Access or Training?

Why Aren’t Science Teachers Using Technology More?


Joan Lindgren, Florida Atlantic University

Robert E. Bleicher, California State University Channel Islands



Theoretical Framework

This study aims to establish a baseline of use, need for training, and interest in using technology in instruction by science teachers in a large south Florida school district reputed to be somewhat more advanced in the use and integration of technology in its schools in comparison to surrounding districts. Our research was informed by the literature on national technology reform and research on conditions supporting teachers’ use of technology.

Bransford, Brown and Cocking (1999) have suggested ways that information and communication technologies (ICT) can improve learning and education. Students can work on solving problems similar to what exists in real life, and can do so actively through multimedia and simulations. ICT applications can be used to help students understand complex ideas and relationships that frequently exist in science. Teachers have the opportunity to provide immediate feedback to students and students can correct their work easily.

Ritchie & Wiburg (1994) determined that several variables influenced whether or not technology was integrated into the curriculum. When technology is well integrated, there is administrative support and leadership for such ventures, professional development is readily available and collaborative partnerships beyond the school are commonplace.



Science teachers in one large south Florida district were surveyed as to their use of technologies in their teaching and for their own professional use. The teachers responding to this survey, with the exception of 2 individuals, all answered as if we were asking about computer or instructional technology usage and not other science related technologies. Science teachers indicated their interest, their access to computers, as well as to specific hardware such as scanners, printers, laser disk players, computers, camcorders, digital cameras, and their use of applications. They could write-in how they used a particular technology in their instruction, and were asked what software they used in instruction. They were also able to indicate what technology (ies) they would like to have but did not have at the present time. Another aspect of the survey was their perception of district support for technology and the tech support provided at their school.

The survey was distributed at two district meetings organized by the science supervisor for secondary education: one for middle school science department chairs and one session for high school department chairs. I attended these meetings and explained the survey and what we hoped to learn.  The science department chairs agreed to distribute and collect the surveys at their science department meetings. The science supervisor requested that all surveys be returned to him, and I then picked up the completed anonymous surveys. This method seemed to aid the high rate of return that we achieved from the teachers, whereby 122 teachers returned the survey, a return rate of about 89%. Of surveys returned, the following bullets outline the demographics of the respondents.


·        53% Middle School, 47% High School

·        60% female, 40% male

·        80% White, 9% Hispanic, 8% Afro-American, 3% Asian

·        Years Teaching:

0 – 3          21%     Beginner

4 - 10         30%     Tenured

11 - 22       23%     Veteran

> 23                       26%     Near Retirement


A limitation to this study was that the survey was long and somewhat tedious to complete. We believe this caused several parts of the survey to be ignored by some of the teachers.

It is frequently acknowledged that technology has not been well utilized in instruction. We were interested to see if there was greater utilization in this district by science teachers than had been reported elsewhere. We further wished to establish a baseline of how teachers were using technology in science classrooms to ascertain if training would be needed or desired. The following were questions raised during the review of literature and into which we hoped to gain insight through this study.

·        Were district science teachers technologically proficient?

·        Were science teachers using ICT in their teaching and if so to what extent?

·        Which applications and programs were most relevant for them?

·        Were science teachers reluctant to adopt technological innovations?

·        Did science teachers need or want further training on existing applications, software, and in integrating technology with students? 

·        Was time or a lack of adequate tech support factors that teachers related as problems for them as they integrated technology into their teaching?

·        Were there sufficient resources for students to use & for teachers to use for instruction with students? 



We had speculated that newer science teachers might be more likely to use computer technology with students and in their teaching because of their recent exposure to such in their university training, and the emphasis placed on integrating technology into teaching in their university studies. This turned out not to be the case. There were no significant differences in technology interest and use among the four groups of teachers in regard to the length of time they had been teaching. “Veteran” teachers and “near retirement” teachers were as likely to use technology in teaching as beginning teachers or “the tenured” group. Many long time science teachers were using computers in teaching at the same rate or at the same level and with the same degree of enthusiasm as newer teachers.  We further found no statistically significant group differences in interest and use by gender, race/ethnicity, or between high school and middle school teachers.

