A growing number of teachers–more than a third of those polled–now use eMail to communicate with their students, according to the results of a new national survey released May 3.

Problem is, most students now think eMail is outdated as a communication tool.

According to NetDay’s third annual “Speak Up” survey, sponsored by Dell Inc. and the BellSouth Foundation, 97 percent of teachers now say they use eMail on a weekly basis to communicate with colleagues, administrators, and the parents of their students–and 35 percent say they use eMail to reach students themselves.

But at the same time teachers are becoming more comfortable with using eMail, students have largely moved on to another, more sophisticated form of communication, the survey suggests: instant messaging (IM).

About 65 percent of students in grades 6-12 taking the survey said they use eMail or IM every day. But a closer look at the survey results reveals that students are much more likely to use IM to communicate with each other than eMail.

“Students have told us that eMail is still valuable–mainly for storing and transmitting documents and for communication with adults,” said Julie Evans, chief executive officer of the nonprofit group NetDay. “IM is more valuable to them because it is instant, and they can speak with multiple people at the same time. I believe that this highlights a greater sophistication in student tech use–and a trend for us to watch.”

Yet the policies of many school systems appear to conflict with this trend, instead of taking advantage of it.

When asked what obstacles were standing in the way of students’ tech use at school, the No. 1 response of students was institutional rules prohibiting cell-phone use, IM, eMail, or other forms of communication.

“Students felt [most limited by] the limits teachers are putting on where and when they can use technology [to communicate],” said Evans.

Karen Bruett, vice president of education for Dell Inc., agreed. “Kids use these tools at home every day. What we’re telling them is that, when you come to school, you should stop communicating the way you do in your everyday life,” she said.

Student use of IM is one of many trends indicated in the survey of 185,000 students and 15,000 teachers from all 50 states, conducted last fall. The results are highly revealing for policy makers and education leaders as they consider how to use technology more effectively in their schools.

One surprise, according to Evans: When asked to “describe a new school for students just like you–what would be the No. 1 technology you would need,” the leading response from students in every grade was access to personal laptops they could take home.

Sixty-two percent of students in grades 6-12 said a mobile computer is integral to a 21st-century classroom. More than 40 percent of this group said a modern classroom should include cell phones, interactive whiteboards, televisions, digital cameras, video cameras, scanners, and CD/DVD burners.

Also, students expressed a strong desire to learn in a more hands-on way. They said they’d find math more engaging if teachers infused more technology into their lessons. They also said they want to explore science through technology simulations, field trips, and “CSI”-like problem-solving exercises, rather than textbooks.

Evans said there was a three-fold increase from last year in the percentage of students who said they updated a personal web site on a weekly basis.

“At least 50 percent of students, by the 12th grade, have some sort of personal, MySpace-like web site,” she said. “This generation of learners seeks community online.”

Among teachers, 59 percent said technology is enhancing their students’ engagement in school. Nearly half (46 percent) of respondents identified “not enough computers” as their top barrier to integrating technology into their instruction. Others feel restricted by a lack of time in the school day (57 percent) and unequal student access to computers at home (43 percent).

What’s more, nearly three out of five teachers said they’d like more professional development to help them integrate technology into the curriculum.

“Teachers already know how to use applications, and things like that, but they are interested to know how to make this a part of how they teach,” Bruett said.

Concluded Evans: “This year’s Speak Up findings demonstrate that students of all ages are ‘pushing the envelope’ in their innovative use of technology for learning, communications, and networking. The Speak Up data provide education, business, community, and policy leaders with a unique opportunity to learn from today’s students and use that information to create 21st-century learning environments.”

Links:

NetDay
http://www.netday.org

Dell Inc.
http://www.dell.com

BellSouth Foundation
http://www.bellsouthfoundation.org

“Speak Up” survey results
http://www.dell4k12.com/netday