Now more than ever, public school classrooms have faster internet connections and greater access to classroom technology, but a new report from Education Week finds that students report using computers for rote learning more often than critical thinking and that their teachers lack confidence in using technology to teach.

Teachers in the Bowling Green Independent School District and Warren County Public Schools are increasingly using devices such as laptops, tablets and online Google tools in an attempt to make their lessons more engaging.

Bowling Green schools Superintendent Gary Fields said technology is always a piece of teacher training sessions, but he also said teachers and the work they do cannot be automated.

“We can’t buy enough Chromebooks to replace teachers,” he said.

Education Week’s Technology Counts report, titled “Classroom Technology: Where Schools Stand,” pulls from survey data collected by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The report tracks trends in classroom computer use among the nation’s fourth- and eighth-graders and asks how many students have tech-savvy teachers.

Nationally, the report shows school districts have greater internet access. In 2016, as many as 88 percent of the nation’s school districts met the Federal Communications Commission’s minimum internet-connectivity target of 100 Kbps per student. That’s a step up from just 30 percent of districts in 2013. Kentucky is also among five states with every one of its school districts meeting federal connectivity targets.

Students also have greater access to classroom technology. The number of laptops, tablets, netbooks and Chromebooks shipped annually to public schools grew by 363 percent over the past seven years. The number has risen from slightly more than 3 million devices in 2010 to almost 14 million this year, with continued growth expected.

Bowling Green High School saw increased access when the district purchased a Chromebook for every freshmen last school year. The district plans to continue purchasing Chromebooks for each incoming freshman class until every student in the school has one to use throughout their high school career.

Fields described the devices as a convenient way for students and teachers to collaborate on assignments. The device allows them to work on assignments offline and save them online at school.

“Even if students don’t have Wi-Fi access at home, they can take the Chromebook and go to a local library,” he said.

But the nationwide increase in internet and technology access doesn’t necessarily equate to better learning, according to the report.

In 2015, only 61 percent of fourth-graders had reading teachers who said they had received training on how to integrate technology into their classroom instruction, according to the report. That number was 64 percent in 2009.

Additionally, only 13 percent of U.S. eighth-grade math students had teachers who reported learning a “large extent” from professional development for using technology for math instruction.

As much as 40 percent of students had teachers learning a “small extent,” 32 percent learned a “moderate extent” and 15 percent had teachers who reported learning nothing at all.

In Kentucky, only 8 percent of eighth-grade math students had teachers who learned a large extent, followed by 34 percent for moderate, 38 percent for small and 21 percent reporting “not at all.”

Students are also reporting using computers for passive learning, such as reviewing and drilling math concepts, than for more actively learning through researching a math concept.

As much as 74 percent of U.S. eighth-grade math students reported “never or hardly ever” using a computer to research a math topic. Another 20 percent reported using computers for research once or twice a month with 5 percent reporting once or twice a week and only 1 percent reporting everyday or almost everyday.

In Kentucky, 66 percent of eighth-grade math students reported using computers to practice or review math at least once versus 21 percent using them to research once monthly.

Allen Martin, a technology resource teacher in the city school district, said teachers have been moving past using computers for rote learning.

“We’ve already jumped on that train,” he said.

Instead, Martin regularly visits teachers to help them come up with more engaging approaches, such as creating podcasts, videos or an infographic to illustrate the battles in the U.S. Civil War.

“We don’t want to do technology just for technology’s sake,” he said. “Good teaching is first.”

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or at bgdailynews.com.

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Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.

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