Teachers' Computer Literacy
Technology and computers have become an ever more pervasive and necessary part of American classrooms and education over the last decade. Without good computer hardware skills, and a firm internalization of operating and application concepts, students will face great challenges in procuring well paying jobs in today's workforce (Soat, 2007). Therefore, it is critical that the teachers who educate our students themselves possess these skills and are provided with the professional education and training to both acquire them to an adequate level and to keep them current in this fast changing arena. If the nation's educators do not possess the basic skills required for the 21st century world, then the students they teach will be at risk of graduating without an adequate grasp of these skills as well. To avoid this possibility, comprehensive and mandatory training programs by schools and school districts are needed to ensure the computer literacy of all of our teachers at an appropriate level.
Keywords Computer Based Technology; Computer Literacy; Education Software; Internet; Multimedia Software; Professional Development; Technology Gap
As the ever increasing flood of computer based technology has entered the nation's classrooms over the last decade, it has become increasingly evident to educators, parents, and government policymakers that without a strong grasp of these ever-changing and critical technologies, American students will graduate from our schools with a major deficiency in their education and possibly be "functionally illiterate" in skills that are indispensable in today's middle class workplace. At the macroeconomic level, without an available workforce fluent in these computer usage skills and the computer based technologies that are now firmly embedded in the nation's economic drivers, our industries will be forced to look elsewhere for the computer literate employees that they require. A trend already evident today is the importation of foreign technology workers and the "off shoring" of high tech jobs to such countries as India and China, where a high percentage of university students graduate with computer and technologically related degrees.
When addressing these deficiencies, the first issue that must be considered is that of the computer literacy of the teachers who educate our children. If the computer literacy skills of our educators are lacking, then how can we expect our children to absorb them to an adequate level in the classroom? While the usage and integration of computers in the classroom and in teaching continues to climb today, there are still many schools that have limited access to these technologies, and worse, many teachers that lack the training required to maximize the technology resources that they do possess. Therefore, it is vital that teachers and educators across the spectrum are properly trained and versed in both computer usage and integration into the 21st century classroom so that students can begin to acquire these critical skills early in their education.
Such skills training will increase the computer literacy of the students, allow better incorporation of effective and available educational software into the classroom, and in the end, will ensure that students will not graduate with deficient skills in this area. Without this training, the nation as a whole could find itself saddled with large numbers of workers in the labor force who will require expensive adult education to make them functional in today's economy, and schools risk a new technology and skills gap. Such a situation will further separate the graduates of low income urban schools from those of their better funded sisters from the prospect of post-secondary education or a well paying occupation that requires fluency in a wide range of computer and technology skills.
Teacher's Computer Usage
While many American schools still have limited access to in-classroom computers, most schools and students do have larger scale access to computers in the form of computer labs and the school library. In 1999, a survey by the U.S Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (2000) showed that 99 percent of teachers nationally responded that they and their students had available Internet-capable school computers for their students. In 2005, that number was at 100 percent as opposed to just 35 percent in 1994. (NCES, 2006, Table 1). However, the 1999 survey, conducted to understand how much and for what teachers used computers and the internet in the classroom and teaching, was also aimed at ascertaining the educators own degree of self-perceived competence in the usage of this technology.
A wide disparity based on generational differences became clearly evident. The survey found that the amount that teachers used computers in both teaching and in administrative record keeping directly correlated with their number of years in the profession. “Newer teachers were more likely to use computers or the Internet to accomplish various teaching objectives. Teachers with 9 or fewer years of teaching experience were more likely than teachers with 20 or more years of experience to report using computers or the internet "a lot" to communicate with colleagues (30 percent with 3 or fewer years, 30 percent with 4 to 9 years, versus 19 percent with 20 or more years) and gather information for lessons (21 and 22 percent versus 11 percent for the same three groups). Also, teachers with 4 to 9 years of teaching experience were more likely to report they used computers or the Internet "a lot" to create instructional materials (47 percent) than were teachers with 20 or more years of experience (35 percent)” (NCES, 2000, Table 1).
The survey also found that a teacher's usage of computers was also directly affected by the poverty level of their schools. The most impoverished schools saw the lowest levels of computer usage both instructionally and administratively versus schools with low levels of poverty. With these findings, some of the basic obstacles to computer use in the schools may have been highlighted. This hypothesis is reinforced by the results of the second portion of the survey which asked teachers how strong their computer skills were and if they were prepared enough to use the Internet as a helpful tool for instruction.
Teacher's Computer Literacy Requirements
As early as 1981, at the very beginning of the modern computer era when first generation, small computers and software programs were slowly becoming available to forward looking schools and educational institutions, there was an emerging consensus among many educators that computer literacy was going to an inescapable future requirement for students, and that teachers would be required to have a basic level of computer literacy in order to teach (Geisert & Futrell, 1984). Studies were conducted by the states of North Carolina and Texas (which in 1982 identified 50 competencies related to computers that teachers should be familiar with (Geisert & Futrell, 1984, para 4). Various policy making and professional education organizations attempted to establish future computer literacy requirements both for students and for teachers. Then as now, there was agreement that all students and teachers would require a basic level of computer literacy, however, as is still the case, there was no general consensus on what that level should be.
In 2001 as the use of computers became widespread in schools, Jones (2001) also cited the NCES report which found that only about 30 % of teachers felt fully qualified to use computers in teaching (NCES, 2000, Table 3). The teachers reported that they did not feel that they had received the necessary training to either use the machines or to design classroom instructional materials that relied on computers for delivery. The transition from traditional teaching methods to methods which relied on the usage of computers and the internet was difficult for many teachers, not only because of the technical aspects, but especially because of the lack of relevant training and allotted professional development time for learning these skills and "fragmented" and "unrealistic" new teacher training programs that do not adequately prepare new teachers to embrace the new technologies entering the classroom. Often, teachers who do embrace the use of computers do not go to their schools for assistance. They turn to their colleagues and to the internet...
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