We recently held one-day conferences in Chicago and Jersey City, N.J., that brought together some of the top ed-tech leaders and thinkers in the country. The events, titled “Smart Ed-Tech Strategies for Tough Times,” covered important and interesting topics, such as the growing popularity of online coursetaking, how to use IT to improve student achievement, and making the most of limited technology budgets.
Each gathering attracted about 140 participants and included such prominent voices as Susan Patrick of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, Elliot Soloway of the University of Michigan, Chris Dede of Harvard University, and Boston schools CIO Kim Rice.
The featured speakers were informative, insightful, and entertaining, but what I enjoyed most was moderating the student panels we held in both locations, and really listening to what the students had to say.
The students were from area high schools—York Community High School in Elmhurst, Ill., and Bloomfield High School in Bloomfield, N.J. One boy on the Chicago panel made a particularly well-articulated and impassioned plea for schools to ease restrictions on Internet filters because they were preventing him from doing thoughtful research. Filtering is something we have covered quite a bit, in print and online. (“A Wilder View,” this issue.)
Other students, in both locations, had very strong feelings when asked if schools should try to use social-networking sites such as Facebook for school communications or assignments. Their message: No way! Schools are not welcome. Students feel those sites are for personal use and should not be co-opted by schools. Still, one educator in the Jersey City audience suggested the Ning social-networking site as a credible alternative for schools to use.
The chief information officers, assistant superintendents, and other ed-tech thinkers and leaders in both cities appeared especially engaged during the two student panels, asking the teenagers lots of questions about how they use technology, and how schools might use it more effectively.
And that raises an important question: When was the last time you asked your students how they think technology can be used to improve schools?