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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and independent consultant, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at

Education Opinion

Without Student Voice, Technology Just Fosters Another Type of Compliance

By Peter DeWitt — October 28, 2015 3 min read

In a 2013 Mind/Shift blog, Matt Levinson wrote,

For teachers, in designing learning experiences for students that are embedded with technology, the wording and focus of the questions are paramount. The question needs to be deeper than simply "Should or shouldn't we use the iPad with this project." The question needs to be open ended, elastic and invite multiple interpretations."

Levinson goes on to write,

Learning outcomes based on the question need to be defined and articulated, and experiences to achieve those outcomes need to be created with student engagement in mind. Engagement alone is not enough. But engagement matched with outcomes around a carefully worded question propels student learning."

The blog is an excellent example of how to utilize technology in the classroom, and Levinson hits on many important points. Whenever we talk, read or write about technology, the focus seems to be on how to increase student engagement. After all, in our fast paced world where everyone has a smartphone in their hands, we should be using technology in ways that will support the learning that our students are looking for in these modern times.

However, when I hear the words “student engagement,” my mind goes directly to student voice.

It would be very hard for anyone to argue against student voice. Who wants students to enter into school each day where they only watch adults work? I mean they’re there, so they should be involved in the process, right? At the surface level, every teacher and leader says they want students to have a voice. Sometimes they add that students will never have a voice if teachers don’t, which you can read more about here.

But I sometimes think that the conversations we have around student voice are a little like the conversations we have around the growth mindset. We talk a lot about having a growth mindset but we treat students in very fixed ways, which means we’re good at talking but not so good at doing. The same can be said for student voice. Sometimes we talk about it but we don’t always provide the actions needed to support it.

For example, we may:

  • Have students complete surveys, but they don’t see anything change after the survey has been handed in. This tells that that their opinions really don’t matter.
  • We have student focus groups, but none of what is discussed is ever used in the practices around the school.
  • We tell students we want to hear form them, but only when they’re answering the questions we want answered. Or worse, when we don’t give them the opportunity to answer questions at all.

Amplify Student Voice

Russ Quaglia, the Founder and President of the Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations (QISA) has long been an advocate and research in the area of student voice. As a part-time senior field specialist for Quaglia, I have visited many schools to see how they infuse Quaglia’s work into their every day practices. They have Q-Teams, which is a stakeholder group for students, and those students have a pulse on the student perspective in the school. Q-Teams make decisions in the school and some representatives sit on advisory boards with adults.

When it comes technology and the use of any tool, one important aspect in using tools effectively is to make sure that the school climate fosters student voice. Student voice does not mean they always get what they want, but it does mean that they have a place at the table. When students are asked for input, that input is taken into consideration in school decisions.

If students are in a school climate that has fostered voice, they will be more willing and able to use technology tools for learning. They will feel as though they can be the expert with some of these tools when the teacher can’t always figure them out. Let’s face it, our students know more about technology than we do.

Using technology, and the topic of student voice, is about working collaboratively with students. If technology is being used to just get students to be compliant, then why bother using technology? The use of technology should be focused on getting students to curate their own learning, and amplify their voices in innovative ways.

In the End

Technology continues to inspire debate among educators and leaders. The issue is still made complicated by teachers and leaders who are resistant to it, and schools that lack the proper resources to even put tools in the hands of students. We are not all playing on equal playing fields, and even those who have the technology, aren’t using it to its fullest potential.

When I think of technology and social media, I think of all the ways it can be used to amplify student voice. Students can be suing maker spaces, blogging, and creating their own videos using Touchcast and a green screen. If technology is just going to be used to foster another level of compliance, don’t use it, because that will be just as boring for students as the chalkboard and lecture methods.

If you’re interested in being a Student Voice demo school, click here.

Take some time watch Russ Quaglia explain why listening to student voice pays off.

Connect with Peter on Twitter.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Pixabay.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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