Interview | Rob Lippincott on Teaching and Technology

Rob LippincottSome fascinating stats and interesting views from Rob Lippincott, Senior VP for Education at PBS, in this interview. Rob is responsible for the development and implementation of effective public media educational services for PBS, local public television stations, students, teachers and parents. His tasks include strategic and operational planning, securing new financial resources and leveraging new technologies to expand PBS’ education services.

Victor: PBS LearningMedia did a study on the technology landscape of teachers. Can you tell me a little bit about what you found?

Rob: PBS LearningMedia surveyed 500 Pre-K to Grade 12 teachers early this year.  Here are some of our most interesting findings regarding what teachers really want when it comes to technology in the classroom:

We found that 91 percent of teachers reported having access to computers in their classrooms, but only one-in-five (22 percent) said they have the “right level” of technology.

PBS LearningMedia imageThe survey revealed that nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of teachers cited budget as the biggest barrier to accessing tech in the classroom, especially in low-income communities where 70 percent of teachers reported lack of funds as the greatest obstacle.

Teachers in affluent communities also have greater parental and school board support for tech in the classroom compared to those teaching in low-income communities.  Thirty-eight percent vs. 14 percent cited high levels of parental support and 38 percent vs. 21 percent for school board support.

Nonetheless, teachers’ opinion about the ability of tech to enhance learning is universal despite grade level, the income levels of the student population and the types of communities where they teach; 93 percent believe that interactive whiteboards enrich classroom education and 81 percent feel the same way about tablets.

According to the survey, technology resources used most often in the classroom include:

Websites (56%)

Online images (44%)

Online games or activities (43%)

Online video content (33%)

The primary reason for teachers using technology resources are:

Increasing student motivation (77%)

Reinforcing and expanding on content being taught (76%)

Responding to a variety of learning styles (76%)

Demonstrate something you can’t show any other way (54%)

Victor: What is PBS doing to help make technology more accessible to teachers?

Picture 1Rob: Educational technology is continually evolving and PBS is always trying to find ways to leverage new technologies to improve learning outcomes. More and more teachers are using video or digital resources in the classroom, and in response to this demand we developed PBS LearningMedia, a free, media-on-demand service giving educators access to a plethora of educational content, such as photos, video and audio files from NASA, the National Archives, FRONTLINE and AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.  PBS LearningMedia includes with all of its rich multimedia content lesson plans, background essays, and discussion questions for PreK-12 that support the Common Core State Standards.

Victor: The survey you did stated that 93 percent of teachers believe whiteboards can enrich classroom education; is PBS creating any content specifically for whiteboards in the classroom?

Rob: Most recently, we have launched 150 interactive whiteboard games that are part of an experimental project funded by the U.S. Department of Education called the Ready To Learn Initiative.  These games are part of multiplatform experiences that offer online games, whiteboard activities and mobile apps that are all tied together with common characters, storylines and curricular goals.  Through this initiative, we are continuing to work with top children’s media producers to develop content for interactive whiteboards, among other platforms, to help find new ways to use this platform to accelerate learning. Some of the new whiteboard games we have in development help kids build math skills like spatial sense, measurement, and sorting through flexible single or multi-player experiences. 

Victor: More and more teachers are choosing to integrate technology into their classroom – do you think professional development programs can help teachers with this new landscape? 

Rob: Absolutely! With the rapid pace of technological change, PBS is dedicated to helping teachers with digital learning strategies and offers several courses to help teachers understand the best ways to implement technology for learning in a classroom setting.

PBS TeacherLine is a professional development service for teachers to receive graduate credit and recertification through online courses that span the entire preK-12 curriculum.  Nearly all of the PBS TeacherLine instructional technology courses now reflect the expanded role of technology in K-12 classrooms.

Victor: What do you think about technology being integrated into elementary schools?  

Rob: Kids are being exposed to technology more than ever and at younger ages. One study said that kids can navigate iPad Apps before leaning to tie shoes!

As access to new technologies continues to rise, our mission is to build on this success, and to continue to find the learning potential in every new platform.  So when you use technology and media, use the resources that have been designed for learning. Through the Ready To Learn Initiative, we are working with our partners at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) on several projects to help build early math and literacy skills of children ages 2-8.  These projects are aimed at creating and researching educationally sound and developmentally-appropriate media for kids, as well as resources to empower educators, caregivers and parents to be well-informed media mediators for their students and children.

Teachers are also seeing the benefits of using technology in the classroom. A recent study from WestEd showed that after 24 days of using The Electric Company Summer Learning Program (which combines teacher interaction with the PBS KIDS show, apps and online games) kids had a 41 percent gain in mathematics vocabulary, and 20 percent gain in numeracy skills.

Victor: What does the edtech landscape look like for the coming couple of years? What’s interesting on the horizon? 

Rob: What’s really exciting is how much technology can be a great learning tool to help aid discussion and creativity in the classroom beyond the screen.  For example, we are experimenting with ways to use innovations like augmented reality, virtual reality or 3D-rendered gaming to help teach core skills.  We are designing systems to track learning progress across several different devices – allowing us to see what devise are most effective to teach which skills.

A new trend called “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) means that kids will be introducing handheld or pad technologies into classrooms which have only desktop computers.  And we are excited about the power of “big data” – combining all of the research and assessment data about individual learning in a system which can supply feedback – to direct and personalize learning.

For any of this, at PBS we are committed to helping kids recognize the real-world applications of the skills they learn through our content.


Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest. To enter the 2013 EdTech Digest Awards Recognition Program, write to:


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