The past decade has seen a strong focus by the U.S. government on increasing the use of technology in the nation’s schools, to spur innovation in education that will foster global economic competitiveness. However, studies comparing the effects of digital learning to traditional classroom instruction have yet to consistently show a significant advantage for digital learning.
A successful digital transformation of the classroom is not determined by technology alone—but how technology enables teaching and learning. In collaboration with Digital Promise and the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), we at Pearson undertook a study focusing on how teachers use technology to enhance instruction and improve learning.
The first phase of the study documented how teachers are integrating technology effectively to enhance student learning. In seven districts across the U.S., we conducted focus groups, interviews, and observed classrooms to identify digital instructional strategies that teachers were using to enable and enhance student learning. Participating educators had experience teaching in a variety of technology contexts including 1:1 laptops/tablets, Bring Your Own Devices/Technology, Blended Learning, Flipped Learning, and Virtual Education. Through a structured interview process, teachers and administrators described the technology-enabled strategies they use to improve student outcomes.
What Digital Classrooms Look Like Today
We found that teachers deploy digital instructional strategies in creative ways that enhance what educators report as best practices for learning. The pedagogical approaches the study teachers used have been around for a long time, such as purposeful grouping of students, active learning tasks, ongoing formative assessment, or peer collaboration. However, in many ways, the teachers’ tactical use of technology enabled or enhanced these teaching strategies. When used effectively, technology can enable and/or enhance student learning, teaching, and the work environment and school culture for staff and students.
We identified five general themes for how teachers used technology, and how that use has the potential to transform teaching and learning in K-12 schools. The themes include:
1. Increasing access to learning resources
2. Enhancing communication and feedback
3. Restructuring teacher time
4. Extending the purpose and audience for student work
5. Shifting teacher and student roles
Supporting Digital Classrooms
The context in which the integration of technology for learning occurs is critical. Within each of the seven different school districts, context had a strong influence in teacher perspectives on the use of technology and how to integrate it best for learning purposes. Digital conversions require leadership and community support through vision and resources as well as an environment that can adapt to change. Digital classrooms also inherently change the school context. Educators noted leadership shifts among educators, greater collaboration among teachers, and enhanced work environments.
As other researchers and practitioners have noted, merely putting tools in classrooms is not enough to drive rapid and meaningful change in teaching and learning. We need to equip teachers with strategies that are known to improve student learning. To keep pace with technology innovations, we need research about what works, in order to spark rapid changes in learning inside and outside of the classroom, as well as to guide training for our pre- and in-service educators.