“We’ve had the benefit of hearing from the first student Speak Up participants who started as third graders and have been on the frontlines of digital conversations coming out of our classrooms and schools for the past ten years, said Julie Evans, CEO, Project Tomorrow, the organization that conducts the Speak Up Survey.

“To some extent these students have been guinea pigs as their teachers have learned how to use tools such as interactive white boards, mobile devices and online content, and then brought new strategies for technology integration into the classroom.  Meanwhile, these third graders who were so excited about playing educational games and getting their first email account in 2003 have developed and refined their own digital learning profile outside of school. They have opened our eyes to help us understand that digital learning is not just about games but it can be about developing college and career skills and personalizing the process to make the learning experience richer for all students.”

Just as they use different textbooks for different classes, today’s students want to be able to choose from their own collection of mobile tools to create an individualized learning process.  They not only are adopting new technologies faster than most adults but they are also better at adapting the products to fit their particular needs.  For example, nearly 75 percent of students in grades 6-12 use their cell phone, smart phone, or tablet to take a photo of the assignment their teacher has written on the board rather than writing it down on a piece of paper.

“The results…show that we are indeed in a new world. And we as adults need to learn from kids in this instance,” said U.S. Rep. George Miller, the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “We need to learn from students about how they learn, where they learn, and how they seek information. I believe we must harness this information to give all students a 21st century skill set to prepare them for high-growth, high-demand jobs in the global economy.”

This desire by students to use mobile devices and social media tools to self-direct their learning is often thwarted by school policies and other institutional barriers. In 2003, when students were asked to identify the top barriers to using technology at school, their top responses focused on access to the tools that were school provided: 1. Internet access is too slow; 2. School filters and firewalls block websites I need; 3. Not enough computers for students to use; 4. Computers are too old; and 5. Software is too old or not good enough to use.

Students’ responses in 2012 also include a complaint about school filters and firewalls, but the other top responses center on how the school is limiting their access to the digital tools and resources they are using regularly outside of school: 1. School filters and firewalls block website I need; 2. I cannot access my social media sites; 3. I cannot use my own mobile device; 4. There are too many rules about using technology at school; and 5. I cannot use text messaging.