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Students learning with digital tools in spite of school: Study

It’s no surprise, but it’s encouraging if true: America’s students are not waiting for the rest of us to “catch up to their vision for 21st-century learning,” reports Project Tomorrow, which conducts the annual Speak Up survey, having surveyed 294,399 K-12 students, 42,267 parents, 37,720 teachers and librarians, and 4,969 school administrators and technology leaders in 6,541 public and private school districts this time around. As they should be, “students are already very effectively implementing [their] vision of socially based, untethered, and digitally rich learning on their own, in and out of school, with or without the assistance and support of their teachers or schools,” Project Tomorrow reports.

Middle and high school students’ smart phone access “jumped 42% from 2009 to 2010,” the survey found, with almost no difference between students at low-income (Title 1) schools and those in higher-income areas. It found that high school students would use their phones at school to check grades (74%); “do Internet research anytime, anywhere” (68%); take notes in class (59%); collaborate on schoolwork with peers and teachers (53%); keep track of assignments with a calendar app (50%); access online textbooks (44%); send email (44%); learn about school activities (40%); create and share documents, videos, or podcasts (37%); and record lectures or experiments for later review (35%), Speak Up found. But let a student explain it in the fun 2.5 min. video in Atlanta-area teacher Vicki Davis’s blog post on the survey.

And parents aren’t waiting around either: They “are more than ever enabling, engaging, and empowering their children’s educational lives by providing additional home-based access to online resources and digital content,” Speak Up found. “That parents are making these ‘digital choices’ for their children should be a wake up call to many schools and districts, because the effective use of technology within learning is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a key essential – just as the students already believe.” It found that “52% of parents consider instructional technology to be extremely important for their child’s success, compared to 37% of teachers.” It also found that 70% of parents of high school students and 69% of middle-schoolers’ parents would buy a mobile device for their children to use at school. As for school officials, “when we asked administrators about the likelihood of them allowing their students to use their own mobile devices for instructional purposes at school … a resounding 65% of principals said, ‘no way!’” And that was the response of 25% administrators who use smartphones themselves.

“There are now 5 billion wireless subscribers in the world,” eSchoolNews.com reports, citing Wireless Intelligence figures, “and of those, 1 billion are 3G [or Net-connected smartphone] subscribers…. By 2014, there will be 2.8 billion 3G subscribers.”

Schools need to catch up to students’ tech interests and practices because the very relevance of formal education to students is at stake. I was encouraged to hear Arizona State University professor James Paul Gee say in a recent video interview that growing support from their parents of young people’s tech interests is putting needed pressure on the education system:

“Schools in America for the first time in history have genuine competition. And that’s because companies large and small are selling 24/7 learning, customized to you and your learning style, outside of school, and u can learn didactically, or performance-based, any way you want…. So we have a curriculum and a system outside of school now, in community centers, libraries, private homes. It’s based in digital learning – situated, contextualized problem-solving learning … and it’s making our skill-and-drill schools look bad…. It’s a new phenomenon where you really have two school systems. We have a school system for the 21st century, where kids are producing their own knowledge and one in which schools are giving the basics of numeracy and literacy, and that pressure I think will bring about real change.”

Related links

  • Here are eSchoolNews’s Top 10 education apps for Android phones and Top 10 ed apps for iPhones and iPod Touches
  • In its coverage of the Speak Up report, Education Week zoomed in on findings about 6th-graders: The number of those “involved in social networking has more than doubled and the number taking at least one online class has tripled during the last five years. The report also found that one-third of today’s 6th graders own a personal smartphone and are more likely to complain about restrictive filtering than connectivity speed in their schools, the top complaint of 6th graders in 2005.”
  • “Cell phones increasingly a class act: After years of bans, many schools are allowing the devices to be used as academic tools” in the Chicago Tribune last October
  • A debate in Alberta last fall over BlackBerries in school, reported by the Toronto Globe & Mail
  • “Publishing giant [Houghton Mifflin Harcourt] makes $400m commitment to ed tech” was the headline in eSchool News last fall, with the publisher saying its reason was that “it no longer accepts the status quo in public education.”
  • “When will educators get serious about gaming?” , part of an Innovation in Education series at the Harvard Business Review blog
  • Previously in NetFamilyNews: “Mobile learning’s gathering momentum” and “From digital disconnect to mobile learning”
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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Its quite sobering to learn that soi many kids are using mobile phones so young, and that really they are guinea-pigs for all future generations. Unfortunately it will be too late for this generation if the phones have had a negative health effect, even if they did pass college!

    May 16, 2011
  2. Janet K. Cook #

    While we use technology a lot at our school, phones and cameras are not allowed, since students’ brain usage does not always match their phone usage. Our very real fear is students videoing classes or other school events and then posting edited versions on facebook portraying teachers and students in less than positive ways. With the available technology, it it quite simple for them to edit a movie and have a teacher seem to be saying something other than what was actually said. We have enough available computers (about 60 desktops and 75 mobile laptops for <400 students) that they can easily do school-related tasks without resorting to their personal devices, the majority of which include audio and/or video recording devices.

    April 18, 2011

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