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Using Technology to Learn

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April 28, 2011 07:00 pm


Our Children Are Leading Us to a Bright Future,
We Shouldn’t Let Them Go Alone

I will never forget the day of great shame as I came to call it, as I watched my then-five-year-old nephew program the VCR that had eluded my best efforts since the day I bought it.  They say “a child will lead them.”  I have never heard a truer statement.

To this day, I am still not exactly sure how to program a VCR—a device nearly as irrelevant in the present modern world as an abacus but I am pretty good with my blackberry as long as I don’t get fancy with it.  Of course my nephew, now a teenager, can make it do things far beyond my capabilities.  The reality is children in the digital age have embraced technology in a way that few of us who grew up in the dark ages when MTV still showed music videos have ever imagined.  This is clearly demonstrated by the findings released recently by the Project Tomorrow “Speak Up” survey and report titled “The New 3 E’s of Education: Enabled, Engaged and Empowered–How Today’s Students are Leveraging Emerging Technologies for Learning.”

The report demonstrates that just like me all those years ago, students know when adults have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to technology.  Take this result from the survey as ample proof of that statement ─ When survey respondents were asked if “their school was doing a good job using technology to enhance learning and student achievement?” Seventy four percent of high school teachers, 72 percent of principals, and 62 percent of parents said their schools were doing a good job. Compare that with the high school students surveyed—the real experts on the use of technology—who registered only a 47 percent positive reaction.  Our kids know something that we do not.  We must do a better job of effectively utilizing technological learning tools in our schools to help our children learn.  The students of today’s digital world are utilizing technology in nearly every aspect of their lives other than when they are learning.  When students go to school they are forced to power down and they are sending all of us a message that doing so is a big mistake.  Something must change.  It is time for our schools to power up. Nothing suggests this more than information gathered from students about the desire, use, and ownership of mobile devices. Those report findings include:

  • Fifty three percent of middle and high school students surveyed reported that not being able to use cell phones, smart phones, or MP3 players was the largest obstacle to them when trying to use technology in school.
  • Administrators have not yet warmed to allowing students to use mobile devices in school for learning and instructional purposes ─ 65 percent of them strongly disagree with allowing the devices in schools even for that limited purpose.
  • Conversely, high school students want to use their mobile devices at school as both a learning and school communication tool:
    o 74 percent to check grades,
    o 59 percent to take notes in traditional classes,
    o 50 percent to access the calendar,
    o 44 percent to access online textbooks,
    o 44 percent for email, and
    o 40 percent to learn about school activities.
  • Another key trend discovered in the study is that additional mobile learning opportunities exist due to students’ increased access to mobile devices:
    o Smart phone access for middle and high school students jumped 42 percent from 2009 to 2010 with little or no differences based upon school demographics.
    o Forty four percent of high school students in Title 1 schools have access to a smart phone—the same number found in rural and urban schools.  This is a remarkable trend that could help equalize learning opportunities for all students.

It is clear that students are sending the message it is time to use mobile devices as a learning tool while school administrators still remain unconvinced.  However, parents are now starting to embrace the reality of the modern world by demonstrating a willingness to increase technology and digital learning as part of their children’s education. They are even willing to pay for mobile devices if it helps their child in school. Sixty seven percent of parents said they would purchase mobile devices for their child to use for schoolwork if the school allowed it while 54 percent would pay for a data plan to allow internet connectivity. Sixty one percent of parents also said they liked the idea of students using mobile devices to access online textbooks.

Parents are also embracing other forms of digital learning. They are now five times more likely than in 2008 to recommend online classes as part of the ideal school. Two thirds of parents also think brain-teasers and advanced topics in e-books would be good learning tools.  Parents also expressed interest in being able to access technology at home to monitor their child’s progress.  Nearly 75 percent want home access to curriculum and online textbooks while 62 percent would like to use technology to receive daily updates on how their child is doing.

Online and blended classes are also on the rise in the schools ─ 30 percent of high school students had taken an online class in 2010 translating to a 12 percent increase from 2009 and 20 percent increase from 2008. The desire to use e-textbooks by students is also growing. While only 27 percent of middle school students and 35 percent of high schools students say they are currently using online textbooks, those students find the use of them essential as a tool in their ideal school.

The survey results are clear. Students are demanding more access to technology as part of an improved and effective education system. Parents are now moving towards embracing technology and digital learning—they are listening to their children and watching them learn, interact with friends, listen to music, play games, and do a variety of other things while using a mobile device or computer.  It’s important that we all listen to our children and no longer ignore their interests in and increasing use of technology. After all, if we do not help them expand on what they are learning in school through the effective use of technology then who is going to create the phones, computers, and medical devices of the future?
Do not look at me. I still can’t program a VCR.


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.