Computer Learning No Panacea Yet, Study Shows

By: - September 23, 1999 12:00 am

With more than 90 percent of the nation’s schools connected to the Internet and number of students per computer dropping from 21 in 1997 to 5.7 in 1999, the issue for educators is no longer how to bring technology to America’s students. The question now is how to best put it to use. According to a report released Thursday by the national news journal Education Week, schools and teachers have a long way to go before the Internet and computers become critical tools in improving student learning.

The report indicates that teachers are still only making modest use of the technology available in their classrooms. Only slightly more than half, 53 percent, use software to enhance instruction in their classrooms and only 61 percent use the Internet for this purpose.

Nearly four in 10 teachers say their students do not use classroom computers at all during a typical week.

“The results add some badly needed data to educators’ and policymakers’ understandings of these issues, which until now have been dominated by anecdotes and small-scale observations,” said Erik Fatemi of Education Week.

A lack of time to prepare or try out educational software is the most frequently cited reason why teachers don’t use the programs for instruction. The survey also points to a lack of training as the most important obstacle inhibiting the use of digital content.

Teachers who received technology training in the previous year were more likely than teachers who hadn’t to say they feel “better prepared” to integrate technology into their lesson plans.

They were also more likely to use and rely on digital content for instruction and to spend more time searching the Internet for useful information, the report said.

Of the teachers in the survey who currently use instructional software, 24 percent gave it an “A” for overall quality and 48 percent gave it a “B.” Teachers were particularly impressed with software’s ability to help students master basic skills and foster higher-level thinking skills.

But many teachers found that the software was often incompatible with the requirements for state performance tests which increasingly rely on rote memorization and linear thinking, the report said. Fifty-nine percent of teachers gave software programs a “C” or lower in this area.

“Technology Counts ’99: Building the Digital Curriculum” is the journal’s third annual survey on the state of educational technology across the country. The project, underwritten by the California-based Milken Family Foundation , was based on a nationwide survey of 1,400 teachers.

While the report does not give overall state grades, it does feature extensive state-by-state data and allows for comparisons between states as well as to national averages.

Among other findings:

  • Delaware and Maine share the highest percentage of schools with Internet access at 99 percent. The lowest figure is 80 percent in Oklahoma.
  • Mississippi led the nation in the number of 8th graders who use a computer “almost daily” for school work at 29 percent. Tennessee was last with 8 percent.
  • Alaska was first in percentage of schools where at least 50 percent of teachers use the Internet for instruction at 81 percent. Nevada brought up the rear with 27 percent, while the national average was 54 percent.
  • New Mexico led in the percentage of districts that evaluate technology use in schools more than once a year at 42 percent. Delaware and Hawaii both reported zero districts checking more than once a year.
  • Teachers who have been in the classroom five years or fewer are no more likely to use digital content than those who have been teaching for more than 20 years.
  • As the grade level increases, teachers find it harder to find software that meets their needs. Sixty-nine percent of high school teachers find it difficult to find such products, compared with 43 percent of pre-kindergarten through second grade teachers.
  • Teachers in grades K-5 who use instructional software are more likely to use software related to language arts (90 percent) and math (90 percent) than science (54 percent) or social studies (48 percent).

The full text of the report can be found online at:

The state data can be found at:

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