Oct 12 2006

Students are Naturals at Creating New Visions for Technology Enhanced Education

To create the best environment for learning, administrators and educators should get students involved in how technology is used in school.

Can't get the printer to work? Need to set up a new e-mail account? Want to find information on the Web?

Most educators realize that students are a valuable resource in today’s classroom to deal with these problems and many others. Students approach every aspect of their lives with a tech bent. They use technology to learn, to communicate and to be entertained—often all at the same time.

Yet, though many teachers are comfortable asking students for help with little glitches that occur, they often don’t engage students in helping to solve some of the bigger challenges surrounding technology use in education.

Consider what would happen if today’s tech-savvy students were not just speaking up about technology, but were actually influencing technology decisions at your school.

What if we asked students how they want to use technology for learning? Or discuss with students the value of certain technology products for the educational environment? What if students were involved with all kinds of technology decisions at school on a regular basis?

Sharing Ideas

Last fall, NetDay, a national education technology nonprofit organization, gave U.S. students just such an opportunity to share their ideas through the first NetDay Speak Up Day for Students event. Some 210,000 K-12 students (representing 3,000 schools in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and many schools on overseas military bases) went online from their class or computer lab and completed a 15-minute survey about technology.

The survey posed questions about how students use technology to support schoolwork, as well as in their personal lives, and how they would like to see technology used more effectively for their education.

NetDay is sharing the results of the Speak Up Day survey with education policymakers, school districts and industry leaders in order to inform program development efforts and recommendations. As we continue to pursue the promise of technology as an equalizer of opportunity and a boost for student achievement, our appreciation for what makes today’s tech-savvy students tick is a vital component.

For these students, technology is an essential part of their education. In a typical week, the most popular technology devices for a middle or high school student are a desktop computer, a cell phone and a CD burner—and a majority of kids access these devices from home rather than from school.

Students’ favorite Internet tools are e-mail and instant messaging. IM keeps students connected with each other and organized in their personal and school lives. They use IM to communicate with their parents about after-school activities, to collaborate on school projects and to provide structure to the many interpersonal networks in their busy lives.

In fact, 18 percent of Speak Up Day students had four or more IM screen names, and 54 percent know more of their friends’ IM screen names than their home phone numbers.

Creating New Visions

Given their familiarity with and their enthusiasm for technology tools, today’s students are naturals for helping to create new visions for using technology to enhance education.

Students said the greatest obstacle in using technology is the lack of time in the school day. They expressed frustration with an inherent paradox: Many schools have new computers, printers, digital cameras and video-editing equipment, but the students’ overcrowded schedules and the limitations on lab availability prevent too many students from using that equipment.

Some students said that if they could change one thing about technology at school, it would be to allow use of IM and e-mail to communicate with other students and teachers during the school day. They want to use all the capabilities of technology and not be limited by old paradigms. As a high school senior from Mississippi told me, “When teachers limit my use of technology, they are limiting my education, and that is just not right.”

If students were designing a new school, their number-one priority would be fast, wireless, ubiquitous Internet access to facilitate anywhere, anytime, any place learning. They want to be able to use a cell phone, personal digital assistant or notebook computer to access the school network and the Internet while in the locker room, the cafeteria or the school parking lot.

They also want their teachers to use technology more effectively. As a student in Texas explained, “It would be nice to IM a teacher in class if you had a question.” It is not merely that today’s students are using technology differently, but rather that they are approaching the way they learn, the way they communicate and the way they interact in a totally new way because of technology advances.

Students want to be more involved with technology discussions at their school. Many schools that participated in the first Speak Up Day event are actively engaging students in advisory groups. And students are organizing computer clubs to research products and make recommendations to their school boards. A school district in Texas is even using the district’s Speak Up Day student data to help sell a bond for new technology expenditures to the local community.

NetDay will share many of these success stories through our Web site. Whether we are ready for it or not, students want a say in how technology impacts their education.

As a high school sophomore from California said, “If we don’t speak up about things that are important to us, who will?”

Julie Evans is CEO of NetDay in Irvine, Calif. NetDay is a national nonprofit organization that manages community and Web-based programs that promote student achievement through the use of technology.

NetDay’s National Report on Tech-Savvy Students

To learn more about the NetDay Speak Up Day results, visit www.NetDay.org to download the national report, Voices and Views of Today’s Tech-Savvy Students. America’s K-12 students will have another chance to share their views by participating in the second annual Speak Up Day for Students in October 2004. Schools can learn more by visiting the Web site starting in September.

If you could change one thing about how technology is being used at your school today, what would that one thing be?

Top five responses in order of priority:

1. Allow students to use IM and e-mail at school

2. Have newer, better computers for student use

3. Have online classes for subjects that are not taught at my school

4. Use online textbooks

5. Have a more accurate, up-to-date school Web site

If you were designing a new school for students just like you, which of these would be the most important for your new school?

Top five responses in order of priority:

1. Fast, wireless Internet access throughout the school

2. New computers throughout the school so students could go online whenever they want

3. Computer labs that stay open after school and on weekends

4. Digital cameras and video equipment that could be borrowed by any student

5. Free e-mail accounts for students

What, if any, obstacles do you face in using technology at your school?

Top five responses in order of priority:

1. Lack of time in the school day to use computers or access the Internet

2. Slow access time to get on the Internet

3. School filters and firewalls

4. Not enough computers

5. Computers that don’t work regularly

Source: NetDay Speak Up Day for Students 2003 survey results of 210, 000 K-12 students.