What Teachers Want from Digital Instructional Tools 2.0

New Report Highlights Gaps for Digital Product Developers

Updated research from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation about the use of digital tools in today’s classrooms can be found in the new report, Teachers Know Best: What Teachers Want From Digital Instructional Tools 2.0.

Who better to ask about how digital tools are being used in classrooms than teachers? 3,100 teachers responded to the survey.

Premises of the Report

The goal of personalized learning is that it is tailored to the individual needs of students so that they can take more ownership of their learning. Using effective tools, teachers can target specific needs and engage students with significantly better outcomes.

This research focuses on the teacher’s perceptions and experiences because they can provide the best insights into the challenges of personalizing instruction. They can also highlight the areas of greatest need for product developers and purchasers of curricular resources.

The intention of the Gates Foundation in sharing this information is to enable product developers to be responsive to the emerging needs of teachers so they can create instructional tools that will help all students achieve college readiness.

 Key Findings

  • Even though 69% of teachers report teaching in classroom where most students are working at the same pace as the rest of the class, 73% of respondents report changing up student groups at least monthly.
  • 93% of teachers regularly use some form of digital tool to guide instruction.
  • Teachers spend 16% of class time, on average, on independent practice without digital content, compared to 11% using it; another 16% of class time on paper-and-pencil assessment, compared to 9% on computer-based assessments; and 10% of class time on individual in-person tutoring, compared to 4% on online tutoring.
  • In almost equal numbers, they say technology plays a primary role in their classrooms (38%), a secondary role (34%) or no role at all (28%). This split remains consistent in virtually all school settings—at different grade levels, in traditional and charter schools, and in urban, suburban, and rural settings.
  • Despite their confidence in digital tools, teachers say that these tools make up just 25% of the resources they have to teach standards.

How do Teachers Choose Digital Tools?

56% of teachers choose digital tools recommended by other teachers. 47% rely on principals or administrators. When researching tools on their own, only 17%  of teachers rely on education-specific online resources such as Graphite and EdSurge, compared to 42% of teachers who use search engines such as Google or Bing.

However, access remains a critical barrier to technology adoption. 42% of teachers say their students lack sufficient access to technology outside of the classroom, and 35% say their schools lack adequate funding for technology.

37% of teachers say their school is committed to investing in technology, but one in five teachers (20%) say that that investment is insufficient. Although tech-forward schools are still in the minority, a higher percentage of those teachers find the digital tools they use sufficient to meet higher learning standards.

As to the shortcomings of the product selection process, one teacher said, “Districts need to give the teachers a chance to check out the technology before the school buys it. The district need to learn the teachers needs before they just purchase a product.”

Where are the Gaps?

  • Middle school ELA teachers are least likely to have access to sufficient digital and non-digital resources to meet the standards.
  • High school math teachers are more likely to report that the digital and non-digital resources are not available or sufficient to meet the standards.
  • K-5 science teachers find the digital tools they use frequently to be less effective.

Takeaways for Product Developers?

Teachers still need core resources. Product developers should continue to work to fill perceived gaps in the market—in part by identifying and addressing specific standard, subject, and grade-level needs cited by teachers.

Developers should make their process more transparent. Feedback could be driven by open, online communities where teachers collaborate with developers to design useful and effective digital products that help students achieve desired outcomes.

For greater detail on the report’s findings, go to www.teachersknowbest.org