The Internet, social media and mobile phones are changing the way U.S. teachers teach, but the benefits do not trickle down to everyone, a new study confirms.
As digital technologies become a central tool in U.S. classrooms, a majority of American teachers say that unequal access is increasing the learning gap between rich and poor students.
A new Pew Research Center Poll of teachers of American middle and secondary students finds that use of e-readers, cell phones tablet computers and other mobile technology is far more common in affluent school districts with the most privileged students.
Teachers of the lowest income students are more than twice as likely as teachers of the highest income students (56% v. 21%) to say that students’ lack of access to digital technologies is a “major challenge” to incorporating more digital tools into their teaching.
“Digital technologies have become essential instructional tools for the vast majority of teachers in this study,” notes Kristen Purcell, Associate Director for Research at the Pew Internet Project. “Yet, not all teachers feel that they and their students have the access they need to these tools or the resources necessary to use them effectively.”
At the top of the teaching scale, some 92% of advanced placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) teachers say the internet has a “major impact” on their ability to access content, resources and materials for their teaching, and 69% report the internet having a “major impact” on their ability to share ideas with colleagues.
These higher level teachers are also more likely than the general population to be tech savvy. Fully 58% of these teachers (68% of those under age 35) have a smartphone, compared with 45% of all adults in the U.S.
They are also bigger users social networking sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn (78% compared with 69% of all adult internet users) and Twitter (26% v. 16% of all online adults).
Overall, the vast majority of AP and NWP teachers use the internet and other digital tools at least once a week to find engaging classroom content (84%), create lesson plans (80%), and keep up with professional development (80%).
In the general teacher population however, a pattern of income disparity emerges. More than four in ten teachers report the use of e-readers (45%) and tablet computers (43%) in their classrooms or to complete assignments.
But teachers of low income students are 20 percent less likely to use tablet computers than teachers of the highest income students. They are also less likely to use laptop computers (37% v. 56%) or e-readers (41% v. 55%) in their classrooms and assignments.
The poll also shows cell phones are most common in affluent classrooms. Over half (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.
Fully 84 percent of the study participants agreed that digital technologies are leading to greater disparities between affluent and disadvantaged schools.
“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,” said Judy Buchanan, Deputy Director of the National Writing Project and a co-author of the report.
The online survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project in collaboration with the College Board and the National Writing Project included a sample of 2,462 middle and high school teachers currently teaching in the U.S. conducted between March 7 and April 23, 2012. Some 1,750 of the teachers are drawn from a sample of advanced placement (AP) high school teachers, while the remaining 712 are from a sample of National Writing Project teachers.