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Students want personalized learning, mobile technology

An annual report reveals that student-owned mobile devices, including tablets, are on the rise.

More and more students own mobile devices, including tablets, and indicate a strong desire to use those personal learning tools in school to increase collaboration and access to resources, according to the annual Speak Up Survey, which is facilitated by Project Tomorrow.

This year’s survey, “Mapping a Personalized Learning Journey: K-12 Students and Parents Connect the Dots with Digital Learning,” explores how students want to take control of their learning and the tools they use to learn. It includes parent and administrator input on issues such as personal technology use in schools, online learning, and top technologies.

“Students, perhaps without realizing it, are already seeking out ways to personalize their learning,” according to the report. “Looking to address what they perceive as deficiencies in classroom experiences, students are turning to online classes to study topics that pique their intellectual curiosity, to message and discussion boards to explore new ideas about their world, or to online collaboration tools to share their expertise with other students they don’t even know. Students now expect in their learning lives the same types of personalized interactions that adults already experience in our everyday lives.”

The report seeks to examine why technology has “not also penetrated our classrooms” in the same way it has affected students’ personal lives—and it suggests that, while slow in developing, a change might be on the horizon.

How are students using technology?

Personalized learning is on the rise, the report said. Outside of school:

  • One in 10 high school students has tweeted about an academic topic that interested them.
  • Forty-six percent of high school students have used Facebook as a collaborative learning tool.
  • One in four students has used online videos to help with homework questions.

Students are using technology in school for a variety of reasons, including to create presentations and media, to play educational games, and to conduct virtual experiments.

High school students use technology to create presentations and media (almost 70 percent) and use social media for collaboration (almost 50 percent).

Elementary and middle school students use technology to play educational games more frequently than high school students, with nearly 60 percent of students in grades 3-5 students and slightly more than 50 percent of those in grades 6-8 participating in gaming, compared to roughly one-third of students in grades 9-12.

Mobile devices are on the rise, and the report reveals that middle and high school students’ access to personal tablets doubled from 2010 to 2011. Half of high school students, 37 percent of middle school students, and 21 percent of students in grades 3-5 have access to a smart phone.

Online learning

The report also reveals that students and parents support, and want more, online learning.

More than one-third of parents would support online learning to improve student performance. Twenty-seven percent of third through fifth graders, 47 percent of sixth through eighth graders, and 45 percent of nine through 12th graders said they have not taken an online course but would like to.

Fifty-two percent of students said online learning is an attractive option for them because they want to be in control of their own learning. The same number said they would be able to work at their own pace, and 50 percent said they would be able to receive extra help in a challenging subject.

Making the STEM connection

The survey asked middle and high school students to categorize their math and science classrooms, and three models emerged:

  • Traditional class with teacher-directed instruction, such as lectures, textbook assignments, group projects, or labs (43 percent).
  • Traditional class with teacher-directed instruction but with some technology used to support instruction (33 percent).
  • Traditional class with a mix of teacher-directed instruction and student-directed learning, using technology to support both (9 percent).

Just 20 percent of students in a traditional classroom with minimal or no technology use show a strong interest in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) careers. But students in classrooms where technology is used to support teachers and students show a greater interest, with 27 percent responding that they are strongly interested in STEM careers.
“This is the first time we’ve noticed this correlation between the type of math and science instruction and the students’ interest in STEM careers,” said Julie Evans, Project Tomorrow’s CEO. “For a nation concerned with developing the next generations of scientists, engineers, and innovators, this finding should raise some eyebrows.”

Evans noted that many students today still learn as their parents learned, in teacher-centered classrooms without much freedom to explore personal learning preferences.

“Think about that in contrast to what is being called for by the new Common Core Standards for math,” she said. “The Common Core approach is based on teachers laying out a specific task and inviting the students to dig in and solve the problem using appropriate tools and resources. If our schools are able to implement this type of teaching and learning, the potential for interest in math and science should grow.”

Obstacles to school technology use

Major obstacles that prevent students from using technology at school include inability to access social media, lack of computers, important websites being blocked, and inability to student student-owned mobile devices.

In fact, using personal devices for learning is gaining traction, although students and parents do not see eye-to-eye with administrators on this topic.

More than half of students in grades 6-12 (58 percent) said they want to use their own mobile devices in school, and 62 percent of parents said they would purchase a mobile device for their child if schools used them for learning. Sixty-five percent of school principals said they are unlikely to allow personal mobile devices for learning.

More than half (52 percent) of district administrators do not currently allow the use of any student-owned mobile devices in school.

Students said they think mobile devices will help their learning by allowing them to check grades, take class notes, conduct research anytime or anyplace, access online textbooks, collaborate with peers and teachers, and more.

If students, parents, and administrators were able to design their own school, ubiquitous internet access at school would top students’ and administrators’ needs, They also ranked school-provided tablets very high. Parents identified access to eBooks and ubiquitous internet access at school among their top wants.

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Laura Ascione

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