AdvanceED, an accrediting agency that partners with schools on continuous improvement, has published a short paper documenting its findings about technology use in the classroom. The bottom line: students do not routinely use technology for learning. Based on direct classroom observations of 140,000 classrooms in K-12 schools across 39 states and 11 countries, AdvancED found there are still relatively few classrooms in which the use of digital tools and technology is a regular part of a student’s school experience.

In more than half (53%) of classrooms direct observations showed no evidence of students are using technology to gather, evaluate, or use information for learning; 63% of classrooms showed no evidence of students using technology to conduct research, solve problems, and/or create original works for learning; nearly two-thirds (65%) of classrooms showed no evidence of students using technology to communicate and work collaboratively for learning. Observers saw more routine use of technology for each of these purposes – ratings of evident or very evident – in roughly one-quarter of classrooms. AdvancED indicates that there was little variation in availability of technology across different types of schools, making it unlikely that limited use of technology was due to lack of access to devices or stemmed from the schools’ technology infrastructure.

The AdvanceED researchers speculate that there may be a broad range of factors related to teacher preparation and training and the impact of technology on school culture that account for the limited use of technology for the limited use of technology for learning. I agree, but I also believe that over the last decade the increased emphasis on accountability and standardized testing has caused teachers to define their jobs in terms of test scores and proficiency ranks.

They know there is more to effective instruction but they have found it hard to break out of the box of limited expectations. Communication, collaboration, problem solving and creativity aren’t on the test (or not until very recently) and especially in schools with struggling students, principals and supervisors have been quick to question instructional approaches that veered to far from the straight and narrow covering the content and assessing for mastery. Teachers have not been widely encouraged to use technology not just as a supplement to what they’ve always done but as a way to expand the learning potential for all students.

If we want to foster more complex and sophisticated learning environments (and, yes, personalize learning) we have to make it clear that we value the associated skills and practices.