In a self rating of their technological proficiency or ICT capabilities, the largest majority of science teachers (nearly 69%) responding to the survey rated themselves as Intermediate in their skills and knowledge of technology, while less than 3% rated themselves as Novice (knowing very, very little about computers). The second largest category rated themselves as Advanced (18%), while 11% rated themselves as Beginners in using technology. It was noteworthy that almost 87% of the science teachers classified themselves as either intermediate or advanced in their knowledge of computer technology. From our verification procedure, we cross-checked which programs teachers indicated they were using or able to use against their self-perceptions and determined that science teachers seemed reasonably accurate in their self-ratings.

Differences in use of technologies in the science classroom between middle and high school teachers emerged through a qualitative type question that asked which technologies did the science teachers feel were essential to their teaching. Middle school teachers had strong preferences for the TV/VCR and high school science teachers felt that a computer with CDRom drive was essential to their teaching. Middle school science teachers who responded to this question, overwhelmingly named the TV /VCR with 41 of the responding middle level teachers indicating that they used the TV/VCR 3 times per week or more, followed by 36 and 35 teachers reporting that the computer and the overhead projector respectively were also essential technologies for their teaching. Thirty-two of the 67 middle school science teachers indicated that they used no software programs in their teaching, yet expressed the necessity of having a computer for instruction. This might indicate the need these teachers felt for preparing materials and for grading.

Although not every one of the 55 high school science teachers who responded to the survey answered the question of which technologies were frequently used and essential to your instruction, 38 high school science teachers said the computer was essential, followed by 36 indicating the overhead projector as also essential and 26 teachers who named the TV/VCR as something they used very often and considered important to their teaching. This was a difference to the middle level teachers who felt the TV/VCR was so important and used it so frequently. Twelve teachers indicated that they would like to have a projection system to enhance their presentations and for connections to the TV/VCR and to their computer. Many more high school teachers (12) mentioned that Power Point was now important to them for their lectures and 3 middle level teachers felt Power Point was critical.  More middle level teachers named the Laser disc player as important for some of their instruction, while Fifteen high school teachers felt that access to the world wide web was now critical for their instruction, as opposed to only 7 middle level teachers. 

As presented in Table 1, nearly all teachers in this study reported having a computer in their classroom (96%), with 85% of those teachers having classroom Internet access, with a computer lab available to 82% of teachers. One could generally conclude that this group of teachers had a computer and usually a printer for their own professional use, and most had access to the Internet in their classroom. Their responses indicated that teachers were using their available technology for preparing instructional materials, accessing resources from the Internet for their teaching, and using email to communicate with colleagues, students and others.

Table 1

Having computer or internet access (N=122)

Home Computer


Home Internet


Classroom Computer


Classroom Internet


School Library Computer


School Library Internet


Computer Lab



From just this data, it appeared that the science teachers in this district were far from techno-phobic. They were generally comfortable using computers and indicated that they were important to their instruction, although there was little evidence that ICT was being employed to any large extent with students. It was our feeling that the science teachers felt that having a computer for their professional use was so critical to their teaching that though they used the computer infrequently with students, they used it daily in preparing for class, for grading and for frequent accessing of the Internet for information.

Table 2 presents results of how teachers perceived their knowledge to use technology in their instruction, their interest in doing so, and their perception of whether the district encouraged and supported such use.


Table 2

Competence, interest, district support perceptions (N=122)

Knowledge, Interest, or Belief




Knowledge of using technology in instruction




Interest in using tech in instruction




Belief that district encourages tech




Belief that district supports tech





            More than half the respondent felt there was encouragement and support for using technology at the district level, but there were still teachers who felt that there was insufficient support by the district. “Lip service” was a term used by several teachers in terms of what the district was willing to support. Seven middle school teachers wrote in comments that using the computer lab with their classes was problematic in terms of scheduling, and tech support was inadequate when problems with the technology occurred. It was noteworthy that interest in using technology was strong at 70% with another 25% of the teachers indicating some interest, yet many write-in comments indicated that teachers did not wish for further training.

