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New report examines technology use in instruction in rural schools

New report examines technology use in rural schools

By Laura Checovich
July 22, 2019

In rural and small-town America, schools are investing in technology to expand classroom horizons, enhance teaching and learning, and prepare students for the careers of tomorrow. But how well are teachers incorporating technology into classroom practice? Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest examined rural Iowa high schools to find out. The study results show that teachers’ adoption of technology may be limited without sustained, ongoing, and embedded professional learning to support it.

>> Read and download the full report

Exploring rural high school teachers’ integration of technology to develop students’ 21st century skills

Increasing teachers’ and students’ access to and use of technology is of particular interest in Iowa, where half of public schools and 70 percent of districts are rural. In north-central Iowa, a number of rural secondary schools have invested in education technology to help students develop the 21st century skills emphasized in the Iowa Core Standards: collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. This investment includes providing every student and teacher with a tablet or laptop.

The Central Rivers Area Education Agency, which serves north-central Iowa, was interested in how well these investments are paying off. At the agency’s request, REL Midwest studied the integration of technology in classroom practice at 26 rural public secondary schools in the region. The study looked at the schools’ responses on the Clarity Technology and Learning survey. This survey asked about the extent to which teachers were using technology to support the development of students’ 21st century skills, how schools were supporting technology use, the extent to which those school-level supports were in place, and teachers’ perceptions of school supports for technology integration.

What did the study find?

The study findings provide education leaders and policymakers in Iowa and other rural areas with insights into the supports needed to promote the integration of technology into instructional practice.

Most teachers supported the use of technology to improve learning.

  • About two thirds of teachers (78 percent) agreed or strongly agreed that technology enhances student learning and that teachers can integrate technology with instruction.

Teachers occasionally used technology to develop 21st century skills.

  • About half of teachers asked students to use technology for collaboration and critical thinking, and about one quarter of teachers asked students to use technology for communication and creativity.

Technology use varied among teachers by level of experience and subject area.

  • Teachers with 4 to 9 years of teaching experience were more likely than teachers with 20 or more years of experience to ask students at least monthly to use technology for collaboration and creativity.
  • Mathematics teachers were the least likely to ask students to use technology for communication, collaboration, and creativity.

School supports and opportunities for professional development were limited and of varying quality.

  • Nearly all teachers reported having access to computers for student use, but 35 percent of teachers reported that technical support was average.
  • More than half of teachers reported spending 1 to 8 hours in technology-focused professional development during the past year.
  • More than half of teachers (55 percent) rated the quality of three types of formal and informal technology-focused professional development as average.

What can we take away from the findings?

Despite Iowa’s commitment to promoting the use of technology to develop students’ 21st century skills, REL Midwest’s study found that teachers’ integration of technology for that purpose was limited. Many of the conditions for incorporating technology into instructional practice are in place, but teachers may need more time or opportunities to learn how to use technology in their day-to-day classroom practice.

To promote the use of technology in instructional practice, rural school and district leaders can work to provide teachers with professional learning opportunities that are sustained, ongoing, and job-embedded. These opportunities may include developing mentors to help teachers design lesson plans to integrate technology, establishing professional learning communities focused on technology use and integration, and embedding discussions of technology into other professional settings, such as departmental meetings, evaluations, and classroom observations.

Related resources

To learn more about the study and its findings, check out the full report. REL Midwest is also creating a companion infographic to highlight the study’s findings. Stay tuned!

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Author Information

Laura Checovich Staff Picture

Laura Checovich

Communications Associate | REL Midwest


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