Jul 11 2011

Educating the Digital Natives


Today's students are digital natives in the truest sense, having been born into and raised in a world where technology is ubiquitous and always has been.

The digital native label, coined by author Marc Prensky in 2001, describes people born in or after the late 1980s, when computers, cell phones, digital cameras and music players, video games and other technologies were moving into the mainstream. The first generation of digital natives is now in college and in the workforce, and their facility with these digital devices is fundamentally altering the way businesses and educational institutions operate. Many of the technologies these young people grew up with or have adopted in recent years have become must-have tools.

The generation of digital natives in school today inherently understands that technology is a core part of their present experience and is central to their future. As one high school student who participated in the recently released CDW•G 2011 21st Century Classroom Report noted, "If I am exposed to it now, I will be able to adapt to it later."

The Next Level

Last year's report, CDW•G's first, offered tangible proof that students weren't getting enough access to modern technology in the classroom. Then, just 9 percent of student respondents characterized their classroom technology as "fully integrated," and 4 percent said their classrooms were "not at all integrated."

By comparison, the 2011 survey of 1,000 high school students, teachers and district IT professionals reveals that most schools are making an effort to improve – and some are truly innovating.

Among this year's student respondents, 10 percent said the current level of technology in their school is "cutting-edge," and only 1 percent described it as being "in the dark ages." Students, faculty and IT staff seem to agree that those dark ages are a thing of the past, with just 2 percent of teachers (and no IT staff) characterizing their school's technology offerings as such. What's more, the percentage of IT professionals who described their district's technology offerings as cutting-edge or current grew from 41 percent in 2010 to 64 percent in 2011.

Even in this age of tight budgets, schools understand where they need to go in order to give students the best possible education. Nearly two-thirds of IT staff surveyed this year say their school plans to upgrade or improve classroom technology in the next two years, compared with 51 percent who reported similar plans in 2010.

These enhancements can – and do – run the gamut. Many educators understand the powerful role technology can play in unlocking students' potential. In their classrooms, technology adds value to the learning experience, empowering students to do things they couldn't do otherwise while readying them for future educational and career opportunities.

In California, for example, the Tulare City School District has spent the past two years transforming its pre-K-8 classrooms into 21st century learning environments. Tulare's IT staff already have deployed multimedia short-throw projectors, graphics tablets and interactive whiteboards in many classrooms, and more improvements are on the horizon (see "Leading by Example")."

As Bobbi Novell, technology director for Missouri's Warren County R-III School District, points out in "Show-Me Security," technology "is as native to today's students as electricity is to a modern society. It has to be there." With that in mind, last year Warren County implemented a multilayered security solution that includes a firewall, web and e-mail filtering, and antivirus software.

"The biggest benefit is how it affects the classroom experience by supporting education and helping students to become productive, successful 21st century learners," Novell says of the district's network security solution. "That's our goal. That's what technology is there for."