The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation just released a report detailing the results of 3,100 teacher surveys and 1,250 student surveys on the kinds of digital instruction tools that are useful and effective. The foundation has asked teachers and students what they need when it comes to digital instruction, aiming to close the communication gap between commercial developers and schools.

One of the biggest takeaways is that most teachers — 54 percent — don’t find many of the digital tools they use effective. That’s partly because teachers often aren’t making purchasing decisions. When they do have a say in tool selection they often report on its effectiveness more favorably. When asked about free products, teachers reported that free products are just as likely to be effective as the products the district purchased for them.

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In terms of content, teachers are looking for digital tools that support their efforts to help students become college and career ready, including tools that are aligned to Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. Although there are many math-only and English Language Arts-only digital tools for the high school level, both teachers and students report low expectations of effectiveness when using those tools. There is a large gap of both perceived effectiveness and availability of science content at every grade level, and while few products are aimed at social studies-only, teachers often find those tools to be effective.

The report paints a picture of a fragmented system where teachers are constantly searching for tools to help them meet new standards and requirements, but are distanced from decision making about the tools they use in the classroom. Product developers are focusing on math and ELA tools, but teachers and students don’t always find them to work well, with particularly large standard gaps when it comes to high school math.

Click here for the full report [PDF].

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  • This is a really comprehensive report. Surely putting together the basic fundamentals of already available tools such as, Quizlet, Khan Academy et al is an achievable feat. An infrastructure that incorporates the concepts of the above in one complete setting.

  • Scott

    I’m a classroom teacher and I can confirm the Gates Foundation’s findings. Teachers need tech to help them activate and assess learning. About a year ago I personally took on this problem and created Oncore, a classroom instruction app that collects assessment data in class as learning is taking place. It hits the sweet spot of saving teachers time while improving their knowledge of student learning needs.

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  • Soph

    We are in a school community that uses MS publisher in the school media center and the sparely available laptops. When the child returns home many to none have this software to use. Our county public library does not have it either. Such a waste of money it serves the school board most probably and not the students and families who pay the tax dollars.
    Harford county guest responder

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  • Eric Patnoudes

    Another completely overlooked cause of this problem is the lack of planning by many districts to budget for and provide PD and training for teachers. It’s also imperative to make a clear distinction between the two.

    What I mean by training is time for teachers to learn which buttons to click or how to operate the tool. PD is when the teachers dive deep into pedagogical conversations and begin to understand WHY they are using the tool and how it’s use is improving student outcomes.

    In many cases, these tools are simply being used to substitute the old didactic method of teaching or improve document management. “If we don’t get instructional design right, technology can only increase the site and certainty of failure.” William Horton

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Katrina Schwartz

Katrina Schwartz is a journalist based in San Francisco. She's worked at KPCC public radio in LA and has reported on air and online for KQED since 2010. She's a staff writer for KQED's education blog MindShift.

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