness to Adopt Digital Tools for Learning

At the ASU GSV Summit this week, we explored the current state of teachers’ readiness and willingness to adopt digital tools for learning with Alan Arkatov from USC Rossier School of Education, Ann Linson from East Noble School Corporation and Jessie Woolley-Wilson from DreamBox Learning.

Everyone see lots of technology in schools these days, but is that technology also changing teaching and learning? The classrooms of today still look a whole lot like the classrooms of yesterday:

Yes, the chalkboard is a white board and paper and pencils have been replaced with laptops, but other than that? Beyond the physical differences we see in classrooms, the other changes we have seen are minimal – despite the opportunities technology presents to transform learning.

While new Speak Up data shows us evidence of external indicators of change, they also indicate the lack of real systematic changes in activities, attitudes or aspirations of teachers. More than 38,000 teachers shared their views as part of the Speak Up 2016 Research Project for Digital Learning from October 2016 to January 2017.

More than two-thirds of teachers report external indicators of change:

  • Using more videos in the classroom
  • Texting with colleagues
  • Relying upon cloud applications more
  • Being in classrooms with student access to devices

But fewer than one-third say they:

  • Use online primary sources within instruction
  • Facilitate a class blog or discussion forum
  • Use an online curriculum with students
  • Create investigations for students w/digital tools
  • Engage in online professional learning communities

When we look at impact of technology, 75 percent of teachers say mobile devices increase student engagement, but only 35 percent say mobile devices improve the quality of student work. Engagement is important, but we are all looking for the investments in technology to contribute to improved academic results – like the quality of student work.

When we look at how teachers are using data, we see a real lack of systemic change. Teachers tell us they are most likely to use data derived from digital/online resources to:

  • Communicate with parents, students and school leaders about progress
  • Collaborate with other teachers

These are activities teachers have always done and they are very important, but they would do these regardless of technology.

But, teachers report they are least likely to use data in the ways that will really change their teaching practice, such as using data to:

  • Identify at-risk students or students needing more advanced coursework
  • Design personalized learning paths for each student
  • Identify promising instructional strategies for replication
  • Work with individual students on learning goals

When we see more teachers using data for these purposes, then we will be seeing systemic change.

Speak Up also asks teachers and administrators about their attitudes towards technology. How important is it? You can see that administrators at the district and school level see the effective implementation of technology as much more important to student success than teachers do.

These values are reflected in classrooms and practice.

Students tell us they use the Internet to help them with homework on a daily and weekly basis. More than 100,000 high school students shared their views and experience during Speak Up 2016. Nearly half (48 percent) said they use online or Internet resources daily or almost daily to support their schoolwork. But the same percent of teachers (48 percent) say they rarely or never assign homework that requires Internet access. That’s a disconnect between how students are learning and how teachers are teaching.

We asked teachers what type of support they need to be able to use technology more effectively in their teaching practice. Their top requests for support were:

  • Professional development
  • Planning time
  • Devices for student use
  • Technology support

These needs are important, of course, and should not be minimized but at this point, we would all like to see teachers thinking more deeply about what will make a difference in their capacity to use technology more effectively to change and improve their own teaching practice.

To that end, fewer than one-quarter of teachers said they need the types of support that will lead to changed teaching practice like:

  • Information on classroom management strategies
  • Curated or recommended sets of resources
  • Access to online tools for organization of online or digital content
  • Rubrics for evaluating digital content quality
  • Coaching on high impact lesson plan development

More teachers than ever are now teaching in classrooms where every student has a device that’s connected to the Internet. Yet, just a quarter of teachers need support on classroom management strategies? More and more online resources are available every day, so why is there is little demand for curation and organization tools?

When we look at the teacher adoption of technology, it seems we’ve moved along the path of familiarity, access and adoption fairly well, but adaptation and innovation are lagging. Why?

Is it about the tools, training or professional learning, levels of support, risk taking, personal attitudes, something else? How do we help develop teacher readiness, capacity and agency to use technology beyond the external indicators already in evidence to get to real systemic change?


In fall 2016, Project Tomorrow surveyed 435,510 K-12 students, 38,512 teachers and librarians, 4,592 administrators, 29,670 parents and 5,846 community members representing more than 7,000 public and private schools and 2,400 districts. Schools from urban (26%), suburban (38%), and rural (36%) communities are represented. Just over one-half of the schools (58%) that participated in Speak Up 2016 are Title I eligible schools (an indicator of student population poverty). The Speak Up 2016 surveys were available online for input between October 2016 and January 2017.

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