Research sponsored by Lightspeed Systems, netTrekker and Atomic Learning indicates districts must overcome safety concerns, knowledge gap and limited support systems for effective use of Web 2.0

NEW ORLEANS (March 25, 2011) – Results of a new research survey indicate growing acceptance of Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies among school leaders and educators. Levels of use have improved since 2009 across several categories of Web 2.0 tools, including online social/collaborative networking. However, student safety and lack of teacher knowledge about how to use Web 2.0 technologies effectively remain barriers for many districts. These are some of the major findings of “Digital Districts: Web 2.0 and Collaborative Technologies in U.S. Schools,” a national survey of more than 380 district technology directors conducted by Interactive Educational Systems Design (IESD) on behalf of Lightspeed Systems Inc., netTrekker, and Atomic Learning.

“While the survey results are promising, it also indicates areas of needed improvements to ensure school districts can meet the individual learning needs of the Net Generation,” said Dr. Jay Sivin-Kachala, vice president and lead researcher for IESD. “The research reveals that educators increasingly rely on Web 2.0 technologies, resulting in positive teacher and student outcomes. To foster effective use across all classrooms and ensure equitable learning opportunities, districts need to provide safe Web 2.0 access, enhanced teacher professional development, and robust support systems.”

Lightspeed Systems, netTrekker and Atomic Learning partnered on a joint initiative to help schools maximize the learning opportunities afforded by Web 2.0 tools, while ensuring a safe and engaging online educational environment. The group first surveyed district technology directors in 2009 to examine the current status, future plans, and ongoing challenges of Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in K-12 education. The survey examined district policies, plans and levels of use of several categories of Web 2.0 technologies.

The key findings from the survey, detailed in the “Digital Districts” report, include:

  • Districts reported an increase over the previous year in the use of Web 2.0 technologies by 25% or more of teachers, across several categories: teacher-generated online content rose 12%, student-generated online content grew 13%, and online social/collaborative networking was up 20%. However, online social/collaborative networking was one of the least used tools for two consecutive years. This year, a majority of district respondents (65%) reported that very few or no teachers used this technology.
  • Lack of teacher knowledge about how to use the technologies effectively was the most frequently cited human-related barriers to adoption, and the most often cited technology-related barriers included student safety concerns and limited support systems (including technology personnel). Levels of use for online social/collaborative networking and student-generated online content aligned with district concerns over student safety and the need to monitor appropriate use.
  • District size was a factor in the attitudes toward Web 2.0 technologies and in the use of these tools. Across several Web 2.0 categories, the larger the district size, the more likely respondents were to report a positive attitude in their district. Midsize districts were more likely to report several positive teacher and student impacts as a result of Web 2.0 use.
  • Many districts are using or plan to use a variety of Web 2.0 applications for professional development, including educators posting content online (76%), use of online collaboration and communication tools (56%), and online professional development courses (49%).

New in the 2011 study, survey respondents reported on teaching and learning outcomes of Web 2.0 use. About half of the respondents reported an increase in students’ familiarity with technology (53%) and students more motivated to learn (48%) as a result of Web 2.0 use by students in their district. Other outcomes cited included an increase in student academic engagement (39%), and improved students’ collaboration skills (38%). Only 27% reported that incorporating Web 2.0 tools into the classroom had resulted in students using resources aligned to their individual learning needs, which suggests that one of the primary goals of Web 2.0 use is not being met.

A majority of the respondents reported an increase in teachers’ familiarity with technology (71%) and improved resources for teaching in the content areas (62%) after educators utilized Web 2.0 technologies, with 44% indicating improved teacher communication with students.

The “Digital Districts” research report outlines recommended action steps for school districts to incorporate Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies into the classroom in effective and meaningful ways. The survey results indicate that many district leaders see potential in using Web 2.0 to help meet student’s individual learning needs, but unless Web 2.0 use is tied to academic objectives, it will remain on the periphery of education. Many districts still need to establish policies and procedures for effective implementation of various Web 2.0 technologies—plans that address aligning Web 2.0 use to curriculum, assessment of Web 2.0-related skills and abilities, student safety and data security, teacher professional development and ongoing support, and appropriate use.

The full research report is available at www.digitaldistrictsurvey.com.

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