Anderson & Ronnkvist (1998) found that teachers who had a ratio of one computer to every four students in their own classrooms were three times more likely to use computers in teaching and to assign computer tasks to their students.  It did not appear that this was the situation for any of the science teachers responding to the survey. Most of these teachers indicated that they had only adequate access to technology. Table 3 presents data indicating both access to computers and indications of how much teachers felt that they influenced decisions about acquiring computer software and hardware for their school. It does not appear that teachers were greatly involved in purchasing decisions and did not communicate often with the tech staff.  This  indicates that they were not deeply involved in the technology curricula and decision making process, thus leaving teachers out of the decision making loop.

Table 3

Access and technology acquisition decision-making (N=122)

Adequate access to computers


Communicate with tech staff

34 %

Make software purchasing

23 %

Input into purchasing

36 %

Receive software catalogues

74 %

Make hardware purchase

15 %

Input into hardware purchase

35 %

Receive hardware catalogues

40 %


They mentioned various applications they would like to have for their instruction, especially Power Point. Some indicated the need for more hardware such as scanners, camcorders and digital cameras, but only a handful of teachers wrote enthusiastic comments regarding their enjoyment of infusing technology into their classrooms and with students. Surprisingly many indicated that they would not want additional training, even those for whom it appeared that some additional technology training could be beneficial. It occurred to us that perhaps teachers did not want to allocate more of their non-working hours to compulsory workshops, even on topics that they were interested in.

According to Ritchie & Wiberg (1994) administrative support and readily available professional development were important variables to successful technology integration into the curricula and teaching. These two factors were not evident from the responses of the science teachers in this district. A third variable noted by Ritchie & Wiberg (1994), collaborative partnerships beyond the school, was not evident from the survey.

Is the structure of the American high school such that teachers have little time to plan together, to observe each other teaching, to share experiences, resources and successes when using ICT and  technology? If such work were built into a teacher’s day, would technology be used more with students in more extensive and in more meaningful ways that might lead to richer understanding of science and the scientific way of investigating and way of thinking? Our findings that science teachers were technologically adept and interested in technology led us to believe that changing patterns of a teacher’s day so that time was built in for interactive work between teachers and for researching resources for teaching would lead to better and more interesting uses of the technological resources available. It seemed that leadership in the schools could foster greater us of technology and involve teachers in the decision making about purchasing, training for new applications and programs. If business professionals have time in their work schedule for technology training, then it would seem fitting that teachers should certainly have the same.

Computers present opportunities for the kind of reform that the national standards call for. They may provide and connect content and process when learning activities are well designed. A growing database about the interests, access and use of various computer technologies by teachers is necessary starting point for taking advantage of these opportunities.

A future study now being designed is to survey this same group of high school and middle school teachers from the same district in 2006 and see what changes have occurred. Will more teachers be using ICT in their teaching and with and by students as would be expected? The survey will be simplified and redesigned with less thought to providing in service and more emphasis on what science teachers are actually doing in terms of ICT in their classrooms. Some qualitative type questions would be appropriate to try to get at the heart of this.

Significance of the study to science teacher education

Why technology has not been utilized more frequently in science classrooms remains a question of concern, or why teachers do or do not use technology.  Is the structure of the American high school such that teachers do have too little time to plan together, to observe each other teaching, to share experiences, resources and successes when using technology? If such work were built into a teacher’s day, would technology be used more with students in more extensive and in more meaningful ways that might lead to richer understanding of science and the scientific way of investigating and way of thinking? Our findings that science teachers were technologically adept and interested in technology led us to believe that changing patterns of a teacher’s day so that time was built in for interactive work between teachers and for researching resources for teaching would lead to better and more interesting uses of the technological resources available. If business professionals have time in their work schedule for technology training, then it would seem fitting that teachers should certainly have the same.

There is a growing interest in infusing technology into classroom instruction among ASTE members. Sharing these data about actual use and interest of technology in a large school district will help provide a baseline for understanding what is available and being used by practicing teachers and will help us design research aimed at increasing the use of technology in science classrooms.

Edelson (2001) notes that computers present an unprecedented opportunity for the kind of reform that the national standards call for as they offer the opportunity to connect content and process in well-designed learning activities. A growing database about the interests, access and use of various computer technologies by teachers is necessary starting point to taking advantage of these opportunities.



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