Students See Schools Inhibiting Their Use of New Technologies

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Students are using personal technology tools more readily to study subject matter, collaborate with classmates, and complete assigments than they were several years ago, but they are generally asked to “power down” at school and abandon the electronic resources they rely on for learning outside of class, according to findings from a national survey released last week.

Teachers, for the most part, are not taking advantage of the tools that middle and high school students have widely adopted for home and school purposes, the sixth annual survey from the Speak Up National Research Project shows. Those students should be given a more formal role in determining how new technology—such as mobile devices and social-networking sites—can be tapped to improve schooling, a report on the survey findings says.

“Our nation’s students are in fact a ‘Digital Advance Team’ illuminating the path for how to leverage emerging technologies effectively for teaching and learning,” the report says.

Students, the report argues, are trendsetters in using technology in their personal lives and, more recently, to organize and complete schoolwork.

“Today’s students are early adopters and adapters of new technologies, creating new uses for a myriad of technology products to meet their sophisticated needs,” it says. “They can be predictors or at least harbingers of how technology could be used to transform education.”

Administrators and teachers see the potential value in using mobile technology in lessons, the report points out. But many districts have restricted or prohibited students from using personal technology devices because of concerns that they will be misused, such as for socializing during class or cheating on tests.

Many educators and learning experts warn that simply because students are adept at using new technologies, schools needn't feel compelled to adopt them. They say the primary goal of technology adoption for K-12 classrooms should be to enhance learning.

“A lot of IT directors and others are concerned about their networks being they say we can’t let these [personal tech devices] in because we can’t regulate them,” said Ann Flynn, the director of education technology for the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va. “There’s interest in protection out of tech management and liability concerns, and for some of the teachers they just aren’t comfortable with using the devices.”

School districts, however, need to start listening to their ultimate customers, she added.

“Young people really can give us some incredibly insightful and thoughtful information related to technology,” Ms. Flynn said.

Selected findings from the extensive survey project were released March 24 by Project Tomorrow, the Irvine, Calif.-based nonprofit organization that sponsors the survey. More than 280,000 K-12 students across the country took part in the 2008 online poll, along with 28,000 teachers, 21,000 parents, and 3,000 administrators.

The group plans to issue several follow-up reports later this year on specific topics, such as online learning. The reports will summarize survey findings related to those topics as well as information drawn from case studies and interviews.

“We’ve been polling students ... on how they are using technology for school work, but that’s not necessarily in school or directed by the teacher,” said Julie Evans, the chief executive officer of Project Tomorrow. The 13-year-old organization receives funding through grants from foundations and technology companies. “We see how creatively and innovatively students are taking the technology tools available for them and leveraging them for learning.”

Students Suggest Changes

Most of the high school students surveyed, however, do not believe that they are being well prepared for the technology demands of the marketplace. Large proportions of the middle and high school respondents say they are inhibited from using technology effectively in school because of restrictions on computer time, blocks on access to Web sites, or a prohibition against mobile devices.

The findings may be particularly useful this year, Ms. Evans said, given that schools and districts will be looking for effective ways to use federal economic-stimulus aid from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to expand the use of technology in schools.

The report outlines some of the suggestions student participants have offered for improving the use of educational technology in their schools, including: greater access to Web tools and lessons in electronic formats, such as PowerPoint presentations and podcasts; use of educational games and simulations; and links to videoconferences with subject-area experts.

Vol. 28, Issue 27, Page 10

Published in Print: April 1, 2009, as Students See Schools Inhibiting Their Use of New Technologies
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An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the number students that took part in the 2008 online poll for the Speak Up National Research Project. 280,000 students took part in the survey.

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