Digital access, collaboration a must for students


Students are voicing their opinions about educational issues such as access to digital media tools and online learning.
Students are voicing their opinions about educational issues such as access to digital media tools and online learning.


In a national survey that reveals K-12 students’ use of technology at home and at school, students overwhelmingly agreed that access to digital media tools and the ability to collaborate with peers both inside and outside of school can greatly enhance education.

“Speak Up 2009: Creating Our Future: Students Speak Up about their Vision for 21st Century Schools,” the latest education technology survey from the nonprofit group Project Tomorrow, identifies the emergence of “free agent learners”—students who increasingly take learning into their own hands and use technology to create personalized learning experiences.

“For these students, the schoolhouse, the teacher, and the textbook no longer have an exclusive monopoly on knowledge, content, or even the education process, and therefore it should not be surprising that students are leveraging a wide range of learning resources, tools, applications, outside experts, and each other to create a personalized learning experience that may or may not include what is happening in the classroom,” the report says.

The survey indicates that students increasingly are seeking out and obtaining technology-based learning experiences outside of school—experiences that are not directed by a teacher or associated with class assignments or homework.

“Students, regardless of community demographics, socio-economic backgrounds, gender, and grade, tell us year after year that the lack of sophisticated use of emerging technology tools in school is, in fact, holding back their education—and in many ways disengages them from learning,” the report says.

Those activities include using Facebook to collaborate with, share information with, and tutor other students; taking online assessments and tests; using cell phones and applications for self-organization and productivity; using podcasts and videos to improve in challenging subject areas; taking online courses to learn more about interesting subjects, and not necessarily for a grade; and finding experts to connect with online and share new ideas and content.

The report identifies three essential elements of a new emerging student vision for American education.

A common theme for all the elements is innovative use of a wide range of emerging technologies, including online learning, mobile devices, Web 2.0 tools, and digital content.

And while the three elements offer the potential for remarkably new approaches to teaching and learning in a classroom, students likely will see the use of these emerging technologies as a “natural extension of the way they are currently living and learning outside of that classroom.”

This presents educators with a unique opportunity to inject classroom lessons with real-world applications and to begin closing the “digital disconnect” that exists between students and educators when it comes to teaching and learning with technology, while at the same time using students’ ideas about technology use in new and meaningful ways.

The three elements identified in the report are:

  • Social-based learning: Students want to leverage emerging communications and collaboration tools to create and personalize networks of experts to inform their education experience.
  • Untethered learning: Students envision technology-enabled learning experiences that transcend the classroom walls and are not limited by resource constraints, traditional funding streams, geography, community assets, or even teacher knowledge or skills.
  • Digitally-rich learning: Students see the use of relevancy-based digital tools, content, and resources as a key to driving learning productivity, and not just about engaging students in learning.

Laura Ascione

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