Students are more thoughtful about technology use than many adults give them credit for
Students see equity of access as a key ed-tech challenge for their schools, and they’d like to have newer technology in their classrooms. But they’re also more thoughtful about their tech use than many adults give them credit for, expressing concerns about distractions and a lack of face-to-face interaction when using devices in class.
Those were some of the key takeaways from a panel discussion held June 30 during the International Society for Technology in Education  (ISTE) conference in Philadelphia.
Hosted by ed-tech public relations firm PR with Panache , “Youth Voices” featured two middle and two high school students discussing their opinions on topics ranging from how they use technology in school and at home, to what they think the future of education will look like.
Outside of school, they’re using social media services like Snapchat and Instagram to communicate with their friends on their smart phones. In school, however, their tech use varies widely, depending on their circumstances.
Christopher Cail, an 11th grade honors student at Pine View School  in Sarasota County, Fla., said it’s mostly teachers who are using technology at his school. While students are allowed to bring their own devices to class—Christopher brings his MacBook Pro and connects it to the school’s network—many teachers have not changed their instruction to take full advantage of this opportunity, he said.
Next page: Students reflect on funding and privacy
On the other end of the ed-tech spectrum is Audrey Mullen, a 10th grader at Presentation High School  in San Jose, Calif., a Catholic school for girls. The students at Audrey’s school all have iPads; assignments are delivered via the learning management system Canvas by Instructure, and students use Google Apps for Education to collaborate on projects.
In between these two extremes is Audrey’s sister, Elise, a seventh grade honors student at Willow Glen Middle School  in San Jose. Elise often uses Chromebooks in her classes, though these are supplied to classrooms on carts at her teachers’ request.
The students are keenly aware of these differences.
“Funding is an issue in a public school like mine,” Christopher said. Mikayla Umpstead, an eighth grader at High Tech Middle School  in San Diego, described being in a traditional public school with kids who did not have access to technology at home before attending her current charter school. And Audrey said she predicts a future in which “all of us are on the same playing field” when it comes to technology use in schools.
For that to happen, teachers also must become savvier in their technology use, the students agreed.
They said that likely will change as a new generation of teachers who grew up with technology replaces an older generation who did not. In the meantime, more exposure to technology and more time and opportunities to experiment with it can help.
“If [teachers] did more with it [outside of class], they would get more comfortable with using it,” Audrey said.
While the students were conscious of the lack of equity in their access to technology in school, they were not aware of the current national debate over data tracking versus online privacy. But that doesn’t mean they were naïve about the dangers of posting their personal information online: They all have been warned about this repeatedly at home, in school, or both.
“You just get it meshed into your mind—‘OK, that’s not a good idea,’” Audrey said.
They also knew of the dangers that technology poses as a distraction to learning when they go off-task. In Christopher’s school, where students are allowed to bring their own devices, “you can choose to text or Snapchat,” he said, “but if you’re a good student, you don’t.”
Face-to-face interaction is still important to them as well. In Florida, all high school students are required to take at least one class online before they graduate, and Christopher said he did not enjoy this experience. He said he missed the personal interaction that comes from being in a physical classroom.
Audrey said a downside to using iPads in class is that “you don’t have the same connection” when everyone is looking down at their devices. She described a practice at her school in which students put down their phones during lunch. “The first person to grab their phone has to buy the others ice cream,” she said.
Despite these pitfalls, she acknowledged that each student likes to learn in different ways. For her, online videos from Khan Academy  and other sources allow her to watch the content as many times as she needs in order to understand the material.
“By the end of the day, I feel like my brain just got so much bigger,” she said of watching online videos.
The former Editor in Chief of eSchool News, Dennis Pierce is now a freelance writer covering education and technology. He has been following the ed-tech space for more than 17 years. Dennis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .