Rural Elementary School Teachers' Technology Integration

Article excerpt

Based on survey responses from more than 500 third-grade teachers, this study addressed three research questions relating to technology integration and its impact in rural elementary schools. The first analyses compared rural with non-rural teachers, revealing that the rural teachers had more positive attitudes toward technology integration. Then analyses examined dynamics influencing technology integration (operationalized as the sophistication of students' technology use) in rural schools only. Regression results showed that attitudes, teachers' preparation for using technology, and the availability of technology had significant positive associations with technology integration, whereas the schools' remoteness and socioeconomic status did not have significant associations. Notably and in contrast to some recent reports, responses from a number of rural teachers indicated that their access to instructional technology continues to be limited and that their preparation for using technology has been inadequate to support the engagement of students with sophisticated technology applications.

Many educational leaders and policy makers claim that computers and related internet technologies represent important educational innovations with the potential for stimulating high-levels of student engagement and achievement. In the United States, moreover, various state and national planning groups also emphasize the role that such technologies need to play in contemporary classrooms (e.g., Connecticut State Department of Education, 2001; Johnson, 2009; Maryland State Department of Education, 2002; Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 2009).

Whereas policy-makers and practitioners in the United States often claim that technology-mediated instruction is important in all locales across the nation, their counterparts in other countries point to the special role that technology can play in addressing the needs of rural students (e.g., Larson & Murray, 2008; Mason & Rennie, 2004; Mitra, Dangwal, & Thadani, 2008; Momanyi, Norby, & Strand, 2006). Some recommend distance education, for example, as a way to compensate for the remoteness of certain rural communities (e.g., Barbour, 2007; Mason & Rennie, 2004; McQuaide, 2009), and others cite evidence showing that distance education works to improve educational equity for impoverished rural students and their families (McQuaide, 2009). In some evaluations of technology-mediated instruction, researchers report the academic benefits of making computer kiosks available to children in rural villages (Inamdar & Kulkarni, 2007); and some studies document teachers' beliefs that technology integration will increase rural students' access to multiple methods of learning, cultivate their independence as learners, and expand their awareness of the wider world in which they live (Momanyi et al., 2006).

Even in the United States studies focus on the potential of various computer and internet technologies for addressing educational needs that result from the remote location of some rural schools, the increasing difficulty of recruiting teachers to work in these schools, and the reduction in funding to small rural districts (Howley et al,, 2010). Nevertheless, some U.S. educators also identify dilemmas and tensions associated with the choice to use technology-mediated instruction to replace or augment traditional forms of teaching in rural schools (e.g., Howley et al., 2010; Howley & Howley, 1995; Wheeler, & Amiotte, 2005).

Whether or not particular U.S. teachers or schools decide to integrate technology, by at least some accounts most seem to have access to adequate hardware, software, and connectivity. According to several sources, school districts throughout the United States have purchased and installed the sorts of equipment needed for effective instructional applications using various recommended technologies available to them (Becker, 2000; United States Department of Education, 2005). …