Oct 25 2007

What If Your Students Were in Charge of Tech Planning?

Children give their opinions on how their schools should handle technology.

We all know the most tech-savvy individuals at school today are your students. Yet, while 50 percent of students say they’re involved with technology decisions at home, only 14 percent say their ideas are used for school technology decisions. Not surprisingly, more than one-third of students want their schools to listen more to their ideas about education. So, what would the ultimate school of the future look like if students were in charge of creating your ed tech plan?

For the past four years, the national Speak Up surveys have asked that question of almost 800,000 K-12 students. And at this year’s National Education Computing Conference, we convened a panel of high school students to add their authentic, unfiltered voices to that conversation as well. Here are some of the students’ ideas on how technology should be optimized at the ultimate 21st-century school:

Access: Take better advantage of all capabilities and capacities of the Internet, including online databases for research and providing 24 x 7 online access to school networks and servers. Give students more time to use the valuable technology resources at school.

Tools and Devices: Incorporate the same tools students are using every day in their personal lives into the education environment:

  • Text messaging for note taking;
  • Podcasts of supplemental lessons or academic subject information that could not fit into the class period;
  • Instant messaging as a collaboration tool for group projects;
  • Digital technologies for presentations;
  • Online textbooks to ensure most current information on science discoveries and world news;
  • E-mail as a one-on-one communication tool between students and teachers — no mass mailings please. Students even have a solution for the “cell phone in school” dilemma — schools should strike a deal with a telecommunication firm to provide cell service with appropriate restrictions on school campuses.

Delivery Methodologies: Use interactive whiteboards and simulation software to explain difficult concepts. Leverage the engagement, motivation and familiarity of gaming technologies to deliver academic content. Use virtual worlds as a safe meeting place for students to explore ideas and develop creativity and critical thinking skills. Create online classes to supplement classroom instruction.

Support Infrastructure: Make IT staff available to students, and allow students to access the technology infrastructure to solve local problems and ensure continuity of technology availability. Rethink distributed resources — maybe the central repository of programs and content is a better option.

Inherent in these recommendations is students’ increasing frustration with technology use at their schools. For the elementary students, that frustration is primarily around access — not having access to the computers and other technology products they feel they need within the school day. For the middle and high school students, the dissatisfaction is evident in the students’ irritation with too many rules and regulations that govern their technology use at school, including policies on cell phones, e-mail, IM, social networking sites, and teachers’ control over technology resources.

Given these complementary concerns of access and control, it is not surprising students from kindergarten through 12th grade say that the number one feature they would include in the ultimate school of the future is personal laptops that students can use at school and at home. For all students, the personal laptop is their entry point to self-directed learning, up-to-date information about their world, and infinite knowledge and communication capabilities that transcend the limitations of the classroom or local community — a true vision of 21st-century learning.

What are your students’ ideas for the ultimate school of the future? Plan to have your school participate in Speak Up 2007. Surveys will be available this year for students in grades K–12, teachers, parents and school leaders. All U.S. schools are pre-registered to participate. Participating schools receive free online access to their aggregated survey data; national data is used to inform federal and state policies and programs on education. Learn more at www.tomorrow.org.

Listening to Teachers and Parents

Students aren’t the only ones who need a voice. Here are ideas from teachers and parents about the ultimate school of the future.

Top Five List for Teachers:

  1. Interactive whiteboards;
  2. Wireless laptops for students to use at school;
  3. Ways to communicate with parents;
  4. Ways to use e-mail, IM, blogs with students and parents;
  5. Digital cameras and video facilities/equipment.

Top Five List for Parents:

  1. Computers in classrooms;
  2. Software to support core academic subjects;
  3. A useful school Web site;
  4. Advanced computer classes;
  5. Tools to help parents and teachers communicate.

JULIE EVANS is the CEO of Project Tomorrow, the national education nonprofit group that facilitates the annual Speak Up surveys each year.